Moving Left of Bang: Driving Change in the Era of the Active Shooter 

 May 20, 2019

By  Craig LaPine

“Left of bang” means before the bad stuff happens.  That’s where you want to be—alert, ready, prepared to respond to protect yourself and your loved ones.” 
Patrick Van Horne, “Left of Bang:  How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life”

On an event timeline, “bang” is the beginning of the event, situated square in the middle of that timeline.  “Left of Bang” are the points that occur pre-incident, while “Right of Bang” are the events that occur post-incident.  Delving deeper, Left of Bang is not simply a series of points on a timeline – it is also a state of mind, a culture, an environment – that sets the conditions for detection, prevention, and intervention in addition to RESPONSE based on planning, training, and situational awareness.

The following are a range of measures that have proven effective in moving organizations “Left of Bang” – with some narrowly focused on the K-12 education world, while the majority are broadly applicable to any organization.  Regardless of where you stand – take a long hard look, with a critical eye –

Detection, Prevention, and Intervention

In July 2018, the National Threat Assessment Center for the U.S. Secret Service released “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model:  An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence.”  This comprehensive document provides school administrators with a literal roadmap for developing, implementing, and/or improving their Threat Assessment Programs.  The programs described in this guide have been responsible for hundreds – if not thousands – of proactive interventions, effectively preventing potential incidents of targeted school violence.

Despite the availability of resources like this guide, and the proven successes of multidisciplinary Threat Assessment Teams, some institutions resist their adoption, resting on a mindset of “it won’t happen here.”  This expression of ‘Normalcy Bias’ creates unnecessary risk in the dynamic threat environment that is the 21st Century. 

Relative to “Making Schools Safer,” the Secret Service strongly recommends taking the following actions:

  • Build relationships and promote communication
  • Maintain a Threat Assessment Team and identify concerning behaviors
  • Provide resources to manage concerning students and maintain effective liaison with law enforcement

To go one step further, the Executive Summary companion to the 2018 guide articulates the following:

In the words of Gavin de Becker, “It’s better to detect sinister intentions early [left of bang] than respond to violent actions late [right of bang].”

Planning, Training, and Situational Awareness

Planning.  Planning is the foundation for risk mitigation, regardless of the situation.  Emergency Operations Plans, while mandated by law in many instances, should not be treated as a “check the box” requirement.  They should be living documents, subject to frequent review and revision; they should be accessible by those who need such access, regardless of the person’s physical location; and they should be ‘required reading’ for anyone working in the facility covered by the plan.  Crisis Response Teams must be created within each facility, with each member of the team having a complete understanding of their responsibilities – and a fundamental understanding of the responsibilities of others.  The middle of a crisis is a poor learning environment for a staff member who must ‘step up’ do to absence or incapacitation of the primary:  during a recent mass-casualty event, the primary Incident Commander was not present, resulting in the alternate assuming Incident Commander responsibilities; according to firsthand accounts, this alternate did not perform well due to lack of familiarity with the responsibilities of the Incident Commander.

Not every Critical Incident will involve a lockdown; while planning for the worst-case scenario is a vital element of any Emergency Operations Plan, it is imperative that institutions do not lose sight of other preparedness needs, such as:  concise, up-to-date Emergency Response Procedures that are widely accessible throughout a given facility (Cardiac Emergency Response (e.g., the establishment of plans, teams, and procedures to address Sudden Cardiac Events); and Stop the Bleed training and the acquisition of appropriate Bleed Control Kits (this training and equipment can prove invaluable for emergency incidents that do not necessarily include a kinetic threat).

When it comes to planning, management, and execution of a lockdown:  embrace the response protocols that have risen to prominence in the recent past, but do not lose sight of one fact – they are simply tools for your preparedness and response toolkit.  All have their merits, whether ALICE, Run/Hide/Fight, Brick and Mortar (to name a few – and this is by no means an endorsement of one or all); none of them replace the need for awareness, understanding, and staff that are predisposed to act – even in the absence of clear guidance or direction.

Training.  When it comes to training, focus on one word:  accountability.  If your staff are indifferent, ‘mailing it in,’ or otherwise failing to take the appropriate actions during a drill, do something about it.  Your life – and the lives of others – may depend on the actions that person does or does not take during a Critical Incident. 

You might be surprised to know that a staff member at a facility that recently experienced a mass-casualty event ignored an ongoing “Lockdown” drill, continuing as if nothing were occurring (and not taking any actions as dictated by training and protocol) throughout the entirety of the drill – because that staff member did not believe in the need to train for such an event.  How do you think that person would respond in the face of an active assailant?

“Getting left of bang requires two things. The first is a mindset and mentality to actively search your area for people that don’t fit in. The second is the knowledge to know what causes someone to stand out from the crowd.”
Patrick Van Horne, “Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life”

  • Do not hesitate to conduct more than the mandated number of drills; while it is understood that the conduct of drills can detract from normal daily routines, practicing effective response actions leads to greater familiarity, reduces uncertainty, and reinforces the “Left of Bang” mindset.
  • Conduct walk-throughs and table top exercises, preferably in coordination with supporting emergency response agencies.  Include key personnel, at the building-level and above, in these exercises to reinforce the understanding of responsibilities of Crisis Response Team members.  Encourage Law Enforcement and Fire Departments to visit your facilities to encourage greater familiarity with building layouts.
  • Full-Scale Simulations.  Consider conducting a large-scale exercise of Emergency Response Plans in concert with supporting emergency response agencies.  Coordinate with other institutions and/or agencies to encourage observation of full-scale simulations; conversely, actively communicate with other institutions and/or agencies for key stakeholders to observe drills and simulations at their facilities. 
  • Bleed Control Training.  Whether through organizations such as Stop the Bleed or other similar training events, strive for training 100% of your staff (including ancillary support staff and transient/part time/per diem/PRN personnel) in effective use of Bleed Control Kits.
  • Sudden Cardiac Event.  Ensure you have designated a Cardiac Emergency Response Team for each of your facilities, and ensure those team members remain certified and proficient in both CPR and the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AED).  Routine preventative maintenance on AEDs are a must – consider the use of a third-party management solution for these critical life safety items. 

Situational Awareness and the Common Operating Picture 

Situational Awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.

A Common Operating Picture (COP) is a single, identical display of relevant operational information shared by more than one command.

Administrators and staff from two organizations that recently dealt with active shooter incidents reported several similar findings in the wake of those tragedies, including:  (1) first responders need access to accurate maps, and first responders need a means of sharing those maps with secondary (read mutual aid, or non-local) response agencies; and (2), first responders need to have an understanding of the environment they are going into BEFORE a crisis event unfolds.

The development and enhancement of Situational Awareness and the establishment of a COP are core to the mission and functions of PrePlanLive.

  • Mobile Device Registration.  In a world where communication is Mission Critical, many buildings where Critical Incidents may occur present communications challenges:  Land Mobile Radio Systems (LMRS) used by first responders become degraded in large structures, while cellular service can be intermittent based upon location within the building.  Many facilities maintain their own robust WiFi networks, often times coupled with numerous Wireless Access Points (WAP).  To aid in ensuring redundancy communications during a Critical Incident, consider hosting “Mobile Device Registration” session in coordination with supporting emergency response agencies.  By inviting first responders to connect their devices to your facility’s primary WiFi network, the ubiquitous ‘smart devices’ will remember such networks and automatically connect when a first responder enters your facility, providing a secondary or tertiary (or, depending on a number of factors, a primary) means of communication and connectivity with other first responders.
  • Panic Buttons.  In the event of any emergency incident, recognizing that something is wrong and raising the alarm – “something is wrong and I need help” – are the critical first steps. 
    • App-based Panic Buttons – such as PrePlanLive – allow for reporting of “Police,” “Fire,” or “Medical” emergencies, along with the ability to provide a text description of the nature of the emergency.  Once the Panic Button is triggered, the user is automatically prompted to call 9-1-1 (auto-dialed by the app).
    • Enterprise Mobile Duress Systems – such as the SecurAlert system integrated with PrePlanLive – create a self-sustaining, self-monitoring mesh network within your building.  This system employs fob-style Panic Buttons that, when triggered, provide the activated button’s precise location within the building.  Additionally, the activated Panic Button will vibrate in the user’s hand, providing confirmation that alarm activation was received.
  • Mass Notification.  The alerting mechanisms described above both trigger PrePlanLive’s mass notification engine, sending alarm notifications via SMS, e-mail, and/or Push Notification to all users assigned to the building, as well as above-building-level administrators AND first responders (when emergency response agencies have opted to receive such alerts).  Active incident notifications allow one-click access to Emergency Response Plans and Building Intelligence; authorized users must authenticate to gain access to 3D mapping and live camera feeds.
    • Mobile Access to Emergency Response Plans.  With one click, staff and administrators have Emergency Response Plans on their mobile device.  Regardless of location within the building, staff members will not need to search for hard-copy plans and procedures.
    • Mobile Access to Building Intelligence (Virtual Emergency Operations Center)
      • NFPA 1600 (Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management)
      • NFPA 1620 (Pre-Incident Planning) details
      • NFPA 3000 (Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response) details
      • ArcGIS data (i.e., fire hydrant and water source data layers)
      • Traditional 2D floor plans
      • Immersive/interactive internal and external 3D mapping
      • Keyholder/key contact information
      • Emergency Operations Plans
    • Remote Access to Live Cameras.  When an emergency incident is reported, remote camera access is activated for users with permission to view camera feeds.  PrePlanLive’s Single Sign-On capabilities authenticate users’ access, with no additional log-in requirements.  Every user, device, and MAC address is logged for audit within PrePlanLive’s security infrastructure.

In closing, it is important to remember that these are all tools for a preparedness and response toolkit.  There is not a single solution available that will serve as a shield against common hazards or the rise in prevalence of the active assailant.  Mindset is critical – again, foster an environment where staff are encouraged to be proactive.  Set the conditions for informed response rather than unplanned reaction.

“We do not claim to be experts. We only claim that we are striving to become experts and are taking the same journey that we hope we have inspired you to take. It isn’t a journey that any of us will ever complete. As soon as you believe that you are in expert in your field, you will no longer have the drive to keep learning. Humans are diverse, adapting and changing; there is always something to learn. 

Patrick Van Horne, “Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life”

If you are interested in learning more about the left of bang mindset – and reading really interesting books – we recommend the following:

  • “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker
  • “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell
  • “Left of Bang:  How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life” by Patrick Van Horne, Jason Riley, Shawn Coyne, and Steven Pressfield

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Craig LaPine