Active Incident Training: Preparing for the Future Threat

Preparation must go beyond incident response, tactics and the focus on active shooters.

Active Incident Training: Preparing for the Future Threat

Photo: Sinart Creative, Adobe Stock

Police/Security Responses Require So Much More

As a certified active shooter response trainer, I understand why most training focuses on the tactics to engage a single shooter in a contained location. Exercises are expensive, they remind people that scary things happen on campus and represent negative marketing. They are also complex and are difficult to do correctly.

In the June/July 2016 issue of Campus Safety magazine, I addressed the scores of personnel, procedural/planning, facilities, equipment and communications inputs required to succeed against the active shooter in How to Evaluate and Improve Your Agency in 5 Easy Steps (view that story here).

The sheer scope of an active incident is almost too large to exercise. In a companion article to this one, I consider just a few (25) of the considerations/ tasks (in addition to the tactics already noted) a department must address if it is to develop a flexible and effective capability against an armed assault on campus (See 25 Tasks to Consider When Developing a Response Plan for Armed Assaults).

Getting to the shooter(s) quickly is necessary, but hardly sufficient. Are our training scenarios realistic? Do they include role players who simulate more than the shooter? Are you exercising with members of the media, wounded, parents, hostage takers, etc.?

Officers who know bounding overwatch find it difficult
to execute when dealing with 15 evacuating role players running toward them and perhaps even grabbing on to them for safety.

Of course, these exercises are costly, difficult to organize, may scare the campus community who is unaware of the training schedule and bring undesired notoriety to the organization. Exercises are admirable preparations notwithstanding.

The next best thing to a formal field training exercise (FTX) is a command post exercise (CPX), initially involving officers and commanders, and later other college officials from the administration, facilities, parking, etc.

The point is active shooter training for police and security must address a lot more than tactics. Sadly, this is not often the case.

Address All 4 Dimensions of the Active Incident

The preceding paragraphs show that police/security response must involve factors going far beyond small arms tactics. Similarly, an active incident contains at least four distinct dimensions, only one of which is response; and even the response dimension contains tasks and objectives within the purview of other, non-police actors.

The four dimensions associated with active incidents are prevention/ deterrence, response, mitigation and recovery.

Each of these dimensions has tasks for police, but other actors are also involved. For instance, during the response phase, the school’s public information officer (PIO) might deal with the media, parking might deal with ingress routes and traffic control, facilities might deal with building access and the administration will deal with decisions governing operations at non-involved campuses.

The Active Incident Strategy Matrix chart below contains more than 80 strategies germane to active incident response, and this chart only scratches the surface for the police. Other campus entities need to develop a similar matrix for their own activities.

Active Killer

Let us consider some tasks associated with each dimension of active incident response:


As noted above, there are many prevention initiatives that can and should be pursued by all campus entities, not just the police.

We tell our faculty, students and staff at our community outreach presentations that when seconds count, the police arrive in minutes, which is why they call us responders. Our goal is to raise the recognition that police cannot prevent an active incident, in part because people do not knowingly break the law in front of uniformed responders.

However, citizens on campus can and do see all kinds of behaviors that, if reported to police, can prevent concerning behavior, either by direct intervention by police or providing an opportunity for a person in crisis to get needed help.

The principal challenge here is to encourage people to look up from their cell phones and actually pay attention to their surroundings. One technique we’ve used with success is to ask people to read the words:

Active Shooter

Most people (greater than 95-98 percent) respond “Paris in the Spring” and miss the second “the” that’s right in front of them. They miss the actual words because they see what they expect to see, not what’s there. We tell audiences if they never expect to see a gun or bad behavior on campus, they never will.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author


Dr. and Lt. John Weinstein retired as a senior police commander at one of the country’s largest institutions of higher education where, in addition to other responsibilities, he directed officer and college-wide active incident response training and community outreach. He is a popular national and international speaker and is widely published on many institutional and municipal law enforcement matters. Weinstein also consults with Dusseau-Solutions on active incident and all-hazard topics involving schools, churches, businesses and other public venues.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo