Preparing Schools for Active Shooter Attacks


In Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival  the author uses the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) definition of mass shooting, which is “four or more killed in a single event.”  Using that definition, a USA Today analysis of 146 mass shootings indicated that more than 900 people died in mass shootings during the past seven years. If one utilizes the statistics provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the numbers increase even more dramatically.  Based on their definition (three or more people killed/injured in a single incident), between the Columbine shooting in April 1999 and September of 2012, nearly 200 people were shot to death in mass killings.  In the first nine months of September 2012, there were 80 deaths resulting from mass murders.  These numbers do not include those who were injured.  The Brady Campaign reports that by their definition, there is an average of 20 mass shootings per year in the United States.

Schools should prepare for active shooter incidents by providing training to their entire staff and having a crisis response plan that is studied and practices by all employees.  It is recommended that active shooter drills and their corresponding lockdown and/or evacuation plans are practiced at least twice per year.   Below is some additional information on preparing schools for active shooter attacks and how districts should develop policies and provide training for these unlikely but often deadly incidents.


An Active Shooter may be defined as one or more persons who participate in a random or systematic shooting spree demonstrating their intent to continuously harm or kill others.

There is no apparent pattern or method to their selection of victims. The activity is not contained, and there is immediate risk of death and injury to victims.

These situations are dynamic and evolve rapidly, demanding immediate deployment of law enforcement to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to innocent victims.

In most cases, active shooters use firearms, and may continue to shoot even in the presence of police. They are often willing to fire upon unarmed citizens.


Active shooters are considered a serious threat to campuses throughout the United States.  Nationally accepted law enforcement response plans have been developed to address active shooter incidents.

All schools staff, not just security officers or campus police  need to be informed of law enforcement’s response plans, need to know their own corporate policies and procedures and be able to take protective measures in an active shooter event.  Training of staff is imperative and a core element of preparedness.   The research-based ESCAPE Model presented in Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival has been developed to train staff and students how survive an active shooter attack.


It is impossible to predict from where an active shooter threat may appear. As we saw from previous slides, assailants are not always teachers, students, or people with any connection to the schools.

In many instances, there are no obvious specific targets, and the victims were unaware that they were targeted until the attack occurred.


With an active shooter:

•             The desire is to kill and seriously injure without concern for his safety or threat of capture

•             He normally has intended victims and will search them out. However, as we pointed out previously, there may be no obvious or apparent method to the selection of victims.

•             He accepts targets of opportunity while searching for, or after finding, intended victims

•             He will continue to move throughout building/area until stopped by law enforcement, suicide, or other intervention


There are common characteristics of active shooters in schools:

•             The suspect has likely planned the operation

•             The situation is ongoing and aggressive

•             Mass casualties are likely

•             They are heavily armed

•             They control the situation

•             Their actions result in mass confusion

•             The rescue/evacuation of innocents is necessary


In an Active Shooter situation, the priorities of corporate personnel are to:

•             Protect the lives of students, staff and visitors

•             Implement Crisis Plan “Armed Intruder” procedure

•             Notify police

•             Provide follow-up counseling to staff

•             Restore the learning environment

All schools should prepare for active shooter scenarios just as they plan for weather and other all-hazards incidents.  Campuses should develop crisis response and contingency plans for active shooter incidents as well as provide staff with both training and practice.  Active shooter attacks are often deadly and school districts are obligated to provide a safe learning environment.  Practicing security procedures such as lockdowns and evacuations and providing training in the ESCAPE Model could mitigate the incident and reduce district liability if an attack occurs.