EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — January 27, 2011

Mass Shootings: Planning and Response
Public Safety Awareness Course

August Vernon
Instructor, Author, Operations Officer
Office of Emergency Management
Forsyth County, North Carolina

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript has been prepared from a recording of the presentation. The slide set can be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/FirstResponder/MassShootings.pdf for ease of printing.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to EMForum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator today. We are very glad you could join us for this special program.

I am sure we all were shocked and saddened by the mass shooting in Tucson earlier this month. It was a vivid reminder that these kinds of incidents can happen anywhere, anytime. So we are grateful to have this opportunity to get together to learn and discuss some basic awareness information at least.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s guest: August Vernon teaches courses in Incident Management, Emergency Management, Mass Violence and Terrorism/WMD Planning-Response. He has written over 30 nationally published articles and is author of the First Responders Critical Incident Field Guide published by Red Hat Publishing.

This is a return visit for August who first joined us to talk about his book during May 2009. I have added a link to that previous session on our Background Page in case you would like to learn more about that. [http://www.emforum.org/vforum/090527.htm] In his "spare" time, August works as an Operations Officer with the Forsyth County, NC Office of Emergency Management!

Please see today’s Background Page for further biographical information and the link I mentioned. Welcome back August, and thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


August Vernon: Thanks you very much, Amy, and good afternoon everybody. First of all I’d like to thank the EM Forum for the opportunity to be here today and participate in the forum. Our goal this afternoon is to briefly discuss the planning and response for mass shooting incidents. Obviously, certain incidents such as Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and Arizona definitely show that we need to prepare for this current and emerging threat this seems to be at the local, municipal, regional, state, and even the federal levels.

I say the "emerging threat" because it appears that the "bad guys" today are a little more determined, a little more violent and heavily armed that usual. This month alone has been record breaking. We have had 14 law enforcement officers shot and killed in the United States just in the past 30 days. The incident we saw in Arizona where we saw almost 20 people being shot in one minute—obviously, these are some serious issues.

Just this week I’ve heard from a large business that is involved in laying off a large number of people. They have some work-related violence concerns. There is a lot going on out there. Typically this is a four or eight hour class, so we have a lot of information that I’m going to cover very quickly. I’ll move through a couple of different modules from the four hour class, and at the end I’ll take any questions or comments you may have.

[Slide 2]

We recognize in today’s world, these incidents which are typically—the likelihood of one of these incidents is still pretty low. But (and I’ve got a big "but" on there) schools and colleges and public safety agencies definitely need to prepare for these situations because when it happens, it should not be the first time you discuss and prepare for it.

Today’s goal is to provide you with some basic tools and information to help you develop or assess some type of mass-shooting plan in your community or for your jurisdiction.

[Slide 3]

I’ll use the term "bad guys" loosely. That can mean a lot of different things. You’ve heard the terms "lone wolf", "criminal elements", and "terrorists"—again as I’ve said before, they seem a little more determined, violent and heavily armed than maybe we’ve seen in a while. There has been an increase in terrorist incidents, criminal attacks, active shooters and the attacks on law enforcement like we’ve seen this month, and all kinds of threatening situations—threat letters, bomb threats and this type of incident.

The key thing on this slide is that no two incidents are ever the same. You have to consider that as you are planning and training for these situations. After 1999, our focus was on a Columbine type of incident for awhile. Then, after 9/11, we focused on those incidents. After Fort Hood, we focused on that. These incidents are never, ever the same.

There are some basics involved with all of them, but you have to look at the entire thread. There are a lot of factors that come into play. What is the shooter’s motive? A lot of times these shooters will actually list out the individuals that they are after and that they are targeting. So who are they after? What is their goal? Is it domestic violence related? What type of weapon are they using and how familiar are they with the weapon?

A lot of these people have trained and practiced on the weapons they are using. You can see that in the results of some of these incidents. If they shoot several people and no one is killed, they are not very familiar with the weapon. If they have trained with the weapon and they are familiar, obviously there are going to be a lot more people killed in that incident.

What is their knowledge of the location? Is it a school or a college where they are a student or employee there? Is it a business where they work? Is it a mall? Is it someplace they have never been before (because they can get lost)? What kind of security measures are in place there? What type of response times do you have for responders? All of these things can influence the outcome of any one of the incidents.

[Slide 4]

This in itself can be a 40 hour class on why this has happened, but obviously we just have a slide or two to talk about it. Typically, these individuals may be acting out of some sense of anger or revenge because of their perceived persecutions or slighting. It is not our perception—it is their perception of what is happening and what they want to do. Or, maybe they just want to be famous—notoriety. It could be a political belief or religious based concept. Under the umbrella of mass shootings and active shooter incidents, there are a wide variety of different reasons this can happen.

Typically in the majority of these there is some planning involved in these from the shooter standpoint. They are not just jumping up and it’s spontaneous. They do put some type of planning and preparation into the event. This may involve some type of surveillance of the location or person of preparing for this attack.

[Slide 5]

This is a quick chart I grabbed out of a newspaper article. I thought it was a pretty good outline of several of the incidents that have occurred, especially from 2005 until now. You can see the numbers of fatalities involved and where those incidents took place. We can actually add more to this list since this is from 2009.

[Slide 6]

When we talk about the threat and who is the adversary, who is the bad guy who may conduct some kind of incident, there is what we call a "threat matrix". We can apply to this to a bombing or suicide bombing—all types of different incidents. You have to look at who is the biggest threat, who historically has conducted these types of incidents. Obviously, we can look at international groups, domestic terrorist groups, extremist groups, criminal elements and gangs.

When it comes to mass shootings and active shooter incidents, the two biggest threats are what are called the insider threat—basically that is a student or an employee somewhere—or the lone wolf—which is what the Arizona incident was. That is an individual coming from the outside.

That is your biggest threat when you look at this type of situation. That is who is most likely going to conduct that. That is who you need to focus on.

[Slide 7]

Looking at the insider threat—again, that umbrella insider threat can mean a lot of different things. It can be a disgruntled employee. A lot of times when working with schools and colleges, we tend to focus on the students as being the threat, and that’s not always the case. An employee and a student are two different threats. You could have a disgruntled employee or disgruntled student.

With all the job layoffs and reductions recently, that could be a concern. A lot of individuals could have behavioral problems. These could be your indicators of an issue. It could be a mental health issue. It could be a desire for notoriety, which is what they will state—that they want to be famous. It could be those political or religious beliefs we talked about, and it could be just an "I’m smarter than you" attitude.

[Slide 8]

When you look at these threats and different individuals, and where I think we have a chance to prevent with Virginia Tech, with Columbine, and Arizona, when you look at the incidents afterwards, there are all kinds of indicators there. It is just trying to put those pieces of the puzzle together to prevent them. That is our biggest opportunity—the prevention and threat assessment side.

If our entire goal is focused on responding to the incident when it occurs, we are already behind the eight ball. That’s already a bad situation for everybody involved. I think with prevention and threat assessment we may have some opportunity to stop a lot of these. In a large percentage of these events, there has always been some type of warning of threat there. That can mean a lot of things.

Threats can be behavior, how they are acting. It could be statements they are making or actions they are taking. It could be physical items. Are they collecting and gathering weapons? Are they talking about weapons? These shooters will actually write out a plan. If they have a death list of individuals they want to kill, they may have a plan, and they’ve gathered weapons—I would probably call that a clue.

Death lists and plans—they’ve put a lot of work into those. One of the key things that has come out a lot is the obsession. I think we saw in Arizona that there was an obsession with the shooter’s main target, and has been for several years. With students, they will show this obsession through art. They’ll draw it. They’ll write it out and make music about it.

Also the internet has opened up a whole new window for these individuals. On websites they will post videos. A lot of times these people will post on the internet what they are going to do and sign their name to it. They will post information on blogs. You can also look at what kind of web searches they are conducting. What information and websites are they looking at? Or, they are just taking notes about this.

There is no one key factor that shows a person is a threat, but it’s all these little types of threatening and alarming behavior. There is a threat assessment process. We really don’t have time to go into that today. This process is where you look at what the past behavior, the activities, their intent, their capability—and that may give you a clue as to what is going on.

One important number I want you to remember—and this is really focus on school violence incidence, but it also applies to workplace violence—in 81% of school violence incidence incidents, there was leakage prior to the incident. That meant somebody knew something. There was somebody concerned. Usually in schools this may be other students, but typically there are other adults that may be concerned. That 81% is our window of opportunity to try to stop these situations from occurring.

[Slide 9]

I threw this slide on bomb threats in there for you. This comes out of a book called "Gift of Fear" by Gavin DeBecker. If you have your pen and paper I would write the name down of this book if you’re interested in this topic—threats, assassinations, stalkers, and school shootings—Gavin DeBecker is a subject matter experts on those topics and he has a really good book.

According to him, and I’ve looked into this and researched it and it appears to be correct, there has never been an actual bomb found in an American classroom based on a phone tip. All these bomb threats we get in the schools—no bomb has ever been found. Even here in our jurisdiction, last year on one day we had ten different bomb threats at ten different schools. If we don’t handle those appropriately they can lead to a lot of other issues and problems.

Following that train of thought, from a school system and other locations, I can call in a 30 second bomb threat and make you move 1,000 people outside. If I’m a person up to no good, that’s a tool they could possibly use. I would say be careful evacuating schools just based on a phone call. Keep this in mind—being locked in the classroom may be the safest place for students. Obviously you need to look at your own bomb threat SOPs and SOGs.

[Slide 10]

Moving along into planning for these incidents—I think I can apply this slide to a lot of different situations of those of us who work in emergency management and public safety recognize this. Typically, safety, security, crisis management and emergency management is treated as a low priority rather than an important function and responsibility. I call that "spare tire" mentality. Public safety is usually one of the first places to be cut with budget issues.

It is always easy to say, "Yes, we have a spare tire in the trunk" but that spare tire is one of those little doughnuts and it’s flat. It is not very effective. You can say you have one, but it is not going to work. What happens is when we have these incidents occur, that sense of security and complacency is shattered. That may be our window of opportunity to try to remind people that you need to prepare and plan on this, you need to put crisis management teams together, you need to put a plan together. We need to take advantage of that.

[Slide 11]

A couple of facts of life—everyone, no matter where you work—school, colleges, businesses, industry, workplace—everyone is responsible for safety and security at that location. Why I say that is we’ve done some recent table tops, a good example is with some school systems—what they tell us is once the police get there, they are in charge. They handle it.

If you ask within the school system, "Who is responsible for this?" they’ll say it’s the principal. Again, that is incorrect. Everyone has a role to play in this. I’ll tell you now there is no perfect solution for school campus or workplace safety. I could tell you one for $10,000, but there really isn’t one. For trying to do threat assessments on individuals, there really is no magic formula for that. You have to try to take those basics and apply them to this.

When it comes to communications, I think this is critical—email is not a primary means of communications during an emergency. It is okay for mass communications and notifications, but not for communications. Why do I say that? Again and again we see within incidents people relying on email systems that will immediately become overloaded.

Again, I’ll use a recent experience for us with a tabletop drill for a college that we did. They were relying on communications between their command post and their crisis leadership, which was in a different location—which I think we need to disregard that and get people face to face—that unified command, the command post, the EOC, whatever you are going to call it, wherever you are—we’ve got to have communications face to face during the response and the recovery.

Another part of communications is media. I know there are already whole presentations on the EM Forum about crisis communications in dealing with the media, but in today’s world with the social media aspect, you’ve got to get someone out in front of the media immediately.

We used to wait, even ten years ago, ten to thirty minutes to do that, but now, it has to be immediately, even if it is to tell the media, "We’re responding—we don’t know what is happening right now, but if you will give us 20 minutes, we will come back and talk to you about this." You’ve got to put something out there—that’s a person, not just an email.

Also, we need to have that crisis team put together, whether it is a school, a college, a business—obviously, responders we know we need to put that together in a command post. For these other locations and jurisdiction, you’ve got to have the face to face taking place.

I’ll just tell non-responder entities that "call 911" is not a plan. We see that a lot with schools, colleges and businesses—their plan is to call 911 and that’s the end of it. With these mass shooting incidents being over in four or five minutes, your "call 911" isn’t going to help you because that is how long it is going to take law enforcement to respond.

In Arizona, that was over in less than one minute. In Virginia Tech, in Norris Hall, Cho shot everyone and killed himself within 10 minutes—that’s how long that took. Again, call 911 is a good start for our plans, but we need to go a little farther than that.

[Slide 12]

As part of that planning aspect, everyone who is listening in right now on this conference call definitely recognizes that we all share some of the same priorities. Those are basically life, safety and incident stabilization. Yes, I stole that from an ICS class, but we all want this to happen and we accomplish it in different ways. Life safety and incident stabilization—that is the key thing.

The best way to plan for this is a little bit of pre-incident planning and interagency cooperation. I could say that about any incident—a plane crash, a flood, a tornado or power outage, an ice storm—whatever it may be. We have to keep stressing that. I will say that these incidents can occur anywhere—metro areas, urban areas, big cities, suburban areas, rural settings, all the way out to Nickel Mines at the Amish school. They can happen anywhere.

[Slide 13]

One little tool that I’ll throw out there for you, especially for schools, colleges and businesses—you have to have a crisis kit. It’s not just the focus on the kit, it’s the effort and work that goes into putting this kit together. This is not my kit—I’m not endorsing this kit—this is just one I put on there. You can buy one for $295, or you can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and spend five dollars on a black, plastic tote. There are a couple of options available there.

Every location has to have a crisis kit. I say that from a lot of different perspectives. It’s for their crisis team to utilize. It’s for the responders—we are going to ask for that. The boxes also need to be updated. If it was updated three years ago, it is not effective. It needs to be ready for immediate use—not locked in the school safe or anything like that, which has happened before.

The kit needs to be secured and in a location that is readily accessible for somebody. Somebody needs to be responsible for that kit—not just the principal or the CEO, or anything like that. Somebody has to be responsible for the upkeep of the box and transport and security of that box.

[Slide 14]

What goes in the kit? Whatever you think needs to be in there. This is kind of a generic list—diagrams of the campus, keys—I was a firefighter for years, and I can tell you that we can open any door in the world, but if you have to forcibly breach 200 doors, that take a lot of time, so let’s have some master keys in there. Let’s have some employee rosters with photos of staff, students and employees.

Let’s list staff and students with special needs. Who has medications? Let’s put blueprints of the building, facility or campus, maps of the surrounding area, aerial photos of the campus—use Google Earth on that. That is very easy for any of us to use Google Earth and put the 1,000 foot view and 10,000 foot view of your location in there.

The rest of this is as much as you want to put in that kit. I have seen some kits that were the size of a JanSport backpack and I’ve seen some that were the size of a casket that took four people to carry it. That is probably a little too big, but again, whatever you think you need in your crisis kit.

[Slide 15]

Moving along, I can’t stress enough in any class I teach on any incident, we want to stress unified command. I go back to those comments I told you about when we were told by the school system that when the police get there, they are in charge. That is inaccurate and false. The police have things they are going to do and handle, but if it is a school or college, you are still responsible for those 1,000 students.

Unified command provides us a lot of benefits—a shared understanding of everyone’s priorities who is there. We come up with a single set of incident objectives all the way up to when we start working on our incident action plan and start addressing the next few days, weeks and months. What strategy are we going to use? How do we get that information flow to both the public and within the response?

The resource utilization—media, media, media, etcetera, etcetera—there are a lot of good reasons to utilize unified command. I’ve been starting to see again—we did good for a few years after 9/11 and the NIMS implementation, but we are starting to see multiple command posts popping up like mushrooms on incidents. We need to get away from that back to that single command post.

[Slide 16]

This is a generic org chart, but for those who are maybe not as familiar with ICS or the Incident Command System, this is just a school incident—a school shooting. This is what it should look like. This can be put together within the first five minutes of an incident.

That unified command—fire and EMS, law enforcement, and a representative from the school crisis management team, your PIOs, all working together with the lead PIO, assign a safety officer, liaison officer, emergency management—at our office, we respond out on calls and we typically will assume that role. We’ll help handle that and your agency representatives.

That’s real down and dirty unified command, but that group working together can solve a lot of issues. Obviously, the key thing is we are speaking with one voice. We may not all agree, but we are going to speak with one voice.

[Slide 17]

I’m moving pretty quickly here, but if you have any questions, we can take those at the end. From a law enforcement perspective, rapid deployment, which is how law enforcement should response to these incidents—it is a lot more common now than it used to be, which is a good thing, across the United States. One of the reasons for that is because typically these incidents are not handled by a tactical team, a SWAT team, or anything like that.

With these being over in four to eight minutes, that’s not a lot of time. That is going to be those first in officers and deputies that are responding to the scene and stopping the threats and securing the scene. Across the country, I could take state troopers from three different states, put them together and tell them to do that rapid deployment where they form up and go in, and they will all have a general idea of how to do that.

[Slide 18]

To look at this a little differently, and there is some good information at the osha.gov website on workplace violence, just so you know what workplace violence is—there is a ton of resources on there. An interesting note that I found out a few years ago when I started doing this—the number one killer of women in the workplace is domestic violence. For men, it was falls, crushes, and all kinds of other things, but for women in the United States, domestic violence was the number one killer.

I think you have to keep that in mind—that domestic violence does weigh in a lot of these incidents. There is some good information on that website.

[Slide 19]

In a lot of these mass shooting incidents, there will be some reference to, utilization of, description of explosives—IEDs, homemade explosives. These individuals may experiment with them. They may talk about it in their notes and plans. They may talk about it on the internet. When these incidents occur, you do have to keep this in mind.

That is just one factor of this. I’ll put the most simple slide on there that we train responders with. If you come across this stuff, you don’t touch it. You don’t move it. You don’t try to disarm it. That’s what we have bomb squads for. I’ll throw that in there in that threat assessment and planning consideration. There will always be some reference to improvised and homemade explosives in the mass shooting incidents.

[Slide 20]

How that first minute or two will play out, regardless of the location, what should happen—is when law enforcement gets there, their concern is not to set up a command post, theirs is to send out those rapid deployment teams. You can call those contact and rescue teams. Whether they’ve got two officers or twenty, they are going to start going in there to stop the attack.

They have to bypass the wounded. They have to get past everybody and stop that attack. Once those teams are starting to deploy, someone eventually will have to stop and establish a command post that you have some command and control coordination taking place. Somebody will have to start communicating with those teams.

Then, you have to start setting up inner and outer perimeters and relief personnel. As we know with schools and colleges, all the family members are going to start coming to the scene. The media will start coming to the scene. You’re going to have fire and EMS onsite. You have to get them in that unified command and coordinated.

A good tool to use is to set up a staging area. This is even for law enforcement. You have to set up the staging area as quick as you can. If I just tell people to come to the school, you’ll have hundreds of resources coming from all directions and going in lots of different doors. The quicker you can set up a staging area, those at command posts can start assigning those resources. Again, we have the media aspect and spectators and family that are showing up.

[Slide 21]

Some response issues—typically these are not going to become a hostage or barricade event. That’s just not what the shooter is after. That is not what they are trying to do. These events most likely will occur during business and school hours because that is when people are there. That is what the shooter is looking for.

One lesson learned from a lot of these in schools and other places—if you have young students or young kids there, they are not going to understand instructions being yelled at them. They will even hide from responders. It takes a long, lengthy process to search these locations for people hiding in closets, in the false ceiling, the attic, the basement, and the roof.

[Slide 22]

I also advise our responders, if you have this happen, please notify people as soon as possible. For example, emergency management responds to multi-agency scenes, but you have to give us notification. For hospitals, if you think you have this happening, give the hospitals five or ten minutes notice.

Hospitals usually know when there is a disaster when the first four ambulance loads pull up. If you give the hospital five or ten minutes, there are a lot of things they can do internally to start preparing. In defense of hospitals, I’ve been to some drills when there are 24 victims of the scene of the exercise and within 20 minutes they’ve been evacuated. Those on the scene are happy that they’ve cleared all the victims in 20 minutes, but then you call the hospital and it’s a disaster over there now. We have to get them in the loop and get them coordinated.

I can’t stress it enough in today’s world that even the most minor incident now becomes national and international news immediately. We have to prepare for that. And, we have to prepare for the families that will be coming.

[Slide 23]

Every jurisdiction, big or small, should have an EOC in it (Emergency Operation Center). I think this is a great site to start coordinating this incident for the response, recovery and all the things that will happen because you already have a secure location in your community with phones, internet, a briefing room, a TV, and things like that that you can use.

Obviously, we are all going to be in the parking lot for a couple of hours, but once this goes on for days and weeks, being in the Tahoe or mobile command post, we need to expand beyond that. You are going to have a lot of local, state and federal resources coming in to help you recover. The joint information center—we need to get that up and running as soon as possible to manage that media aspect.

[Slide 24]

With a lot of these major incidents—and this has happened in Tucson—after these incidents have occurred, you may have elected officials and VIPs showing up and they’re showing up within 24 hours of the incident, when you don’t want to deal with this. When the President shows up—those who have had to manage those know the amount of resources that takes.

This is President Clinton within 48 hours of Columbine. On the right are President and Laura Bush at Virginia Tech within 48 hours of the incident. On the bottom are President and Michelle Obama at Fort Hood within 48 hours of the incident. This brings in a new dynamic and you may have to look to your mutual aid agencies and your support agencies to help you with this aspect. This takes a lot of resources itself to manage.

[Slide 25]

A couple of thoughts on the people aspect—if you have this happen, you need to get a Family Assistance Center as soon as possible. There are a lot of thing that will happen at the Family Assistance Center. One of those is obviously the difficult job of informing family that an individual is deceased and did not survive the attack. That is something we do not want to be doing out in the street.

We need to get the Family Assistance Center up and running. I’d volunteer the American Red Cross for that. They do that anyway. They could help with that. I talked to our local Red Cross and they will help you do that. This Family Assistance Center is not open to the public or the media. You will need tough security there. You will need to establish that.

Helpline phone numbers obviously—people will be calling from all over the United States trying to check up on Uncle Fred or their brother or something. The key aspect is Critical Incident Stress Management. There are a couple of different ways that could happen—a couple of different versions. You need to consider that.

For responders and victims, that is two different things. We don’t mix CISM for responders and victims. You need to have two different groups. Just some notes on that—I’ve read and seen a lot recently that therapy dogs seem to be very popular and helpful. The therapy dogs sound like a good tool.

You may call responder counselors. We had an incident here a few years ago. I don’t want to go into great detail, but we had several teenagers that were killed in a very horrific accident. There were counselors provided for the responders that were your normal assistance employee program counselors.

They were not the right people for this to talk about the incident with those teenagers being killed. They almost became physically ill when the responders talked about what happened with the incident. They were dealing more with "I’m stressed at work" or drug abuse and things like that. From the responder aspect, you need to have the responder CIS team managing that. You don’t want the counselors becoming sick because they’ve never seen or heard this stuff before. I’ll just throw that out there as food for thought.

[Slide 26]

Three good resources that I’ll recommend and encourage—three good books, and they don’t read like an academic report—they are user friendly books. The book "Columbine" that just came out last year from a reporter is an excellent book. "Inside the Mind of the Teen Killer" is an excellent resource and really good book. "Terror at Beslan" by John Giduck, that talks about the attack in Beslan, Russia—not really in line with the Beslan and Moscow theater takeover, the Mumbai, India, and some of those incidents with good information in the book. I strongly encourage these three books—really good reading material to help you if you have some interest in this.

[Slide 27]

In trying to fit with our schedule, I’ve got a ton of resources and I’ve got my work email on here if you would like to contact me with resource requests. Again, I’ve got tons of reports, assessments and materials that could help with training. I just don’t have them consolidated in one area. If you’re interested in this, contact me with specific requests. Let me know you were on the forum, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

I also ask that not everyone does this today. I still have work to do, but if you have requests over the next days and weeks please contact me at this email and I can point you in the right direction.

[[email protected]]

Amy Sebring: That was great August. Thank you very much. I think that was a excellent introduction and great overview. Now, to proceed to our Q&A.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: In your experience, do you see schools, colleges and so forth becoming more aware and taking more measures along the lines you have explained? Or is there still some push back?

August Vernon: There is always going to be push back. That is just a fact of life. I do think since Virginia Tech, the college systems are more open to this. They are talking about, doing drills and spending money. I know in North Carolina the state colleges, as a result of Virginia Tech, have put an emergency management person at each college, which I think is a good tool.

Overall, yes, the colleges are really addressing this a lot better. They are putting more effort into it. But, as these things fade into the past, you start getting more reluctance and concerns that we have other things to work on. You are even starting to see a lot of funding that opened up starting to go away again. But yes, I would say the colleges have done a better job.

Bruce Churchill: What major differences would exist between a mass shooting event at a K-12 facility versus a higher education facility based on recent experiences?

August Vernon: Several things—who the shooter may be, the population that’s there, college campuses may be really spread out a lot farther. They have a lot of things that are the same, also. When responding to that, our focus is dealing with that threat and responding appropriately. A lot of it would be the population there and trying to manage—with the kids, I think it might be maybe a lot more difficult, but even with the college campus, people live there. You’ll have two different audiences or groups there that may be impacted by the incident.

Ishoma: Excellent presentation! Who is responsible for notifying the families immediately after a shooting incident such as the one at Virginia Tech?

August Vernon: My first answer is that would depend on that location’s SOP or SOG. Death notification should come from law enforcement, and/or a medical examiner’s office. You want that to take place at the Family Assistance Center. If it’s a school, college, or business, you would want representatives there from that location to help with that process. That’s a law enforcement matter. They do that every day. They need to do that there, especially because it has to be confirmed.

There have been incidents where the wrong people were told, so you have to be very careful doing that. So I would say that number one, it’s a law enforcement matter, but those that are involved need to be involved in that if it’s a school, college, or business—whatever it may be.

Bill Miner: What do you think colleges can and should do in terms of mental health after a shooting?

August Vernon: The mental health—in a lot of these incidents there are some mental health aspects within it—all I can tell people, our mental health systems are not going to get any improvement any time soon. We need to plan or prepare for that.

In Arizona, that individual had been in the mental health system for awhile. Cho, at Virginia Tech, had been in the mental health system for awhile. At Columbine, Klebold and Harris had been receiving counseling. The mental health issue in Arizona—I look at our community colleges with 50,000 to 100,000 students. It’s hard to pick out who is the dangerous ones from those that are just loony or nuts, or just plain weird.

I think the key thing that colleges in a lot of places will do is a Threat Assessment Team. All these people may always raise concerns, but the Threat Assessment Team is the one that can focus in on that individual and address it.

The counseling aspect—the Family Assistance Center and the notification is a law enforcement issue, but counseling—I think the college or school needs to provide that for everybody. Even the secondary victims who weren’t directly impacted but they were students there or were in the community, but I do think it’s something that may not be over in a week or two.

Counseling and CISM is very important. I don’t want to forget the responders. For those who remember the Jessica well rescue in Texas, and the paramedic after that very emotional incident after pulling her out of the well ended up killing himself a year or two later. We need to keep the responders in mind when it comes to counseling.

Tim Stoecklein: What would you estimate the % of active shooters are pre-meditated versus crimes of opportunity/passion?

August Vernon: I hate to put a number on it. I haven’t written a hundred papers on it and done statistical research. Based on what I’ve seen and read and done in trainings, it’s the bulk of them. No one just all of a sudden stands up and decides to do this. At Virginia Tech, and Cho, and in Arizona, he had been stalking her for two or three years.

In all of these incidents there are days, weeks, months, and even years of issues and threats and things that are happening that should be a warning. I’ll use the school board meeting in Florida—he could have very easily killed everybody in there. He obviously put some thought into that. His victory sign, and those kinds of things, and he had put information on the internet—he had put some preparation and planning into that, as limited as that may be.

But for the bulk of them, there is some planning and preparation and that’s your window of opportunity to try to stop them.

Dr. Jacqueline McBride: Is there an awareness program for the faith and community based organizations, NGOs, and grass roots organizations?

August Vernon: Probably no. I’ll be honest—unless something is happening in a specific community. I do my classes around here and in the state, but a lot of times it is not addressed. You may see some workplace violence training out there, and a lot of times that is lacking. Really, on this topic of general awareness is not available out there.

Earl Totten: When local law enforcement wants to drill on school shootings, what information should the public be given prior to the exercise

August Vernon: Exercises—those can cause issues. Number one, we’ve done a lot here and we will continue to do them because I’m a big supporter of exercises. You have to be careful. I’ve seen some of these drills where they’re using little kids. I would be hesitant to do that. It’s not a secret—you should always tell the community, "We’re doing a drill. We want to be sure we have a safe community." But we don’t need to go into great detail on the drill.

You can share that information with the media, and I would invite them into certain aspects. We don’t need to show the media and the public how the tactical team deploys and the equipment they use, and the tricks of the trades they use, and here is how rapid the formula works, and here is what the bomb squad is going to do.

It is okay to share general information to say, "We are good stewards of the community and we are preparing for this threat. We want people to know that." A broad overview is okay, but we don’t want to go into great detail.

Jeff Hescock: What methodology do you recommend to conduct a threat/vulnerability assessment?

August Vernon: One thing I will point you to is the U.S. Secret Service website. [http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac.shtml] The Secret Service is the top dog on threat assessment because they do it daily. At the U.S. Secret Service website, there is a threat assessment center, and there is a ton of information there.

Stephanie Supko: Have you had much experience utilizing campus mapping systems during a response? Do you consider mapping systems to be a benefit for responders?

August Vernon: I am kind of old school—I like pen, pencil, paper, and a hand-held radio and a 201 form, and hand held map, but I will say that GIS technology or any maps—when we’ve had actual incidents or even drills, being able to from the command post or EOC, being able to pull up a map is very beneficial.

When you get into data layers and GIS, I’m not very familiar with that. I’m a dinosaur to those things. I know they work and they look cool. Mapping systems are beneficial in any incident. The quicker you can access that and pull it up, it helps you make decisions on what needs to happen, especially on college campuses because they are much larger.

For example, we’ve got five colleges here. We’ve got Wake Forest University and they’re squared away. They have a pretty large campus that covers a wide area and a lot of different locations, so that mapping is an excellent tool.

Ricky Shellenbarger: Are there any good resources that can be accessed to provide statistics and patterns for presentation to stakeholders and elected officials?

August Vernon: My number one tool is Google, to be honest. There are some websites, and I don’t know if later I should share some of those with you that I think could point people in the right direction to help them out. I’ll give you some links later. I have a blog [http://www.emergencymgmt.com/emergency-blogs/incident-management] where I put a lot of this stuff out. There’s another link with some good resources.

Jo Moss: In K-12 in Central Texas we are relatively good at protective measures (lock down) and Active Shooter neutralization. However, how do you balance protecting the crime scene versus safely removing students from the area where they are likely to have to step over the bodies of students and faculty members?

August Vernon: In any training, we always say life safety comes first. If we have to move students, then that is my priority. Obviously, we want to keep that in mind. With any type of crime scene, whether it is this or a bombing or a normal crime scene, there is always that crime scene consideration.

Even at Virginia Tech, once they found Cho they didn’t know how many other shooters there were. You never will know until you can really sweep the area, and that take some time. I would say that life safety comes first. As all of this is developing, I’d take a digital camera out. We’ve had some hazardous materials incidents where we take some pictures and then move something, just to have a record of it.

If that’s the concern and you have time, I’d snap some pictures. Everyone running around with a cell phone has a camera now. I would say life safety always comes first.

Avagene Moore: August, thank you for this information. Does more awareness and preparedness in schools at all levels include educating students on what they might look for as well as immediate actions to take if there is a shooting? Or is the awareness primarily at the administrative or teacher levels?

August Vernon: Yes, students do have a role to play in this. One example is when I go to some of our high schools around here—we’ve got a big school system with about 80 schools—I’ll go to the back door of the school and just knock on it just to see if the students will let me in.

They do have a role to play in this. The information and training and plans that you’re sharing with staff and administration is not the same information you share with the students. Depending on the age group, they have a role to play in this. They need to know if they’re in the hallway and they hear "lock down", what does that mean?

They need to know for their safety if they have to barricade a door, how to do that. Again, you have to do that carefully, but we want students to know—and that’s difficult and there’s not great solution for that—it depends on the age and the grade. They do have a role to play in it, especially in today’s world.

The biggest thing with the students is they typically always know something. Trying to bridge the gap is very difficult—to get kids to report things.

Jacques Desrosiers: What would be the ideal makeup of a threat assessment team at a community college?

August Vernon: It depends on the size of the college. It could be the campus police chief. It could be a counselor if you have those. It could be a member of the Crisis Management Team. It could be a dean, or vice president. It depends. As long as you’ve got not one person, but two or three people on threat assessment to get the group-think or tribe mentality. It depends.

Having some key people there—two, three, or four—nurses, counselors—it depends on the situation and what size community college. The key thing is that those people need to be trained in threat assessment and how to deal with that once it comes in.

Comment: [Although not included in the broadcast, this comment is included here for reference.]
Rob Littrell: Not a question, but a comment: although tailored for FEMA employees, there is a good basic awareness online course at the Emergency Management Institute website: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/is106.11.asp "Workplace Violence Awareness Training 2011" which addresses how to respond during different phases of violence escalation for both employees and supervisors.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much August. We appreciate your taking the time to be with us today and share this information, and wish you continued success with your efforts in the future.

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We are also pleased to welcome a new partner today. Washtenaw Community College Office of Campus Safety and Security, represented by the Director, Jacques Desrosiers. http://www.wccnet.edu If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the link to Our Partners from the home page.

Thanks to everyone for participating today; a wonderful turnout and lots of great questions. Please come back again and have a great afternoon.