I have recently been immersed in active shooter response training. Two weeks ago, I was a late addition to a panel where the entire conference was devoted to active shooter incidents at live events, and I got typecast as the venue’s security expert in a mock trial (in action at left). Then I observed a nightclub shooter training, which offered a very different perspective. Yesterday, I watched a U.S. government training for one of my clients, which was about what I expected. Then last night came news from Moscow about their concert hall attack, where the death toll is up to 133 people as I write this, with more than 140 other people hurt.   

I’d prefer not to capture the zeitgeist this way. But here goes.
In addition to my day job as a lawyer and event safety expert, and various side hustles creating safety guidance, I occasionally join other organizations with compatible interests. A smart friend introduced me to the Sports & Entertainment Risk Management Alliance, whose annual conference was devoted to the risk of active shooters for live entertainment. The leaders invited me to speak even after I shared my skepticism of most active shooter training. I promised to be on good behavior.  

Other presenters included four local SWAT officers. My panel was the hot wash immediately after them. I was hoping they’d challenge us and make it real. Alas, we sat on bleachers in a well-lit gym while they told how they approach a shooter situation – interesting and valuable for many people, but nothing to test our responses or resiliency.   

I did, however, have my first epiphany. Typically for a guy who believes our words shape the way we see the world, it was about a term we hear all the time. We use “first responders” to refer to law enforcement. That doesn’t make sense. The officers reminded us that most shootings in public accommodations resolve before law enforcement arrives. The exact amount of time may have changed – I heard 4-5 minutes in Colorado, while DHS’ 2008 pamphlet, “Active Shooter: How to Respond” put the response time at 10-15 minutes. (Time for an update?) Either way, if an armed assailant enters a venue, the event professionals and their audience will have to respond first. 
Under the circumstances, a reasonable person should practice what to do, right?  Wouldn’t you rather practice how to save lives in a situation that is increasingly common in the U.S., knowing it’s an exercise, rather than making the biggest decisions of your life without having considered them before? I don’t understand why so little of this potentially lifesaving training actually has us get up and DO things.  

I didn’t have to wait long to be more engaged.  

MARCH 11, 2024, TAMPA, FL 
After my last Adelman on Venues, about the shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs victory parade, I received an invitation from a company called Nightclub Security Consultants. Seeing my complaint that most active shooter response training is still directed to office workers, Robert Smith explained that his training is – as the name suggests – tailored for entertainment spaces. So I went to see one for myself.   The Run, Hide, Fight framework was the same as always, but he distinguished planned versus unplanned shootings, which I had never heard before. (This 2023 article uses the terms “active shooter” versus “shooting incident” to draw a similar distinction.) Once I processed the difference, which he showed using CCTV footage from club shooting incidents, I realized they yield radically different responses, some of which are remarkably empowering. 
In light of my “first responder” epiphany, the emphasis on everyone being a responder totally resonated. I also liked that Smith pulled no punches. I hope he is available to present at ESA’s 2024 Event Safety Summit (date and location to be announced shortly). If so, I will recommend his session highly, and I won’t spoil the surprise other than to advise everyone to stay to the end.  

MARCH 22, 2024, BOSTON, MA 
A performing arts client asked me to create a tabletop exercise to test their updated event operations plan. One inject they requested was an active shooter. I resisted because their brick-and-mortar venue has a strong security perimeter with just a few points of ingress, each of which has well-trained staff monitoring Evolv walk-through magnetometers that I have seen them use effectively. But I respect their concern, and when they invited me to an active shooter preparedness training by the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”), I readily agreed. 
I like CISA’s stated purpose:  

CISA aims to enhance incident preparedness through a “whole community” approach by providing a variety of no-cost products, tools, training, and resources to a broad range of stakeholders to help them prepare for and respond to an active shooter incident.   

The problem with the presentation, which is foreshadowed on CISA’s website, is that it offers nothing for mass gatherings. The presenter was engaging and well-informed, and I would have felt reassured if I worked in an office with a door that locked. But his remarks offered cold comfort to event staff working a performance, or guests hoping someone nearby is more prepared to respond than them.
So far, we know this much about the Moscow concert hall attack. At least four men broke through security and entered Crocus City Hall during a rock concert, opened fire using automatic weapons, and used some kind of flammable liquid to set fire to the crowded venue. Presumably we will learn at some point about venue security, as well as what caught fire inside.  

For me, the takeaway is that no matter how unlikely we think a shooter will enter our venue, it is FAR BETTER to have a plan, preferably one that we’ve practiced, than to wait for someone to save us. 
I would love to live in a bubble where nothing bad ever happens. I moved to a pretty village with one stoplight on the main street, so I’m serious about that. I’m working on an American National Standard for Parade Safety because it’s fun to think about safety officers driving tiny cars and looking ridiculous, like at last Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade (see below).
But because the rest of the world keeps intruding, I will prepare to be a first responder. For everyone’s sake, I hope you will too.  
St. Patrick’s Day parade, Greenwich, CT