What Exactly Does An Active Shooter Look Like?

Active shooter events are a fast-growing epidemic in the United States. To date, there have been at least 46 mass shootings in 2018 – that means at least one occurs every other day, and that excludes incidents in which less than four people are shot.

Predicting who the next assailant will be is impossible, because there is no one active shooter profile. But there are ways to spot signs of suspicious activity and for you and your organization to be vigilant about reporting these activities. This vigilance can help prevent an attack.

Recent data confirms that active shooters are primarily (but not exclusively) young men whose ages and races vary. If a woman is involved, she’s likely acting in tandem with a man, said active shooter training expert Jason Bryant in a recent AlertFind webinar.

“Most active shooters look like regular, average American citizens,” said Bryant, who’s also spent 20 years in law enforcement. “There’s nothing distinctive about these men. You can’t identify an active shooter based solely on appearance.”

What Motivates An Active Shooter To Attack?

Since little is revealed based on physical appearance or age, we need to look for some psychological or behavioral insights to determine what motivates an active shooter. Looking at the backgrounds of recent assailants has identified common motivations for their actions: Rage relationship and financial trouble and a desire for infamy.

Consider the assailants in three of the highest-profile mass shootings in the United States in the past year: They occurred in a rural church, a suburban high school and a heavily-attended outdoor concert.

The men involved in each shooting had what they believed to be their own respective grievance. In addition to legal troubles and mental instability, the Texas shooter had strained familial ties to the church; the Florida high school shooter was known for disciplinary problems at the school and his online posts and videos displayed an intent to harm; the Las Vegas shooter reportedly had severe financial issues and was a known gambler, though many details remain unclear.

For whatever reason, shooters like these had a grievance against society, or a particular segment (like their place of business or a house of worship) or a manifesto they wanted to bring to light. They used the attacks to gain notoriety.

Spotting And Reporting A Potential Threat

Part of being prepared for an active shooter event means that you acknowledge that the threat of an active shooter exists and one day it could happen to you.

Another key part of preparedness is having a reporting process for suspicious behavior. Each company, school and religious center should have a central repository for reporting any kind of suspicious activity that is then turned over to the police. The behavior can be displayed in person, like someone getting into an altercation and threatening to return to the scene and hurt or kill people, or someone who might make threats, brandish weapons or talk obsessively about other active shooters online. All threats should be taken seriously and reported immediately to the proper authorities.

Bryant has seen cases where reporting one seemingly small piece of information led him to help prevent a critical incident. “Once we dug a little bit deeper, we were able to find that other people had information,” he said. “When we started connecting these dots, we’re able to see a pattern of suspicious behavior, and stop it before an attack is launched.”

Proper Responses When Confronting A Shooter

Your preparedness plan should dictate a course of action if confronted by a shooter. Follow the Evade, Shelter and Barricade, And Fight and Counterattack plan when developing an active shooter preparedness plan. As previously discussed, the plan is simple and offers options that can be used in any sequence:

Evade. The best way to mitigate the risk of harm during an active shooter situation is to stay away from a confrontation altogether. Fleeing the scene as safely, quickly and quietly as possible is the best way to evade contact.

Shelter and Barricade. If you can’t leave the building safely and find yourself confined to one area such as your office, you need to stop the shooter from accessing your location. This also includes lockdown procedures like barricading doors and sheltering-in-place.

Fight and Counterattack. If you are near the active shooter or are confronted by him, protecting yourself by attacking in a group can save lives. By launching an unexpected counter attack, you send the assailant into fight, flee or freeze mode. You could stop and detain the shooter or possibly scare him off with your actions.

Bryant dissuades anyone from trying to reason with the shooter or appeal to his humanity. “The absolute worst thing that a person can do is to fall on their knees and beg for mercy. The shooter will not care if you’re a mother, a father or if someone is dependent on you,” he said. “To him, it’s all about a body count. You’re a number.”

By rehearsing your active shooter plan and readying your organization for immediate action, you can save lives.

For more expert advice on how to protect your organization, watch our recent webinar, “Active Shooter Preparedness: Life-Saving Strategies From A Law Enforcement Expert."

You are well on your way toward protecting your staff and organization.

Take the next step toward protecting your organization by learning more about emergency notification systems and the vital role they play in your emergency preparedness plan.