Distract, Deafen and Drench Active Shooters

December 17, 2012

How to reduce casualties during School shootings…

Something needs to be done.  Strategies for reacting to active shooters inside a school are not working. Last week we witnessed another “you’ll never take me alive” attack. While there is no simple solution to prevent active shooters, we certainly can improve the odds of survival for people inside a building, under attack.

In Newtown, Connecticut, a lone shooter demonstrated the tragic result of him getting inside a school full of vulnerable and innocent children. Rapidly, this deranged person ended the lives of 20 children and 6 adults.  In this brief and violent attack, Sandy Hook became a textbook example of an active shooter.

Time is on the enemy’s side, during such a rampage. These murderous events begin abruptly and conclude in a matter of minutes. Police and SWAT teams do not have the benefit of adequate time to respond effectively.

Law enforcement specialists have created psychological profiles to better understand and address active shooters. While a behavioral profile of these murderers is known, specific attacks are unpredictable as to when and where they will occur.

Active shooters are determined, strategic, and premeditated. They cannot be negotiated with; doing so only provides them with more killing time.  Shooters are heavily armed and focused on killing as many as they can, quickly. Usually the shooter plans to kill himself, once he feels he is “done” or trapped by approaching officers.

Disclosure. I am a father and I am an engineer by training, not a SWAT expert.  In the past, I worked on game theory strategies to teach machines to play better chess against human experts.  Game theory urges us to always expect our opponent will make his best possible move.  And we should develop the best strategy to blunt our attacker’s momentum.

The following are my thoughts on how to reduce the kill-counts of an active shooter:


1)     Active shooters can and will get inside the building if they want to.  We cannot block their access to public institutions, which are designed to be open.

2)     Guns will continue to be available to deranged persons.  This article is about considering practical changes that can make a difference quickly, not long-term gun control policy.

3)     Deranged persons will continue to target groups of innocents for mass murder.  This article is not about long term improvements needed for better mental health care.

4)    Defensive improvements to active shooter events must be affordable. Schools don’t have a lot of money to spend on fortifying buildings and hiring armed guards.

5)     Time is our enemy in an active shooter event.  Actions to diminish an active shooter’s kill-count must be taken immediately.

6)     The best defense will utilize tools already in place in schools.  Leverage the existing infrastructure.


1)     Implement a “Shooter Remediation” system in schools :

  • Make it NOISY. Loudly activate all audible fire alarms.
  • Make it WET. Drench the entire building by turning on all fire sprinklers.
  • Make it CONFUSING.  Activate loud sound effects to distract and confuse the shooter.  Fake police sirens and other gunfire sounds.

2)     Teach all staff how to activate a “Shooter Remediation” system immediately if they see or hear a person with guns.  Don’t wait.  The system can be activated:

  • Manually, by using panic buttons to activate shooter-disruption systems, or,
  • Automatically, using gunshot detection systems to recognize the sound of gunfire and to activate the system.

3)     Train and drill with students and staff. Schools already perform regular fire drills.  Get out of the building as fast as possible may be the next best step.  But I will leave it to the SWAT experts to decide whether people are to quickly exit the building or shelter in place, perhaps behind a locked door.


Blaring sirens, loud sound effects, and drenching water sprayed from the ceilings will distract and give pause to the carefully laid plans of an active shooter.  It also quickly informs the entire school population, that a very serious threat is underway.  A slowed-down shooter is a less productive shooter.  How could a “drench and blare” strategy be worse than a completely unimpeded shooter who is hunting people in the building with murderous intent?

Pray for Action

My strategy follows the Serenity Prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The worst thing we can do as a society is do nothing.  What we have today is not good enough to reduce the results of active shooters.  I hope these ideas will stimulate discussion and help law enforcement and SWAT experts to develop improved strategies for dealing with active shooters that are actionable and affordable.

God bless the children and adults who have lost their lives to active shooters.  And may we as a caring country take steps to reduce the effects of such atrocities in the future.


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