Spokane School Shooter Displayed Behaviors of Concern
Portions of this article are excerpted from the McGowan Program Administrators paper Preparation, Prevention and Crisis Management. Download the full paper.
On Wednesday morning, September 12, 2017, one student was killed and three others were wounded by a gunman at Freeman High School near Spokane, Wash.
Police say the suspected shooter was taken into custody. It appeared he acted alone.
“This morning’s shooting at Freeman High School is heartbreaking. All Washingtonians are thinking of the victims and their families, and are grateful for the service of school staff and first responders working to keep our students safe.”
Gov. Jay Inslee
According to various media outlet reports, a student said the shooter had been passing notes and talking vaguely about his plans with friends.
“He said that he was going to do something stupid that might get him killed or in jail,” the student told a TV station. “He was carrying a duffel bag. I think the color was black.”
Inside the bag was a gun.
“He pulled it out and just started shooting,” the student said.
Active-shooter scenarios often seem random and unpreventable. After all, who can predict the exact time and place when somebody opens fire on a group of people? But many people developing violent tendencies offer clues that can be flagged in time to prevent a catastrophe.
Firestorm recommends that organizational leaders draw up a list of “behaviors of concern” and train their people to watch for these behaviors. It could be posts on social media, violent outbursts, threatening language or a stark personality change. Once the behaviors of concern are documented, the next step is to create an “intelligence network” of people who are keeping an eye out for troubling behaviors (it’s helpful to allow anonymous reporting).
And finally, there needs to be a repository of all this information that people can tap into to see if worrisome trends are developing. “People don’t just snap,” said Jim Satterfield, CEO of Crisis Management firm Firestorm. They often leave warning signs or raise red flags that go unreported because they don’t seem important in isolation.
Though none of these behaviors can predict the time and place of an active-shooter incident, having a framework to document an accumulation of these clues could give you an opportunity to intervene and save lives. That is exactly why Firestorm created the Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment Program – a program Firestorm calls BERTHA®. Its goal is to enable an organization to intercede before an act of violence occurs.
An active-shooter incident can be over almost as soon as it starts. The next profound challenge is coping with the aftermath.
It’s frightening to think about in advance: you may have to help plan the funerals of people who died on your property. These people may be close friends and trusted colleagues. Survivors will deal with profound trauma that may last the rest of their lives, and you might be among them.
News media inquiries will put your organization’s name in the headlines for months and even years to come, threatening relationships with clients and investors.
Additionally, your company may experience massive turnover because people have too many negative associations with going to work. Managing this kind of crisis requires bringing in specialized expertise on extremely short notice.
Harry Rhulen, one of the co-founders of Firestorm says companies need to think seriously about indemnifying themselves against the financial and emotional costs of such an incident. When you call up your insurance agent in the middle of a crisis, Rhulen said, “the last thing you ever want to hear is ‘oh, that’s excluded’ or ‘that’s not covered.’”
Facing up to the Risks of Active-Shooter Incidents
No matter how faint the likelihood of an active-shooter incident might seem in your organization, the reality is these things happen on a daily basis. Developing plans to prevent, respond to and indemnify against potential costs of active shooters are not cure-alls. You can’t anticipate everything. But you can craft a strategy to improve the odds of surviving a worst-case scenario.