Why was the police response to the 1999 Columbine shooting criticized? Was the IMS used? If so, what amount of success did it have? If not, why was it not used? What things do you think the police handled incorrectly or did wrong? How would one write a protocol for the “next” Columbine?

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The law enforcement Incident Management Structure (IMS) certainly was used in response to the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. The SWAT teams were criticized because their training tactics made them move more slowly than observers felt was appropriate in the situation.

The IMS gives a protocol for emergency repression. The following procedures are expected to be enacted under the protocol: supervisors are expected to be the first responders; personnel of various emergency services are expected to be the second responders; perimeters are expected to be established and blocked off to prevent perpetrators from escaping; emergency personnel are expected to maneuver evacuations; a triage area is expected to be set up to address the injured; sweeps of the area are expected to be enacted to find surviving victims and perpetrators; and investigations are expected to be conducted ("Law Enforcement Incident Management Structure," CNN). Just prior to 11:30, Lt. Terry Manwarring, SWAT commander for Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, was the first of the first responders, followed by multiple other supervisors ("Managing the Incident," CNN). The wave of second responders consisted of 1,000 different emergency response personnel from "35 different law enforcement agencies" ("Managing").

Responders setting up the command post ran into multiple problems while controlling the event. One of those problems concerned the fact that so many emergency personnel had responded that they created complete confusion, "increasing the chaos, intensity and difficulty of managing the incident" ("Managing"). The greatest problem concerned communication. Each emergency response agency at the command post was receiving its own information about the incident, and the information concerned numerous hazards to get under control, "including bombs, hostages, snipers, multiple shooters, fire, odors of natural gas," etc. ("Managing"). More importantly, each agency had difficulties communicating with each other because agencies used "incompatible radio frequencies" ("Managing"). Communication was especially a problem for the SWAT teams because they are trained not to act until they have enough information about the situation. SWAT members inside the school were able to communicate with each other well enough, but they needed information from the command post and were unable to get such information effectively.

Since the SWAT teams were unable to get needed information, the SWAT teams' response seemed slow to critical outside viewers. Timothy Egan of The New York Times reports that a SWAT team had entered the school "within 30 minutes of the first call to the police," while critics say it was 47 minutes past the start of the shooting ("Terror in Littleton"; "What Really Happened at Columbine," 60 Minutes). Aside from the first team entering the building, another SWAT team did as they were trained, which was to surround the building and wait for information on how to move further. Critics point out the nation's SWAT teams aren't really trained to enter and stop a terrorist situation as it is occurring. They are instead only trained to surround premises in order to take care of "drug raids and hostage situations" (Egan). Critics further argue that, for situations like these, SWAT teams need to be trained to "respond quickly without getting all the information" (Egan).

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