By Rod Gould, ICMA-CM, and Jack Brown

Active shooter incidents are increasing in America and around the globe. Local government managers and assistants have an affirmative duty to guide preparation, prevention, and response actions to limit the loss of life in the face of this alarming trend.

Not only must these efforts knit together first responders, including police, fire, and EMS personnel, into an integrated response, but research and experience indicates that local governments must increasingly involve and educate residents and business people in what to do when confronted with such a threat or an actual shooting itself.

Big or small, no community is immune from this deadly behavior. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 277 mass shootings in 2014, 332 in 2015, and 191 mass shootings in 2016 up through July 16, 2016.1

Time and learning from experience teaches that there are a number of actions a local government can take to preempt a lethal shooting or effectively cope when one occurs.

Emergency Preparedness

Make sure your organization's general emergency preparedness plan, including equipment, is up-to-date. Get elected and management support to make it happen.

Equip and practice setting up an emergency operations center (EOC), which will be the nerve center that manages the local response to the active shooter and mass casualty incident. An EOC does not need to be a stand-alone building. It requires a large enough space that can be set-up with the necessary furniture and equipment in a reasonable period of time.

Invest in emergency training. Understand the National Incident Management System (NIMS).2 All too often, city officials give lip service to this system and its proven techniques. This system really works. Train on it so it becomes second nature.

Orient your disaster service workers and plan to meet their needs during an emergency. Most importantly, exercise your plans and check your equipment quarterly, if possible, using different scenarios, including an active shooter. This way your staff will be able to move into emergency response mode with confidence and speed.

For too long, law enforcement, fire, and EMS have perceived their first-responder roles as independent of one another. This is a major mistake. All three need to train together to provide an integrated response and must be comfortable with an integrated Incident Command Structure.

The manager must get the buy-in of the chiefs to overcome institutional bias in emergency planning and response. This is critical. Use the Rescue Task Force (RTF) concept.3 The RTF is essentially a simple response model made up of multiple four-person teams that move forward into the unsecured scene along secured corridors to provide stabilizing care and evacuation of the injured. 

There is also a need for common operations language using simple terms to avoid confusion during the pressure of an active shooter incident. Consider cross training law enforcement, fire, and EMS dispatchers.

Provide the necessary equipment for your first responders, including ballistic vests, helmets and eye wear, and assault rifles for your law enforcement officers. Get your first responders into major public and private facilities so that they are familiar with their layouts and train in them when possible.4

Similarly, make sure your radio and communications systems are up to snuff. This means that they are interoperable so that police, fire, public works, the schools, local cities, and the county can all talk with one another seamlessly. Create redundant systems.

It is a best practice to provide direct and simple training for residents and business people about what to do in the event of an active shooter. Many jurisdictions are using instructional videos on local cable television and at community events, service clubs, and other gatherings and are encouraging employers to show them to their employees.

The common advice is to run, hide, or fight when the shooter is active. Good examples include a video provided by Houston, Texas: “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.® Surviving an Active Shooter Event” ( Or one titled “Surviving an Active Shooter” by the Los Angeles, California, Sheriff’s Department:

These videos can be disturbing, but the information they contain can help prevent folks from freezing up and becoming easy targets.

Advanced active shooter prevention requires regular and structured communication between law enforcement, mental health and social workers, schools, and community nonprofits dealing with at-risk populations. Too often, there are danger signs that are not shared that could have been acted upon.

Unless these agencies and their staffs actively collaborate, there is a chance that a potentially dangerous person can fall between institutional cracks and become an active shooter.

Sharing concerns and warning signals can lead to interventions that end up saving lives. This takes a shared commitment on the part of organizations that don’t always work well together.

Saving Lives, Coping Strategies

Empirical evidence indicates that the speed of the emergency medical response is key to saving lives. That means moving properly trained, armored (not armed) medical personnel, who are accompanied by law enforcement officers, into areas of mitigated risks—sometime referred to as “warm zones”—as quickly as possible.

Early aggressive hemorrhage control is essential for better outcomes. All first responders need to know how to use tourniquets and hemostatic agents like gauze for severe bleeding. Rendering life-saving care in warm zones by EMS, fire, and law enforcement is a relatively new paradigm supported by data.5

The American College of Surgeons studied lessons learned from the battlefield and the responses to active shooter events in the U.S. and has made recommendations known as the Hartford Consensus about how emergency workers should respond in these situations. The white paper ( is well worth reading and boils down to the acronym THREAT:

T - Threat Suppression

H – Hemorrhage Control

RE - Rapid Evacuation

A - Assessment by medical personnel

T - Transport to definitive care.


This involves tactical emergency casualty care (TECC)6 and the need for integrated planning, preparation, response, treatment, and care.7 The analysis deserves careful consideration. Public managers should work with their chiefs and labor groups to institutionalize these practices and procedures.

After the tragic event, the community will need time and space to grieve and heal. Social workers, therapists, and faith community members must be involved to assist individuals and groups to process their losses.

Community gatherings to remember and unite must be organized. First responders will also need help in dealing with the trauma of the shooting. Having good relationships with these support groups in place prior to an active shooter event will be beneficial when the time comes.

Expect media saturation for at least a week after the shooting incident. The public information officer will be stretched to his or her limits, so be sure the individual gets the requisite training in advance.

Be Prepared

Sadly, active shooters are increasingly common in civil society. Local governments must prepare for, prevent where possible, and respond to mass shootings as an important subset of public safety and emergency service.


Endnotes and Resources:

1 Definition of mass shooting: four or more shot and/or killed in a single incident at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.


3 “Improved Active Shooter/ Hostile Event Response,” A Report by the Interagency Board, September 2015, p.16, and “Arlington County, Virginia, Task Force Rethinks Active Shooter Incident Response,” Journal of Emergency Medical Services, Blake Iselin, November 30, 2009.

4 “Improved Active Shooter/ Hostile Event Response,” a report by the Interagency Board, September 2015, pp 8–12.

5 “First Responder Guide for Improving Survivability in Improvised Explosive Devises and/or Active Shooter Incidents,” Homeland Security Office of Health Affairs, June 2015.

6 Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department, Operational Considerations and Guide for Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Incidents, FEMA, U.S. Fire Administration, September 2013.

7 “See Something, Do Something: Improving Survival,” American College of Surgeons, September 2015 Bulletin, Volume 100, Number 15.


Rod Gould, ICMA-CM, is senior manager for training, Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM), Geenbrae, California (;;, and a retired city manager, Santa Monica, California, where a mass shooting occured on June 7, 2013. Jack Brown is senior associate, CPSM, and director, Office of Emergency Management, Arlington County, Virginia. He is a retired assistant chief, Fairfax County, Virginia, Fire and Rescue Department (



• There is no one demographic profile of an active shooter.

• Many active shooters display observable pre-attack behaviors, which, if recognized, can lead to the disruption of the planned attack.

• Bystanders generally represent the greatest opportunity for the detection and recognition of an active shooter prior to his or her attack.

• Active-shooter incidents often occur in small- and medium-sized communities where police departments are limited by budget constraints and small workforces.

• The average active-shooter incident lasts 12 minutes. Thirty-seven percent last less than 5 minutes.

• Overwhelmingly, the offender is a single shooter (98 percent), primarily male (97 percent). In 40 percent of the instances, they kill themselves.

• Two percent of the shooters bring improvised explosive devises (IEDs) as an additional weapon.

• In 10 percent of the cases, the shooter stops and walks away. In 20 percent of the cases, the shooter becomes mobile, moving to another location.

• Forty-three percent of the time, the crime is over before police arrive. In 57 percent of the shootings, an officer arrives while the shooting is still underway.

• The shooter often stops as soon as he hears or sees law enforcement, some times turning his anger or aggression on law enforcement.

• Patrol officers are most likely responding alone or with a partner. When responding alone, 75 percent had to take action.

• A third of those officers who enter the incident alone are shot by the intruder.


Source: "Addressing the Problem of the Active Shooter," Katherine W. Schweit, J.D., FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2013: