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TTA Insight: Active Shooter, Active Killer, or Violent Intruder

Active Shooter, Active Killer, or Violent Intruder?

Imagine this: you’re in your office or school doing your normal, every-day tasks. Suddenly you hear several gunshots from the hallway. A breathless co-worker runs in. “Someone is shooting!” she yells. Do you know what to do?

If you’ve been through any active-shooter based training program, you have an idea of what to do.

Now imagine this: You’re in the front office doing your normal, every-day duties. Suddenly, the door opens. An upset person marches in, demanding to speak to your boss. They are escalated, face flushed and brows narrowed. And they are gripping a hammer in their hand.

Do you know what to do?

Very, very few people will answer this question correctly. Common answers include, “I’d call 911”, “I’d try to calm the person down,” and “I’d step between them and the entrance to the rest of the facility.”

Would you do those same things if they were carrying a gun in their hand? Do you think this person is really there for a construction meeting?

15 times the amount of people are stabbed and beaten to death every year than there are killed with rifles. Did you know that? And if someone has put in the forethought and pre-planning to bring a weapon into your vicinity, you can bet they already have a plan to use it. They have already justified the behavior in their minds. What kind of person is this person? An active shooter? An active killer? Or a violent intruder? What exactly are we trying to prepare for when we offer training programs that teach us how to respond to violent incidents? Are we teaching people to respond to violence? Or are we conditioning people to only take action when guns are involved?

We have to start correcting our terminology (and even more importantly, our training) when we talk about violent incidents in the workplace. There are three common terms floating around. We want to address them each of them:

Active Shooter. This term is the most common, used by the FBI to define “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Active shooter implies a fundamental error in its very title. It teaches everyone that a gun must be involved when someone is trying to kill you. It also suggests that active shooters can only occur in confined areas: not on the road, in the parking lot, or at an open-air concert. False.

Active Killer. This term was introduced and is used by many law enforcement agencies to counter the “active shooter” terminology craze. The idea is that a gun is NOT necessary to make a violent incident synonymous with an “active shooter situation”. This is much more accurate, but there is still a fundamental problem: this term assumes that killing is in progress. Does someone have to be in the very act of killing before Move, Evade, Defend applies? Do you have to be dying before acting as if your life is in danger?

Violent Intruder. This is any person who intrudes upon the area (ANY area) where you are and demonstrates an intent to do violence toward another person. It could involve a gun. It could involve a hammer. It could involve a car. And what is the correct response?

Move. Evade. Defend.

In May, 2017, two people were fatally stabbed and a third was injured after a violent person on a commuter train began shouting slurs at two teenage girls. According to witnesses, the deceased individuals attempted to de-escalate the violent individual. When de-escalation failed, they stepped in front of the man forming a barrier between the two girls and the aggressor. All three were slashed in the neck.

Any training that includes a response plan to violent events needs to address how escalation works. Our training programs need to address how to respond to violence correctly ...even if an attack hasn't happened yet. And all of us need to understand that any tool can be used as a deadly weapon: it all depends on the hands which are holding it.

Never assume that someone isn’t ready and capable of seriously injuring you. Train for the violent intruder. Don’t condition yourself to only be able to act correctly with the active shooter.


Ask the Experts

Q: Should classroom/office doors remain locked, or only in the case of a violent intruder?

A: Classroom and office doors should remain locked 100% of the time. We know, it is very inconvenient. But, while inconvenient, it means your attention is drawn to every single person coming into your room... because you have to let them in. 99.9 percent of the time, this will just cost you effort. .01 percent of the time, you'll be really grateful the upset parent with the baseball bat is stuck outside (not inside before you even realize it).

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