Just over a week after I first published this article, the US suffered yet another loss of life in a tragic school shooting incident. But this one hit home for me. THE EXACT SCENARIO that I feared in this Blog, played out. A 9-year-old reacted during an active shooter situation in an attempt to alert and save her schoolmates. She pulled the FIRE alarm hoping to signal for help. While in the process, she was gunned down in cold blood by the shooter, according to this report in the Daily Mail.

The FBI defines an active shooter as an “individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area, and recent active shooter incidents have underscored the need for a coordinated response by law enforcement and others to save lives.” (FBI, 2013)

It is, unfortunately, a fact of modern-day life. We live in troubled times, and attacks on our local communities are increasing significantly. The latest 2021 data from the FBI indicates a troubling rise in active shooter incidents over the 20 years 2000 – 2019.

 (FBI, 2021)

Data collected by the Bureau indicates a 10-times growth in the number of incidents each year and a total of 333 incidents. IT Directors, especially those involved with school safety, have urgent outcries from concerned staff and parents pleading to adequately deploy technology to protect against these threats. However, even the most educated IT Director, with a wall full of degrees and certifications, often lacks training and certifications in Public Safety best practices and the standard policies in that industry segment. This often leads to a dichotomy of assumptions to be made when selecting the most viable solutions to the problem without consulting the individuals designated to initiate the response.

THE FIXED PANIC BUTTON – Solution or Just a Target for the Shooter?

A common example of this Is the ‘fixed panic button’. Typically, the installation of these are spurred by a recent incident or tragedy. Often, little thought is put into the project as staff rushes to assemble something to help. Often, a knee-jerk reaction is, “Install a panic button! Save our students by installing a physical panic button in each school to summon police for active shooters entering the property!”

Since most of these types of systems are easily installed and relatively simple, they are often inexpensive to install and deploy. But, what is often forgotten, is the fact that with an active shooter, you have an individual that wants to do as much harm as possible. Knowing that once the first shot is fired, students and staff are trained to run towards a panic button to summon the police, are now running towards a target that the shooter can sit on, taking out anyone trying to activate the alarm.

Potentially, better placement of the switches would be close to the primary exit doors. This would then allow them to be activated as someone was fleeing a building.

In any active shooter environment, every second counts, and therefore, instead of a fixed button that you need to go to in order to activate, mobile panic buttons may be another potential choice for wide deployment with staff. However, this, too, may not completely solve the problem. It may be a mixture of devices that are needed. Also, mobile panic buttons tend to bring about other issues that users fail to realize. For example:

  • What is the device’s functionality if it is taken off the property?
  • What information would it report?
  • Would local staff still be notified?
  • What about additional user workload and training?

These are all important factors to take into consideration when evaluating technology. When establishing budgets for this type of project, don’t forget to include any project costs to cover a security consultant. If budget dollars don’t allow that, reach out to your local public safety agency to meet with them for their feedback at a minimum. Remember, IT, and Public Safety are two very different industries and skill sets. These two teams must sit down and collaborate with each other to define an appropriate solution.

Another point to consider is how reporting the emergency’s discrete location will occur. Whatever solution you purchase likely won’t be able to provide a location to the 911 ECC beyond the front door address without optional equipment, or worse yet, a 3rd party monitoring center. Without discrete location, the event could be anywhere in the facility. Detecting where a wireless panic button is located will most likely require additional technology to be deployed in the facility, resulting in a higher implementation cost. Even if the location is known, the issue that still exists is how to provide that information to the 911 ECC in an industry standard manner will likely be even more complex and challenging to implement. Don’t settle on less requirements due to cost, search our other, more affordable, technologies avaiable on the market, that embrace the Next Generation functionality now in use.

Today, many solutions attempt to reduce complexity and operational costs by installing their core proprietary functionality in the cloud. In an effort to reduce numerous false alarms to 911, warnings are FIRST received by a third-party monitoring services, where they are queued foir validation by a human operator. The event getsanalyzed and, if required, escalated to public safety. The problem is that while this reduces false alarms from being dispatched, that 3rd party monitoring center puts an additional delay in the alarm path before responders can act.

The other concern with 3rd party centers is that they often subcontracted service organizations who are providing overflow call services for a multitude of monitoring companies, as well as general call center assistance. They may not be dedicated to your panic button provider or, even worse, the public safety industry. They also may need to be better staffed or they may be temporarily overloaded with other non-related workloads. Anecdotally the consensus from customers is that it is common to see 10 to 15-minute delays in response to service from these centers. In one example, getting a call response in under 7 minutes was a challenge, even during a scheduled test event.

A 7-minute delay, the additional 2 or 3 minutes to collect and process the data, and then an extra 5-minute response time for public safety to get to the scene are creating delays in response to critical life-safety events that already have a short opportunity window to assist.

Active shooter events don’t usually play out over a long period. In their student information document, the University of North Carolina states that the average length of an active shooter incident is only 10 to 15 minutes.  (University of North Carolina – Pembroke, unknown) Because of this, it is vital to remember that an alert mechanism is NOT A PREVENTATIVE investment but an INCIDENT REPORTING investment to alert Public Safer. Any delay in the response will likely isolate public safety from the scene long enough for the event to be over by the time they finally arrive, with the perpetrators long gone, potentially continuing their reign of terror.

While it would be virtually impossible to fully document a complete plan of action suitable to most in this short space, I intend to raise awareness of some of the more common issues, get project planners to engage consultants and do their research n the cause and effect if any solution they acquire.

Fantastic technology is readily available at a reasonable cost, and although it requires a bit of homework and education, effective systems can be deployed with minimal anguish.

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Mark J. Fletcher, ENP

VP Public Safety solutions
911inform, LLC

Bibliography of Resources

20-YearFBI Chart. (2013). Active Shooter Safety Resources. Retrieved from FBI: How We Can Help You – Saferty Resources:

FBI. (2021). Active Shooter Incidents – 20 Year Review. US Government.

FBI. (2021, May). Active Shooter Incidents 20-Year Review, 2000-2019. Retrieved from

University of North Carolina – Pembroke. (unknown). University of North Carolina – Pembroke Public Safety Information. Retrieved from University of North Carolina – Pembroke Public Safety Information:

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