The most reliable sources with information on a developing threat will be those closest to the troubled individual — family and friends, but also work colleagues or other peers of proximity. Successful threat assessment and mitigation depends heavily on the willingness of those people to come forward and let threat assessors know that a potential risk exists.
Those in the community should be encouraged to speak up, but they have to know what to look for. Threat assessors should let community members know what should alert them — not just in terms of a shooter’s typical behavioral characteristics as outlined above — but to look for potentially alarming patterns within a larger context: Violence typically results from something of a formula of specific conditions involving the would-be shooter, past stressful events, a current stressful situation and a target. By observing a distressed person’s behavior in a larger context of events surrounding and directly affecting that person, his or her actions — and intentions — are much more easily read.
Effective communication with the staff, students and community members the treat assessment team is designed to serve is vital, but reaching out to the network of first responders in the larger community is also imperative. At the November InfraGard meeting, a panel of first responders addressed the assembled audience on the importance of having accurate and current information on a tactical response call. One of the priorities they voiced was the importance of businesses and institutions being proactive and reaching out to jurisdictional agencies — police and fire departments, for example — to provide building floor plans that can be retrieved and reviewed en route in the event of an emergency. Inviting first responders into the building or space being secured to test their radios and other communication equipment is highly recommended, as well. Both these steps go a long way to assuring the most effective response in a shooter situation. And in spite of these being easy steps that any organization can take toward greater security, when asked why businesses, schools and other institutions don’t routinely do this, the panel responded, “Nobody asks.” Cooperation between the community at large and first responders needs to be fostered and facilitated to ensure not only the safety of students and on-site personnel in the event of an active shooting incident, but of first responders themselves.
The panel was very vocal about the importance of the 911 calls they receive in active shooter situations, and about encouraging those who have reached safety to call 911 regardless of whether or not others have already done so. By flooding 911 dispatchers with calls, first responders get a much bigger sampling of information about what is happening, and they get it in very close to real time. This is precisely the sort of information first-response teams need going into a potentially lethal situation, and threat assessment teams and active shooter committees should take care to articulate that to their staff, students and personnel.
In the best-case scenario, every business or institution would have people on-site with active shooter training — something Davis recommends highly. That may not always be practicable, but regardless, establishing the threat assessment team and active shooting committee should be considered a top priority, if for no other reason than it lets everybody concerned know that you care about their safety. According to the panel of first responders at the November InfraGard quarterly meeting, the value of established threat assessment teams to their work, when done effectively, is “priceless.” Because they know just how preventable active shooter situations can be.
How preventable are they? Enough so that at the end of 2013, United States Attorney General Eric Holder credited Andre Simons and his Behavioral Analysis Unit 2 (BAU2) with the prevention of 148 mass shootings and other violent attacks — an incredible achievement by any measure. By his own admission, Holder maintains that this success rate is difficult to actually quantify, obviously, due to the lack of an event being the definition of success in this case, but he does affirm that not one case to which he and BAU2 have been called for support has resulted in a mass shooting or event. For his team and for everyone dealing with this nightmare of a problem, intervention is the key — intervention and preparedness. Through coordination, observation and communication, we need to escalate our coordinated efforts to maximize opportunities for successful intervention, and work to neutralize the active shooter phenomenon.
Surviving in an Active Shooter Scenario
Surviving in an Active Shooter Scenario
The best way to minimize casualties resulting from active shooters is to prevent incidents from taking place at all. But in an active shooter situation, where first responders often arrive at a scene when an event is over, there are ways to increase the odds of survival. Armed with this information, anyone facing the wildly unpredictable danger of a gunman or similar assailant can have a plan of action pre-formulated for escape or defense should the need arise. Be aware that if you find yourself in the vicinity of an active shooter, your life may depend on your mental and physical ability to deal with the situation.
If at all possible, RUN:
- Have a pre-planned escape route in mind.
- Leave personal belongings behind.
- Evacuate regardless of whether or not others follow.
- Help others to escape if you can.
- Do not attempt to move wounded persons.
- Keep others away from anywhere the shooter may be.
- Keep your hands visible.
- Call 911 immediately when you know you are safe — even if you know others have done so.
If you can’t get away, HIDE:
- Hide in an area out of the shooter’s sight.
- Lock or block any door between your hiding place and the shooter.
- Silence your cell phone, including vibration mode, and remain as silent as possible.
Only if you’re confronted and can’t escape, FIGHT:
- Fight as a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger.
- Try as aggressively as possible to incapacitate the shooter.
- Grab what’s nearest and most effective to arm yourself, or throw items at the shooter.
- Fully aggressive commitment to your actions is essential — your survival depends on it.