Time is of the Essence; Waiting for the police takes too long in an active shooter crisis

The reporting on the school shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky demonstrates one critical point that is often missed. Waiting on law enforcement to respond and handle an active shooter crisis is not an effective option and leads to higher casualty counts.  It should be stated clearly at the start that our peace officers and emergency responders act bravely and with valor when rushing in to a hostile environment.  This isn’t meant to disparage their performance but to focus on the reality of the amount of time it takes for them to respond.

According to the FBI, 69% of active shooter incidents are over in under 5 minutes. On average, one person is shot every 15 seconds.  These two factors show how important it is to sound the alarm and alert emergency personnel.  R. Borsch of Active Response Training mentions research that suggests that when waiting on law enforcement to respond and handle a crisis the average casualty count is 14, but when people are notified and are able to take action the casualties average 2.5.  In the several recent shootings (Aztec HS in New Mexico, Mattoon HS in Illinois, Italy HS in Texas, Freeman HS in Washington) staff confronted the shooter immediately.  None of these incidents had casualty counts higher than two.  Empowering staff and alerting everyone to the threat has proven to be the most effective response.  The FBI statistics show that more active shooters are stopped by unarmed civilians than are apprehended by the police.

Note: After preparing this blog it was reported by Fox News that “Officials confirmed there was a school law enforcement officer in the building when the shooting transpired.” It is unclear why this did not change the response timeline. 

The timeline for the Marshall County H.S. shooting as it is pieced together puts things in perspective. A CNN article shows the stark reality of the timing for notifying police via phone. “Sanders said the suspect, armed with a handgun, walked into the school at 7:57 (8:57 a.m. ET) and started shooting. The first 911 call was received two minutes later.” CBS stated “Police arrived at the school just seven minutes after the first 911 call. (This is 9 minutes after the shooting started.) They quickly found the gunman and arrested him.” This response was confirmed by a local affiliate that reported “First responders were on the scene within 10 minutes.”  The AP reported the shooter ‘kept firing until he ran out of ammunition and took off running, trying to get away.’ The DailyMail reported the sheriff’s deputies ‘apprehended the suspect 15 minutes after the shooting broke out.’ While police acted valiantly in their response it was too late as the shooter had already stopped and was attempting to get away.


Shooting started                     7:57

First 911 call                            7:59 (2 minutes later)

Deputies arrive                       8:06 (9 minutes after shooting)

Suspect Apprehended             8:12 (15 minutes after running out of ammunition)

Casualties – 2 dead, 14 shot, 4 injured

The notion that calling 911 is an effective and reasonable approach for shootings is ludicrous. The importance of immediate notification for life safety events is widely accepted for fire events, but we inconsistently believe that placing a 911 call is a feasible plan when bullets are flying. The frequency of school attacks is concerning but we are more prepared for the fire.  When was the last time you heard a media story concerning a school fire compared to a report of on an attack in our schools?  The immediate notification systems have been shown to work.  The SafeDefend system was created after a thorough review of past incidents of mass shootings.  Research has demonstrated that notification, protection options, and trauma response will save lives in a crisis.  The time for arguing about the best solution has passed.   The data clearly shows what we have done in the past has failed to reduce incidents or protect or children.