12 Lessons to Remember From Active Shooter Attacks

On the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, here’s a brief review of active shooter prevention and response best practices.

12 Lessons to Remember From Active Shooter Attacks

Active shooter tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech have shown campus safety leaders the importance of having an emergency plan in place.

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook school active shooter attack. Most of us can probably remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we learned that a deranged gunman had opened fire on the campus, killing 20 6- and 7-year-old students and six adults.

Since then, the body count of U.S. active shooter attacks has escalated. The lethality of some of these recent attacks and their frequency is so significant that the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting that killed 13 people is no longer among the 10 deadliest mass shootings in history.

Although this trend is terrifying, there is some good news to report. More schools, universities and hospitals are taking steps to protect their campuses from active shooters.

Case in point, the gunman responsible for the Nov. 14 rampage that killed five in Northern California was thwarted from killing anyone at Rancho Tehama Elementary School because staff quickly locked down the campus and had everyone shelter in place when they heard the gunfire. Surveillance video shows the shooter trying unsuccessfully to enter the campus, although he did fire many shots at the building, injuring a student who was hiding under a desk. The quick actions of school personnel undoubtedly saved lives.

The Nov. 14 rampage serves as another reminder that we must continue to incorporate into our protective measures the lessons from the Sandy Hook mass shooting, not to mention the lessons from the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy.

Here’s a list of some of the promising practices, in no particular order, that we’ve gleaned over the years. Hopefully, your campus has already implemented all or at least many of these steps.

  1. Communicate to everyone in your community in a proactive and non-fear-based way that they must take threats they hear, read and see seriously, and encourage them to report their concerns to campus and local authorities.
  2. Work with local first responders to develop response plans, and conduct drills and full-scale exercises with them.
  3. Regularly and frequently train students, teachers, staff, clinicians and administrators on how to respond under stress to all kinds of emergencies, including active shooters, via drills and, when possible and appropriate, full-scale exercises.
  4. Incorporate Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) in new construction and renovation projects to delay or possibly even prevent the entry of potential attackers. Properly implemented CPTED concepts also enable administrators to get a better view of what is happening on and around campus, which also improves security.
  5. Adopt multiple layers of emergency/mass notification so that those who are able can take steps to protect themselves via lockdown, evacuation or by avoiding the area where the emergency is taking place. Emergency notification should be used to communicate with your community before, during and after an emergency. Additionally, adopt two-way radios so staff can communicate during an emergency.
  6. Create multidisciplinary threat and behavioral assessment teams on campus to identify and respond to at-risk individuals who show signs that they might harm themselves or others.
  7. Set up anonymous tip lines (text, email and/or phone) so that students, staff, clinicians and patients can anonymously report concerning behavior to campus officials and threat/behavioral assessment teams. Encourage the use of these solutions and educate the campus community on how to use them.
  8. Install locks and other appropriate access control equipment to prevent or at least delay the entry of unauthorized individuals to campus. Install locks on the interiors of classrooms so they can be locked from the inside of the room.
  9. Implement effective visitor management and records management systems to identify sex offenders, non-custodial parents, individuals with a history of domestic/dating abuse and workplace violence, etc. so they are not allowed entry into your facility.
  10. Develop effective parent/student reunification plans and processes.
  11. Make arrangements for mental health services to be provided after a tragedy so students, staff, clinicians, administrators and faculty can emotionally recover, even if they weren’t physically injured during the attack.
  12. Develop the plans, policies and procedures necessary to implement No. 1-11.

This list is not complete and each item is multifaceted. That being said, sometimes we need to go back to the basics. This is especially true for folks who are new to the field of school, hospital and university security, but it’s also true for those of us who might have forgotten.

I urge you to never forget the lessons we learned from Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and other campus tragedies. Otherwise, we’ll need to be reminded, and that reminder could be deadly.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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