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From the Deputy Assistant Secretary: Countering the Active Shooter Threat

By William Flynn, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.

On July 20 this year, a gunman dressed in tactical clothing set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. This tragedy reminds us that active shooter threats not only persist but have grown in prevalence in recent years. One of the most valuable resources available to assist local law enforcement against active shooters is an aware and educated citizenry. For this reason, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is committed to empowering citizens to be prepared and ready to react to an active shooter incident while strengthening capabilities within state and local law enforcement communities.

Active shooter incidents can have a significant impact not only on communities and families but also on the local economy as well as a nation’s critical infrastructure. In addressing this threat, DHS is taking a “whole community” approach where everyone has a role to play. Through its Office of Infrastructure Protection, DHS works with a broad range of public and private sector partners to improve the U.S. capacity to manage the active shooter threat, with a particular focus on commercial facilities such as stadiums, theaters, malls, and educational institutions.

Active shooter incidents pose a notoriously difficult challenge because events often unfold rapidly. Moreover, active shooters have shown that they are capable of employing new tactics. The suspect in Aurora, for example, was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest, a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a throat protector, and tactical gloves.

From the 1966 clock tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin to the August 2012 shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, active shooter incidents continue to challenge law enforcement. Therefore, response tactics must adapt to meet more sophisticated active shooter strategies and methods. Trained employees and informed citizens can help reduce the threat, minimize the chances of an attack, limit the harm caused by attacks, and facilitate a swift conclusion to active shooter events.

The DHS active shooter awareness program aims to enhance community-wide preparedness capabilities by alerting people to warning signs of potential workplace violence, by encouraging contingency planning for emergency situations, and by identifying possible actions to take if caught in an active shooter situation. The program provides training, products, and resources to a broad range of community stakeholders on issues such as active shooter awareness, incident response, and workplace violence. The program also empowers organizations to create emergency action plans, expands on the roles of human resources departments and facility managers during an incident, and provides tips and best practices for managing the consequences of an active shooter situation.

Because the entire community plays an important role in mitigating and helping to respond to this type of threat, DHS also works in partnership with law enforcement, business owners, and other public and private sector partners to test active shooter preparedness and improve response procedures through exercises and by conducting roundtable discussions, webinars, training sessions, and workshops around the United States. Nearly 9,000 participants viewed live and archived versions of the active shooter webinar presented on September 27, 2011; more than 3,700 attendees completed active shooter classroom training and workshops during the past year; and more than130,000 people have taken DHS’s web-based “Active Shooter: What You Can Do” course, which provides active shooter guidance to facility managers and employees.

DHS also has worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the IACP to develop training intended to enhance the ability of law enforcement professionals to detect and prevent active shooter plots. On September 29, 2012, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the launch of the new Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Training Resource Webportal, which provides online access to hundreds of the most current CVE training materials, case studies, analytic products, and other resources. Included in these materials are case studies of multiple active shooter attacks, which include preincident indicators (observed prior to the attack taking place). It also provides a platform for communication and information sharing on CVE among DHS and other law enforcement agencies across the United States. While awareness of the threat and how to manage it has grown, work still remains to help communities prevent and manage active shooter incidents. During a recent DHS roundtable discussion, only 62 percent of participants said their organizations had plans and procedures in place to handle an active shooter situation.

DHS remains deeply committed to working with state and local governments, the first responder community, critical infrastructure asset owners and operators, and all U.S. citizens to raise awareness, improve preparedness, and enhance our collective ability to respond to active shooter incidents. We encourage you to get involved today.

For More Information

DHS continues to create new tools and resources to combat the active shooter threat in partnership with law enforcement, other public sector partners, and private industry.

For more information about active shooter awareness resources, please email or visit the “Training Programs for Infrastructure Partners” page at

For more information on training programs for infrastructure partners, including active shooter awareness training, please visit

To learn more about critical infrastructure, please visit To learn more about CVE training materials, visit♦

Please cite as:

William Flynn, "Countering the Active Shooter Threat," From the Deputy Assistant Secretary, The Police Chief 79 (December 2012): 26–27.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 12, December 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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