Question from a reader

JD, another security prefessional, asked me the following question on an email and I thought it would be good to post it here. I answred to him personally already, but here it is. Maybe some of you can help him as well, and me. I'm always interested in learning.


I do a lot of with the educational market (k-12 up to higher Ed) and I am constantly asked how do you prevent active shooters from happening. My response is that you really can’t unless you predict when it is going to happen, which again you really can’t do that.

So I started wondering one day, is there a way to change the mindset of how we approach active shooters and can we really get ahead of the shooter. Meaning this:

Is there a way to “Red Team” a school to help them be better deploy deterrable or preventable resources. Trying to make it more difficult for the shooter and in turn buy more time for people to get out of harms way.

I’m not sure if I am explaining this in the best way as it is such a complex issue, but I am trying to figure out if there is a way to use the “Red Team” mindset to help schools be better prepared for these type of events. I focus so much on preventative measures and try to utilize some Predictive Analytics but I think I am missing something and was wondering how to incorporate some Red Team ideas in the school environment. You have such great content and I am sure your real world experience might lend some great insight.

I am sorry if it seems like I am all over the place here, my thoughts are getting in the way of my other thoughts.

I have always tried to think like an adversary but this one has me stumped! any thoughts would be great to help get me thinking a different way.




J, I’m not an expert on active shooting scenarios or even in securing schools, but I can tell you how I would approach this. This is just a brain dump. Each school and campus is different so you have to adapt to this.

I would approach this in 2 stages, the preventive stage and the reactive stage.

The first stage, the preventive one, should focus on stopping or slowing down the shooter before it can get near innocent people. I would start with a physical reconnoissance of the location, paying attention to possible ingress and egress routes. Ask yourself: “if I were a bad guy, how would I enter the school?” What would give the bad guy the best advantage? Also ask yourself: “What’s the nest route to escape?” I don’t know much about the psychology of these killers, but I’ve seen enough bad guy get that moment of doubt, that would make them stop and try to escape. The idea with the routes identification is that, once identify you could potentially close them, make them harder to access or guard them. By making the good ingress and egress points inaccessible to the attacker, you are either funneling him to a single point that you can control, or causing him to rethink his plans and maybe cancel the whole thing. Move to the next target.
Begin to mark on a map, diagram or whatever, the weak points in the school. Points that can be leveraged by an attacker to enter or even engage innocent people. Doors, windows, gates on the fences, parking lots, adjacent buildings, etc. Then note if these points are already being monitored by either the school, their security or the police. If not, then maybe you can suggest active monitoring, locking them (doors that should be open ONLY on fire cases, for example) or making them otherwise inaccessible to the bad guy. Try to funnel traffic (both cars and people) into a single choke point, or at least into the minimum number, so you could potentially identify the shooter even before he reaches the premises. Ideally you would have an armed and trained security guard on the school, but this is something that I haven’t seen in the US.
The big problem here is adjacent buildings, where a shooter with a rifle can take down innocent people while concealed. That’s a whole other world. We could go into counter sniper operations, but that’s beyond this.
The idea here is to make it hard for the attacker to enter and easy for the good guys to identify a possible attacker.
Then I would move inside. Assuming the above failed, the next preventive layer is the inside of the building. has some deception placed. Bogus signs, things that would temp the bad guy into going one direction, where you can, again, try to detect it and bring him down. Realistically, there isn’t much to be done once the attacker gained access, except training for the school staff and have armed security guards.
Ideally, you would have at least one staff member (teacher, admin, etc) trained in active shooting scenarios. From firearms training (stress shooting, CT shooting, etc) and hand combat, to emergency procedures (first aid, escape organizations, communications, etc). Last, identify secure locations for people inside the building, preferable with access to exits or windows where they could escape. Drill the staff and students on how to reach those places and what to do. have students also take charge, teach them how to use comms, or who to call.
I think a good first step is identifying those weak points, and creating choke points for the attacker. Route him into a controlled area, away from the target.

The second stage is reactive. The shooter is already inside. This is a nightmare situation, as we’ve seen many times. Chaos rain, akin combat, only people here are not trained.
Like in the previous stage, I think it would be good to have the staff trained in what to do. Have them trained with firearms, and possible have a few firearms in the school. Accessible only by those people (to prevent untrained people from hurting themselves or other innocents, or from the bad guy gaining access to them). Have them practice a procedure where when an active shooter has been identified, they take command: they move the kids to a safe location (identified previously), they reach the firearms and try to take the shooter down, and they call law enforcement.
Drill them, practice reaching the safe locations and the weapons. Stress them.
Like I said, once the attacker is inside, there isn’t much to be do other than take him down, and bring the kids and staff to safety.

I hope this gives you an idea… Again, I am not an expert. I’m just trying to apply the Red Team Mindset and think like an attacker. Then identify how I would protect me against that threat.

Answer from the a reader

Use a Plan and ACE it - how to evolve situational awareness