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Four Reasons to Recalibrate Your Approach to Violence Prevention

By Steve Crimando, Behavioral Science Applications:

We are in, and will likely remain in, a very complex and dynamic active shooter threat landscape. It is unlike any other period of time in our recent history. Although many, if not most, organizations have developed robust strategies and tactics for the prevention and response to this type of hazard, the nature of the threat is changing. There are four sets of facts that should inform your thinking about the near-term active shooter risk for your organization.

One | Active Shooter Incidents are at a Record High and Trending Higher
The most recent FBI report on active shooter incidents indicates that the number of attacks doubled from 2016 to 2020, and there has already been a 20% increase over that record high for 2021. According to the FBI, “Since 2016, active shooter incident data reveal an upward trend: The number of active shooter incidents identified in 2020 represents a 33% increase from 2019 and a 100% increase from 2016.”

There is a clear upward trend in the number of active shooter incidents each year and this trend is likely to continue in the near term.

Two | Mental Health Issues are the Leading Stressor Related to Active Shooter Incidents
Another FBI study identified mental health issues as the leading stressor associated with active shooter incidents. While all major studies focused on the relationship between mental illness and violence consistently find that individuals with mental illnesses are no more likely to engage in violence than anyone else, there is solid evidence that those who do progress down the pathway to violence are often struggling with their mental health. At present, one in five Americans, and one in six Europeans suffer from some type of mental illness, and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA has forecast that mental health and substance use disorders (M/SUDs) will soon surpass all other types of disability worldwide.

Mental illnesses are common and increasing in their prevalence. A significant percentage of any workforce or student body has a diagnosable mental illness.

Three |Mental Health is Declining During the Ongoing Pandemic
About half of adults (47%) continue to report negative mental health impacts related to worry or stress from the pandemic according to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation study. The American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America poll indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has already resulted in significant mental health distress with nearly half (48%) of those surveyed stating that their level of stress has increased compared with before the pandemic. Gen Z adults (46%) were the most likely generation to say that their mental health has worsened compared with before the pandemic, followed by Xers (33%), Millennials (31%), Boomers (28%), and older adults (9%).

Baseline mental health has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roughly half of those interviewed in a variety of polls report significant deterioration in their emotional state due to the pandemic.

Four | Pandemics Cast a Very Long Mental Health Shadow
Research on post-pandemic mental health effects suggests a dramatic increase in the need for mental health services even well after the disease is controlled. For example, research in the UK by the National Health Service and Centre for Mental Health predicts that levels of demand will likely reach two to three times that of current capacity within the 3 to 5-year post-pandemic window. Follow-up studies of other public health emergencies have typically arrived at the same result: the impact on mental health continues long after the physical threat has passed, and in many cases continues to grow worse for several years after. It is foreseeable that the mental health impact of the pandemic may linger for years, even decades after the medical risk has been contained.

The mental health consequences of the pandemic are just beginning to surface and will like emerge to be as great or greater than the challenges of managing the medical risks of COVID-19.

Summary | The Near Term Risk of Active Shooter Incidents is Increasing
Whether the risk comes from someone spiraling up with anger and frustration related to the political climate, their employer’s or school’s position on vaccines and masks, or slowly reaching their breaking point due to pandemic fatigue, there is no shortage of grievances that may launch an individual on their way down the pathway to violence. The risk of “grievance-based” violence has been articulated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the most recent summary of homeland security risks, and the current environment is flush with potential grievances. Some of those will likely be directed at the workplace and educational settings.

Leaders must keep their eyes on the horizon since the convergence of these factors is likely to play an important role in the active shooter threat landscape for the remainder of 2021. We are no longer simply in a storm watch; we are approaching a storm warning. A perfect storm of active shooter risk is brewing, and Q3 and Q4 will present a unique confluence of factors that will escalate this risk. Leaders and decision-makers should adjust their sails accordingly.

Be Prepared
The Human Factors in Homeland Security 2021 Fall Professional Development Series is offering three, interrelated online seminars to help individuals and organizations prepare for the changing active shooter threat landscape.

October 6 | Mental Health Emergencies in the Workplace

October 13| Key Concepts in Threat Assessment & Threat Management

October 20 |Comprehensive Active Shooter Incident Management (CASIM™)

Classes are available individually or as a series. Those enrolling in the series also have access to an exclusive fourth class at no extra charge. There are discounts available to returning students and for groups or teams with over 10 participants.

Keep learning and growing in your knowledge about homeland security human factors. Register for individual classes or the fall series certificate program today or contact us for more information at

Register for the fall 2021 series today!

Continuity Insights

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