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Active Shooter Situations: Preventing an Active Shooter Situation

Warning Signs

No profile exists for an active shooter; however, research indicates there may be signs or indicators. Schools should learn the signs of a potentially volatile situation that may develop into an active shooter situation and proactively seek ways to prevent an incident with internal resources, or additional external assistance.

In 2002, the Safe School Initiative (SSI) was completed by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Secret Service, examining 41 K–12 student attackers involving 37 incidents in the United States from 1973 through May 2000.14 The research results, though focused on targeted school violence and not on active shooter situations, remain highly useful as a guide for law enforcement officials, educators, and mental health practitioners.

The study identified 10 key findings for the development of strategies to address targeted school violence:

By highlighting common pre-attack behaviors displayed by past offenders, federal researchers have sought to enhance the detection and prevention of tragic attacks of violence, including active shooting incidents. Several agencies within the federal government continue to explore incidents of targeted violence in the effort to identify these potential “warning signs.” In 2002, the FBI published a monograph on workplace violence, including problematic behaviors of concern that may telegraph violent ideations and plans.16 In 2007, the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Department of Education, and the FBI collaborated to produce the report Campus Attacks, Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Learning, which examined lethal or attempted lethal attacks at U.S. universities and colleges from 1900 to 2008. The report was published in 2010, and featured several key observations related to pre-attack behaviors, including the following:

Specialized units in the federal government (such as the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit) continue to support behaviorally based operational assessments of persons of concern in a variety of settings (e.g., schools, workplaces, places of worship) who appear be on a trajectory toward a violent act. A review of current research, threat assessment literature, and active shooting incidents, combined with the extensive case experience of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, suggest that there are observable pre-attack behaviors which, if recognized, could lead to the disruption of a planned attack.17 While checklists of various warning signs are often of limited use in isolation, there are some behavioral indicators that should prompt further exploration and attention from law enforcement officers and/or school safety stakeholders. These behaviors often include

14 Robert Fein, Bryan Vossekuil, William Pollack, Randy Borum, William Modzeleski, and Marisa Reddy, Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service, 2004. Available athttp://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/threatassessmentguide.pdf.

15Bryan Vossekuil, Robert Fein, Marisa Reddy, Randy Borum, and William Modzeleski, The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service, 2004. Available at http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf.

16U.S. Department of Justice FBI Academy, Workplace Violence: Issues in Response. Quantico, Va: Author, 2002. Available at http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/workplace-violence.

17 See Frederick Calhoun and Stephen Weston, Contemporary Threat Management: A Practical Guide for Identifying, Assessing, and Managing Individuals of Violent Intent (San Diego, CA: Specialized Training Services, 2003); Gene Deisinger, Marisa Randazzo, Daniel O’Neill, and Jenna Savage, The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment and Management Teams (Stoneham, MA: Applied Risk Management, 2008); Robert Fein, Bryan Vossekuil, and Gwen Holden, Threat Assessment: An Approach to Prevent Targeted Violence (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 1995); John Monahan, Henry Steadman, Eric Silver, Paul Appelbaum, Pamela Robbins, Edward Mulvey, Loren Roth, Thomas Grisso, and Steven Banks, Rethinking Risk Assessment: The MacArthur Study of Mental Disorder and Violence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001); Bryan Vossekuil, Robert Fein, Marisa Reddy, Randy Borum, and William Modzeleski, The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service, 2004).