Although there are no prevention strategies for active killer-types of attacks that have been proven to work 100 percent of the time, there are prevention approaches that are worth the effort they require. A number of these have been used to successfully avert mass casualty attacks, and some of these have been effective in preventing multiple attacks.

In every planned attack that I have worked to date, the media reporting the actual facts of the cases is likely to be inaccurate in many regards. Only the full case file will give us a reliable picture of what happened and what if any real opportunities there might have been to prevent these attacks. However, these types of case reviews often reveal at least some potential for interrupting large-scale attacks (see Active Killer Trends sidebar below).

While emergency preparedness efforts are especially important for situations where an active shooter or active killer incident cannot be prevented, it is my experience that it is unwise to spend more time, energy and budget on responding to these catastrophes than on trying to prevent them in the first place. This article will focus on potential strategies that can increase the chances that a planned attack will be prevented. A comprehensive approach using multiple strategies is more reliable than a focus on only one or two concepts.

1. Multi-disciplinary threat evaluation and management
Properly developed and implemented multi-disciplinary threat evaluation and management teams have demonstrated considerable success in preventing many planned school shootings, bombings, and suicides since the technique was first used to stop a planned school shooting in the Bibb County, Ga., public school system more than 25 years ago. This is one of the most effective and reliable prevention strategies when the dangerous individual is part of the campus community. The law enforcement and mental health components of this approach are critical to a more accurate and actionable evaluation.

Active Killer Trends
Recent active killer incidents like the attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 dead and 53 wounded and the horrific mass casualty stabbing at a care home in Tokyo that left 19 people dead and 45 people seriously wounded have commonalities to many previous attacks. That being said, they were also different in significant ways. For example, it has not been typical of past U.S. active shooter events for the incident to start as an active shooter incident before turning into a hostage situation. Next, the death toll of these incidents both set records for fatalities for their respective attack methodologies in each country.

There have been a number of more lethal active shooter and active killer incidents in other countries, such as the 2014 Peshawar school massacre that left 148 dead in Pakistan, the 1982 active shooter attack by a police officer in Woo Bum-Kon, South Korea that left 56 people dead and the 2011 Utoya Island active shooter attack at a summer camp in Norway that resulted in 69 dead. The Orlando attack appears to be the most deadly active shooter incident to date in the United States. Although Japan has had a number of other active killer attacks with edged weapons, the most recent attack claimed more lives than all other modern mass casualty attacks in Japan combined.

2. Visual weapons screening
This approach has also been used to successfully prevent a number of planned campus shootings. Visual weapons screening involves training personnel how to look for and recognize a variety of specific physical behaviors often exhibited by persons who are carrying a concealed weapon.

3. Pattern matching and recognition
This research-based approach is known by several other names and was used to help avert a planned shooting of a school bus more than two decades ago. Pattern matching and recognition involves training people to pay attention to patterns of human behavior that are incongruent for the time, setting and context of the situation. The often subtle behaviors can help staff detect potentially dangerous people regardless of the type of weapon they possess.

4. Anonymous reporting systems
Twenty-four-hour, 365-day per year anonymous tip/text reporting lines have been in use since at least 1990 and have helped campus officials avert numerous planned campus shootings, suicides, and other deadly situations.

5. Banning potential violators from campus
Banning potentially dangerous persons from campus property combined with the arrest and search of violators who return can help campus officials interdict a potentially dangerous person before they can open fire. As one example, a planned school shooting was averted in Hinesville, Ga., when a school resource officer arrested three individuals who returned to the campus after he banned them earlier in the afternoon. When three guns were found in their possession, the suspects admitted they had come to the school to carry out a planned shooting.

6. Effective use of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) concepts
The proper utilization of CPTED can help improve the connectivity between people, the ability for building occupants to see a potential threat in time to react to it, can improve access control and can help to make more overt physical security measures less intimidating. The greater the need for physical security measures, the greater the impact CPTED can have.

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