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Thirteen years after Columbine, what have we learned about school shootings?

 Are we any further ahead at preventing school shootings today than we were in 1999?
Our prayers are with the victims, survivors, and rescuers...

Newtown CT joined the ranks of the those communities devistated by a school shooting event  on December 14, 2012 when a 20-year-old carries out shooting event at an elementary school. The lone attacker is reportedly to have fatally shot his mother as she slept, stealing two pistols and one rifle, prior to going to the Sandy Hook Elementary School.


According to media reports, he forced entry, easily defeating school security systems, by shooting out a window and proceeded to shoot two school administrative staff and children in a first grade class. All the children were between six and seven-years-old. Authorities are reporting a total of 20 children and 7 adults murdered.

It’s sad to say it and hard to hear it. It's even harder to understand. Sadly, it is a topic we've visited many times in this blog and podcast. We've discussed active shooter events and civilian soft targets as much as we've talked about chemical and biological weapons.

We most recently spoke on this topic after the Aurora Colorado movie theater shootings. Our opinions are the same today as they were after that tragedy. The liberal left and conservative right have it all wrong when it comes to finding causes and preventing similar active shooter events. (listen to MJ 238 Aurora CO Movie Shootings - Why we’ve got it all wrong) Stricter gun control will not solve this issue. More people with guns will not prevent future attacks.

Commonalities in active shooter events
  • Civilian soft target remain the location of choice. Hospitals also remain at risk with once such active shooter event taking place almost simultaneously at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. The Sandy Hook School did have some level of security but it was circumvented. Why was it so easy to breach?
  • Gunshot wounds inflicted at close range. The rate of fire and physical confines produce a rapid attack with high fatality rate. There is little opportunity for protective action because of the speed of the event (possibly also because of the age of majority of the victims and the situation they are in).
  • Ancillary event - some other related occurrence, prior to main event, that would herald the main attack - shooting his mother, in this case. Use of explosives in other situations to draw attention away form the intended target or as a secondary event to create further casualties.
  • History - in many of the cases the alleged perpetrator has had a mental illness diagnosis
Shooting events at high profile soft targets are difficult to prevent and have significant, long-lasting effects. They also have numerous commonalities that can be used to aid planning efforts.

"Locations of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, will need to be protected from attack as will other civilian locations. Hotels, coffee shops, and shopping centers lack the deterrents necessary to prevent attacks. The psychological impact of an attack on any of these soft targets will nearly as devastating as the loss of life."

How ready are we for active shooter events? A question asked too many times over the last seven years.

Active shooter situation may be the most difficult to domestic terrorism situation to deal with. Many of the active shooter situations take place in a work environment or in a public venue with little or no warning. Firearms of all varieties have been noted in active shooter case studies from the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security:
"An Active Shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims..."
These events are unpredictable in nature and timing, but the outcomes and be generically predicted.  If we follow the basic principles of Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, and Property Conservation, we'll be able to keep personnel safety and response priorities in balance.

Key to remember that soft targets continue to be chosen by active shooters and present significant threats. Preplanning and inter-agency cooperation is paramount to reducing the loss of life.

Active shooter situations in a soft target location - a mall, school, hospital/health care environment, or sporting events are disastrous. The answer may be someplace between the left and right...

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