History Can and Will Repeat Itself

Mitigating Active Shooter Incidents

In life, I have always been keenly interested in history, but mathematics always left a lot to be desired. This changed when I began learning about risk management. Risk management, analysis and conducting assessments, have brought me to understand that I don’t have to like math – but I certainly needed it.

I am not writing this article because of the sensationalism surrounding the Oregon State shooting; however, it is because we deal with this every day in my line of work, the threat to and protection of life. History gives us the data and facts available, to understand what needs to be done to mitigate or stop these incidents from occurring, but alas, we have not learned. Yes, history can and will repeat itself, but the frequency of this repetitiveness can be controlled.

So, sure I am in part writing this because of the sensationalism of the Oregon State shooting, but I do so in hopes that a good amount of the decision makers will listen and learn. History has shown me that this has not been the case when at the minimal level education. Leaders have only created active shooter plans for 80% of the facilities in the United States, from these; only 41% have actually tested their plan to determine its functionality in reality.

We have not gotten any better at preventing active shooter incidents, but worse. This is supported by an active shooter report completed by the FBI in 2014. The frequency of active shooter incidents in the first 7 years of this study found an average of 6.4 incidents vs. the 16.4 incidents recorded in the most recent 7 years, nearly a 275% increase.

Increased Frequency

Increased Frequency of Shootings

Here are the hard cold facts of what has proven itself true in the cases we have studied. The shooting that occurred in Oregon almost followed point for point the consultation I have given dozens of organizations, the last of them being literally the day before the Oregon incident.

  • Active shooters exhibit characteristics synonymous to  certain mental health issues on an acute or prolonged basis. Delusional with fantasies of harming others.
  • Prior warnings or announcement of the assailant’s intentions.
  • Warning people to stay away from a location or bragging of a coming achievement such as, making things right or people will learn.
  • The shooter will educate himself on tactics, weapons and police response. This will include purchase of firearms, knives and other equipment which will be used to carry out the intended mission.
  • Pre-attack surveillance. This may include single or multiple visits to a location or downloading facility plans, video recordings and photographs of the intended location. Staging of weapons and tools may be placed at the location in calculated preparation for the strike.

We can counter the assaults if we are willing to put forth the effort. What you may find is that crimes may be decreased across the board if we start with common sense advised protective measures, such as a feasible access control program. As you may see from my illustration, 3,413 of 8,666 were the result of a robbery, which accounts for nearly 40% of the total homicides.

Criminal Commonality

Criminal Commonality

Here are some suggestions as to how you can prevent or mitigate an active shooter situation. It begins when the entire organization recognizes the need for a violence program; this needs to start from the top to the bottom. Secondly, you should consult with a professional firm who can guide you through the various requirements of the program. Understand that I am not suggesting you telephone a security guard company, but a consultancy.

Policies and procedures need to be identified for everyone to have a shared understanding of what path should be followed by the organization. This is also the point where communication is imperative in getting the message out to the organization, that you have zero tolerance towards violence.

Communication brings us to the next step of how you will effectively create a practical communication channel where suspicious behaviors can be reported. For individuals within the organization itself, a channel must be established within the organization where individuals may report observed behaviors that they consider unusual for others they are otherwise familiar with. An additional inlet should be established wherein outsiders can freely make information known to the organization.

To really identify issues that could create risk for your organization, you should establish an intelligence unit where trained individuals may help identify individuals wishing to cause damage or bring harm. If you are a small organization, you might want to outsource this service to an intelligence service provider. In any case, you not only need to collect the information, but also need to identify the actual intelligence from the collected information. This must be done in a swift and efficient manner, before an incident may occur.

This cannot be done without training and communication. Proper training and communication that will have true effects on the ability of an organization to protect its assets is vital. On any given day, I can point you to a dozen courses throughout the United States that will be offering training on this subject. Unfortunately, these courses bring focus to response that is primarily reliant on law enforcement while skimming over how you can mitigate or prevent the situation yourself. The United States Homeland Security places the average duration of an active shooter incident at 12.5 minutes and the average law enforcement response time at 18 minutes.

Response to an incident is not something that may be tasked to someone else or a crisis team and will involve everyone within the organization, and also to include your outsourced services so as to be sure the response is swift and efficient. Training is necessary in teaching an organization how everyone can play a role in preserving life and in many cases, self-survival. It is at this point that physical security within an organization will mitigate an attack. Physical surveys are a must. At the end of the day, you will find that if preventative measures have proven unsuccessful, you will need to take action.

We hear all too often that when an attack is underway you must run and hide. This bit is true, if you are not willing to confront the attacker. A study of previous active shooter situations has proven that when faced with a counterassault, the shooter will lose, either by termination by the defender or through the shooter’s own demise.

Resolution of Shooters

Resolution of Shooter

I have provided some very broad strokes as to how your organization may protect itself. Know that this can be accomplished and assistance is available from many expert organizations. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you complete your homework in finding real-world solutions and do not be a victim of the smoke and mirror strategy that is disguised as a solution.


William Peeler is the President and CEO of Peeler Group International. He has provided lecture and consulting to notable organizations such as the Colorado State Board of Education and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development with regard to terrorism and active shooters. www.peelergroup.com




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