On 16 August 2016, David Mitchell, chief of police and director of public safety for the University of Maryland, led a roundtable discussion at the College Park campus on the topic of active shooters and lone wolves. This article summarizes that discussion, which addressed various topics related to active shooters, explosives, lone wolves, terrorism, and related mental health concerns.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 200 active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2015. However, the threat is increasing, with the average of the last five years (17.6/year) being three times higher than that of the first five years (5.2/year). The active shooter training drill that led to a lockdown at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on 30 June 2016 highlights many issues related to active shooters: training, situational awareness, lockdown procedures, interagency communication, and public information sharing.
Universities like the College Park campus of the University of Maryland are tasked with protecting tens of thousands of students and faculty on a daily basis. With 104 police officers, more than 400 cameras, and other security technology on campus, Chief David Mitchell and his team must be prepared to face traditional as well as active shooter threats. However, even efforts to protect students and staff are sometimes faced with resistance. For example, the campus’s newest technology, which is installed but not yet operational, has received mixed public reaction. However, Mitchell explained how shaving even just two minutes off response times for a 12-minute incident can save lives.
Early Lessons Learned From Orlando & Dallas Attacks
In the first part of the discussion, participants addressed how recent incidents like the shootings in Orlando, Florida, and Dallas, Texas, reinforce lessons learned, validate assumptions, or change thoughts. Some issues that participants have addressed within their organizations include: updating procedures for checking backpacks or not allowing backpacks; identifying which tools police officers have at the ready; determining engagement tactics (even when not fully equipped); working with emergency medical services in the warm zone; and engaging the public in educational outreach efforts, which include self-aid and medical aid to others.
In many active shooter incidents, more people can be saved with faster response and better training for first responders as well as bystanders. Citizens have proven that they are often willing to do something, but participants questioned what type of training is needed beyond running, hiding, and fighting. Although lockdown is important, some participants agreed that a lockdown approach must be unlearned in some situations, with clear exit strategies being implemented and exercised in advance. Each incident is unique and, unfortunately, as one participant pointed out, “You can’t save everyone.” As such, developing protocols and procedures that are venue-specific help businesses and schools better prepare by creating barriers between attackers and potential victims, identifying escape routes, and staying one step ahead of the threat.
As facilities like schools become harder targets, attackers will shift their focus to softer targets such as commerce buildings. However, even hard targets should be careful not to fall into the trap of developing a false sense of security. Two shootings at Fort Hood in 2009 and 2014 demonstrated that even hard targets have some vulnerability. Situational awareness at all times and at all locations is critical, especially as time lapses between incidents and people become more lax.
The Current & Emerging Threat Environment
The importance of trainings and exercises cannot be understated when preparing for current and emerging threats in a changing environment. Mitchell explained the challenges that a new subway line through the middle of campus poses both above and below ground: staffing, evacuation, training about the third rail, radio operability in tunnels, cyber concerns, power failures, etc. Something as innocent as the game Pokemon Go, which is not a threat in itself, serves as a magnet for threats that campus police have had to guard against.
Social media has become an integral factor for any emergency in modern society. It can provide valuable information about the incident or even influence the outcome – for good or bad. Whether identifying potential threats or safeguarding potential targets, agencies need staff who know how to monitor social media sites, analyze the data, and share critical information about possible threats with relevant agencies and organizations. By developing plans, determining pause or freeze points in an incident, and identifying patterns, responders are better equipped to provide fluid responses. Gauging the threat picture is challenging and requires internal vigilance to identify telltale signs and red flags, which can stem from internal and external factors.
Mental Health Considerations
Dr. Jack Leeb, police and public safety psychologist, began the second half of the roundtable with a discussion on active shooter mentality. He stated that, in a traditional sense (not terrorism), active shooters tend to be loners and often have family problems, but many go unreported. Issues stem from diffusion of responsibility: assuming that others will report; or not wanting to get friends or family in trouble. However, anyone can play a key role by practicing situational awareness and sharing preparedness messages in homes, schools, and offices. Following an active shooter incident, critical incident decompression is effective and especially important after a mass casualty incident.
Leeb reported that feelings of guilt and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) decrease proportionately with increases in situational awareness. Looking for specific signs and reporting suspicious behavior can help prevent attacks and reduce psychological trauma. Parents should supervise the use of outlets such as Facebook and, with help from teachers and other responsible adults, teach their children about situational awareness for an online presence.
Unfortunately, cultural changes in the family dynamic present new challenges: families do not communicate as much; technology is introduced at early ages; and parents place greater dependence on schools to teach their kids. With 24/7 news coverage and internet access, PTSD symptoms can be extended beyond those directly involved in an incident. The first step is to educate users through age-appropriate discussions and learning opportunities.
Role of New Technology
Some technological protection against active shooter threats may present legal and ethical issues of privacy. For example, suppression technology can be used to shut down communication for attackers, but can cause law enforcement to lose intelligence from or hinder situational awareness of those in danger at the scene. The balance between security and privacy can be difficult because society often does not trust what happens with information after it is collected. Interestingly, many people allow companies to collect and share data that they would not share with the government or law enforcement authorities.
Mitchell recommends that law enforcement agencies teach the message, “See something, say something, and we’ll do something.” He further stated that police departments risk losing their legitimacy when the public is reluctant to engage with police because it is not politically correct or they believe the police are the enemy. He recommends getting back to the basics of police-community trust by engaging and listening to the public through face-to-face interaction. Rather than hiding failures, they should be addressed and used as a learning experience.
As law enforcement efforts shift toward prevention, one participant suggested sharing accounts of near misses, incidents that were thwarted. Technologies such as gunshot detection and access control can assist in such prevention efforts by alerting potential targets and blocking access to attackers. The use of indoor gunshot detection systems was discussed as a new way to improve both police response and civilian evacuation. Without automated detection, effective responses remain limited by a reliance solely on the victims for early detection, alerting of police, and determining whether a run, hide, or fight response is most appropriate.
Implementation of any technology, though, should be integrated with a human element. For example, exercising and training personnel is necessary, especially when introducing new technology. Engaging the faith-based community is powerful because engaged ministers have been known to diffuse potential riot issues and provide support following active shooter incidents. Working with the right decision makers ensures a better understanding of available resources, technologies that exist, and best practices.
One participant described the private sector’s growing realization that it has duty-of-care obligations and, therefore, must take steps to mitigate potential threats. Frontline civilians can be empowered through active shooter trainings, which can be funded through insurance companies in the private sector, to delay the shooters while informing law enforcement. Technology automates some actions, but more needs to be done with regard to technology such as detection and diagnostic tools as well as information sharing. With effective use of technology and human components in an active shooter incident, emergency planners are able to take disparate information and put all the pieces together.
Key Takeaways & Recommendations
- Develop standards across departments for using new technologies in the law enforcement arena.
- Identify indicators and trends before an event, response issues during an event, and long-term psychological concerns after an event.
- Protect information and technologies from cyberthreats.
- Change attitudes to get people to recognize threats and their levels of risk.
- Use threats and incidents to leverage technologies.
- Unify public messaging for consistency.
- Harden buildings and facilities.
- Incorporate capabilities into daily operations.
- Engage the younger generation.
- Profile behaviors rather than demographics.
- Increase public awareness.
- Leverage the private sector as an effective tool.
- Adjust with cultural changes to gain public buy-in and increase situational awareness.
- Take advantage of funding opportunities available before and after a crisis.
- Recognize that even a 10-percent solution is better than no solution.
- Balance technology with human aspects to facilitate the decision-making process.
In This Issue
Drills, exercises, trainings, and education can be used in different ways to promote community preparedness and resilience when faced with threats such as active shooters. Stephen Maloney, Michelle Rosinski, and Anthony Vivino emphasize the importance of first determining realistic threat levels to develop an effective resilience strategy. Once risks and threats are determined, various stakeholders can take steps to prepare and protect their facilities. Kay Goss shares an update on school preparedness efforts for active shooters, whereas Aric Mutchnick addresses liability issues for businesses to consider.
Suspicious activity reports as discussed by Jerome Kahan can help thwart some attacks, but citizens must be prepared to respond when an attack does occur. For example, citizens can learn how to stop the bleeding before medical services arrive through programs like the one described by Richard Hunt. Edward Jopeck explains how gunshot technology in buildings can save lives. Peter LaPorte and Thomas Lockwood look at how to close existing vulnerability gaps using various drills and exercises.
For any critical incident involving trauma, discussion to promote an understanding of both the citizens’ and responders’ perspectives can help communities heal faster. Paul Ames shares how this is being done in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to help police officers better serve their communities. Groups such as the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) further such discussions with its Think Tanks, which are facilitated by Richard Serino. IAEM just released an audio recording of its latest discussion on active shooters. Anyone could potentially face an attacker at some point in his or her life. Minimizing risks and threats before an attack, knowing what to do during an attack, and promoting resilience after an attack are responsibilities that are shared among all community members.
Special thanks to the following writers, sponsors, and panel participants who made this issue possible:
Paul Ames, Deputy Superintendent, Cambridge Police Department
Kenneth Calvert, Major, University of Maryland Police Department
Rodger Clark, Senior Mission Assurance Analyst, Installation Management Command, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas
Kenneth Ecker, University Police Department
Chelsea Firth, Project Coordinator, International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM Think Tank Producer)
Kay Goss, President, World Disaster Management
Jon Hill, First Sergeant, Maryland State Police
Richard C. Hunt, MD, FACEP, Senior Medical Advisor, National Healthcare Preparedness Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
William O. Jackson Jr., Emergency Preparedness & Response Specialist, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Integrated Resiliency Programs
Edward Jopeck, Business Manager, Battelle, Critical Infrastructure Security & Resilience
Jerome H. Kahan, Independent Analyst, National and Homeland Security Issues
Peter LaPorte, Independent Consultant, Homeland Security and Emergency Management field
Jim LeBlanc, Senior Advisor, Experior Group Inc.
Jack Leeb, PsyD, Police and Public Safety Psychologist
Thomas Lockwood, Cybersecurity Working Group, Preparedness Leadership Council LLC
Stephen Maloney, Emergency Preparedness & Response Specialist, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Integrated Resiliency Programs
David McMillan, Emergency Management, Baltimore Mayor's Office of Emergency Management
David Mitchell, Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, University of Maryland
George A. Morgan, Training & Compliance Officer, Community Rescue Services, Hagerstown, Maryland
Rodrigo (Roddy) Moscoso, Executive Director, Capital Wireless Information Net (CapWIN)
Andrew Mushi, Software Quality Assurance Manager, CapWIN
Aric Mutchnick, President, Experior Group Inc.
Heriberto Rivera, Emergency Management Specialist, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
Michelle Rosinski, Strategic Communications Intern, Stratacomm LLC
Richard Serino, Distinguished Visiting Faculty, National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, Harvard University
Marvin Thomas, CapWiN
Anthony Vivino, Student, University of Maryland