Tips to Stay Prepared for the Active Shooter Threat

There’s many steps school and hospital officials can take to prepare for and stop an active shooter incident.

Compared with other instances of violence, active shooter threats are exceedingly rare in schools and hospitals.

Still, officials should be prepared to respond to and mitigate the damage of active shooter incidents in the rare event that they do occur.

That’s why Campus Safety spoke with Shooter Detection Systems’ Danny Marshall last month at the Smart Security Summit in Boston.

Marshall spent 23 years in the military working in special operations before working with schools and the Department of Homeland Security on active shooter response. Marshall’s time in the military gives him a unique outlook on the active shooter threat.

“In the military, our response to someone with a gun is a little different from a police response from a tactical perspective,” Marshall says. “But a lot of things we do to mitigate a threat like that are very similar.”

One reason Marshall has devoted his second career to mitigating the active shooter threat is the various challenges schools and hospitals face preparing for it.

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“When you look at the FBI’s database of these incidents, one thing you see is they’re non-descript,” Marshall explains. “You can’t pinpoint where or when it’s going to happen, and there’s no telling who could be the shooter. It can be a person of any shape or size, and you can tie it to mental health, a disgruntled employee, ideology, so it’s incredibly unpredictable. All you can do is raise awareness and prepare.”

One mistake Marshall says he sees school and hospital officials making is using traditional security systems or protocols as their institutions’ active shooter defense strategy.

“They’re probably using the same measures they would use to approach other threats,” Marshall says of efforts to protect against active shooters. “For example if you use a camera system, most people think that’s going to make you safe, but that really only helps after the fact. Then even if you have an officer on the ground, you’re relying on them to assess the situation and make all the right decisions in a small time frame, which isn’t always realistic. You need to help those people with other security systems. If I’m going into an active shooter situation blind, I’m really not making informed decisions.”

Marshall also mentioned budgetary constraints as a challenge for schools and hospitals and suggested some ways to get around that. For schools, Marshall suggested starting a parent volunteer program to have someone stationed at a reception desk to check IDs during classes or extracurricular events. Hospitals can zero in on the areas that are at the most risk for violence, such as the emergency department. Other suggestions include leveraging free online resources from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and looking for grants at the local, state and federal levels.

“Everyone’s fighting for limited resources, so if you tell a faculty member we’re moving some money that you use to improve security, there’s going to be pushback,” Marshall says. “Conversely, the security folks see security as the first priority to establish an effective learning environment, so it often needs to be a meet in the middle approach.”

Another low cost way to stay prepared is by talking with the people in your community.

“Talk to everyone about their issues and concerns. Listen to your employees and students and parents,” Marshall says. “Parents have diverse backgrounds, and that’s what you want when you’re assessing a situation. You could pay for a professional security review and get a detailed analysis, but simply listening to the members of your community is an easy way to find potential vulnerabilities.”

Marshall also emphasized the importance of drilling.

“We’ve all run drills for fires or maybe tornadoes, but now we have to start drilling for other emergencies,” Marshall says. “Your response will never be perfect, but if something happens you can rely on some key pieces of training to mitigate your exposure and save lives.”

Overall, Marshall advocates for a holistic approach to security against the active shooter threat, including routine safety assessments, emergency-specific protocols, drilling and other complementing security measures.

“Technology can help with everything else you do, so you should try to have a security system in place and an officer on the ground,” Marshall says. “It’s about having everyone focusing on a narrow set of goals during an emergency situation. That’s how you ensure an effective response, save time and ultimately prevent the loss of lives.”

Read Next: 20 Active Shooter and Active Killer Prevention Strategies

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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