Tag Archives: active shooter

New Idea for Active Shooter Incidents

Active shooter events in the U.S., unfortunately, are becoming more frequent — so much so that the Wall Street Journal reported this week that school districts are stepping up purchases of insurance against such events. The incidents raise many questions, and a persistent one in a legal context is, “Should anyone besides the shooter be held liable?”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, between 2000 and 2017 there were 250 active shooter incidents. They resulted in 799 victim deaths and 1,418 wounded. Often, victims and their families understandably seek to hold someone other than the shooter accountable for failing to prevent these acts of criminality or terrorism. Although this type of litigation is always emotionally charged, the legal concepts of foreseeability, duty and reasonable care are the key factors used to determine liability.

In litigation, the concepts generally mean that allegations of liability must be supported by “expert” testimony. Such opinions are formed by using post-event knowledge to reverse engineer some preventative measure that would have allegedly prevented a particular incident.

Of course, the entity alleged to be liable is being judged for its pre-event actions and “failing to act reasonably” in the context of a threat environment that includes countless potential risks. Unlike a government, private entities must assess these risks without access to the intelligence that only governments possess and without a government’s resources and legal authority to implement an unlimited number of countermeasures. Governments are frequently held to be immune from similar lawsuits, so one can reasonably ask whether it is fair and just for private entities to be subject to a disparate legal standard.

See also: Active Shooter Scenarios

While there may be some cases where liability may properly attach, perhaps it’s time to consider whether concepts of crime victim compensation funds and victim compensation funds similar to that enacted after the 9/11 attacks should be used to provide compensation to victims of mass shootings.

Creating a similar fund for individual victims of active shooting incidents could address multiple challenges. Victims could gain compensation quickly and without the financial and emotional expense of litigation. Defendants who had no involvement in the shooting could be spared the costs of defending lawsuits. By authorizing a fund to accept claims over several years, individuals with latent physical injuries or illnesses that take time to develop also could be compensated.

Risk cannot be eliminated

Thinking about long-term solutions to address the issue of compensation for persons injured or killed by acts of mass violence is important. The real world is not like a post-event lawsuit that focuses only on whether a particular location could have been made “safer.” In the real world, the question is really whether the world itself can be made safer.

FBI data shows that the vast majority of active shootings 2000-2017 happened in locations that are open to public access:

  • Commerce (businesses, shopping malls), 42% of active shooting events
  • Schools (pre-K to 12, institutions of higher education), 21%
  • Open space, 14%
  • Government, 10%
  • Residences, 4.8%
  • Houses of worship, 4%
  • Healthcare facilities, 4%

If active shooter litigation continues to propagate, more and more security measures are bound to be imposed by either governmental or private entities. The risk will never be completely eliminated, but the way we live and interact with each other necessarily will. And the cost for doing so will have additional ripple effects that may have profound effects on all our daily and heretofore routine activities.

See also: The New Face of Preparedness  

There are no perfect solutions for the societal problem of shootings, but we ought to fix what we can. Sparing victims the burden of litigation and providing fund-based compensation seems to be a logical approach to consider.

The New Face of Preparedness

The devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria is a stark reminder for individuals and organizations about the importance of emergency preparedness. But while most of us think of emergency preparedness in terms of natural disasters, the fact is that organizations today face a multitude of man-made threats, including mass casualty and active shooter/active killer scenarios. While it is important to be ready to face these new threats, the preparation is very different.

An Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is the foundation upon which all incident and emergency management components are built. It is the foremost part of the preparedness phase of the emergency management cycle. Whether hazard assessment, specialized training, exercises or other incident-specific elements, all are based upon a realistic and practical EOP, which is as much about the process as it is about the EOP itself.

See also: Hurricane Harvey: A Moment of Truth  

The new face of emergency preparedness for many organizations today includes worldwide threats related to terrorism and other acts of violence. Training as a critical aspect of emergency response, continuity of operations and recovery capabilities following a disaster/mass-casualty event are imperative for both public entities and private companies alike.

At a minimum, this training should include:

  • Active Shooter/Active Killer — preparedness/response including facility design/layout considerations and post-event management/reunification/recovery
  • Threat Awareness — situational/operational security training
  • De-escalation Training — non-violent verbal intervention
  • TaPS Assessment (threat and physical security)
  • Theft/Vandalism Assessment

The key to making this training effective is to personalize it to meet the needs of the individual organization. The unique aspects of various entities and organizations must be considered in terms of content and adapted to the entity’s geographic and demographic makeup.

To accomplish this, active shooter/active killer training should take place in the actual work environment, allowing site-specific questions and issues to be addressed. Training small groups in their work environment also provides greater participant confidence and organizational readiness. Whether they work for a public entity or a private company, people want to feel confident they will be prepared to address any emergency or threat. They are not interested in high-level, generic information. They want detailed, tangible information and hands-on training for their own workplace.

A personalized and comprehensive emergency preparedness program is a vital component of any organization’s overall risk management solution. In response to this demand, Keenan recently launched IMReady (Incident Management Ready), a new suite of security and emergency preparedness resources designed to prepare any entity or organization for a disaster or mass casualty event occurring at its facility, including active shooter/active killer scenarios.

See also: Test Your Emergency, Continuity, and Disaster Recovery Plans Regularly, Part 2  

What would you do if an unthinkable event began to unfold around you? The more people who are prepared with a clear answer to this question, the more they are able to provide a greater level of security for both themselves and the public they serve.

Active Shooter Scenarios

Campus safety and security is a topic of increasing concern on both a personal and institutional level. On-campus shootings can no longer be viewed as singular, isolated events. The good news is that the chance of an active shooter incident taking place on campus is pretty small. However, because of the random nature of such events, all institutions need to be prepared. Planning for an active shooter threat has become an unfortunately necessary part of the framework of institutional safety and risk management best practices.

Active Shooter Defined

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s), and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

Colleges and universities understand the need for emergency response plans for many different types of disasters and typically already have processes and procedures in place to address multiple types of disasters. Planning for an active shooter threat can and should be integrated into an institution’s overall emergency and disaster preparedness plans. While many of the components are similar for most natural and man-made disasters, the inclusion of an active shooter plan generates an even greater immediacy for response. There are several considerations when it comes to the development and implementation of an emergency response plan to address any threat. These include the three Ps: Prevention, Preparedness and Post-Event Management and Recovery, each of which will be discussed in greater detail below.

See Also: “Boss, Can I Carry While I’m Working?”


Engage in Threat Assessment

Probing how threats develop can mitigate, diffuse or even eliminate a situation before it occurs. Active shooters do not develop in a vacuum. A joint study by the U.S. Department of Education, the Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that individual attackers do not simply “snap” before engaging in violence; rather, they often exhibit behaviors that signal an attack is going to occur. The study recommends the use of threat assessment teams to identify and respond to students and employees.

As part of the threat identification and assessment process, an institution may elect to conduct pre-employment background checks to identify past patterns of violent behavior. While the background check process may not be a perfect indicator of future behavior, it does provide a useful mechanism for vetting a prospective employee. If triggering behavior is found, the threat assessment team can be used to evaluate the information and determine whether further action or intervention is needed. 

Encourage Training and Education

An essential component of prevention is training the campus community on how to identify both trigger behaviors and events that may trigger a potential incident.

Supervisor and Faculty Training: Train faculty on how to recognize early warning signs of individuals in distress. Supervisors/faculty should be aware of major personal events in the lives of their employees, as many incidents of violence occur in close proximity to such events.

Student/Community Training: Educate the campus community on how to recognize warning signs of individuals in distress and provide a mechanism for sharing that information.

Develop and Communicate Reporting Procedures

All employees and students should know how and where to report violent acts or threats of violence. Information regarding the function of the threat assessment team or other similar programs should be provided to the entire campus community. The institution should also have an internal tracking system of all threats and incidents of violence.

Continuing Staff and Student Evaluations

When appropriate, obtain psychological evaluations for students or employees exhibiting seriously dysfunctional behaviors.


Leverage Community Relationships

There are many programs and resources in communities that can assist with the development of active shooter response plans.

Include local law enforcement agencies, SWAT teams and fire and emergency responders in early stages of the plan development to promote good relations and to help the agencies become more familiar with the campus environment and facilities. The police can explain what actions they typically take during incidents involving threats and active violence situations that can be included in the institution’s plan. Provide police with floor plans and the ability to access locked and secured areas.

Invite law enforcement agencies, SWAT teams and security experts to educate employees on how to recognize and respond to violence on campus. Such experts can provide crime prevention information, conduct building security inspections and teach individuals how to react and avoid becoming a victim.

Review Resources and Security

Periodic review of security policies and procedures will help minimize the institution’s vulnerability to violence and other forms of crime.

  • Routinely inspect and test appropriate physical security measures such as electronic access control systems, silent alarms and closed-circuit cameras in a manner consistent with applicable state and federal laws.
  • Conduct risk assessments to determine mitigation strategies at points of entry.
  • Develop, maintain and review systems for automatic lockdown. Conduct lockdown training routinely.
  • Place active shooter trauma kits in various locations on the campus. Train employees on how to control hemorrhaging, including the use of tourniquets.
  • Provide panic or silent alarms in high-risk areas such as main reception locations and the human resources department.
  • Implement an emergency reverse 911 system to alert individuals both on and off campus. Periodically test the system to serve as training and verification that the equipment is functioning properly.
  • Equip all doors so that they lock from the inside.
  • Install a telephone or other type of emergency call system in every room.
  • Install an external communication system to alert individuals outside the facility.

Develop and Communicate Lockdown Procedures

Lockdown is a procedure used when there is an immediate threat to the building occupants. Institutions should have at least two levels of lockdown – sometimes called “hard lockdown” and “soft lockdown.”

Hard Lockdown: This is the usual response when there is an intruder inside the building or if there is another serious, immediate threat. In the event of a hard lockdown, students, faculty and staff are instructed to secure themselves in the room they are in and not to leave until the situation has been curtailed. This allows emergency responders to secure the students and staff in place, address the immediate threat and remove any innocent bystanders to an area of safety.

Soft Lockdown: This is used when there is a threat outside the building but there is no immediate threat to individuals inside the building. During a soft lockdown, the building perimeter is secured and staff members are stationed at the doors to be sure no one goes in or out of the facility. Depending on the situation, activities may take place as usual. A soft lockdown might be appropriate if the police are looking for a felon in the area or if there is a toxic spill or other threat where individuals are safer and better managed inside.

Evacuation Procedures Communication/Training

Evacuation of the facility can follow the same routes used for fire evacuation if the incident is confined to a specific location. Otherwise, other exits may need to be considered. Designate a floor or location monitor to assist with the evacuation and inventory of evacuees for accountability to authorities. Establish a meeting point away from the facility.

Develop a Communication System

Perhaps the most crucial component of an active shooter response plan is the network of communication systems. Immediate activation of systems is critical to saving lives because many mass shootings are over and bystanders are injured or dead before police can respond.

Create a Crisis Response Box

A crisis response box has one primary purpose: provide immediate information to designated campus staff for effective management of a major critical incident.

If a crisis is in progress, this is not the time to collect information. It is the time to act upon information.

Knowing what information to collect, how to organize it and how to use it during a crisis can mean faster response time.

Create an Incident Command Center Plan

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a nationally recognized emergency operations plan that is adapted for large critical incidents where multi-agency response is required. NIMS facilitates priority-setting, interagency cooperation and the efficient flow of resources and information.

The location of an incident command center should be in a secure area within sight and sound of potential incidents with staging areas located nearby.

See Also: Thought Leader in Action: At U. of C.


To ensure a smooth transition from response to recovery, plans that went into effect during the event should be de-escalated and integrated into the plan for moving forward. This will include aspects such as:

  • Media and information management
  • Impact assessment
  • Facility and environmental rebuilding
  • Restoring student, staff and community confidence


Though an active shooter situation is unlikely to occur at most colleges and universities, it is still essential to be prepared. Failure to do so can cause the loss of lives, severe financial repercussions and reputational damage that could take years to reverse.

Additional resources for university risk managers and administrators are available in the complete Encampus Active Shooter Resource Guide, which is available for download here.

Teachers Apparently Object to Being Shot

I can’t say that I blame them, actually.

Missouri legislators have mandated that teachers and students in public schools undergo “active shooter” drills. I suppose people call Missouri the “Show Me State” for a reason. Teachers in St. Francois County, MO, have complained because their duties now include being shot at with pellet guns during these drills. This despite being told that they would be required to wear goggles to protect their eyes. Pansies. It’s not like the welts and bruises won’t eventually heal.

To be fair, it seems the Missouri legislature was not alone. In the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, several states now require active shooter drills be performed in public schools. These often-unannounced drills are designed to assist law enforcement in procedure development, and to make teachers and students familiar with the sounds of gunshots and with in-pants urination.

What a brilliant idea. I can think of no better way to keep that pesky teachers union in line while simultaneously terrorizing innocent children. A real twofer from the Marquis de Sade School of Training, if you will.

Seriously, who thinks this is a good idea?

Can we not foresee (legitimate) stress claims arising from teachers who now must, sometimes without notice, deal with “active shooters”? And doesn’t this whole charade lead to a possible over-familiarization, so that people won’t respond when they need to – believing a real assault is just a drill?

Because not all drills are announced, teachers can’t comfortably secure that safety gear they are required to wear. In Texas, an unannounced drill last year in El Paso angered many parents dealing with traumatized children who thought the attack was real. These drills are moronic, knee-jerk thinking that won’t help anybody, but might be a boon for the undergarment industry.

As I have previously noted, I am but a simple boy from Durango. My crazy-ass solution to the “active shooter” scenario could best be summed up by this phrase: active defenders. If you want teachers to be familiar with the sound of gunfire, take them to a gun range and teach them how to handle a weapon. And when they are done, certify them to carry if they wish. Some people will think that is nuts – truly certifiable – but I maintain it is less crazy than creating “Gun-Free Zones” that provide target-rich environments for whackjobs who are not overly concerned with violating useless gun registration laws. And my approach is certainly a better defense than teaching people how to hide in a closet and pray that “this one is a drill.”

Our children and teachers are now far more likely in some states to be traumatized by a law-enforcement exercise than by a real “active shooter.” Still, we live in a world where the mentally ill do not get help until it is too late. We do need to be prepared to defend our children from terrible assaults like the one at Sandy Hook. I just wish the people of Missouri and other states could show me a better way than the path they have chosen.