You’ve read or heard the stories behind many of the nation’s mass killers: All of us were surprised. He seemed like a nice guy. He was quiet and kept to himself. He just snapped.
That’s a myth, Hart S. Brown, the executive vice president and COO of Firestorm Solutions told a crowded room at a program on active shooters sponsored by Wortham Insurance Nov. 14 at River Crest Country Club.
“There are behavioral indicators that something is wrong before the individual takes action,” Brown said. “There may have been a final straw that caused the person to take action, but they'd been thinking about this for a while.”
Beyond the human tragedy, there are implications for both insurance companies and businesses with the increasing frequency of mass shootings in the United States.
The program had been planned for months, Wortham officials said. It was just coincidence that it took place 10 days after the worst mass shooting in Texas history and the morning of the next one – in Rancho Tehama, California, that left six dead including the shooter who was killed by police and nine injured, seven of them children.
The shadow of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where Devin Patrick Kelley shot and killed 26 people on Nov. 5 hung over the ballroom in the country club, in part because a number of churches were represented in the audience.
“From a social perspective, we're lowering the barrier for people to actually conduct these acts, which is why we're seeing more and more, but the responsibility for those of you in the room is increasing at the same time,” Brown said. His Roswell, Georgia-based company provides risk management services and in his more than 20 years in both the public and private sectors he’s dealt with “about a dozen active shooting events.”
Kevin Daniel with Wortham said that risk management – the primary focus of the presentation – is also linked with insurance coverage. Company officials said that the information would not contain “a whole lot of detail because it is personalized to each company's insurance placements.”
“The velocity of the number of these events that have occurred have created a need for even new insurance coverage, and ways that we need to think about how is this going to affect your existing coverage,” Daniel said.
Clients face issues such as whether to have armed guards on duty and what impact that will have on their coverage. Daniel said that some carriers do not want employees to be armed until they are certified as a Level III commissioned security officer or higher because it will affect workers compensation and the clients’ share of liability coverage.
Relatively new coverage for active shooter or workplace violence works in conjunction with a company like Firestorm, Daniel said.
“The average claim for a true workplace violence case is $3 million,” Brown said. He said the early estimates from insurance companies is that the Las Vegan mass shooting is going to cost $1 billion.
The number of mass shootings in the United States depends on the definition of “mass shooting.” The Washington Post reports that the FBI once considered someone a "mass murderer" if they killed four or more people during one event, regardless of weapons used.
“But starting in 2013, federal statutes defined ‘mass killing’ as three or more people killed, regardless of weapons. … The tally doesn't include the killer if he or she is eventually killed by law enforcement or takes his or her own life,” the newspaper said.
The Post maintains a tracking website (washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/mass-shootings-in-america) that uses “a narrow definition” and tracks mass shootings from Aug. 1, 1966, “when ex-Marine sniper Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then climbed a 27-story tower at the University of Texas and killed 14 more people before police shot him to death.
The Post numbers 146 events – not including the Rancho Tehama shooting – in which four or more people were killed by a lone shooter (or two shooters in three cases). An average of eight people died during each event, often including the shooters. In all, 1,047 people died, including 161 children or teenagers.
“All but three of the mass shooters were male; the vast majority were age 20 to 49. More than half — 86 of them — died at or near the scene of the shooting, often by killing themselves,” the Post said.
Looking for signs
Brown said the key to prevention is to pay attention to behavioral threat indicators that are potentially observable to you in order to start taking action.
“We see their personal life changing. We see things that are not going well for them and if they start to separate themselves from their family. They start to separate themselves from their friends, from their co-workers and everybody else. Their alternatives for dealing with that stress are starting to get less and less,” Brown said.
It might be through direct observation or it might be through social media, especially for the school sector, where “we have children that are acting out or speaking out online, not necessarily directly observable,” he said.
“Our statistics show after dealing with a number of these cases [that in] about 80 percent of the cases from a youth perspective, they told somebody. About 67 percent of the cases they told two,” Brown said.
“It’s a matter of getting that one or those two to potentially speak up,” he said, “but somebody knows. Somebody sees it. It is observable. That's the challenge for many of us early on in the process. To try to identify and understand what to do with that.”
Both Brown and Brent Sadlin, managing partner at First Security Systems, which provide risk management planning for several large churches in the Fort Worth area and corporations, spoke about the necessity of systems to allow people to report their suspicions freely.
Sadlin said there are tools to reduce the risk of the threat. Among them, background checks on employees or volunteers.
Identify persons of interest and share information of people who come to a location and are known to be a problem and keep records on those people, Sadlin said. “Either they're off their meds or unstable or maybe they've made some threats or maybe there's a recent divorce and there's a custody battle,” he said. Or maybe a disgruntled employee.
If something happens
Even with elaborate planning and security systems, it is impossible to guard against every possibility and situation.
The standard recommended response is run – leave the scene immediately if possible; hide – take concealment and remember to turn off your cell phone including the vibration function because an incoming call can be a death sentence; and fight if there are no other options available.
That’s a great mantra to follow, Brown said, but he thinks of things from a security perspective, and that makes management of time important in slowing down the situation.
“The more doors I can put between me and whoever is doing that ¬ it's time. It takes time to get through those doors. The more distance I can put between me and that person – they have to close that distance,” Brown said. “How can I create more time for me? Behind doors, locks, whatever it is, or somewhere else, the better off I am in that type of an event.”
Even in the best of circumstances, it takes time for first responders to reach the location and their first duty is to end the threat before taking care of the injured.
Sandlin echoed Brown’s comments on creating time.
“Utilize heavy furniture to barricade access to you. Slow down the threat,” he said.
“If you're actually engaged with a shooter and your life is in danger, then you're going to have to fight,” Sandlin said. “Fight in an aggressive manner. Use anything available to you to slow down the shooter. Throw your shoes. Throw your keys. Throw furniture. Throw books, whatever is at your disposal because your life is in the hands of this shooter.”
And a note to those who may be licensed to carry firearms.
“When the police or security arrive show your hands,” Sandlin said. “Their job is to take out the threat. So, if they perceive you as a threat then they're going to take you out, too.”