Active Shooter: Preparing for and Responding to a Growing Threat

By: , Posted on: August 27, 2015

gun sightsThe recent shooting of a news reporter and cameraman in Virginia continues the deadly upward trend of senseless shootings across the world.  I watched the two videos of the shooting; the video that the gunman recorded and the news cameraman’s video recording during the cowardly act.

Was this tragic incident avoidable?  In an interview with Jeffrey Marks, the news station general manager, he mentioned that the gunman’s name came to mind instantly when he heard about the shooting.  The gunman had been an employee who was terminated from the station under less than ideal conditions. The gunman was thought to be a troublemaker and was even escorted by police from the building when he was terminated.  This is the first indicator, that prevention in this case, may have been possible.  Since I do not know all of the details surrounding the shooter’s employment termination, I will not speculate on the reasons and underlying emotions involved.

The gunman also faxed his 23-page manifesto to the news station about two-hours after the shooting.  Unfortunately, a self-written manifesto is not enough evidence as to what the shooter was actually thinking prior to or during the attack.  A self-proclaimed manifesto is often an attempt to sway others to their viewpoint or an effort to gain the respect and/or pity for such action.  Often people will write things they don’t necessarily believe in order to gain the support of others.  Whether or not he was being truthful in his manifesto doesn’t matter now- three people are dead and no analysis can be 100% accurate as to the motives and triggers that caused this.

In the book Active Shooter: Preparing for and Responding to a Growing Threat (2015), my coauthor and I write about some of the potential motivations and triggers in Chapter 2.  The reason I mention the book is because the science behind understanding what the shooter is thinking is not perfect; however, such research is gaining more traction within academia and otherwise. Unfortunately, we do not have the time or space in this article to cover all of the different aspects of the motivations and triggers that may have caused the shooter to act out.

One thing is certain; it is evident that the shooter’s co-workers and management team were aware of the shooter’s problematic behavior and the potential risk associated with this former employee (evident by the police escort used during the termination process).  This is where the intervention process should have started.

Additionally, the news crew and interviewee had no situational awareness of the gunman- they were completely focused on the interview.  Based on the gunman’s own video recording, it appeared that he hesitated to shoot at first as if he expected to cause terror and panic prior to pulling the trigger. Once he realized that no one was paying attention to him, he started shooting.  The reporter fled as quickly as she possibly could- once she realized what was happening- but it was too late, the bullets found their mark.

Both videos that I reviewed do not show the cameraman being shot (just the sounds of it happening and the camera falling to the ground). However, the gunman’s video recording of the incident shows that he was within arms reach of the cameraman when he began shooting. This is important to note because the gunman shot several shots at the reporter before turning the gun on the cameraman.  Even though the gun was directly adjacent to the cameraman, I believe that the shock and disbelief caused him to freeze up, instead of grabbing the gun.

I do not want to infer that the reporter or cameraman, to stop the attacker, could have initiated any specific action.  They were like many of us, doing their jobs and not expecting to be a victim of a violent crime. That being said, I want to offer three basic tips that may prevent or limit the loss of life if you are ever involved in an active shooter incident:

1) Always be aware of your surroundings and have a plan to mitigate any threats (engage verbally, report suspicious activity, fight back, run, hide, etc.) This is an individual responsibility.

2) Know potential indicators of violence and have a plan to properly address them. This goes for individuals as well as organizations. Such problems will not just go away; in most cases intervention is necessary. It is possible that certain steps and protocols, when taken by an organization proactively, may be able to prevent or intercede before violence erupts.

3) Fight for your life, if all else fails. Be prepared to use anything and everything at your disposal to fight for your life.  Anything that can be used to subdue the attacker or buy you precious seconds to escape should be considered. It can be as simple as throwing a cup of coffee at the shooter and running, or as complex as returning fire at the shooter if you are armed.  Do not expect others to help as they may be in shock or disbelief.  Know yourself and choose your response wisely.  Your life may depend on it.

In the end, it may be up to you to protect yourself and others- do not think it will not happen to you or your organization- be prepared and act.  There are no guarantees or foolproof plans when it comes to an active shooter, but preparing and planning for such tragic incidents may make all the difference.


Kevin DossThe author, Kevin T. Doss, MS, CPP, PSP, has over 25 years experience providing protective services in high-risk environments worldwide. His expertise includes active shooter/workplace violence programs, high-risk protection services, risk, vulnerability and threat assessments, emergency planning, security program development and the application of physical protection systems.  www.Level4Security.com

active shooter

To purchase a copy of his book, Active Shooter: Preparing for and Responding to a Growing Threat, visit the Elsevier Store. Apply discount code STC215 and save up to 30% off the list price and free shipping.

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  • Just Curious

    “the deadly upward trend of senseless shootings across the world”

    Shootings = bad. But are there really more and more such shootings? And how do you scientifically define “senseless” or “across the world” — does that mean in all countries and in all cities? Does it include ISIS shootings, or drug gang-related shootings, or police shootings of citizens, or citizen shootings of police officers? Even if you just limit your scope to the US, it seems an untenable theory. As a 2013 study suggests, “Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware” (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware). How does that square with your theory?

    • Kevin T. Doss, MS, CPP, PSP

      This is a good question and the answer is no, it only includes the classification of Active Shootings in the United States. In Chapter 1 of the book Active Shooter: Preparing for and Responding to a Growing Threat the definition of an Active Shooter is provided, which is a separate classification than that of a homicide. Some of the police departments in the United States (not all) provide the FBI with statistics based upon how they classify crimes committed in their jurisdiction. Based upon the most recent research sponsored by the FBI on Active Shooters incidents in the United States (2014), these type of shootings have more than doubled over the past few years- and in other research performed by Harvard- it documents that the rates of occurrence for Active Shooters in the U.S. have more than tripled recently! Correspondingly, in the same FBI sponsored report, the casualty rates from the shootings have also more than tripled in the past few years (and this is the conservative number), meaning each incident is experiencing more dead and wounded than ever before. I would dare say that these numbers are actually higher than both reports show, but because every police department can classify shootings in different ways, many of these shootings are listed under a different classification (not that 2x-3x more isn’t bad enough). Unfortunately, we just need to watch the news- every week there is another senseless shooting in a theater, school, business, place of worship or other venue. Despite the fact that homicides involving gun violence in the U.S. is lower these days, Active Shooter incidents continue to climb on a upward curve. Thanks for the question!

      • Just Curious

        Yes that is helpful. I see now that you are referring to a specific class of homicides/shootings involving “Active Shooters”, which is a term I hadn’t heard before. The article on this page didn’t really go into that distinction, hence my confusion.

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