What is a Rescue Task Force?

A Rescue Task Force is an anti-terrorism measure designed to neutralize active shooters quickly and render aid to victims sooner rather than later.


From domestic terrorists to foreign threats, the potential for complex active-shooter and mass-casualty situations in the U.S. is not decreasing. The growing threat is forcing police departments and other first responders to examine how effective their current strategy is. The creation of a Rescue Task Force, an anti-terrorism measure designed to confront crises, is helping do just that.

First responders on a scene generally have two jobs in front of them: neutralize the threat, and render aid to victims. Through the creation of a Rescue Task Force, police departments around the country have found they can more effectively get a handle on these types of large-scale, complex situations.

A Rescue Task Force Involves Coordination on the Scene

Typically during an active situation, authorities wait to clear an area before allowing medical personnel to begin assisting victims. Using a Rescue Task Force, however, police are able to clear and secure a portion of the area, and then escort medical staff there, allowing them to start life-saving procedures much earlier, which can help reduce the overall death total.

There are cases that would benefit from a minute’s difference of high-quality medical response, as opposed to people laying on the ground while you cordon off the area,” Juan C. Zarate, a deputy national security adviser during the George W. Bush administration, told the New York Times.

A lower death total also means less shock value and impact for the shooter, which is usually the goal. By coordinating resources and working as a group instead of working through the area one by one, more can be done to rescue the victims, possibly saving lives.

Cities Can Create a Rescue Task Force to Fit Their Needs

There is no one-size-fits-all for a Rescue Task Force. New York City has 10 Rescue Task Force teams available at all times, ready to assess and confront a situation without having to pull officers or paramedics from other duties, losing time to stop additional carnage. For smaller cities, having 10 standing task forces is not needed.

An RTF might include police, EMS and fire personnel, or might only start with police and a change in their crisis strategy. From there, city and local officials can work to include other first responders until a full task force can be created. Ultimately, the goal is to attend to victims sooner, even before the threat has been neutralized, and RTF teams show it can be done, effectively.

When an active shooter was identified at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, the NYPD RTF responded. Paramedics were on scene as part of the task force, ready to be led into the scene by police trained in active-shooter response. It was the first time the city’s RTF team had an opportunity to put their new strategy into action. Thankfully, the shooter claimed only one victim before being neutralized.

The RTF was able to provide immediate aid to the six wounded, improving their chance for survival.