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Active-Shooter Response: Tools for Better Preparedness

active shooter tools

Here’s a shocking fact: In the U.S., there was approximately one mass shooting per day in 2017.1 Mass shooting is defined by Congress as three or more killings in a single incident.1 These horrific events happen more than we realize, and it is critically important to properly prepare for them. 

Since 2000 the number of active-shooter incidents has steadily risen.2 These events seem almost unbelievable, and it’s easy to think one will never actually happen in your community. But the undeniable truth is that they can, at any time, and we must address them as if they will.

Does your emergency service organization have specific plans in place for dealing with something of this magnitude? Does it regularly evaluate them for potential updates and improvements? Has it taken the time to partner with other public entities to take everyone’s preparedness to the next level? As active-killer, armed terrorism, and other hostile events occur, preparedness can mean the difference between life and death.

New Standards

The National Fire Protection Association has proposed a national standard on preparedness and response to active-shooter situations designed specifically to assist emergency service organizations with important training, protocols, and personal protective equipment. You can  review the document online and suggest changes or additions while it’s still in draft form; see NFPA 3000, Standard for Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events at dards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=3000

A number of issues related to this topic warrant members of the fire and EMS communities to provide input. The standard “provides the minimum criteria for the level of competence required for responders organizing, managing, and sustaining an active-shooter and/or hostile event preparedness and response program based on the authority having jurisdiction’s (AHJ) function and assessed level of risk.”3 

As this document reaches completion, it may provide critical new support for ESOs dealing with the unthinkable. Perhaps you have something important to add to the conversation?

Importance of Assessment

Thorough planning and evaluation are critical components of being as prepared as possible for an active-shooting situation. Especially in such an emotional scenario, it is important to depend on prior preparation to keep a level head. Carefully designed plans are well worth the effort, and regular risk assessment checks will help you to:

  • Identify any areas of vulnerability within your organization and community and recommend ways to reduce them;
  • Supply the latest information, tips, and training methods to all ESO members;
  • Develop partnerships with public entities that may provide mutual benefit in the event of a crisis, and seek to strengthen existing relationships, especially with local law enforcement. Effective partnerships in this area can be critical during any sort of hostile event; 
  • Conduct regular public education sessions throughout your community to help inform citizens of important protocols, changes in procedures, and new safety policies; 
  • Stay abreast of the latest safety and training technologies. Become a lifelong learner in this area, as innovations are almost constant; 
  • Further investigate best practices for using existing conventional equipment to manage crisis events. Think about what additional equipment would better prepare you and how to obtain it; and
  • Set dates to regularly evaluate, update, and upgrade crisis-response plans. 

There are many ways to gather samples of quality risk assessments and safety plans, and it is important to source your materials from quality entities. 

Law Enforcement Resources

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website ( provides an extensive list of active-shooter resources. As stated on their page: “The FBI provides operational, behaviorally based threat assessment and threat management services to help detect and prevent acts of targeted violence, helping academic, mental health, businesses, community, law enforcement, and government entities recognize and disrupt potential active shooters who may be on a trajectory toward violence. The Bureau also continues its research to identify indicators that could signal potential violent intent.”4 

Following the devastating 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shootings, the FBI partnered with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program, originally developed and unveiled in Texas. At this time their program has trained more than 114,000 law enforcement first responders, and many departments have adopted it as a standard for active-shooter scenarios. 

A quick visit to the FBI’s active-shooter resources page will provide your ESO with a list of quality documents: sample plans and operations (many in both English and Spanish), partner agency links and reference guides, lists of all active-shooting incidents to date, law enforcement bulletins, quick-reference guides and more. This website is also a great resource for learning to better prepare your community for an active-shooter event. It offers emergency plan development tips for a variety of public entities, including educational institutions, houses of worship, and healthcare facilities. 

In addition the FBI offers the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP), “an important element in the effort to provide access to tools and resources for law enforcement, intelligence, and criminal justice communities by using sign-on technology.

A primary LEEP component—the Law Enforcement Online (LEO) website—offers a variety of active-shooter materials for law enforcement agencies and other first responders to help ensure preparedness for these types of events, including crisis resources, law enforcement training, assistance on dealing with victims, and a directory of FBI field offices.”

This resource, which can be directly accessed with a log-in and password from the active-shooter response website page, is a high-level government information system that offers virtual command centers, nationwide criminal justice records, global cybercomplaint data, counterterrorism threat tracking, and intelligence centers, among many other valuable items.

Promising Security Measures

Schools are among our communities’ most vulnerable targets. It makes sense for EMS to work with them to help prepare for violent incidents. EMS should be integrated into school-safety plans and have access to school maps, leaders, and emergency plans. 

Together, the U.S. Army and Department of Homeland Security have developed an active-shooter training program for schools. The program uses a computer-based simulator to better train teachers on how to react to an active shooter and generates the same type of virtual reality environment the Army uses to help train its soldiers for various combat scenarios.5 

A 2015 article in The Washington Post cited a report from the National Center for Education Statistics showing a growing interest in various school security measures, many of which are already common practices, ranging from hallway supervision and visitor sign-in requirements to security guards, assigned police, metal detectors, and locker checks.6 

Another emerging technology reported by the Post is a gunshot detection system or gunshot-detection sensors.6 These tools are about the size of smoke detectors and can be placed in buildings, businesses, hallways, and classrooms. Much like smoke detectors, they sound an alarm when detecting gunshots.
Collaborate with your local school districts now so you’re not meeting key leaders and reviewing key information for the first time after something terrible happens. 

Act Now

Mass shootings are devastating and nearly impossible to predict, but working diligently on your response plan and continually updating it will help your ESO respond in the best possible way.

For immediate information about each step of the risk assessment process and to download a complimentary threat assessment tool, visit the VFIS Terrorism Preparedness Assessment Matrix today at


1. Harman PL. How does insurance cover mass shooting events? Property Casualty 360º, 

2. Ingraham C. FBI: Active shooter incidents have soared since 2000. Washington Post, 2016 Jun 16,

3. National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 3000, Standard for Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events,

4. FBI. Active Shooter Resources,

5. Department of Homeland Security. Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE),

6. Frankel TC. Schools are looking to actual warzone technology to limit fatalities from the next mass shooting. Washington Post, 2015 Sep 15,

Don Cox, MS, CFO, CTO, EFO, has served as a paramedic for more than 35 years in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Florida. He holds a master’s degree in adult education from Iowa State University; is an executive fire officer with the National Fire Academy; and holds designations as chief fire officer and chief training officer with the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He currently is a full-time education specialist with VFIS & Glatfelter Commercial Ambulance.

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