Presentation — November 12, 2012
Attacker Types and Threat Assessment
Instructor and Author
Operations Officer, Office of Emergency Management
Forsyth County, North Carolina
This transcript contains references to slides which can be
downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/FirstResponder/MassShootings2.pdf
A video recording of the live session is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm121112.wmv
An audio podcast is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm121112.mp3
[Welcome / Introduction]
Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to EMForum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your moderator and host today. We are very glad you could join us.
We are revisiting the topic of Mass Shootings today as unfortunately these tragic events continue to occur. Our previous program is linked from today’s background page if you would like to review that one also. Also, there is a link to “Handouts” [http://www.emforum.org/vforum/FirstResponder/MassShootings2resources.pdf] which is a nice collection of one page resources provided by today’s guest.
Today’s recording and a copy of the slides will be available from our site later this afternoon. A transcript will be available later this week.
Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s speaker. August Vernon is currently the Operations Officer for the Forsyth County Office of Emergency Management (NC). August has been employed in Emergency Management for twelve years and previously served with fire services and as a fire service instructor.
August has given over 160 multi-agency presentations at classroom sessions, field training events, conferences, workshops, and seminars and teaches courses in Incident Management, Mass Violence/Mass Shootings, Emergency & Crisis Management and Terrorism Planning-Response. Please see today’s Background Page for further biographical details and additional related links.
Welcome back August, and thank you very much for taking the time to be with us again today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.
August Vernon: Thank you very much, Amy. Good afternoon to everyone or good morning, depending on where you are in the country. We have a lot of information to cover here so I’ll get started into this pretty quickly. First of all we need to say that our thoughts and prayers are with those that were involved with Hurricane Sandy and to our responders who were involved with Hurricane Sandy.
Of course with Veteran’s Day we need to give our thoughts and prayers to our veterans and all those that served in the military. I especially need to give a shout out to all those who served in the U.S. Army.
We’ll go ahead and get started and again I’ll hang around for questions even if we go beyond the one hour mark because there are always concerns and questions about some of these topics. I’ve done this training before and I get a lot of information about real world issues that individuals and agencies are dealing with. I try to help with those if I can.
We’ll get started on the topic. First of all this is a little reminder—these mass shooting incidents are typically over in four to eight minutes. That is how much time you have. There is what I call initial response and secondary response. The secondary response is what we all picture as taking hours and days and weeks and even months after the incident.
That initial incident—that initial gunshots going off or some other kind of attack is usually over in four to eight minutes. A lot can happen in four to eight minutes. My focus is to prevent these attacks. A lot of places and organizations and agencies always focus on responding to the incident. I also like to focus on stopping them. Let’s prevent them if we can.
The likelihood of an incident is very low but we definitely need to prepare for them. All these recent incidents that seem to keep occurring definitely show the need that we all need to prepare for these—that means private organizations, local agencies, regional, state and federal need to plan for these events and prepare how we are going to respond to them.
Again, I’ve highlighted “prevent”. I think we can stop a lot of these incidents from happening and that’s what we need to focus on. I’ll go back to everyone who is involved in planning for these—you have four to eight minutes. Basically that is the law enforcement response time to these events when they occur.
When it comes to these incidents we need to look beyond the condemnation of senseless acts of violence, the need for gun control and trying to explain why really bad things happen to good people. Those are all good topics but I come from “real-ville” and those topics don’t help us stop those incidents from happening or responding to them so I want to focus on those.
We have a lot of information to cover. When I do this class it is usually four to eight hours. You can involve exercises and things in there so there is a lot of material to cover. We are going to focus on the kinds of shooters, threat assessments and warning behaviors and maybe a couple of other topics. There is not enough time to cover all the materials for all the agencies.
We have private industry, human resources, emergency management, law enforcement—it is really impossible to cover all the topics for everybody. Basically we will focus on some warnings, the types of shooters and maybe some response issues.
So that we are all on the same sheet of music, we will come up with some common terms. I found a definition years ago for a mass violence incident. That is basically any intentional violent criminal act for which a formal investigation has been opened by any law enforcement agency that impacts a large number of people.
That doesn’t necessarily need to be a mass shooting but I would certainly say a mass shooting is covered by this legal definition of a mass violence incident.
There is also the term of “mass murder” and I’ve seen different versions of that definition and it usually addresses a number. A mass murder is four or more murders taking place with one incident. In your community, school, location or county if you had an incident with three individuals killed and ten wounded that is still a mass violence or mass shooting incident. It is still a terrible impact on your community.
These events we are talking about typically involve one location although some mass shootings will target several locations, basically until the shooter has stopped. There is also the term of “active shooter” which is the individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined or populated area. The mass murder and mass violence incidents are what we are focused on.
It definitely appears in today’s world that the bad guys—and I’ll use that term “bad guy” to cover a lot of different people like criminal elements, domestic terrorists, school shooters and whatever you want to call them—may be a little more determined, violent and heavily armed than ever before. There seems to be an uptick, a trend of these incidents occurring a lot more frequently.
I’ve included here for the law enforcement agencies there also seems to be an increase on the number of ambushes and attacks on law enforcement officers. A couple of key things about these incidents—a lot of times we tend to focus on the last incident. No two incidents are ever the same and we need to remember that.
A lot of the factors come out of the shooter. What is their motive? Who are they targeting? What is their motive for the attack? What kind of funding do they have? What type of weapons do they have? What is their knowledge of the location?
If you ever visit a college campus for the first time it is very difficult to find your way around. If it is an insider threat—workplace violence or a student—they are knowledgeable about that location which gives them a little bit of an advantage. What kind of security measures are in place? What type of response times for law enforcement? All of these and other factors will all impact that incident.
There are commonalities with all of them but we can’t always focus on the last incident. We need to learn from those but be prepared for the next on. With these individuals, the motive is the big one. Who are they targeting? Who are they wanting to go after?
The question always comes up—why, why, why? There are entire college classes and forty hour classes and books on this topic. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know a lot of those terms so I’m not going to focus on those. I’ll try to keep it a little more simple for some basic guidelines. There is more information and training and great instructors about these topics.
But why, why, why? I think we need to understand why. There is not any one reason for any of these individuals. Typically they are acting out of a sense of anger or revenge for something. We have to perceive the world from their perception. We may think we have been helping a student or employee all we can but in their mind we haven’t done anything for them. We have made it worse.
We have to look at the world through their eyes and their perception. Anger or revenge for some type of perceived—they’ve been persecuted, slighted or done some injustice. Some may have some other type of motivation. It could be notoriety. They just want to be famous. It could be political or religious. It depends on the individual. The key thing is we have to perceive the world through their eyes.
The majority of these incidents are planned. Very few times are these all of the sudden—they jump up and do this. There is planning that goes into these. Almost like a terrorist attack there is pre-operational surveillance and detailed planning. Some of their planning may be hours, days, weeks or even months. There is some planning in there and the reason I say that is that could be an opportunity to stop these individuals.
Also some of these individuals may belong to or hang out on the fringes of hate or extremist groups. Why that is important is that these groups are magnets to these individuals. A lot of these groups are not going to be doing anything like this but this is like a fertilizer for this individual if he is planning it, again, whether it is personal, religious or political.
There can be a hate group, extremist group or terrorist threat dynamic to these individuals. A lot of times you will hear that these individuals are “nuts” or “lunatics”. Some of them are not. They are very rational and sane which is what makes it scary. An individual who is suffering from severe mental health issues—we are going to pick up on that person. That person can’t come to work every day. That person can’t be around us every day.
That is the scary part—is the rational and sane individuals that are doing this. You have to remember they are deeply committed to whatever their cause is—revenge, injustice, personal, religious, political—they are so deeply committed they feel they are justified and willing to go to any extreme even if that includes killing friends and family to prove their point.
That is not to say there are no mental health issues with a lot of these shooters. A lot of them are able to go to work, able to go to school and be around individuals, even those that they are targeting while they are planning and preparing for these attacks.
A good term that I’ve heard before is that they are “injustice collectors”. We all know in day to day life and activities that bad things happen to good people or happen to us. We get bad evaluations at work. People lose jobs. You lose girlfriends. You get bad grades. Bad things happen.
For most of us we are able to cope with that and continue on with life. A lot of these individuals who get involved in these attacks are injustice collectors. They are going to collect those. They are going to keep those in the back of their mind and they are going to focus on what they perceive as injustice that has been done to them.
If you ever get a threatening letter with a picture of someone like this in it I would be concerned about that. You would need to contact your human resources, your security or law enforcement or something. Many of these incidents can be sophisticated in the degree of planning and execution that goes into them.
Some of them do weeks, months and even years of planning and preparation. They have armed themselves. They have plans in place. They will train to prepare for this. Really it doesn’t take a lot to do a mass shooting type of attack. They can move forward with minimal planning, very few resources, limited funding and limited training. In most of these attacks they are not using semi-automatic weapons or military type weapons.
They are using pistols, shotguns and rifles. A lot of times you’ll always see knives. They’ll talk about knives, mention knives and carry knives. If they are using explosives they are going to use homemade explosives. It really doesn’t take a lot to plan these attacks on their part.
I’m know I’m moving quickly so if you guys have questions let’s save them towards the end. This always comes up so I thought I would dedicate a slide to it. I’m not going to get into a lengthy discussion on video games. What I think is—do video games on their own cause people to become a mass shooter? I would certainly say no.
All kinds of people play video games and have no problems. I think the issue is if you have—especially with younger people—if you have a troubled younger person coming from their environment of alcohol abuse, neglect, drugs, bullying, mental health issues, all kinds of underlying issues and you put this dynamic of a video game in there, I certainly think it could be a component to this.
In a lot of these video games it is not even a military type of thing. You are doing massacres. Some examples here—if you are familiar with Grand Theft Auto, look up in there, especially those who work in hospitals and health care, look up “Grand Theft Auto 4: Hospital Massacre” on YouTube. Basically you are the shooter and you go into an emergency room in a hospital and start to shoot and kill and basically do a mass shooting on individuals in a hospital. It looks and sounds real.
There is also the video game “Call of Duty: Airport Massacre” where you run into an airport and start to massacre people. The picture on the bottom is from Grand Theft Auto and the picture on top is from Call of Duty.
There was also a game out there called School Shooter American Tour 2012. This game is basically that you are a school shooter and you go into a school and shoot and kill as many people as you can until you kill yourself or you are killed by law enforcement. That is the entire purpose of the game.
I know the game has been stopped for now but they will find funding at some point and the game will be out there. Again, do I think games on their own cause these attacks to happen? Certainly not—I have kids and these games are popular and obviously you let kids play these games on a limited basis.
But if you have a troubled person, with a lot of issues, concerns, warnings and behaviors who are playing this stuff twelve hours a day where you are murdering people, I think it could be maybe some time of part of that issue.
In today’s world a lot of these individuals they are going to—in boxing it is called “telegraph”—a boxer telegraphs a punch. He pulls back and you know he is going to punch. These individuals are giving off warning signs, communications and behaviors.
This was a MySpace posting a few years ago from an individual who was planning a school attack. I have red-flagged it. I’ll red flag things I think we need to remember. This young man, what he was saying on the internet for people to read, “I wish I could shoot up the school and get away with it and still get my national recognition”. There is his reason. “That’s how much I hate these people”.
Two days later he posts again, “I could kill anyone without feeling bad because society sucks.” This young man had actually begun planning his attack, getting resources together, his death list and was moving forward with it. While he was doing it, he was posting it and someone saw this. This was his reason if he had killed several people—national recognition and society sucks.
You can see the “natural selection” on there. If you didn’t know what that meant you really wouldn’t understand. That comes from Klebold and Harris at Columbine. There are always little warning signs and behavior. This young man is telling it and obviously someone addressed it and stopped an attack.
This was the beginning of our school year. This was in Maryland. This was a young man who on the first day of school attempted to conduct an attack on a school. I believe one person was shot. This was his Facebook postings—“First day of school, last day of my life! F*** the world!”
Here are his images which, to me, are obviously strange and unusual. I know a lot of people have strange and unusual postings on Facebook but when you start to see a lot of things that were on this young man’s posting and his final comments—they are advertising what they are thinking and doing. He advertised to the world, “Here is what I am going to do”.
Obviously school systems for both of these young men need to have some kind of mechanism in place to address this. Not all of these kids are going to be school shooters but obviously these kids turned out to be.
When we look at threats we would look at what is a home grown violent extremist? What is a lone wolf? What is an insider threat? Most of these attacks are insider threats. That could be a lot of different things, though. Disgruntled employees, disgruntled students—it is amazing when we do work with schools and colleges a lot of the times they tend to focus on the student. It’s not always the student.
I have talked to school psychologists and counselors and they tell me they have just as many staff that come in with problems. In all these settings you need to look at both students and employees. With the number of businesses, industries and corporations that are having layoffs and reductions in forces, reductions in staff—behavioral problems—most workplace shooters have already had a history of behavioral problems.
It is typically never your best employee. Is already an employee that management is used to, HR has been dealing with, is in the complaint system, and is in the discipline system. Yes, mental health is an issue but when it comes to mental health it is because they are undiagnosed or untreated. Individuals with mental health issues, if they are treated, are fine and are productive members of society. For that percentage of these attacks, and there are some that have mental health issues, it is because they are undiagnosed, untreated or not doing what they are supposed to.
There is the desire for notoriety and fame as we saw earlier with the man who said, “I want notoriety. I want to be famous.” There can be a political or religious dynamic. A lot of these attacks are domestic violence. I’ll talk a little bit about domestic violence.
Then there is the global view. That is the best term for these individuals. They are going to kill everyone, start a revolution and then take care of the world. These were some of the things with Cho at Virginia Tech—some of the things he looked at. “I’m going to kick off a revolution. I’m going to get the revenge for society doing this wrong for the little people.” It is sort of a broad, generic, global view.
Under the workplace violence—there are a lot of questions about that. I borrowed this from somebody else. I thought it was good so I put it in here. There is not one—when it comes to workplace violence attacks and these are attacks that kill large numbers of individuals, mass shooting, mass violence attacks in the workplace—there was not one motivator that stood out as the number one motivator.
The only one was irrational behavior and that is only 26% that sticks out. We won’t go through all the others. Dissatisfied service was only nineteen percent. When it comes to workplace violence and the motivators there is not one that really stands out. We will talk about a little later the warning signs, behaviors, and communications indicators.
Another red flag because I am always asked and what I have tried to do is just—what is the one person and who do we need to be warned about? There are entire books and courses on this but the first one I would say is a factor is they are very fixated whether it is because they lost their job, whether they are getting a divorce or there is an issue at school. They become very fixated on this idea.
Remember I said earlier it is their perception of the world. We are red-flagging these. Very fixated—it is all they talk about, text about, all they post on the internet, and write about. Very fixated.
Prior history of violence—if it is a workplace attack or a domestic violence attack there is typically a history of some type of violence. Not always but there always is, especially with domestic violence, especially in domestic violence, there is always going to be a history of some type of violence.
In schools it is a little different. Most school shooters have not had a history of violence. There is a difference there. That is something a threat assessment team would look at—what is the history of violence here? Their perception of the world—they perceive they have been wronged. You may feel as an agency, human resources or someone dealing with this individual that we have done everything we can to help this person.
Their perception is they have been wronged and they are fixated on it. If you come across a plan—if they are posting plans or writing plans—they are on their laptop I think we are raising that red flag a little higher because they have moved into the stage of planning and preparation.
Do they have access to weapons? Obviously that is a concern. It is not that difficult to get weapons but if this person is already shooting all the time, buying up more ammo, buying up more guns, talking about guns, that could be a concern. A lot of these attacks are not always guns.
In Asia, overseas especially in Asia because of the community culture there have been mass violence attacks where they use knives and kill several people. But do they have access to weapons? A key component that really stands out with these individuals is suicide. They will have talked about suicide. There is a suicide dynamic. They have attempted it in the past. There is a history of it.
Somewhere in there when we are looking at these key issues there will be some type of suicide dynamic. If you have a threat or someone you are concerned about or your threat assessment team or law enforcement and you start to see these then your red flag goes up. If you have someone with all of these obviously that is critical.
The key thing here is when it comes to threat assessment you are not always going to have the complete picture. We only have the complete picture of these attackers after the attack. We obviously recognize that. We are trying not to armchair quarterback them. It is almost like intelligence—we are trying to prevent. We are looking at what indicators, behaviors and communications are out there and we are trying to stop these attacks.
This is different than evidence. Prevention intelligence is a lot different than evidence which typically occurs after the incident.
A large percentage of these attacks begin with some type of warning or threat, usually not specific, though. But there is warnings, behaviors and communications and that is where I want to focus to try to stop these from happening.
Threats can be a lot of different things. It can be very alarming behavior that concerns or frightens people. They are statements that individuals are making and actions they are taking. It could be physical items that they have. Are they gathering weapons? Are they making plans?
If they make a death list they are obviously going through those preparatory stages. They are obsessing, again, as their perceived injustice of them. What type of art? Their art is going to be very scary. Are they posting on website? They will put videotapes out about this—what they are thinking and doing. They are blogging about it.
If law enforcement gets access to their computers or laptops look at what they have been doing web searches on and what their notes are. Threats can be a lot of different things. The threat may not be, “I am going to blow up the bank tomorrow or I’m going to kill the governor or shoot up my school.” It is all kinds of other things that are going on that are alarming people and concerning people.
The threat assessment process—this is not really about threat assessment teams but the threat assessment process—you are going to look at their behaviors, activities, history, intent, willingness and capability to do what they say they are going to do. When it comes to school attacks—and think of school mass shootings—FBI statistics show us that in 81% of those attacks there was what they call “leakage”.
That means one or more individuals had knowledge that attack was going to happen. If we could even stop half of these attacks or a percentage of them we would be doing a great thing. In 81% there is some type of knowledge or leakage about it. There’s that opportunity to prevent those attacks.
I just threw this in as food for thought. There is a gentleman called Gavin DeBecker who is an expert on these topics who has a book called “Gift of Fear”. In his books he says there has never been a bomb found in an American classroom based on a bomb threat. That is not saying bombs have never been found in schools because they have. We have had them.
Actual phone tip bomb threats about a bomb—one has never been found. I looked into that. I talked to the ATF and FBI and this is true. Why I say that—when schools are evacuating on bomb threats, we have to be careful doing that. I think it is scary that with a thirty second phone call I can make you evacuate 1,000 people outside.
When you get a bomb threat—this is not a class on bomb threats—you have to do a threat assessment on that bomb threat. Locations that have the tendency to continuously evacuate when you have a bomb threat you are just generating more bomb threats. I throw that out as food for thought. There are a lot of resources available on that.
Domestic violence—as you look into these attacks even in business and industry a lot of these attacks are domestic violence. That is a huge concern. Domestic violence, domestic violence, domestic violence! If you work in a facility with 300 women—this is not a hit on women—just being honest here—I live in “real-ville”. If you work in a facility with 300 women domestic violence can be a big concern.
According to OSHA the leading cause for women in the workplace for females in the United States is domestic violence by far. One in twenty women will be the victim of a stalker. There are all kinds of statistics that show this. If you have an employee that comes to you—and this even happens in law enforcement—and says she is in fear of an ex-spouse or boyfriend you need to have a plan.
Back in the past if this happened female employees were usually terminated or laid off but fortunately that doesn’t happen anymore. If a female employee comes to you and says, “I am in fear because my ex-husband says he is going to kill me and we have served him with papers”, wherever this is at you need to start putting a plan in place. In a lot of these attacks this is what happened.
Nothing wrong with this movie but as a reminder you may remember this movie called “Falling Down” with Michael Douglas. It is a pretty good movie and I have watched it a couple of times recently and it is a good threat assessment movie. The gentleman is William Foster. He has all kinds of triggers—recently divorced, a restraining order and on top of that he gets fired.
This is one time in the movie where the individual snaps. He commits suicide by cop at the end of the movie. Watch this movie again and think about threat assessments and mass shootings and it is an interesting movie. Throughout this movie you have empathy for this individual. I think it is kind of interesting and something to think about.
Two movies I want you to write down because these movies keep appearing. The first one is called Zero Day and obviously Elephant. Both of these movies are about school shooters. I can’t spend a lot of time on them but these movies show up a lot. These movies used to be difficult to find but they are now available online and on Netflix and things like that.
If you are interested in these topics watch these movies. They are kind of scary. If you have a student or someone who says, “My favorite movie is Zero Day and I’ve watched it forty-seven times”, I would red flag that because these movies are about planning and preparation for an attack and instigating an attack.
Elephant is more of a movie and Zero Day is more of a documentary about these two young men. They are both very serious movies and I would just recommend—I could spend a lot more time talking about them—be aware of these names if you hear these movies come up especially for younger people.
This is another movie I have red flagged. I have only seen bits and pieces of it and I plan on adding it to my list of weird movies. I watch gang and extremist movies and I’ve added this one. If they ever monitor my Netflix list they would wonder what is going on with August.
I’d write this one down too—what I’ve seen and heard about it—this movie Rampage which came out in 2010 is about a young man who goes through all the warning signs, behaviors and indicators and plans an attack to kill as many people as he can in his town. He goes on a massacre and kills lots and lots of people, sets off secondary devices, goes in a beauty salon and murders a lot of women in a beauty salon, which there have been several of those recently.
It is kind of a scary movie. I haven’t seen the whole thing yet but what I’ve seen about it—honestly I would watch this and be aware of it. Again, like the video games if a person watches this one time because it is a cool movie with lots of explosions and stuff that’s fine but if you have an individual who has issues, concerns and a history that he tells you or you find out that he watches this movie fifty-seven times and idolizes it I might red flag that movie.
Because of the workplace violence—we move around a little bit because I always get questions on this—who is the biggest possible indicator of workplace violence attack? Typically it is a white male—not always—but statistically it is the white male who is thirty to fifty years old. But I question marked those because it could be really be a lot of different individuals.
Usually this individual is always a problem employee. It is not your best worker that does this. There is always a history of problems, issues and concerns. They also have a history of violent behavior. They are intimidating others and you could see the use of drugs or alcohol.
Some of the other indicators of the perpetrator—they are very obsessed with guns and guns magazines. I own guns and I take my kids shooting but when I say obsessed, they are obsessed. That is all they talk about. They bring gun magazines and cut out pictures of guns to show people. They are very obsessed with them. Also these are individuals who creep people out. They’ll talk about incidents. When you talk about the incident in Colorado and say it was horrible, they may say it was great or cool. They are going to talk about those incidents of violence. They may make open or veiled threats.
It is kind of weird that they are obsessed with their job but they are not a good employee. Why I think that is because they are loners. They have no support network. There are no friends or family. They don’t belong to a church. There is nobody there to kind of support them. All they may have is their job.
There is also the term of “human tripwires”. Other staff and management have dealt with this person before. I red flag that. This is not the first time this employee has been in trouble.
Verbal threats—they are bringing guns to work to show people. They hold a grudge. I go back to an injustice collector. They get a bad evaluation. You or I we would improve, but for them for two years all they are going to think about is that bad evaluation.
There is a gentleman named Colonel Grossman who is an expert on the use of lethal force for the military and law enforcement and he was brought in at one time to look with the Secret Service and they found out there is no specific profile only common actions. The killers are white, Native American, African American, Hispanic, and they come from upper, middle and lower classes.
Some come from loving, intact families and others from horrible, broken families. Most are males but several have been females. If a female makes a threat of something like this you need to take it seriously. The key thing is there is no profile.
What they found out about younger and school shooters is there is a fascination with violent media. That is the movies, the games and the music. There is music out there about doing this stuff. Normal, typical kids who watch a scary movie or play video games or listen to music that is fine.
If you have a troubled person with all the indicators, warnings and behaviors and they are fascinated with very violent media that could be a concern.
I borrowed this from another person I know named Phil Chalmers who does some excellent training and I wanted to share his stuff. I took some of his to summarize school massacres because there is always an interest in that.
Most school massacres are preventable. I go back to that 81%. They are preventable because someone knows something about it. That 81%. There is no common profile only common actions, indicators and behavior just like other shooters.
Around eighty percent of these shooters plan on dying during the shooting. There is their goal and objective. They are going to die—either kill themselves or suicide by cop—there will always be some type of suicide dynamic. These young people will talk about suicide, they will have attempted it, and they will have talked about it.
Their reasons again are revenge, instant fame and recognition just like other shooters. Shootings can take place anywhere. In classes I’ve had people tell me “hey this is a rural area and kids go hunting a lot”. I’m not worried about kids that go hunting.
These can happen anywhere—Catholic schools, public schools, private schools, the wealthiest, the poorest, rural and schools in the middle of a big city. These can happen anywhere so when people make threats or you are seeing warnings, indicators or behaviors those need to be addressed.
The deadliest hour is the first hour—first period of school and the second is lunchtime, because that is when everybody is together. Your two biggest safety factors in school is the School Resource Officer (SRO) and zero tolerance for bullying. It is amazing how many of these school shooters would talk about being bullied and no one would help them.
I do believe this. Amazingly these school shooters, I think all the shooters, I think go into a trance-like state. They don’t know what they are doing. They don’t hear you. You can yell at them and they are not going to hear it. It is like a switch. That’s not an excuse—they know what they are doing, but once they begin that attack they look like a terminator or a robot.
Most school massacres have no history of violence. In workplace or domestic violence there could be but in school attacks probably not. What is the deal with schools? SROs, SROs, SROs. Set up a tip line for people—81% know something. Set up some means for people to share that information.
I throw this out as food for thought. You need to look into this—law enforcement, SROs, campus police—fake Facebook and social media works very well in stemming a lot of these issues. You need to look into that legally because a lot of these individuals are going to post a lot of this stuff on Facebook and social media. I strongly encourage you to look into that but obviously you need to do it legally. It can be done and every organization needs to look into that.
I just show this slide of social media—we could spend an hour on social media, where young people and people operate, where they threat. I saw this slide. Every one of these sites you see people can post and communicate and social media with each other. I haven’t heard of ninety-nine percent of these. I share this with schools, investigators and threat assessment teams. You really have to have someone in an investigative standpoint who knows what this is, how to look into this. Again, I’m not familiar with ninety-nine percent of the stuff on here but every one of these people can communicate.
In some school issues that have come up kids will set up a Facebook their parents can see and then they set up the real Facebook—just food for thought on this.
Mental health dynamic—since Columbine and Virginia Tech every time we have these incidents and again with Colorado there is always a call for more spending on mental health. Amazingly after these attacks funding goes down. Mental health services go down after these incidents. I saw some interesting stats that said if we had improved mental health programs we could address fifty to seventy percent of crime in America.
I think that is incredible. Just focusing on the mass shootings, every year we know with tight budgets at the local, state and federal levels mental health is in big demand but services are cut more and more. Everyone on this webinar recognizes that emergency management resources are not cheap, school safety is not cheap and mental health is not cheap.
I really think a lot of these attacks maybe with some mental health services could address some of this.
An excellent video—there are all kinds of resources out there but I recommend this to you guys. I like it. There is a video you can look up on YouTube called Run-Hide-Fight. It is by the City of Houston Department of Homeland Security and it was grant funded. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0&feature=plcp ]
People ask me all the time what we can do as a citizen as an employee. I share this video—I like it for a lot of reasons. It is not cheesy. They don’t glamorize anything. It addresses a lot of different things and it is only about a five or six minute video which I think a lot of times is everyone’s attention span.
I would encourage you to find this video. Make sure you get the official one from the City of Houston and Department of Homeland Security. There are some others out there but I like this one and it is pretty new and current.
[Slide 33, 34]
Just like with terrorism I will apply that to this topic. Our chances of stopping these attacks are very slim to none. For most of these attacks we know about them when we hear the first gunshots. Once that happens in a school, college, business, mall or a movie theater you are already behind the eight ball. The second it happens, it’s bad.
Even if law enforcement immediately shows up and shoots and kills the perpetrator it is bad for all the agencies and everyone involved in that. That’s why I think threat teams, intelligence, information gathering and sharing, using every possible method, people sharing information with human resources and with their security is really the only key to preventing these attacks.
I say the same thing when I do terrorist threats and attacks. We have got to share information. We armchair quarterback these incidents afterwards. We learn our lesson and we see all the warnings, behaviors, indicators and communications but what starts to happen is that—think of pieces of the puzzle. We have got to start bringing these pieces of the puzzles together and we do that by information sharing.
Three good books I would like to recommend—there are a bunch of other ones but I’d like to recommend these if you are interested. These are not 400 page academic reads. The first book is called “Columbine”. Excellent book—it is about before, during and after and the recovery and even now about Columbine. Excellent book—it was written by a reporter.
There is a book called “Shooter Down” by John Giduck. It is about Virginia Tech and what really happened there. You wouldn’t know it but law enforcement actually did an excellent response to Virginia Tech with what they had and what happened. This is an excellent book that covers that looking beyond the media. It also talks about some other incidents that have happened. It is a really good book.
There is a book by the gentleman I was talking about—Phil Chalmers—who I would say is a subject matter expert on school shooters and teen murderers. His book is called “Inside the Mind of the Teen Killer”. He has interviewed several school shooters who have survived their attacks and talks about what they were thinking and what happened.
I will say that I don’t agree with everything in all three of these books but they are excellent tools and excellent reads for you to look into if you want to research this material.
I am done and I am now open to any questions.
Amy Sebring: Thank you very much August. Please keep your question or comment related to today’s topic and reasonably concise. We are ready to begin now, so please enter your comment or question at any time.
[Audience Questions & Answers]
Tracy Huettner: I've seen that, excellent video!
August Vernon: It is and a lot of people are really—what in the world to do—and I think people should share that with scout parents, with church, with everybody. It is a really good video.
Stephen Mandas: Do you recommend the movie Home Room?
August Vernon: I am familiar with that one. There are several out there. I just recommended the three I thought were probably—there are plenty others out there that are scary when you look at them in this context. I have heard of Home Room and several others. What I recommend is that what comes up in threat assessment teams or people looking at someone—if you see a movie or reference to things multiple times, look that up and see what it is.
If you have never heard of Zero Day—oh it is just a movie until you see that it is a movie about these young men planning a school attack and they film themselves prepping for it. I have shown the movie Zero Day in classes and people think it is real. That is how realistic it is. There are a lot of movies out there—just research these if these names come up.
Bradley Cusick: Any advice on how fire, EMS, and police agencies can work together in advance of an event in order to communicate better during an event?
Amy Sebring: I do want to mention that August did address some of that in a previous program that we have a recording of on our site. You might want to look that program up as well.
August Vernon: I’ll be honest. It is very difficult. We did very well for several years for several years after 9/11 on bringing agencies together but I’m starting to see us drift a little bit but that is because everyone is so busy with their day to day activities. I think we do a good job in my county because we stay on top of it.
You would be surprised how difficult it is to get those three entities together. If you haven’t done any prep work or training and all of a sudden you do a full-scale exercise of this you are going to issues, problems and concerns. Just to get those three entities together—law enforcement, EMS and fire—to train how to respond, to run through some scenarios, how to rescue people, how law enforcement escorts people. It is actually pretty difficult to do that.
We have to start over and bring these three agencies together. We have had a lot of turnover since 9/11. Virginia Tech was years ago, and Colorado—you have to reinforce this. Go to the previous presentation and if you want more I can share it with you. Contact me offline. It is hard to do even in today’s world.
Law enforcement trains consistently on this. Fire and EMS do not. There are agencies I have gone to that have never trained on this one time. If you have never done that and your agency is dispatched to a shooting with eighteen people shot you are going to be scrambling.
Jo Moss: Law enforcement has done a good job of teaching schools in particular about going into a lockdown, but no one has come up with a good way to safely end a lockdown. Any suggestions?
August Vernon: Yes, number one, there needs to be two different kinds of lockdowns. I’ll use an example—years ago we had several little two liter MacGyver bombs, bottle bombs, at an elementary school outside the school. We were just told that the school had locked down as we were outside with fire, EMS, the bomb squad and HazMat dealing with that.
Two hours later we found out that they had locked down by putting all the students under the desks, turning the lights off and locking the doors. They didn’t need to do that. All they needed to do was lock the exterior doors and they could have continued on with school. Number one, lockdown means different things to different people.
You need to identify a couple of different kinds of lockdowns. When you go on a lockdown there needs to be an all clear. In a school a lockdown drill should take about three minutes. You announce—don’t use any codes, like “code green” or any of that—just “lockdown, lockdown, lockdown” and then give them two minutes and start checking doors.
Once that is done you need to give the “all clear, all clear, all clear”. In real incidents you still have to start looking for people because they are hiding and things like that. You need to have a plan in place beyond initiating lockdown. What does lockdown mean? What type of lockdown? Who can make that decision?
Some schools have told me that only the principal can initiate lockdown. I think that’s absurd. The principal may not be there. Lockdown is just one component. Let’s have a better lockdown plan in place and that includes an “all clear”.
Michele Tanton: Is there anything specific that hospitals can look for besides irate, angry patients? Is there a way to prepare?
August Vernon: Hospitals—number one, every problem that happens in a community always ends up in a hospital whether it is domestic violence, gang related or issues in a community. Number one, robust security—but I know a hospital is supposed to be a public place. You need to have robust security. You need to have camera systems in place.
A lot of workplace attacks are workplace related in hospitals. They have employees so that’s where you do employee awareness and no tolerance programs and having IDs and constant access control. You have to have HR program there. A lot of shootings are employees and workplace violence.
I noticed some recent ones were nurses and their husbands came after them. If my ex-wife is hiding from me I still know she has to go to work and I can show up at work. That goes back to the employee saying, “I am in fear of my life. My husband is going to show up and kill me,” that hospital needs to have a plan in place.
If that guy shows up, what’s our plan? You need to have a better plan than “call 911” because that 911 call could take four to eight minutes to get help there. What is our plan? Do we stop this guy in the parking lot? What does he look like? It is okay to do all these things.
I’m trying to cover a very serious topic very quickly.
Roy Williams: Reference to Hospital response, CPPS offers (for purchase) "Shots Fired for Healthcare". Same producers of "Shots Fired: When Lightning Strikes". Follows DHS recommendations of response to Active Shooter.
Shawn Moser: FEMA Independent Study also offers course "IS-907, Active Shooter, What You Can Do." [http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/is907.asp] I thought it was a good lesson. I worked under a state homeland security grant as a safe school planner for 15 counties in my state. Truly preventative measures were almost non-existent, or the programs in place were in name only. I think that mostly was due to funding. Are there any good initiatives out there that can be talked about or directed to?
August Vernon: There are some resources. Number one, go to the resources at emforum.org. We have put a lot of on there. Number two, go to US Secret Service and look up school shooters. They have some stuff there. Go to the US Department of Education and look up school shooters. There are sometimes grants and materials available.
A lot of times your best resource is just pulling teams together. I totally recognize what you are saying. We deal with it a lot. Yes, our school has a plan and yes we have a threat assessment team and it is in name only. When a threat finally appears they have no idea what to do. The best approach I can take is that it may take an individual in a community to lead the fight and bring people together.
There are plenty of resources out there, not as much funding, but there are lots of resources. You are going to have to educate yourselves. That is why I try to do some of these things and look these materials up. I’ll be glad to help people. Look up Secret Service, go to their website and look up school shooters and threat assessments. Go to US Department of Education and look up threat assessments. Go to the EM Forum and Amy has posted some resources there to look at. That will give you a pile of stuff to look through.
Amy Sebring: I think we’ll go ahead and wrap it up now August. Our timing worked out just fine. What I am stunned about is we hear about the unusual event or the particularly tragic event but so many of these events have occurred in the past year it is astounding. It reinforces what you say about this could happen anywhere.
August Vernon: A lot of these incidents happen in places that are really nice places that would say it could never happen here. The night of the Batman movie in Colorado my oldest son went with some other parents—I couldn’t go to opening night because I had to work the next day—but my son went with some of his friends and other dads to the midnight showing here. Honestly these things can happen anywhere.
I just can’t stress this enough. When they happen that is not the time to start figuring out what you are going to do because it is too late. That’s why I try to focus a lot on prevention.
Amy Sebring: Exactly. On behalf of Avagene, myself, and all our participants today, thank you very much August, again, for being with us. And as always you do a fine job that is much appreciated.
August Vernon: Thank you for the opportunity. If anybody needs help just give me some time because I may get dozens of real world issues that come up about this but I will be glad to help anybody out.
Amy Sebring: Folks, before you go, PLEASE take a moment to do the rating and enter any additional comments you may have.
Our next program is scheduled for November 28th and our topic will be a mutual aid framework called “Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARN)”. Please make plans to join us, and do extend the invitation to other appropriate individuals in your organization.
Until then, have a great afternoon and do have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends. Thanks for all your participation today and all the great questions and comments. We do appreciate those as well. We are adjourned.