Article written by Aaron Witt
Active Shooter Response and Recovery Expert
There have been far too many tragedies in this country involving Active Killers. I use the term ‘Active Killers’ because it covers a broader spectrum of bad actors than just individuals who use firearms to cause havoc. The term “Active Threat” can be used interchangeably with either Active Killer or Active Shooter. We have seen attackers utilize various weapons such as firearms, knives, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicles, and in the case of September 11th, 2001, jetliners to kill innocent people. Specific to Active Shooters, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were 434 Active Shooter incidents in the United States from 2000-2021. Of these 434 attacks, 64 occurred in educational settings (pre-K through 12) or institutes of Higher Education.
When we see these heartbreaking events being reported, many of us have a mixture of emotions including sadness, fear, anger, and frustration.The loss of a loved one from such a tragic incident would be indescribable. “Unfortunately, it does not take long for various news outlets to determine which details they will highlight and which facts they will omit to strengthen their positions on issues related to violence in our society. We are often quick to point the finger at others and assign blame. This distracts from addressing underlying issues and root causes.
The discussion often hinges on heated topics such as gun control, whether citizens and/or staff should have the right to carry firearms on school property, and what type of Active Threat training, if any, children should receive in schools. I would argue the aforementioned topics are definitely worth discussing; however, there are several other important topics that also need to be addressed. From the graphic below, you can see nine topics I believe are the key components we need to address as a community to help overcome Active Killers in our schools. We cannot afford to just talk about these issues, we need to take action and make the necessary adjustments to help save lives.
Various entities have attempted to create simple and easy to remember tactics and acronyms to help individuals respond to an Active Killer incident. Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted protocol for responding to these critical incidents. For example, if you have participated in Active Shooter training, depending on where and when you received the training, you may have a different strategy than the person sitting across from you. Should you evacuate, lock down, or try to incapacitate the shooter? What happens if you freeze, and your body will not move? If you have barricaded yourself in a room, where should you position yourself, up against the door, under a desk, or up against the wall near the door?
Instead of trying to come up with a new acronym or response slogan, I would rather give you one word to remember in case you are ever faced with an Active Killer. The word, in all capital letters is, SURVIVE! You must develop a survival mindset and tell yourself that no matter what happens, you will do whatever it takes to survive, and you will never give up. In order to survive, you may need to take one action or a combination of several actions. For example, if you are hiding, do not be passive, be ready to react in case you need to move quickly or defend yourself. Additionally, if the location of the Active Threat is unknown on a campus, locking down may be a better option than evacuating. Knowing which action to take will depend on several factors such as the proximity of the shooter, what direction the shooter is moving, and your access to a primary or secondary exit.
In addition to teaching others the importance of having a survival mindset and receiving training on how to respond, we need to focus on the before (PREVENTION) and the after (recovery). Benjamin Franklin is often credited with saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This speaks volumes when we are talking about Active Killers. It is impossible to stop every bad actor in the world. However, we can ensure we are being proactive in our approach and looking for effective ways to prevent these attacks, especially in our schools.
According to a report by the U.S. Secret Service, there were 67 potential school attacks that were averted in the United States from 2006 – 2018. This report reemphasizes how effective communities can be when warning signs are identified, reported, and acted upon appropriately. Many Active Killer attacks are grievance based. We should be asking ourselves if we are doing enough to help decrease various stressors. For example, are we teaching our children to love others rather than bully them? Do we encourage our kids to intervene when they see others being bullied and offer friendship, or do we tell them not to get involved? Are our teachers and staff trained to identify, report, and act on warning signs? What are the warning signs, who do they report them to, and whose responsibility is it to act?
This is exactly why I have joined the Active Shooter Prevention Project team of elite advisors. I am passionate about making communities safer and more resilient. Joining the Active Shooter Prevention Project allows me to work with a team of experts who share my commitment to preventing active shooter incidents and promoting a prevention-first strategy. I am honored to be a part of this team and look forward to working with them to make a positive impact on our communities.
1 Active Shooter Incidents 20-Year Review, 2000-2019, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
2 National Threat Assessment Center. (2021). Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools. U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security
Overcoming Active Killers in Schools: A Whole-Community Approach
1. Decreasing Stressors
2. Recognizing, Reporting, and Acting on Warning Signs
3. Responsible Gun Ownership
4. Emergency Action Plan Physical Security
5. Training and Survival Mindset
6. School Resource Officers & Well-Qualified Volunteers
7. Responding to Active Threats by Taking Action
8. Hemorrhage Control & Stopping Blood Loss
9. Not Naming the Attacker & Healing as a Community
About Aaron Witt
Aaron Witt is a seasoned public safety professional with over 22 years of experience in the criminal justice field. He is the founder and lead consultant of A-Train Tactical, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in incident management and helps businesses, schools, and houses of worship prepare for and respond to critical incidents. Aaron’s expertise includes developing site-specific Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) and scenario-based training exercises to increase overall response capabilities. With extensive experience in federal law enforcement and emergency management, Aaron is passionate about making communities safer and more resilient.
To learn more about A-Train Tactical, visit Atraintactical.com.