Mass Murder – Active Shooters: Crisis Management Preparedness

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One of the more sobering aspects of crisis management and emergency response preparedness are scenarios involving active shooters, mass murder, mass shootings and violent acts committed in the name of domestic or foreign ideological motives (terrorism). Planning and preparedness for these horrific events is a grim chore, even for elementary schools, houses of worship, civic centers, high education campuses, shopping centers, malls, retail stores, heath care facilities, manufacturing and even post offices. It is a serious issue that demands due diligence in every industry, business and public/private sector.Mass Shooting Collage

In many cases, there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations, by their very nature, are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Therefore, it can be use in that planning and preparation to understand the goals and motives of such attackers, as well as anticipating their mode of attack and likely potential targets. One effort at analysis of such attacks was completed and recently released to the public.

The Anti-Defamation League  (ADL) has released a new report (Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2015) detailing the toll of human lives taken this past year by extremists in the United States. The report notes that 2015 was the deadliest year for domestic extremist violence in the past 20 years. Download a PDF copy of the complete ADL Report.

The 52 murders analyzed in the report occurred in 17 separate incidents, with nine of the incidents involving multiple murders. This is unusual, in that most extremist-related examples of murder involve a single victim. Ideology played a primary or substantial role in 10 of the 17 incidents in 2015, accounting for 34 of the 52 victims. Non-ideological killings by extremists, which accounted for the remainder,  involved group-related killings (such as killing a suspected informant or a rival gang member) or traditional criminal violent activity (in which extremists also often engage).

Mark Berman, writing in The Washington Post online (2015 was deadliest year for domestic extremist violence in two decades, report says), compares the ADL report findings with other summative statistical analysis of these types of attacks:

“This ADL report, which The Post reviewed before its release, is the latest attempt to track and quantify the danger posed by violent extremists in the United States. New America, a Washington research center which also tallies such violence, has identified 93 deaths by ‘homegrown extremists’ since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; the killings have been split about equally between right-wing attackers (48) and people inspired by jihad (45), the center says. ‘There’s no question that domestic extremist violence is on the rise,’ said J. M. Berger, a fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism…..New America’s count focuses on jihadist attacks and far right-wing attacks and does not include all of the deaths tallied by the Anti-Defamation League. Both groups included the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last year that killed three people; the accused gunman later expressed anti-abortion views. Neither group included the deaths of three young Muslims shot and killed near the University of North Carolina last year in their tallies. There, the accused gunman had railed against religion, sparking questions about whether the victims were targeted for their faith. But he also had a history of anger over parking issues, which invesActive Shootertigators cited as a possible explanation for the shooting. In recent years, law enforcement officials have grown acutely concerned about violent domestic extremism — particularly from anti-government extremists.

Michael A. Clancy, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, warned in 2012 about ‘smaller, localized acts of violence’ that could be carried out by domestic extremists, calling this threat one of the bureau’s highest priorities. A report released last year found that law enforcement agencies said they were most concerned about the national threat posed by violent extremism. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Schanzer of Duke University, 74 percent of the agencies who responded said that anti-government extremism was one of the top threats in their area, nearly double the number who listed terrorist extremism.”

The ADL report includes the following useful findings:

During 2015, 52 deaths came at the hands of adherents of four domestic extremist movements: (1) white supremacists, (2) anti-government extremists, (3) domestic Islamic extremists and (4) anti-abortion extremists.

White supremacists were responsible for the largest number of deaths (20). One incident, the June 17th mass shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which killed nine, was responsible for almost half of the total deaths in this category for 2015. Domestic Islamic extremists were responsible for 19 deaths, (statistically speaking) about the same as the number of murders by white supremacists. Two significant 2015 shooting rampages dominate this category: the July 16th attacks by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez on military targets in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the December 2nd rampage by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California.

Overwhelmingly, the extremist weapons of choice in 2015—as in virtually every year—were firearms. In fact, 48 of the 52 victims were killed by firearms. The other four victims were killed by a variety of means, including two stabbings, a blunt instrument killing and a motor vehicle incident.  All of the multiple murder incidents involved the use of one or more firearms.

What Should You Do Next?

Clearly, one of the priorities should be to enhance preparedness to prevent, mitigate, communicate, respond and recover from these events. Educational training, informational materials and high-quality workshops can be part of the effort to better prepare people to prevent or survive an active shooter situation. This will also help to raise awareness of behaviors that represent pre-incident indicators and characteristics of active shooters.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set a goal to promote public and private sector preparedness for these threats Active Shooter Bookletthrough a “whole community” approach. They provide a range of training, products and resources adaptable by a broad range of constituents. This includes a focus on such issues like active shooter awareness, incident response and workplace violence.

In partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), DHS has launched a Countering Violent Extremism and Active Shooter (CVE-AS) Web Portal on the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). The purpose is to provide educational materials and training resources, as well as a document vault with information and resources, covering numerous CVE and AS topics.

There are many resources available to help enhance your public or private sector organization’s preparedness and readiness. DHS has developed a series of materials to assist businesses, government offices and schools in preparing for and responding to an active shooter. Private sector crisis management companies such as Firestorm can assist in risk analysis, threat assessment, creation or revision of an Active Shooter/Mass Shooting Plan, assessment and over all preparedness efforts. In addition, companies like Firestorm can make their resources and decision-making support available to leadership during and after an event such as this. Their unique Crisis Coach™ program is an excellent example of a deep resource and expert rich support system that is ready to serve and support when you need it most.

The Law Enforcement First Responder Training Program (LEFRTP) is a 24-hour classroom-based training program designed to help build critical skills that law enforcement officers acting as first responders need to effectively respond to mass consequence events, including criminal acts, terrorist attacks and other large-scale emergencies. The program provides training, guidelines and resources to address issues such as using a system of command to achieve a coordinated and effective incident response. The practical application of sound response principles is a main theme of this training program. Upon successful completion, each student receives a certificate of training.

DHS has developed an independent study course entitled Active Shooter: What You Can Do. This course was developed to provide the public with guidance on how to prepare for and respond to active shooter crisis situations. Upon completion of Active Shooter: What You Can Do, employees and managers should be able to:

  • Describe the actions to take when confronted with an active shooter and to assist responding law enforcement officials;
  • Recognize potential workplace violence indicators;
  • Describe actions to take to prevent and prepare for potential active shooter incidents; and
  • Describe how to manage the consequences of an active shooter incident.

The online training is available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute.

DHS Active Shooter Preparedness workshops have already taken place in a number of U.S. cities and will continue to be held in a number of locations in the future. These scenario-based workshops feature facilitated discussions to engage private sector professionals and law enforcement representatives from federal, state and local agencies to learn how to prepare for, and respond to, an active shooter situation. Through the course of the exercise, participants evaluate current response concepts, plans and capabilities for coordinated responses to active shooter incidents. If you are interested in attending future workshops, please contact [email protected]


Being prepared to communicate effectively before, during and after an event, such as this, is a fundamental aspect of preparedness. A high-speed outbound notification system capable of broadcasting voice, text, email and automated survey messages is a foundational tool for communication preparedness. High-speed targeted notification is one of the most powerful tools available to easily deliver hundreds or even thousands of messages to key people. Because you never know where you will be when you need to initiate safety notification, the tool should make it easy to launch messages from any phone, smart device or web-connected computer. An Inbound/Outbound telephony information hotline is equally important. If this can be integrated with an interactive message retrieval system, designed specifically for such situations, all the better.

Communication preparedness requires a resilient capacity for emergency incident notification via multiple modalities. In addition, a backup internal telephone switching, branch exchange or PBX backup will ensure resiliency for inbound and outbound telephony. Diversified telephony pathways ensure alternative redundancies as well as prioritized seamless telephony service capacity. You should also have redundant cellular connectivity (for voice and SMS) for resilient functionality as well as redundant and resilient wireless email capability. It is also important to have disaster or emergency hotline call-in capability for on-demand as needed information updates by targeted audience group. Further, it is useful to have a means for direct connect capacity with networked partners including responding agencies and members of health care coalitions.Extremist Killings 2015

Your communication plan should include specific aspects of issuing the activation of your active shooter- mass shooting response, as well as quickly notifying key employees, vendors, suppliers, distributors, customers, regulators, local officials, stakeholders and community members. In fact, the capacity to communicate is essential to ensuring safety, maintaining continuing operations after the event and keeping everyone informed and coordinated, despite the disruption and high levels of uncertainty. A modern efficient high speed, intuitive designed and extremely reliable two-way communication tool is critical to managing continuity of operations and implementing your plan.  It is optimal if you have a high-speed outbound notification system capable of broadcasting voice, text, email, and automated survey messages. High-speed notification is one of the most powerful tools available to management in managing continuity of operations. The ability to easily deliver hundreds or even thousands of messages to your employees/team members within seconds makes the difference when trying to avoid confusion, disarray and dysfunctional uncertainty during a disruption event. The tools should make it easy to launch messages from any phone, smart device or web connected computer.

In addition, an interactive message retrieval system designed specifically for contingency situations is essential. Ideally, the system would provide leaders and employees the ability to post and retrieve important (and even secure) messages from anywhere in the world. In many contingency events, the disruptions can impact critical infrastructure as well. Back-up power generators, emergency supplies and alternative work sites can be crucial for successful continuity of operations efforts. One essential “back-up” that sustains your ability to stay in contact and stay in business during such events is a web-based backup phone system. Using a cloud-based PBX phone system that will field calls into your phone system in the event that system goes down or becomes unavailable for any reason is critical. It is important that calls can be routed to employees at pre-designated, alternate numbers including mobile phones, VOIP, back-up land lines or any other available phones. All call flows and menu options available to your callers through the backup system can be easily programmed to mirror your current or primary phone system. From your team’s (and customer’s) perspective, any unplanned communication failure, or forced relocation can be managed to allow your operations to experience “business as usual” even during peak periods of dysfunctional stress, high stress and hyper-stress.

Are you prepared to communicate to the right people at the right time with the right message using the right tool? If not, why not?

Are you prepared for the next Active Shooter- Mass Shooting event?

Images:;; Department of Homeland Security; respectively

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