Active Shooting Psychology

It seems that the incidents of active shooters are becoming more common.  After each tragic occurrence, people ask themselves and each other what motivates the perpetrators to go on a rampage killing.  They might also consider what they need to do or how they will cope with the distress of such traumatic events.  The American Psychological Association (APA) describes the multitude of feelings that may overwhelm people, including sorrow, numbness, shock, anger, fear disillusionment, grief and yet more (APA, 2017).  After a time, difficulties experienced in engaging in our basic drives (sleeping, eating, for example) start to settle, and thoughts begin to regain their former clarity.  No sooner has the initial grief started to wane somewhat, but disaster strikes again, and the cycle repeats itself.  The APA advocates for resilience strengthening, that is, to be able to adapt in the face of adversity.  This is sound advice; and anyone can visit their website to read their tips on distress management (http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/gun-violence-report.pdf).  It is important to seek out a professional therapist if you need help, sooner is better than later.

However, something else can be done: it is possible, to not only be reactive and help each other better cope with the aftermath of mass shooting trauma, but to be proactive and be more guarded as an individual, or as a group, specifically in our different places of worship.  Places such as churches, schools, and hospitals once thought to be community sanctuaries have had to formulate safety plans and undertake emergency trainings to proactively strengthen their resilience (Palestis, 2016). Taking a proactive stance does not mean making the congregation in constant fear; if done correctly, it is a reassurance that others are looking out for them.

It is very difficult to understand the different reasons that may trigger active shooter behavior; and sometimes these may be inaccurately described in the literature.  For example, according to Dutton, White and Fogarty (2013) diaries and web sites inspected from a subset of mass shooters contradicts the commonly-held belief of their psychopathic nature or reacting because of rage from being bullied.  Third-party peers described these individuals as over-exaggerating the negativity of their treatment (Dutton et al., 2013).   The APA state that many possible risk factors may be precursors to the use of a firearm on other people; it is not possible to create a profile of who is likely to commit gun violence, and it is unfair, and stigmatizes the mentally ill to say most active or mass shooters are mentally ill.  The APA (2017) says that the most consistent factor seems to be a history of violence.  Unless the behavior attached to the violent history has been observed, it is not easy to identify such an individual.  It is possible to be prepared in advance and follow recommendation to stay as safe as possible in highly traumatic situations.

There may never be satisfactory answers to what triggers active shooter behavior; preparing ourselves to lessen impact on us, to be safer in such situations, is something that can be proactively sought, specifically in places like churches, schools, and so forth.  Consider reaching out and building yourself up with resilience training as an individual and specifically as a group for your establishment.

Cleo Warnick

(Master’s Degree Learner, Clinical Psychology)

 

References

APA. (2017). APA Resources for Coping with Mass Shootings, Understanding Gun Violence. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/10/mass-shootings.aspx

Dutton, D. G., White, K. R., & Fogarty, D. (2013). Paranoid thinking in mass shooters. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18(5), 548-553. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2013.07.012

Palestis, K. (2016). Active shooters: What emergency nurses need to know. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 12(2), 74.

 

Work your plan!

Jumping jacks, and one, and two, and three … Yeah, … no! No, we do not mean exercising like that. The type of exercise this post is about relates to testing your plans for church safety and security. What better way is there to make sure that all of that hard work you did, with planning and training, will work.

Let me first start with safety. Here at Saving Lives and Souls, we are neutral on whether security teams should have firearms in church. It isn’t that we don’t have an opinion, because we do! Each church is different, and laws vary from place to place. If your church decides to arm, or allow armed individuals with firearms, then there needs to be some consideration for safety when it comes to exercising your plan.

The first and foremost safety issue is that real weapons should NEVER be used when undertaking exercises, … NEVER!!!!  Using real weapons is a recipe for disaster! As a consultant, if a church is armed, and they want to test their plan, I encourage them to buy Airsoft guns and safety glasses.

These spring-loaded guns shoot small plastic balls, and can be extremely inexpensive. At one job I worked at, the majority of the office workers had an airsoft gun, some even carrying them in a holster.  Sometimes the boss would jump around the corner shooting, and you would respond in kind. To be honest, this was probably something that heightened situational awareness more than anything. If you got hit with one of the plastic balls, it stung a little bit (if it hit bare skin), but it was less painful than a mosquito bite. He even got to the point of sending friends in to test mess with us. Perhaps I am strange (no perhaps about it), but I thought it was fun to have to defend yourself in a non-lethal way.

For as little as $5 per replica handgun (plus shipping), you could add realism to your exercise while not having the potential for lethality. If you wanted to spend a little extra on the bad guys weapon, you can purchase a replica AR-15 for around $20. I should mention that the links to these replica weapons are no way an endorsement for this company, they are only used to demonstrate how reasonable the prices can be. Don’t forget the safety glasses!

I should also mention that whenever undertaking an exercise, nothing should be done that is unsafe. Think through everything and look for the potential someone could get hurt. If there is even the slightest possibility that someone could get hurt, then that danger must either be mitigated, or that part of the exercise should not be undertaken.

In the public safety arena, preparing for a full scale exercise is a long process. They can include:

  • Seminars
  • Workshop
  • Tabletop Exercise (TTX)
  • Games
  • Drills
  • Functional Exercise (FE)
  • Full-Scale Exercises (FSE)

I could get more detailed about all of this, but it would serve no purpose. When it comes to churches (especially smaller churches), the long process of preparing for a full-scale exercise will likely “burn out” volunteers. For that reason, it is suggested that the capability of the safety and security teams, as well as their protocols, are tested. This would involve creating as close to real-life incidents as possible.

When undertaking these exercises, there will need to be an evaluation. Evaluating the safety teams response could be done by a member of the church, however it would be better to have someone from public safety present to evaluate the response. More specifically, if testing security response, then either law enforcement or emergency management officials might be the best evaluator. If testing fire response, then a fire official or emergency manager might be best, and if testing a medical emergency, then an EMS or fire official might be best. This also allows these agencies to integrate with your team, and it helps them to know what your team will do. With that, they can create a more integrated response with your team should an incident actually occur.

Tomorrow,  I will discuss who to choose to be your “bad guy”, the types of scenarios to consider, and whether or not you should also have victims in your exercise. While my guidance may seem long and drawn out, it is important to note that by taking the extra steps, your church will be better prepared than most. Remember:

If we fail to plan, … then we plan to fail, … Mark

First steps in planning to prevent an active shooter.

As I mentioned yesterday, preparedness is an important aspect of preventing an active shooter or bomber. It is also an important way to survive one. The shooter that has come into your church or business has prepared. They know EXACTLY what they are going to do, and how they will do it. The way to overcome their preparedness plans is to have plans of your own. In some instances, churches have done one or two things to addresses security, and then they forget about it. Throwing a plan together haphazardly can give you a false sense of security, so I encourage you to take your time and do it properly. This is why I am discussing the planning and preparedness aspect in such detail.

In order to create a plan, you should first create a Safety and Security Committee.  It is critical that you form a committee rather than use one or two people to plan for disasters and emergencies. When you use one or two people, you have a perspective from only one or two people rather, than 5 or more individuals. In most instances, using a mix of individuals will provide a 360 degree view of potential risks, vulnerabilities, mitigation measures, evaluating mitigation measure as well as other issues.

Think of it this way, if you only had a young able bodied person creating the plan, they may forget about elderly individuals and those with disabilities. If you use only older individuals, they may forget about children, or even the capabilities of young and middle age adults. Additionally, if only one or two people are responsible for all aspects of planning, they may miss something, while the likelihood of a group of people missing something is substantially less. In this instance, five (or more heads) are better than one.

When asking for, or appointing, committee members, try to get a good cross-section of individuals. Even if there is a large contingency of police officers in the congregation, you should never put more than one or two on this committee. Why? Because they will in most instances be led by their police training. Again, a cross-section gives you a 360 degree view from every aspect of your church (or business).

Once a committee is formed,  it is important to let everyone in your congregation know who these committee members are, and that they are available to listen to any concerns. Being available to listen to congregant concerns can be extremely helpful, and they may help guide the committee to identify other risks that the committee may have not thought of. The input of other congregants should at least be considered, but the committee is not required to take any other action, unless of course they think it is a viable risk.

In the initial meeting of the Safety and Security Committee, the members should choose the leadership of the committee. They should decide who should be appointed or elected as the committee leader, the alternate leader, and they should choose a secretary who will be required to keep good notes. After determining the leadership, then the committee will need to discuss the risks that the church may be vulnerable to. It is important to note that I did not say only the risk of an active shooter, but rather all risks.

For the Safety and Security of the congregants, every potential risk should be evaluated. This should include if the risk listed could happen to your specific church, and if it is possible, how it could affect the church. This holds especially true if the incident happened during a time when people will be in church. Disasters that should be considered might include:

  • Attacker(s) with knife, bat, etc.
  • Active Shooter(s)
  • Avalanche
  • Car Bombs
  • Dam Failure
  • Drought
  • Earthquake
  • Erosion
  • Expansive Soils
  • Extreme Cold
  • Extreme Heat
  • Flood
  • Hail
  • Hurricane
  • Landslide
  • Lightning strikes
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Sea Level Rise
  • Severe Winds
  • Severe Winter Weather
  • Storm Surge
  • Subsidence/Sink holes
  • Suicide Bomber(s)
  • Tornados
  • Tsunamis
  • Wildfires

This list is only a starting point. The list provided may not include everything that might affect your church. Upon briefly discussing the risks that might affect your church, you should adjourn the meeting to allow everyone time to think and contemplate on all the potential risks. When thinking about these risks, those on the committee should consider any risks that were missed, and which risks are most likely to occur in your specific situation.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the committees role in prioritizing these risks and how to come up with mitigation measures for your specific circumstance. Until then, may God keep you safe, … Mark