Two hostages stand at the classroom entrance and another lies seriously wounded outside. "Don't come down here, I'm telling you—I'll kill 'em," a man shouts to officers snaking down the corridor with guns drawn. Negotiations fizzle, the officers yell to the hostages to get down, and the gunman is taken out in a swift gunfight. The drill is part of a training program the FBI is helping run for local law enforcement agents nationwide. Acting on a post-Newtown White House directive, and partnering with a Texas-based training center, the FBI has been teaching best practices for responding to mass shootings.
The goal is to promote a standardized strategy as local police departments—invariably the first officers to arrive—respond to such shootings. The drills, which use non-lethal rounds, reinforce the now-standard protocol of engaging the shooter directly instead of waiting for specialized SWAT teams, even if the officer's weapon is less powerful than the gunman's and even if studies show a solo officer will be shot one-third of the time. "You can never get to the point where it's real life. Always in back of the officer's head, they know, 'I'm not actually going to die,'" one instructor says. But "it's as close as we can get to the real thing."