On Active Shooters and Risk Management

In my Introduction to Sociology class we usually read an excerpt from the late, great Peter Berger’s book, Invitation to Sociology. I literally do a call and response with the students to highlight Berger’s fundamental view of the sociological perspective.

Me (quoting Berger): “It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this–“

Students (responding, quoting Berger): “things are not what they seem.”

Things are not what they seem. For this reason, I am naturally skeptical of any simple answers to complex questions like how to address active shooter situations.

Especially when I cannot formulate them myself, I like complex answers to these questions by people who bring professional expertise in risk management to the table. People like A.C. Haskins, whose work on guns and risk I have re-posted before.

Below please find Haskins’s thoughts on active shooters and risk management, posted with permission and my appreciation.

Risk Management by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

On Active Shooters and Risk Management

By A.C Haskins

In my day job, I work with leaders in high risk industries to figure out how and why their systems and processes are going wrong and leading to negative outcomes, and how they can redesign said systems and processes to fix those identified problems. We consult in health care (patient safety, quality, and risk management), in transportation (accident avoidance, maintenance quality control), in gas and electric (employee safety, system reliability), in manufacturing (workplace safety, process improvement), and more. The reason we can work with such a wide variety of industries is that our reliability and risk management principles aren’t specific to any process or procedure, or even any desired outcome, but are universal concepts that can be applied to any problem, to help avoid any negative outcome of concern. In fact, one of my colleagues has demonstrated this universality to clients by building a model oriented around preventing the “negative outcome” of his son’s dog scratching his hardwood floors.

If you model the problem as a line, beginning with the initiating action and ending with the negative outcome, there are essentially three potential places you can attempt to intervene. First, you can try to prevent the initiating action itself. Second, you can try to put defenses in place between the initiating action and the negative outcome, so that even if the initiating action occurs it doesn’t cause a negative outcome. And third, you can accept that, despite your best efforts, sometimes the negative outcome will occur, and you can seek to mitigate the harm it causes. The best, most reliable systems will seek to do all three: they will include precursor strategies to reduce the likelihood of the initiating action, layered defensive strategies to stop or catch the initiating action before it can result in harm, and mitigation strategies to reduce the harm when a negative outcome does slip through the cracks. But in general terms, those are the three options available.

This morning, I had a discussion with an old friend on the topic of school shootings and other mass killer events, and it got me thinking of problem solving in the terms of these risk management principles. There are three types of strategies to solve the problem of active killer attacks.

First, we can seek to prevent people from attempting such attacks in the first place. This, presumably, is the goal of gun control legislation, under the belief that if only we could control access to firearms better, people wouldn’t have the opportunity to conduct such attacks. The problem is that there’s no evidence that’s true–the UK and Australia have still experienced multiple mass killer attacks despite outright gun bans, and France and Belgium have had multiple mass killer attacks despite relatively strict gun control compared to the US. Committed attackers will still conduct such attacks even without guns–the Nice attacker used a truck, as did the recent New York City attacker; Chinese and British terrorists have killed dozens with knives; attackers in Belgium and Boston and France and elsewhere have used homemade explosives and other improvised weapons. If someone is committed to attacking, gun control does not stop them, it merely disarms those who might stand as a defense between them and their intended victims. But the point of this post isn’t to argue against gun control, so let’s move on. Other, perhaps more viable (and perhaps not) strategies to reduce the likelihood of an attack include efforts to reduce the root causes of such violence through early identification and intervention: mental health reform, outreach efforts to disaffected youth and immigrants, etc. But no matter how good such efforts may be, they will never stop someone like the asshole in Las Vegas who had no identifiable motive and was clearly committed to his efforts–given his level of planning, if it weren’t a gun, he was just as likely to use something else.

Second, because there is no way to prevent ALL such attacks, the next strategy is to put defenses in place between the attacker and his intended victims. This may be early efforts to catch them in the planning stages (such as the multiple school shootings which have been foiled pre-attack by alert parents and citizens reporting concerns to the police, who investigated and stopped the attacker before he ever fired a shot). Such efforts can fail (and did in the Parkland shooter’s case, due to the FBI not following up on the report they received), but they’re a viable option in general. Next, if we can’t prevent the attack before it starts, we can seek to stop it before it reaches its intended victims through robust security measures. Even locked reinforced doors and windows, for example, can serve as a defense between an attacker and his intended victims, as can armed security at the door (see the Garland, Texas, incident).

Third, even the best systems sometimes fail, so we need to seek to minimize the harm when an active killer reaches his intended victims. And, quite frankly, statistically the best way to limit deaths and injuries in active killer incidents is to confront the attacker with armed resistance. Greg Ellifritz over at Active Response Training has spent decades studying this very issue, and in his words,

“Statistically, the absolute best way to survive an active shooter event is not by running, hiding, or fighting with chairs and fire extinguishers. The best survival results for everyone involved occur when an armed citizen or police officer kills the active shooter…Active killers have historically stopped their attack as soon as they have been met with EFFECTIVE resistance. Although many folks have effectively resisted while unarmed, the most effective way to target an armed killer is to use a firearm. Here is an article that describes numerous incidents when armed citizens have stopped active killers. Please note that in each of these cases, the armed citizen was not harmed by the killer. Also, in each example the killer stopped his rampage without shooting another round as soon as he was confronted by the armed citizen. Having an uninjured citizen responder combined with no further casualties among the killer’s intended victim pool is the best possible outcome during a mass murder event. That rarely happens unless the courageous resisting citizen is carrying a firearm.”

This is why I support the proposal to allow qualified, trained teachers to carry concealed weapons (voluntarily) as part of a school active shooter response plan–the most effective mitigation strategy to limit casualties when our prevention efforts fail is a rapid on-site armed response to stop the continued threat as quickly as possible. Having teachers as auxiliary armed first responders, even if only a handful of volunteers in a given school, means not having to wait five to fifteen minutes for police to arrive. The average number of deaths in active shooter events when the shooter is stopped by law enforcement is 14. When the shooter is stopped by armed civilians, that number drops to 2.5. The difference isn’t because armed civilians are better at stopping shooters. It’s because they’re faster, because they’re already there.

That said, using teachers to supplement our response plans isn’t limited to using them as armed auxiliaries. A very easy strategy to implement, that wouldn’t cost very much money, would be to ensure every teacher and school staffer is trained in immediate trauma casualty care, and there is a basic trauma kit in every classroom with a tourniquet, a compression bandage, gauze, medical tape, and chest seals. We already teach CPR. The American College of Surgeons’ “Control the Bleed” campaign recommends that basic first aid training be supplemented with bleeding control training for trauma, because rapidly controlling hemorrhagic bleeding can keep victims alive long enough for them to be treated and saved at the hospital. This has the added benefit that it doesn’t just apply to active shooter events–the same training can apply for any traumatic injury, regardless of the cause. We will reduce casualties if the teachers and staff know how to keep the victims alive until the ambulances can arrive.

Like I said before, the best risk management systems implement strategies in all three areas: seeking to prevent the initiating action, adding layers of defense between the action and the outcome, and mitigating the harm associated with the outcome when it occurs. There is no reason our approach to school shootings and other active shooter events should not follow the same principles. We absolutely should seek to prevent attacks in the first place, sure. But we can’t prevent them all, so we also need to defend against them reaching their intended victims as much as possible, and mitigate the harm when those efforts are unsuccessful.


  1. During the mid-1990s, I had attended training classes for bodyguard/VIP protection, from private sources. Many said the instructor was “over the top”, but I decided to buy the instructor lunch at a local restaurant, and casually engaged him in conversation.
    An oldtimer I worked with a couple of months before he retired, was a forty year cop, half of that time with the homicide squad, who was given a soft court job as he aged. I used to see him and he always had an interest in my cases. He taught me a lot. He was a good guy, and when I reported to work one day, He was in the squadroom. He pulled strings, pulled hooks, and called in markers, to get transferred to my squad, for his remaining time until retirement. He was assigned to me as a partner. I was thrilled. It was like having Mickey Mantle as a partner. I watched and learned, from him. I would be working as I usually did, but noticed how he engaged people in conversation most casually and got information from all people. So, at lunch with the bodyguard/VIP instructor, I eased into conversation. The price of steak was inexpensive considering the return in knowledge. I only looked at bodyguard work from the viewpoint of a cop, and the guy opened my world to an unknown set of priorities and why, things were done. “People, are complacent, and go into a fight leading with their chin”.

    We spoke of strong targets, as opposed to soft targets. We spoke of Meinhart Bader. We spoke of the Red Brigade. We discussed why sewer manhole covers are welded shut when top VIPs travel certain routes. Then we discussed triage. I started thinking about that one. When taking First Aid/CPR classes, nobody covered gunshot wounds. After the bodyguard classes, I brought it up, and the instructors went off the walls like Daffy Duck, but I said, why not cover it beyond what I learned as a rookie in the academy. The eight-point uniform hat, has a cellulose plastic insert that most of the guys carry a photograph of the wife and kids. I carried a Miranda card in it. I was taught that if shot, rip the plastic out of the hat and place it over the wound. Blood seals the plastic and prevents you from going into shock for about a minute or two, hopefully enough time for backup to arrive. If in plainclothes, your wallet might have a bunch of plastic with photographs, and tear one plastic piece out and use it. Why? Because if you go into shock with an active shooter, he could simply walk up to you and execute you. They don’t teach that in the academy anymore. They preach avoidance of situations. Okay, to an extent, I will agree, because I am not a problem solver, I am a problem avoider.

    In all of the contemporary mass shooting events, I notice that municipalities are leading with their chin. I try to avoid that. Utopia, I have not found at this age. I see too many dreaming people in top positions, who would not want to address issues because they are difficult and disturb most people. Not many are conditioned to seeing blood and hearing screams, or having another person die in front of them. Sounds reasonable, I wouldn’t want my wife and kids exposed to that because it can be very emotional. Then, I wonder why have all the locales where mass murders occurred had ostriches in command. Their head in the sand and pretend the danger is not there. Why are cops-turned-politicians, promoted. Why is it, that known troublemakers are not preemptively addressed by municipalities before they become problems, such as the Las Vegas shooter, Sandy Hook shooter, any church shooter, or the Florida shooter. In each and every case, willful negligence was the backbone to the incidents. How is it, that a thirty year veteran on Broward County Sheriff Office, was not recognized as someone with psychological ability to take any proper police action, and what about the other three deputies who failed to engage an active shooter in a school.

    Political wheels. The sheriff, appears to be upset but was a contributor to conduct where his deputies cowered and seventeen children were murdered. The FBI, who I regard as do all NYC cops regard them, are only “Librarians with Badges”. The FBI was a gross failure. The school district. All talk, but they never got anything done and most likely wanted to avoid the shooter while he was working up courage to commit mass murder. Then there is the ongoing failure of government on every level. Fools desiring gun control. Nobody addressing brain altering medications because of political donations and the fact that Pharma corporations donate to gun control groups. Why are video games depicting murder, glorified. Kids lack maturity to understand what is really going on and programming kids to kill is never any good. All of it, is leading with your chin, in a fight. In fact, the president is with the NRA spokesman, calling for a ban on bump stocks, when the Florida shooter did not have or use a bump stock. Political kabuki, and that will cause a chipping away to ban other things or guns, outright. It will cause an armed revolution. It is wrongheaded. The issues are 360 degrees and in orbit, just like a merry go round ride. Brass rings seldom grasped, and the ride just keeps on going on, and after a while, people don’t even remember the brass rings are there. The issues continue. Unaddressed.

    The next mass murder, is somewhere out there, and it is only a matter of time until it finds a time and place to happen. But the media, is in love with their own image on the air, and kiss the soundbites of its own voices.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I always appreciate your perspective on guns in our society. This article is a great way to help us have common ground to help dialogue with “gunphobes” (I know there is a real word for that but it escapes me at this time). Evil doers will always want to do evil. We need to find ways to identify and stop them, protect ourselves and respond well if they are able to act on their intentions. These are things we probably can all agree on.

    Thanks again for your work and bringing your point of view to the halls of academia.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great piece.
    I was going to ask you (David) to consider the terminology ‘Active Killer’ rather than ‘Active Shooter’ and as I read the enclosed article and noticed Haskins tossing around my preferred terminology I was very pleased! …and not at all surprised he referenced Greg Ellifritz. (where I first heard the idea) Read Greg’s writings. He is the best-read cop in the country, a well travelled & thoughtful man and an excellent trainer in OH.

    I just finished assisting (in a miniscule way) in a book all about the subliminal seduction of the human-control movement. I believe the Controller-wannabees are experts at NewSpeak and have “us” on the defense. Any little accuracies we can insert into the language can help. Otherwise we are forever battling the premise of the argument. ie “assault” “ghost” “weapons of war” “loophole” “easier to buy than a Pepsi”

    They’ve adeptly usurped a noble word (shooter) and attached it to horrific events these murderers create. …thereby influencing the connotation of the word. I’ve even found myself lowering my voice as if I’m uttering “cancer” when telling someone what I do as an instructor or what I did last weekend.

    If I were practicing my crochet skills or found a neat new stamp for the collection last weekend, I wouldn’t be wary of how my neighbor or aquaintance would take it, but to utter, “I did a little shooting” in today’s environment of headline-education could freak out a soccer mom or worse, initiate a phone call to the authorities to come check out the man I just met who said he shoots! I am feeling unsafe and who knows if he has a gun on him right now!

    Great article, Prof.Y!


  4. The stats make sense here, but what goes unaddressed are people’s reasonable concerns about the social context of armed teachers, and the mistakes armed teacher/citizens will make, mistaking innocents for threats and shooting them. In case this is of interest, this view is articulated in a short article online here, which received a horrifying number of sickening racist rants indicating that there are still white people who don’t value black lives: https://abovethelaw.com/2018/02/you-realize-arming-teachers-is-going-to-lead-to-black-students-getting-murdered-by-their-teacher-right/

    Liked by 1 person

    • One reason i dont favor making general policies based on extremely rare events. Regarding the article, it is hard for me to take seriously someone who writes: “cops are allowed to pop a cap in anything that frightens them.”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know this is late late, but so it goes. I’m just going to let Micheal Williamson speak here as he does it so well; people who don’t live in the real world shouldn’t be listened to, this is for you Martha –

    Let’s summarize this: When someone attacks a school or other soft target, the response is going to involve people with guns. People with guns who are driving distance away are less effective than people with guns on site.

    You cannot disagree with this. It is a fact. If you attempt to disagree, you’re just not living in the real world. Go see a professional, do not ever buy a gun, do not vote. You probably shouldn’t drive, drink or handle matches either. You probably need an audio track of “Breathe in, breathe out.”


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