It’s something we don’t want to think about. It’s something that happens to others, but not to us. But an Active Assailant incident is something we must give serious thought to and assess the likelihood of occurrence. Recruiters can do their clients a great service by making them aware of this issue. An Active Assailant is someone who uses firearms, knives, vehicles, improvised explosive devices, or other weapons to actively engage in mass killing or attempting to kill people. These increasingly frequent incidents can be targeted or random and due to their unpredictability and chaotic nature, an understanding of response at the time of attack depends largely on the comprehension, situational awareness, and location of potential victims. The overwhelming majority of active assailant attacks are over within a very short timeframe (5-10 minutes) and are often ended before law enforcement arrives at the scene. It is known through the analysis of numerous previous incidents that civilians can and do impact the outcome of a number of these incidents by stopping the assailant.

 

The survivability of these events can be enhanced and the magnitude of the infliction of harm can be lessened through practical steps. These include:
➢ Target hardening (lock your doors and control access to your facility, periodically review and update access protocol to ensure effectiveness)
➢ Pre-planning (set up your room to barricade quickly/have multiple trauma kits available throughout your facility including in rooms where you may barricade)
➢ Training of all employees in active assailant situational awareness and stress mitigation techniques, repeated practice of response protocol
➢ Integration and periodic testing of an effective mass notification/communication system
➢ Practiced use of emergency first aid, AED, and trauma kits
➢ Awareness of primary and secondary exit options and practiced options to counter a threat.

 

No single response protocol should be considered without the realization that extreme stress significantly accelerates heart rate, diminishes fine and gross motor skills, and impairs cognition. Training individuals must begin with the recognition that under intense stress response critical thinking skills are physiologically impacted in a negative way. Individuals have decreased ability to analyze and simply do not react as they believe they will while under extreme stress. Unless this is countered, no focused or taught response strategy can be successful. It is useful to note that this diminished capacity under extreme stress can be addressed and positively affected through stress-induced functional drills combined with regular combat breathing exercises to slow down the heart rate. An effective conditioned response under extreme stress can be realized through a commitment to training.

Popular and commonly understood response models include:
➢ Run, Hide, Fight
➢ Avoid, Deny, Defend
➢ Standard Response Protocol
➢ A.L.I.C.E. or Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (widely adopted in school settings).

 

The term “hide” has come under increased scrutiny due to the connotation that finding a place to conceal oneself is advantageous. It should not be confused with finding cover which offers protection. Several tragic incidents have shown that concealing through hiding has provided an opportunity for the assailant to increase victimization. The use of the term “hide’ should not be used in any training or consideration as a response.

There are three focused options in response proven effective in these incidents:
➢ Fight or Counter
➢ Evacuate, Run, Escape
➢ Barricade

 

Fight or Counter – Defend yourself and others through any means necessary.

Considered by many conducting active assailant training as a “last resort” response, the reality is that fighting back (for those physically capable of doing so) should be taught as a priority and equally as important as any other response. When a life-threatening assailant is immediately encountered, moving away from that threat is not an option, and no other realistic option exists at the time, countering by throwing objects as a distraction and/or fighting with a weapon/improvised weapons or using intense, aggressive, and overwhelming physical force to subdue the assailant in a life and death scenario is warranted and your legal right. There are numerous examples of school staff and citizens successfully acting in the defense of others and themselves and saving lives by taking immediate action against an assailant.

 

Evacuate, Run, Escape – Get Out!
Move away from the active assailant as quickly as possible. Do not hesitate, do not slow down, and do not stop until you know for certain you are safe. There is no guide and there is no consensus on what you determine as safe. There is no safe muster point. Realize that active assailants go mobile. They have and can attack at multiple locations and have pursued those who fled. Only you determine where and when you believe you will be safe from the attack.

 

Barricade – Lockdown
Seconds matter in active assailant attacks. When you can utilize a room or area to secure yourself and others, barricade the door or doors. It is imperative that any room considered as an option for barricade/lockdown be arranged prior to an attack with options to barricade. This should include setting up easily moved furniture near the entry door(s), positioning furniture, or procuring/installing options to secure doors quickly. Prior knowledge of the room’s locking mechanism should be known in advance. Schools have prepared, preplanned, and rehearsed barricade drills for decades and lives have been saved in every single school shooting incident due to the diligence of staff and students continuously rehearsing for this worst-case scenario.

Silencing cell phones, covering windows, staying low away from the front of a window(s)/door(s), lying prone to avoid gunfire, and considering evacuating through non-traditional points of egress such as windows (breaking the top corner of the window and raking glass down as opposed to attempting to break the middle/strongest part of the window is the preferred option), are all additional considerations which have saved lives in previous incidents. Barricading and locking down a space should be viewed as creating a barrier between you and the attacker(s); however, it is imperative you contemplate a secondary plan to fight or flee (if possible) should your space be comprised including, if possible, a secondary exit strategy.

 

Further considerations:

Threat Assessment
“Knowing” who is employed at your facility and whether they are on a pathway to violence has been determined by courts as a direct responsibility of employers in determining the foreseeability of workplace violence and active assailant incidents. Negligent hiring and negligent retention are increasingly determined as the basis for lawsuits and there are numerous examples of extreme monetary judgments (both awarded and ongoing) against employers. The courts and subsequently, insurance companies are largely determining what business policy and training must be implemented in working to avert these incidents. Steps to effectively mitigate this risk and provide due diligence include:
➢ A Managed Drug Testing Program (substance abuse is a significant and known red flag)
➢ Thorough Background Checks (a known previous history of violence is a significant red flag)
➢ Post-hire Monitoring (what happens outside work hours impacts performance, attitude, and behavior)
➢ Target Hardening (secure your facilities and ensure daily compliance - no unlocked doors for access)
➢ Situational Awareness and Active Assailant Training (pre-planning and protocol saves time and lives)
➢ De-escalation and Conflict Resolution Training (create a compassionate work culture and identify those who do not respect others)
➢ Threat Reporting Protocol/Training and Threat Assessment Teams (determine the probability of the risk – the majority of mass shootings in the workplace involve someone who had a previous workplace history of harassing, intimidating, or bullying)
➢ An Effective Termination Protocol for Identifying Future Threats (attackers have often come back to where they worked)

 

Local Law Enforcement/Fire Department and Professional Security Consultant Engagement

Utilizing professional resources to discover any deficiencies or vulnerabilities; working through procedures, protocols, and response drills with your local emergency response/security consultants is a best practice. Conducting training and drills, providing your facility layout, labeling the inside and outside of all doors throughout your facility to expedite emergency safety response and familiarization of response personnel with your facility and staff creates a culture of safety and security.

 

Non-ambulatory or disabled individuals
Planning the evacuation or barricade options for those unable to quickly remove themselves from the threat should be planned and practiced in advance. A detailed and practiced protocol for those less able to defend themselves should be in effect.

 

Communication
What has saved lives in many incidents is effective and redundant communication of a threat. Integrated and periodically tested mass communication systems (paging system, phone calls, texts, emails, social media, etc.) with redundancies should be in effect in your facility. Trends also include the use of radios with earpieces with noise considerations (fire alarm sounding, manufacturing areas) and strobe or flashing lights to notify of a critical incident. These measures definitively signal due diligence in saving lives.

 

Staged Fire Response
Activated fire alarms during active assailant incidents have increased victimization. Assailants have purposefully triggered fire alarms and, in some cases due to the use of their firearms, unintentionally set off fire alarms. Regardless, a plan for delayed evacuation should be considered. It is highly recommended plans are developed with direct input from local fire, law enforcement, and emergency response agencies.

 

Practiced First Aid/Trauma Care/AED
Employers have developed medical response teams (MRT) to conduct periodic training of selected employees in emergency first aid care, trauma care, and the use of AED. Professional medical care is often delayed in critical incidents and seconds matter in the control of bleeding. Past incidents have demonstrated training enhances survivability. Stop the Bleed is a national campaign and a resource that provides free trauma care training. The training provided through this program has saved numerous lives since its inception.

 

See Something – Say Something
While hundreds of mass shootings occur in our country each year, thousands more are averted. Alerting authorities and allowing intervention is the crime prevention tool that prevents additional tragedy. Research indicates in an overwhelming majority of active assailant events, someone known to the assailant had knowledge of the event prior to it occurring. It is imperative to have reporting mechanisms (including anonymous reporting) in place and to train your personnel on how to use them. It is equally important any received information concerning behavior or a potential threat be thoroughly investigated.

 

Domestically Driven Workplace Violence
Policies should be in place that allow for employees involved in violent or unhealthy domestic relationships to notify the employer so protocols can be enacted that allow for the employer to proactively protect the employee and the workplace from collateral damage. Numerous examples of domestic-related active assailant attacks exhibit the necessity for proactive measures to protect employees.

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Dan Hanlon

Director of Training, The Noble Group
Sergeant of Police, New Berlin Police Department (retired)