Frequency of Active Shooter Events

Editors’ Note: Our anonymous author graciously wrote this article for Insurance Nerds addressing our desire to help our audience think through the impacts that recent Active Shooter events may have on organizations in the realm of risk prevention.  We believe that these events are tragedies, and we cannot imagine the emotions of those directly impacted, but as insurance and risk management professionals, we must prepare for events like these using the most accurate data and most effective risk prevention methods available.  Our author has a background that lends itself well to addressing this issue, and we appreciate this sharing of knowledge.

As our nation recovers from yet another event resulting in the loss of innocent lives, organizations are again clamoring to find a solution to prevent a similar event from occurring within their sphere of control.  There is no magic answer, and every stakeholder will apply their own personal expertise and creativity to find solutions for their own unique challenges. These solutions, however, ought to be based on the most accurate numbers available.  Depending on where one looks, one can find vastly different statistics with seemingly no explanation as to where the difference lies. There is a reason, and it isn’t that any one source is being intentionally dishonest. With that in mind, let’s examine the ways these events are quantified.

First, a disclaimer is in order. This issue has become exceedingly political, and we need to transcend politics if we’re going to solve this.  One of my personal stances is to find a source that has a financial interest in accuracy.  One of my favorite sources of unbiased information is from the insurance industry because insurers are (rightfully) focused solely on knowing the actual numbers, so they can accurately predict loss ratios and assess rates.  Overestimating frequency causes uncompetitive rating, while underestimating causes insurers to go bankrupt. Sources with an intrinsic interest in absolute accuracy are fantastic sources. When seeking information on your organization’s exposure to incidents such as these, do not accept any one source as gospel.  Seek the information that will best outline your specific exposures and industry!

Active Shooter statistics are reported in many different manners.  There are “active shooter”, “mass shooting”, “mass public shooting”, and many other terms.  There is a strong difference in these similar-sounding terms, and when we’re looking into frequency of loss, the difference is huge.  For example, the FBI defines “Active Shooter” as “An individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area”.  The United States Congress defines “Mass Shooting” as “three or more killings in a single incident”.  Most people obtain their statistics from the media, and due to these different terms, caution must be exercised when using these numbers to influence decision making.  The headline may read “Active Shooter incidents on the rise”, but further reading may outline that they are in fact using “Mass Shooting” numbers. Why does this matter?  “Mass Shooting” captures every single time a person fires a gun at three or more people, which also encompasses gang violence, narcotics disputes, drive-by shootings, and many other incidents that are not included in what we’re trying to measure.  For example, following the incident occurring in Florida on February 14th, one source identified 18 “school shootings” in 2018.  A closer look at that statistic shows only 2 (including Florida) that are related to the issue being addressed, with the remainder being incidents such as a few self-inflicted shootings and non-student fights ending in gunfire at on-campus parties or basketball courts.  While these are all events we need to try to prevent, they are not pertinent to the kind of event that occurred in Florida. Are we comfortable with even two? Absolutely not, but at least it’s not 18.

Alongside with understanding that some media may inflate the statistics of these events, we must also take into account the other side of the issue.  We need to also take into account incidents that were prevented, either due to actions of school administrators or law enforcement. Realistically, when we prevented an active shooter, we got lucky.  We don’t want to count on luck, so these prevented incidents should be counted in our calculation when we’re discussing the frequency of active shooter events. I have personally never seen statistics that account for plans that were averted, so this is where the homework begins.  Pay attention to media reports where these events are thwarted, and not just the ones that occur. Successful prevention is a hair’s breadth away from monumental failure. While the Florida investigation is ongoing, evidence is suggesting that even the FBI (the premiere law-enforcement agency in the country) can still allow these perpetrators to slip through the cracks.  No one is perfect, and preventative programs are not perfect like a sprinkler system to a fire- they are an extra roll of the dice to stop an event.

While there are elements on both sides that bend these statistics higher or lower, there is no doubt there is an upward trend in the number of these incidents.  Thankfully, the source of this increase is irrelevant to our decision-making. Organizations cannot control public policy such as gun control. They can, however, control internal policies and crisis plans, and seek appropriate steps to prepare their personnel.  In truth, the frequency of active shooter events should serve only to help us determine the amount of additional attention that active shooter preparedness should be given.  If the frequency drops to 0, then preventative measures are working.  We can then maintain our current level and work to streamline processes to save cost and effort while maintaining effectiveness.  Conversely, if it continues to rise, then we must depend on creativity and innovation to develop new methods and tactics to augment safety.  

Bear in mind that the statistics do not help determine which measures are most effective and how an organization should protect itself.  The solution for individual organizations should be a custom-fit program based upon past events, current trends, and future concerns. Consulting with an expert provides the best solution for your individual needs; however another resource is available to every organization.  Reach out to your local police department. Most (I wish I could say all!) agencies will be happy to discuss your concerns with you, and partner with you to overcome this trend. Most organizations have something to offer their local police in partnership, such as offering their facilities to allow them to use it to conduct scenario-based active shooter training.  Police train frequently for active shooter scenario training, and often have to use the same facilities that offer no unique challenges. Should an organization offer their facilities for police to conduct training (can even include employees as role-players), police will have the opportunity to train at a new site and enhance their capabilities in dealing with a new floorplan/layout.  As an added bonus, the more familiar your local police are with your facilities, the faster their response time will be when responding to protect your personnel.

In closing, please remain mindful that this topic is a complicated one.  The raw number (and severity) of active shooter events is trending upwards, however organizations must commit the time to understanding what that trend means for their specific industry.  You must focus inward on your organization and what you can do to prepare yourself. Seek advice and partnerships, and speak with others in your industry about new ways they are addressing security.  Nothing is off the table, and you must remain open to anything it takes to protect your organization and your employees. Use sound judgement balancing security and accessibility, and examine the elements of previous attacks to locate flaws you may have in your own plan.  When in doubt, seek professional help! Many insurance carriers will even provide risk consultants to help you address your concerns. Preparing for active shooter events may seem like a monumental task, but taking it on in small steps will help you feel confident and secure in the knowledge that you are hardening yourself against this trend.



Publius is a collection of anonymous authors that for one reason or another obscure their identity in order to be able to write honestly about difficult topics. These articles are edited to higher standards than the rest of our articles and are only published after careful review.

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