The Contagion Effect of Mass Shootings

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Firestorm friend, Dr. George Vergolias, has graciously allowed us to share his article The Contagion Effect of Mass Shootings. Dr. Vergolias is the Vice President and Medical Director for R3 Continuum.

Ironic as it sounds in the United States, we’ve seen a burst of mass shootings and attacks in the past few months. Since June of this year we’ve seen 6 such attacks:

6/14/17 Alexandria, Virginia – firearm attack on a US Congressman and his aides at a baseball field; 1 killed, 5 injured
8/12/17 Charlottesville, Virginia – vehicle attack by a white nationalist directed at protesters; 1 killed, 19 injured
9/24/17 Antioch, Tennessee – firearm attack at a church service; 1 killed, 8 injured
10/1/17 Las Vegas, Nevada – firearm sniper-like attack from the 32nd floor of a hotel room, down on a group of country music concert-goers; 59 killed, 527 injured
10/31/17 New York City – vehicle attack on a crowded public bike path; 8 killed, 12 injured.
11/5/17 Sutherland Springs, Texas – firearm attack at a church service; 26 killed, 20 injured.

The media covers these events and their rapid succession with shock and surprise. Yet, those of us in the threat management and forensic community have long known anecdotally, and in the past 10 years increasingly through empirical research, that such a “contagion effect” is a reality.

The contagion effect refers to the increased likelihood of subsequent mass attacks by other, unrelated assailants in response to widespread media coverage of a prior mass shooting or attack. The effect is significant and time-limited in most instances. Towers and colleagues (2015), published in PlosOne Journal, used statistical predictive modeling to compare mass shootings in real-time to the probability of subsequent attacks, based off of three well-respected databases of such attacks covering hundreds of cases.

We find significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are incented by similar events in the immediate past. On average, this temporary increase in probability lasts 13 days, and each incident incites at least 0.30 new incidents (p = 0.0015). We also find significant evidence of contagion in school shootings, for which an incident is contagious for an average of 13 days, and incites an average of at least 0.22 new incidents (p = 0.0001). On average, mass killings involving firearms occur approximately every two weeks in the US, while school shootings occur on average monthly. We find that state prevalence of firearm ownership is significantly associated with the state incidence of mass killings with firearms, school shootings, and mass shootings.

There’s a lot in this statement, our focus here is on the “contagion” aspect. So why? Why does contagion occur, what is the rationale behind it? It’s both simple and complex.

Read the full article by Dr. Vergolias here.

Learn more from Dr. Vergolias on December 7th as we discuss Terrorism or Lone Wolf – Does it Matter? Joining as facilitators are Firestorm EVP/COO, Hart Brown and Former Secret Service Agent and President/CEO of Secure Education Consultants, Jason Russell. The two-hour session is the final Firestorm virtual exercise of 2017. The no-fee session will test organization’s crisis plans in real time. Gather your teams around a conference table and join us from 2-4 p.m. ET.

About the Author: George Vergolias, PsyD, LP

Dr. Vergolias is a forensic psychologist and threat management expert serving as Vice President and Associate Medical Director for the R3 Continuum. He currently serves as Associate Medical Director of R3 Continuum, leading their Threat of violence and workplace violence programs. Dr. Vergolias is also the founder and President of TelePsych Supports, a tele-mental health company providing involuntary commitment and crisis risk evaluations for hospitals and emergency departments. He has over 20 years of forensic experience with expertise in the following areas: violence risk and threat management, psychological dynamics of stalking, sexual offending, emotional trauma, civil and involuntary commitment, suicide and self-harm, occupational disability, law enforcement consultation, expert witness testimony, and tele-mental health. Dr. Vergolias has directly assessed or managed over one thousand cases related to elevated risk for violence or self-harm, sexual assault, stalking, and communicated threats. He has consulted with regional, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, and Bureau of Prisons. He has worked for and consulted with Fortune 500 companies, major insurance carriers, government agencies, and large healthcare systems on issues related to work absence management, workplace violence, medical necessity reviews, and expert witness consultation.

About R3 Continuum

R3 Continuum offers a continuum of solutions to assist organizations with every phase in the business planning, absence management and return to work cycle. Collectively their services can ensure that organizations are ready for major disruptive events, able to respond successfully to these events (including workplace or threat of violence incidents) and equipped to accelerate employee recovery and return to work outcomes.

Additional Insights by Dr. Vergolias and the R3 Continuum Team

R3 Speaks – Affective vs. Predatory Violence: All Violence is not the Same

Risk Management and the Importance of Disruptive Event Management

Managing Hostile Employees

Blindsided by a Crisis


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