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In the past several years, since 2006, the United States has experienced approximately

16 active shooter events per year. This is about 160 separate events since the year 2000.
(Leger, 2014) Many of these have a very low causality or injury rate, but over one third of these
events have ended after multiple people were killed. The FBI defines active shooters as a
person or people "actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people" in a "populated area."
That is different from mass shooting incidents, which include any shooting in which more than
three people are killed. Of the 160 incidents, 64 fit the federal definition of mass
killing.(Williams, 2011) The number reveals that the United States experiences about 5 incidents
per year in which more than 3 people are killed in an active shooter event. These numbers
should be more than enough evidence for businesses and schools to have an active shooter
plan in place. I will examine the research of two active shooter events and then present basic
steps to make a business or school prepared for an active shooter event while also giving
composition of basic response from law enforcement.

Notable Active Shooter Events

Aurora, Colorado July 2012

On July 20, 2012 at approximately 12:37am, James Holmes walked into a crowded
movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire. James Holmes had paid for a ticket and
entered the theater. He walked to a back exit door and went out to his car after leaving the door
cracked open. Once at his car, James Holmes gathered his weapons and gear and walked back
through the open exit door and into Theater 9. At 12:38 am Mountain Time James Holmes
tossed to gas canisters and opened fire in Theater 9. At 12:39 am the first 911 call came in of a
shooting in the Century 16 Movie Theater. Witnesses later told police at first they did not believe
there was a shooting taking place. They believed the shots they heard were part of the movie
they were there to see. As the event progressed, James Holmes randomly walked through the
aisles shooting at moviegoers. By 12:45 am, James Holmes had been identified as the suspect
and was arrested without event near his parked car near the theater exit door. He had on him a
.223 caliber Smith & Wesson assault rifle with a drum magazine, a Remington 12 gauge
shotgun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun. Other weapons were located in his parked car. At
the time of his arrest James Holmes was wearing a ballistic helmet, a gas mask, ballistic gloves,
a bullet-resistant vest, and throat and groin protection. By the end of the shooting spree, 12
people were dead and another 58 were injured. (ABC7 Los Angeles, 2012)

Virginia Tech April 2007

On April 16, 2007 at approximately 7:15am, Seung Hui Cho shot two students in their
dorm at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. After the first two shootings, Cho mailed a
package to the local NBC station containing his justification for the shootings. After mailing the
package, Cho walked across the campus to a classroom building where, at 9:40 am, he chained
the exit doors shut and began to go from classroom to classroom shooting students. Meanwhile
college officials were meeting to discuss the first shooting when the first 911 call came in at 9:45
am stating there was a gunman shooting in the classroom. For the next 10 minutes Cho
continued to shoot students throughout the building before turning the gun on himself and
committing suicide. Cho's actions left 32 dead and another 17 wounded. Approximately 2
months prior to the events on April 16th, Cho had purchased a .22 cal Walther P22 pistol and
then another 9mm Glock the month immediately prior to the shootings. Cho took with him, on
April 16, several hundred rounds as he entered the building. (CNN, 2013)

In both of these cases, the shooter planned his event in five distinct steps.First, shooters
are obsessed with other shooters. For example, the Virginia Tech shooter studied the
Columbine shooters. Phase one then is the fantasy phase, where they fantasize about what
they can do. The second thing is they plan. They think about it and plan scenarios. Active
shooter events are highly premeditated events. The third thing they do is prepare. It takes time
for the shooter to acquire guns, ammunition, in some cases body armor, and figure out how to
put all that together. The fourth stage is practice. They go to the location and study where they
will park, where the doors are, whether doors are locked, the floor plan, etc. So its Study,
Planning, Preparation, and Practice; and all of that is before gun is first fired. Then you have the
fifth phase. The event. (Blair, 2013)

Steps to Take

Active shooter attacks are constantly changing incidents that vary immensely from one
attack to another. The type of responses to an active shooter attack depends on the events
surrounding the incident. A number of things have been learned from the numerous active
shooter events.
1. Active shooter incidents are often spontaneous
2. Suspects behavior is always unpredictable
3. Pre-incident signs existed in school incidents
4. Incidents occur in a target rich environment
5. A tactical intervention was too late
6. Suspects usually do not have a escape plan
7. 9 out of 10 active shooters are suicidal
8. Average age for a school shooter is 14.5 years old
9. Suspects are mentally deranged or acting in a diminished mental capacity
10. Mass murder is most often the goal rather than other criminal conduct
11. Most active shooter incidents are over within 10 minutes or less
12. Multiple weapons and ammunition are often involved
13. Expect carnage and complete chaos, noise, confusion, alarms with frightened people
and hiding and unwilling to respond to your directions
14. A traditional police contain and negotiate tactic does not work...tactical intervention
is needed
(Kelly, 2012)

Tips for Civilians

Because active shooter attacks are ever changing events, there is no list of best-
practices for response to these incidents. There are, however, some practices that may reduce
the risks in an active shooter event.

First we will look at responses for civilian involved in an active shooter event. When
involved in an active shooter incident, a civilian generally has three options to choose from.
1. Fleeing
2. Barricading
3. Fighting
(Crimando, 2014)

1. Fleeing:
If you decide to flee there are a few things to remember:
Take Cover. Cover has ballistic stopping capabilities (brick walls, engine
blocks, library books stacked back to back).
If left without cover, move to concealment (hedges, clothes rack, and drywall). While
concealment cant stop a bullet it can hide you from view.
Exit the kill zone immediately. Move, dont huddle. Huddling makes you a bigger target
and the shooter wont have to move the gun muzzle very far to target his next victim.
Look to leapfrog away from the shooter using cover as you retreat. If the shooter has
blocked the traditional exits, consider alternate escape routes.
State fire codes and deliver requirements often require malls, schools and other
locations to have secondary exits; theyre often in the back. These exits generally lead
outside or to a fire escape corridor.
If exit doors are locked intentionally by the perpetrator or for another reason, consider
loading dock doors or lower level windows as an escape route.
If pinned down try to wait for a lull in the firefight, possibly when the
shooter reloads or gets distracted.
Call 911 and get help on the way. Give police as much detail as possible.
From the initial onslaught you will be on your own, as the police will not
be in a position to respond immediately. Dont rely solely on facility
security, rarely are they trained to deal with threats of this level.
After the initial shock and awe shooters often move to the clearing
stages, hunting for additional victims.
If you are unfamiliar with the layout of the location look for information
such as directory maps or evacuation maps to identify exits.

2. Barricading:
Another option is barricading. Barricading is making an improvised structure to provide
protection at the location you have decided to hold out until help arrives. When seeking to
barricade until help arrives you must remember:
If inside of an office building, school, library or similar facility consider
barricading in an office or classroom as you take cover.
Use filing cabinets, desks, or bookshelves to barricade a door if it
opens inward. Once filing cabinets are in place consider filling them with
large books such as manuals, textbooks, etc.
This will increase the ballistic stopping capabilities and a heavy filing
cabinet will be problematic for a perpetrator to move.
Placing a door stop backwards underneath the door provides additional
If there isnt a door stop, consider folding a magazine or newspaper and
placing it underneath the door.
If the perpetrator breaches the door consider scissors to stab or vases,
or wall plaques as impact weapons.
Try to stay on the hinge side of the door as the perpetrator tries to
breach the door. This will force him to lead with a body part or weapon
which can be attacked, and potentially hide you from view.

3. Fighting:
If you should choose to fight, that is taking an offensive stance in the event, do so by
means of an ambush instead of seeking out the attacker.
You must be prepared to attack the perpetrator. This is a deadly force
situation so be prepared to cause severe injury and possibly death to the
Attack the shooters vitals (eyes, nose, throat, head, or groin).
Assuming you are not armed with a firearm, consider utilizing improvised
weapons. For example, a coat wrapped around your arm can serve as a
shield to defend against an edged weapon attack.
A backpack, briefcase or suitcase stuffed with phone books can serve as
a small arms impromptu bullet proof vest.
Most retailers or offices have scissors and box cutters which can be
used in your defense. The center pole from a clothes rack, stiletto or
wedge heel, and leg from a desk or chair can serve as an impact
A belt can serve as a flexible weapon to strike (belt buckle) or to
If trapped with multiple people, work together to improve chances for surviving.
Your goal is to get the shooter on the ground and neutralized. If the shooter
breaches the door you will only have seconds to mount countermeasures.
Typically, when a person breaches a door he will look straight ahead first. Those
who are in direct line or across from the shooter should move away from the
members who are positioned next to the door, to distract the shooter.
Members who are positioned on the side of the doors or at an ambush area
should attack the shooter. One person forces the perpetrators weapon down and
to the side. Another person attacks the shooters lower body, typically behind the
knee taking him to the ground.
Do whatever necessary to neutralize the attacker. Other members should secure
something to bound and gag the shooter while waiting for law enforcement.
The most well trained person should secure the weapon and be prepared to help
defend others. Move others into a position of cover away from the initial line of
fire and prepare to defend.
Do not leave a secure barricade with a firearm; you dont want law enforcement
to confuse a victim with the active shooters.
(Crimando, 2014)

For Law Enforcement

For law enforcement there is only one goal in an active shooter event, neutralize the
threat as quickly as possible. There are three considerations for law enforcement responding to
an active shooter event.

First, the law enforcement officer must be able to quickly asses the situation. Enroute
gain as much information as possible. Gaining information from calls to 911 will allow the officer
to at least have an idea of what is going on prior to arrival. Attempt to find out shooters location,
victim location, and additionally make contact with officials already on scene such as school
supervisors or managers. Upon arriving quickly gain as much additional information as possible.

Second, a law enforcement officer must communicate with command officers and other
officers enroute. Relaying this information to others allows a quicker assimilation of any
information available. This information could be key to a rapid resolution of the issue. (Police
Forum, 2014)
Lastly, an officer must make a decision to intervene. Most departments have policies in
place stating what an officer will do in the event of an active shooter. The two most popular right
now are solo officer and contact team. When an officer arrives on scene they can choose, if
they feel circumstances warrant, to engage the threat by themselves. Many departments have
taken this approach to active shooter policies. The stance is the quicker the threat can be
engaged, the more innocent victims will be saved. The percentage of active shooter events that
end after law enforcement applies pressure to the shooter is approximately 43%.(Kelly, 2012)
This would mean the quicker force can be applied to the shooter the better. Another option
numerous departments have decided to use is the contact team. When utilizing the contact
team the first officer on the scene will wait until more officers arrive before making contact with
the shooter. This method provides greater safety for the officers but lengthens the time before
officers make contact with the shooter.

A separate incident for law enforcement officers is that of being off-duty or in plain
clothes during an active shooter event. As an officer off-duty, critical minutes could be saved if
they are in the right place at the right time. Officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden City Police
Department in Utah is a prime example of what can happen when an off-duty officer is on
scene. During the events of the Trolley Square shooting in Salt Lake City, Utah, Officer Kenneth
Hammond was off-duty having dinner with his wife. When the shooter began his rampage,
Officer Hammond chose to engage the shooter and then with the help of SWAT who arrived on
scene was able to stop the shooter before he had time to kill a larger number of
people.(, 2007) If an off-duty officer is on scene of an active shooter event, he must
make sure he communicates with other officers as they arrive on scene to avoid responding
officers mistaking a plain clothes officer with a gun as the perpetrator.

Because there is no way of knowing when and where an active shooter event may
occur, it is imperative businesses and law enforcement alike receive regular training on what to
do with an active shooter. Knowing a companies or departments policies prior to an event
places gives an advantage to neutralize and survive.(Williams, 2011) In addition, officers should
receive training in basic emergency medical care techniques that can save lives in an active
shooter event, especially with regard to controlling bleeding, maintaining airways, and
immobilizing fractured limbs. Advanced training conducted in schools, shopping malls, large
industrial centers, churches, hospitals, and other locations prepare communities to deal with an
active shooter event.

ABC7 Los Angeles, (2012). Aurora, Colorado theater shooting timeline, summary and known
facts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2014].

Blair, J. (2013). Active shooter events and response. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

CNN, (2013). Virginia Tech Shootings Fast Facts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Nov. 2014].

Crimando, S. (2014). Comprehensive Active Shooter Incident Management. [online]

Available at:
px [Accessed 18 Oct. 2014].

Kelly, R. (2012). Active Shooter: Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct.
2014]., (2007). Gunman Kills Five People at Trolley Square | [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Nov. 2014].

Leger, D. (2014). 'Active shooter' incidents on the rise. [online] Available at:
finds/16158921/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2014].
Police Forum, (2014). The Police Response to Active Shooter Incidents. [online] Available at:
o%20active%20shooter%20incidents%202014.pdf [Accessed 4 Nov. 2014].

Williams, J. (2011). Active Shooter Safety Considerations for Educators. [online] The State of
New Jersey. Available at:
ons.pdf [Accessed 23 Oct. 2014].