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A Citizen’s Guide to Stopping the Next Active Shooter

It’s getting to be holiday season, a time for Thanksgiving Day parades, New Year’s Eve celebrations and other big public events. Given the almost weekly news of another mass shooting, many people—particularly parents—are no doubt thinking more about whether to just stay home given this year’s horrific events.

As a career security professional and the mother of three school-age kids, I understand the impulse. But we can’t go there. The truth is that we can’t hide our way to solving this problem. For starters, the costs are unacceptably high. Hunkering down reduces the richness of our lives as individuals and weakens the cultural fabric that holds our society together—at a time when it needs some serious strengthening. If anything, we should be making an extra effort to participate in the communal celebrations that bond us together in our open, free way of life.

I’m not suggesting we throw caution to wind, and seek out large crowds in vulnerable “soft-target” locations, in a reckless attempt to “not let the bad guys win.” On the contrary, I’m suggesting we each adopt a smarter, more engaged attitude about our role in protecting ourselves and others. We’ve been fortunate in this country to be able to consider our safety a right—something we expect our world-class law enforcement institutions, from the local cops to the Department of Homeland Security, to provide. Now is the time to admit that this right comes with responsibilities. We can debate gun control, mental illness treatment and other contributing factors of mass shootings forever (and probably will). But anyone who is serious about preventing the next mass casualty attack can best start by changing his or her own daily behavior.

Here are some guidelines:

“See something, say something” is not a marketing campaign. Barring the most obvious threats, most of us are conditioned to err on the side of inaction—either out of embarrassment, respect for other people’s privacy or, if we’re honest, in the hope that someone else will notify law enforcement of suspicious activity. This needs to change. Think of all the cases in which disconcerting actions or behaviors by a shooter were known to the community around him.  The truth is that a vigilant citizenry is one of the most effective ways to identify potential shooters before they act, and to prevent or quickly respond to attacks in the critical moments when they occur.

We all want to protect our kids from life’s dangers and evils. But they are probably already scared. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, more than 75 percent of people between 15 and 21 say fear of mass shootings was a “significant source of stress”. So, take the time to make a family safety plan before attending an event, and talk about the best ways to protect oneself if the unthinkable does occur, such as what they should do in an active shooter situation or if anyone sees something suspicious. This way, you’re making it clear that you’re not sending them blindly into a potentially dangerous world. You’re empowering them. Just as teaching our kids to wear seatbelts and bike helmets doesn’t keep them out of cars or off bikes, educating them on active shooter risks will allow them to worry less and enjoy themselves more.

– I hear lots of parents bemoan the fact that our kids live in a world where active shooter drills at school are a fact of life. But that’s where we are. Encourage your kids to pay close attention during drills, and talk to them about the experience. If it sounds like the exercise was ineffective, say something to school officials. The same goes for security checkpoints, whether at airports or in corporate offices.

Help organizers keep events safe – Our job as citizens at public celebrations is to enjoy ourselves. But we can also educate ourselves as to the proper protocols for event security, so we can notify event organizers if we see gaps. At parades or marathons, for example, the gathering place and the area beyond the finish line should be secured from the general public. Only people with badges, tags or some other authorization should be admitted. There should be a reasonable number of boots on the ground along the route, in terms of law enforcement at the event.

Keep your head – The active shooter problem is by no means trivial. More than 339 people have been killed and another 1,251 have been injured so far this year. And yet, the odds that you or a loved one will become one of these statistics is infinitesimal. Seventeen years after 9/11, I know couples who insist on flying separately on family vacations so the kids could not be orphaned by a terrorist attack. This is not necessary.

Do have fun. Our family likes a parade and a party as much as anyone, and we will be attending as many as possible this holiday season. The same goes for the people at Evolv. For too long, our society — and our industry — has thought about security as a wall to separate us from potential threats. Evolv’s goal is not to scare you, but to create technologies that allow us to gather as we like, with peace of mind. By following a few simple rules, each of us can also do our part to staying safe.

Read more about Examining Today’s Threat Vectors to Address Tomorrow’s Security Threats.

Juliette Kayyem
Former DHS
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