The security week that was: 01/21/11 (Active shooter incident analysis)

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Active Shooter Incident Analysis

The New York Metropolitan Police Department has released a research report that sheds light on active shooter incidents (PDF download), and while some of the research points to facts that are not surprising, other parts of the study put the incidents in new light. First and foremost, the report indicates that these incidents are of utmost concern to corporate security personnel. What the study found is that the violence is not random, however it may be presented on the evening news. In 41 percent of the incidents that were studied during the time period between 1966 to 2001, the attackers had a "professional or academic relationship" with one of the victims. Only 22 percent of the incidents studied were cases where the shooter had no prior relationship with victims. What was not surprising from this research is that 96 percent of active shooter incidents were perpetrated by males.

I've had discussions with security experts following many (too many) shooting incidents, and the perspective I have often heard following school shootings is that despite the widespread attention given to the incident, the overall likelihood of such an event at a school is rare. Rare or not, schools are clearly the dominant target. Based on the NYPD data, 29 percent of the studied incidents occurred at schools. The next most likely location was in "open commercial" establishments. Open commercial, for the purposes of this study, included everything from restaurants, to a vehicle rental facility, nightclubs, street rampages (including Mumbai), banks, retails stores and malls. Office buildings and factory/warehouse environments each represented 13 percent of the overall active shooter incidents.

I think what is interesting from that analysis is that schools led the list, even though they could be considered a less "open" environment than the "open commercial" category. Schools by nature operate more like an office building, where there is a known population of persons who should be allowed into the building. For schools, we're talking about a short, identifiable list that includes teachers, students, and staff members -- and parents on occasion. There has always been this back-and-forth argument that pits keeping schools open access versus making them more controlled access, with random searches and screening. If schools are to decrease their standing on this list, it means we have to 1) correctly assess students at risk of perpetrating violence and 2) seriously consider a more closed, restricted school environment.

The NYPD report also examined incident resolution, and the message is clear here: Active shooters do not simply resolve themselves. Some 46 percent of the incidents needed applied force (e.g. a takedown of the shooter) to close the incident. Only 14 percent required no applied force, and only 40 percent ended with a suicide by the shooter. There has been a big movement towards training for response to active shooter incidents, and by and large this seems to be conducted for police department purposes. Very few of the training programs that I have seen also include an element of training for in-house/contract security or even civilians.

The report has a very good list of recommendations for organizations to prepare against such incidents. Highlights included the designation of shelter facilities, incorporating active shooter drills (a recommendation voiced heavily by Paul Timm, PSP, in our 2010 webinar on school security), identification of evacuation routes, and establishing "a central command station for building security." Also advised were the use of advanced access control measures, video surveillance for domain awareness, real-time messaging and communications infrastructure and elevator control measures.

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