Active Shooter Preparedness


Category : Public Safety, Law Enforcement

Ever since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999 shocked the country and the world, law enforcement experts and agencies have refocused their efforts to learn all they can about persons who become active shooters and how we can be prepared for those situations in order to either prevent them beforehand or stop them as quickly as possible to limit the number of casualties.

What we know is that, unfortunately, we can’t prevent all active shooter events from happening; however, we have seen that many have been thwarted just in time and doing so has potentially saved hundreds of lives.

Through extensive study of those who commit these heinous acts, we’ve also learned much more about who they are and what their motivations are. Because of that, we can now assess potential active shooters and take actions to stop them ahead of time or at least limit the damage they inflict.

So how can law enforcement professionals and agencies improve their active shooter preparedness? Let’s take a look at several ways below.

Prevent the Event

Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to prevent the active shooter situation from taking place at all. But how could we possibly do that when the event itself is seemingly so random. Well, thanks to years of research and analysis by highly skilled experts, we now know that most active shooters go through five phases before the event. By knowing and understanding those phases, we may be able to spot a potential active shooter or situation before it happens and put a stop to it.


Phase I – the fantasy phase

In this first phase, the person begins to fantasize, or dream, about a day in which they wreak havoc and carnage on a person or group of people. Often the shooter will envision achieving fame and infamy from their acts. They may even idolize other shooters such as those who carried out the Columbine tragedy.

It’s during this stage that they will often write their thoughts and fantasies in a journal or on social media, sometimes accompanied with gruesome drawings and images. They’re also likely to share some of these thoughts with at least one other person. It’s also at this stage where if that other person or persons report what they hear, steps can be taken to prevent the incident from happening and potentially save many lives.However, for various reasons, it often goes unreported. This may be because the person doesn’t think the shooter is serious and doesn’t want to be accused of overreacting.

Phase II – the planning phase

After fantasizing and deciding to carry out those fantasies, the shooter will plan a course of action, answering the questions: who, what, when, where and how.

As he becomes more obsessed with this plan, he’ll usually write extensive notes, either in a notebook or online somewhere.This is often referred to as the manifesto.

If someone finds this so-called manifesto in time and reports it to law enforcement, the plan can be thwarted, and once again, lives can be saved.

Phase III – the preparation phase

Now that a plan is in place, he’ll take active measures to prepare for the plan, including recognizance at the future scene and buying or stealing the items he’ll need, such as guns, ammo and body armor. It’s important to also consider that the active shooter may purchase materials to build makeshift bombs, either to cause damage or to be used as a distraction.

Once again, here we have an opportunity for someone to notice strange behavior such as accumulating an inordinate amount of weapons and ammo and reporting the behavior to authorities – especially those individuals in the retail market who may notice odd purchases – thus hopefully preventing the incident from occurring.

In this phase, the shooter may further distance himself from others and isolate himself from the outside world. In other words, they’re not worried about meeting deadlines or paying bills because they aren’t planning on being around much longer.

Phase IV – the approach phase

As the day of reckoning arrives and the shooter prepares to carry out his plan, you may notice someone who is dressed oddly or acting suspicious. Perhaps they’re wearing heavy, baggy clothes on a hot day, or they’re carrying a suspicious oversized bag. In both of these examples, they’re likely hiding guns and ammunition. The approach phase affords us a final chance to notice odd behavior, act upon it and prevent a tragedy.

Strategy, Game Plan and Communication

Now is the time to assess your community’s situation and form a comprehensive, cohesive strategy and game plan for active shooter preparedness. Ensure that everyone knows the plan and is prepared to carry it out.

This is also the time in which you should reach out and communicate with fellow law enforcement agencies in your area. Talk about what they’ve done to prepare and work with them to coordinate so that you can be on the same page and help out each other should that time come.

No matter who we are or where we live, each and every one of us has the potential to be affected by one of these senseless tragedies. However, if we take steps to prepare ahead of time, then that preparation will help during not only an active shooter incident, but also might even prevent it in the first place.



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