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Incident Response: The Difference Between An Active Shooter Incident and A Terrorist Attack

So what is the difference between a terrorist attack and an active killer or shooter incident? How does our incident response differ? Or does it?

A terrorist attack is initiated by an ideologically driven person or group of persons determined to cause the greatest damage to human life and property in order to arouse the greatest fear or terror in a group of people in a targeted society. The active killer or shooter is an individual or small group of individuals who most likely are emotionally disturbed person/s (EDPs) who, for some disturbed reason want to inflict pain and injury to others for some perceived (perverted?) anomaly done to them.  Both don’t care to live after the event, the terrorist dreams of martyrdom and the EDP most likely had already wanted to terminate his own life, but either couldn’t do it himself or wants to take others with him in his or her demise, as if to share their pain.

As I have written previously in other articles, the ideal response to these events really should be early detection and immediate interdiction.  Much like the active shooter or killer response doctrine today, we are not to consider containment, but pursue the threat and neutralize it as quickly as possible.  The problem with this doctrine or tactic is the possibility that the first responder may not be equipped with the tactical weaponry or equipment required to overwhelm the threat, especially a terrorist, who typically will be armed with assault weapon besides the explosive device(s) he or she is carrying in the attack.

Early detection of the threat is the best strategy in preventing these attacks. With terrorist threats, information gathering and vigilance by all, including the public sector, is the cutting edge in combating this threat.  Most critical with this strategy is the ability to and readiness of the ‘public safety organizations’ to receive and collate whatever information is out there.

Public safety organizations need to have a readily available number and location to receive all information, a location where the public, law enforcement, security and intelligence can communicate all information. This location should have a computer data collection, which can collate and analyze the information to develop intelligence – the intelligence to predict events.

Once the attack happens, whether it is a terrorist or active killer attack, a disaster is on hand.  The emergency occurs when the threat is detected, prior to the attack, when the potential for loss of life is evident. But once there is loss of life, then you have a disaster on your hands.  A crisis will very quickly follow this disaster event, as emergencies are known to be “rapidly deteriorating situations” and if not contained at an early stage, can spiral into an uncontrollable event, ending only in a disaster.  The response to an emergency has to be quick and effective. Depending on the size of the event or events, the ability to scale up a coordinated response again requires excellent communication capability. A rapid build up to head-off the attack is required and as we all know, the one with the advantage wins. One has to gain that advantage and gain quick as time is of the essence.

Again, if we have prior knowledge of an imminent attack, we can pre-deploy our personnel with the appropriate equipment to address the threat and recognize the threat before he gets to the target. If you say, ‘then why not just post all these location with these trained and equipped personnel, all the time?’ My answer is ‘sustainability.’

Knowing is winning. The ability to move and act upon our knowledge is the next key component, followed immediately by efficient and effective execution.

Although a little more difficult that the terrorist threat response, early detection is just as important in the active killer response. With the active killer, establishments have to have early detection and recognition at their access points, either by security personnel conducting profile recognition and/or together with electronic surveillance and access control devices.

As I said, once the attack takes place, the response and resolution become highly critical. There’s not much difference when these killers get started with destruction and chaos.

Stay sharp and be safe, always.