Active Shooters Defy Simple and Singular Solutions

Sept. 24, 2020
The answer can be found where hardware meets software. 10 key points that you can use to help educate your community about enhanced security.

Although we’d like to stop all active shooters, we’re only human. Despite law enforcement’s rapid response, people still die at the hands of mass attackers. 

While swiftly responding to 911 calls is imperative, officers can further protect their communities through education. Specifically, we can help the public answer: What can I do to prevent an attack on my workplace, school, or place of worship? And, if we are attacked, how should we respond while police are enroute?

In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, technological fixes and one-size-fits-all solutions are nearly always proposed as the answer:

  • “We need to ‘harden’ buildings and entrances.”
  • “We need panic buttons.”
  • “We need more cameras, bulletproof backpacks, bulletproof marker boards, and…”

Although people mean well, these myopic, one–dimensional approaches are shortsighted and do little in mitigating the problem. Total reliance on technology pits machines and unbending systems against the slyly adaptive species known as humans. People are good at outsmarting machines and changing attack strategies to exploit vulnerabilities.

Educate the public that security is a journey, not a destination.

Yet, it’s not only technology and prison-like environments that are often put forward as the panacea for violent intruders. Whether it’s arming teachers and employees, confiscating all weapons, or using psychological assessments to identify risks, all-or-nothing proposals are often put forward to save the day.

This approach is best summarized as, “If we could just ___________, we could stop the shootings.” Most of the time these solutions are well-intended, but anchoring on that blank space can be dangerously naïve. Additionally, these tragic events are sometimes leveraged by ideological zealots to push a particular agenda that takes priority over solutions that will actually work. It’s up to us to help the public understand that feeling safe is not the same as being safe.

When analyzing mass attacks, it’s rare that an exclusive tactic would have stopped the violence. Simplistic solutions should be suspect because the problem is complex. One incident is often years in the making.

Software and hardware

Strategos International uses the following metaphor when educating teachers, business people, and pastors about security:

  • Software = Trained People
  • Hardware = Technology

High-tech hardware is worthless without software. And software must be paired with hardware to get results.

Lock. Layer. Reinforce.

If a location has only one layer of security—and it’s bypassed—then trouble is ahead. The solution? Multiple layers. These could include alarms, additional layers of locked doors, and access control. Many different security products can be employed as one size does not fit all. We need to help the public understand that although there is no silver bullet, locking, layering, and reinforcing can slow down, scare off or frustrate an attacker. This buys crucial time for people to leave the area or lockdown.


A perimeter may be a locked gate, a guarded entrance, an unprotected driveway, or a parking lot. The public needs to know that stopping a threat outside is the best-case scenario. This can mean locking the front door and using an audible/visual confirmation for entry, video surveillance, and/or deploying personnel to monitor the grounds.

“A trained employee is a company’s most valuable security resource.”
  — Mark Warren, Executive Vice President of Strategos International

Earlier this year, an intruder’s vehicle burst into flames when he drove through the front door of a California Walmart distribution facility. But it didn’t end there. He opened fire at random targets and killed an employee before police shot him dead. This is exhibit A in stopping threats outside. If a building has fewer than four exterior steps, bollards, poles or other vehicle-stopping obstacles are necessary. Windows, too, are a first line of defense. Applying a bullet-resistant film can slow down an armed intruder.


Although it’s optimal for cameras to be monitored by humans, camera technology is advancing rapidly. For example, surveillance software can identify weapons and issue an alert—even if no one is watching the live feed. If the feed is monitored, organizations can get a head start on an intruder.

Access control.

Controlling visitor access involves software and hardware. Badge-controlled access is a start (employees should never hold the door for unbadged visitors). Upon entering, guests should sign in with an attendant. This process presents an opportunity for law enforcement to educate the public: How does the gatekeeper really know the guest’s identity? When conducting risk assessments or penetration tests for facilities, I sometimes sign in as “John Doe” to test the system. Rarely does anyone ever pay attention. I could have been Al Capone reincarnated and no one would have noticed.

Instead of this laissez-faire approach, workplaces can require guests to present a government-issued picture ID. A database can be queried to learn if the guest was terminated or is the subject of a protection order. Guests who enter should also wear company-issued ID. Employees should be trained to politely “challenge” anyone who is not displaying the appropriate ID. 

Safe rooms.

A safe room can be permanent or improvised, as long as forethought goes into either option. The size of the room needs to reflect the number of people who will use it and located in places that should not require people to run from floor to floor for safety. When applicable, each level should have more than one secured space equipped with lockdown hardware to solidify doors. This equipment can be purpose-designed or improvised.

Internal alarm system. If someone breaches a building, rapid notification can save lives. Ideally, these will be both audible and visual in order to notify hearing- or visually-impaired persons. A dual approach also reaches people who work in loud industrial environments. Even a low-tech solution such as an air horn is better than nothing. A combination of flashing lights and loud alarms are recommended. Everyone should be trained to understand what the alarms mean and how they should respond.

Gunshot detection devices.

In spite of the loudness of gunfire, pinpointing its origin is often challenging for the human ear. In our law enforcement training, we’ve fired blank rounds indoors and asked officers to identify the source. More often than not, they fail. But gunshot detection technology can precisely identify the location. It can let police and organizational leaders know the exact time and physical origin of a shot. This information, when communicated through alerts, is invaluable in helping the public decide whether they should lock down, leave the building, or prepare to fight.

Monitor social media.

Inform your community about early warning systems. Computer software can monitor social posts for threats targeted toward an organization. This gives the business, school, or place of worship a head-start on the intruder, providing time to alert police before any threats are acted upon.

People power.

One of the leading ways we can prepare our citizens to prevail over violent intruders is education. My partner, Mark Warren Executive Vice President of Strategos International and former law enforcement officer, contends a trained employee is a company’s most valuable security resource. He’s right. But the key is a trained employee. The first recommendation is behavior awareness and assessment training to identify the behavior indicators that precede escalated aggression. In the best-case scenario, those who may be drifting toward harming themselves or others will get the help they need.

If we could just ___________,
we could stop the shootings.

Complementing behavior assessment, active shooter response training gives employees confidence and peace of mind. One of the most frequent objections to training employees are concerns about creating fear. This is understandable but it misidentifies the source of fear. Anxiety comes from having a problem without a solution. By forthrightly addressing their fears and providing a plan (solution), anxiety and fear are alleviated and security is enhanced.

Are we there yet?

It’s important to educate the public that security is a journey, not a destination. Anyone who thinks they’ve arrived needs the Bible’s admonition: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” Our world is rapidly evolving and requires an adaptive and comprehensive approach to security.

Just as hardware and software need continued evaluation and upgrade, any approach to security will be a journey of continuous improvement. Lest budget concerns impede improvements, your community’s businesses, schools, and places of worship need to understand they can take incremental steps. Law enforcement officers can’t be everywhere at once. But we can share life-saving knowledge that multiplies our effectiveness many times over.

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