Shooter detection part 4: Active shooters – what can and can’t you control?

Active shooter - gunshot

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Jin Kim, Shooter Detection Systems (SDS) Advisor and FBI (ret) Active Shooter Expert, discusses why gunshot detection is an overlooked tool in the fight against active shooter incidents.

Active shooter incidents

Active shooter situations continue to appear in various institutions where we live and work, making us numb to its ever-present threat.

Despite our collective efforts to prepare and be resilient against such violence, individual success in mitigating these events relies heavily on people making critical decisions in extremely difficult situations.

It is an unfortunate fact that nobody knows how they will react when faced with the most terrifying experience of their lives, one in which the aggressor always has the upper hand.

From my many years of experience, active shooter incidents are made up of three stages: initial, sustained and improvised.

They begin with an ambush where the perpetrator holds every tactical advantage over the targeted individuals.

The attacker decides on the when, where, who, what and why of the ambush, which takes place at lightning speed and with complete surprise.

There may be multiple reasons behind the attacker’s grievance or several unanticipated events that pushed them down this path.

These complexities only add to the difficulty of implementing individual efforts to manage or face this threat.

Our natural response

People’s reactions in a crisis are unpredictable, particularly when confronted with sudden and unexpected violence.

Even those who are prepared may momentarily freeze as they assess the danger before instinctively choosing fight or flight.

Time takes on an entirely new meaning during an active shooter situation.

Once committed to the attack – defined as the initial stage – both the offender and those under attack face a ticking clock that starts even before the violence begins.

The attacker is well aware and even anticipates that first responders will quickly converge on the scene. This fact is not a deterrent to the attacker and is part of the plan.

The key to protecting vulnerable individuals in such a rapidly deteriorating situation is to close the gap between the perpetrator’s advantages and the human reaction to the threat.

Traditional security technologies primarily operate as either passive or active and serve in either inter-event deterrence or intra-event response.

However, we have seen that these methods often fail to prevent the modern-day carnage of mass killings within buildings.

In essence, the sooner people are aware, the sooner they can respond.

In the face of contemporary risks, conventional security measures and technologies primarily adopt either a passive or active stance, focusing on either inter-event deterrence or intra-event response.

However, history has consistently demonstrated that these methods fall short in preventing the tragic consequences of modern-day active attacks that lead to the senseless loss of innocent lives within a building.

Mitigating the attacker’s advantages

We can reduce the disparity between the attacker’s advantages and the victims’ challenges by understanding:

  1. The limited control institutions have during the attack and the value of reducing dependency on human decision-making
  2. Confronting and addressing the practical realities of notifications
  3. How to alert the entire population under attack so they can take action

Traditionally, technologies used to counter active shooter incidents have relied on video and some form of access control or lockdown protocol.

However even with advanced tools like AI-driven, video object recognition solutions, trained personnel are still needed to identify threats, act quickly and communicate effectively under extreme stress and confusion.

Fully autonomous gunshot detection

Fully autonomous gunshot detection, tracking and notification systems alter this model.

By removing human emotions and their downstream reactions and assumptions from the equation, the intra-event response for those under attack is significantly improved.

Instant awareness via multiple communication modes offers advantages in two dimensions: law enforcement can save precious time by directing limited resources to the exact location of the attacker, while those under attack can make more informed decisions based on the situation.

Modern indoor gunshot detection systems, integrated with leading video, mass notification and access control systems, allow each organization to develop its own approach based on existing security protocols.

As long as this modern-day risk continues to threaten us, focusing on managing the intra-event is the crucial step we can all take to save lives.

About the author

Jin Kim is a widely regarded subject matter expert in Active Shooter and Workplace Violence Risk Management. Kim retired from the FBI in 2018 as a 23-year veteran of the FBI’s New York Division.

He is the Founder and Principal Practitioner of the PerSec Academy & Advisory Group and a Founding Member of the Bureau Consortium, a collective of retired FBI nationally recognized experts and partner practitioners offering unparalleled expertise in mass shooting and workplace violence risk management.

Read our previous installment here.

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