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9-1-1 Communicator Response to the Active Assailant

“Communication is always the second casualty at an active shooter event.”


Numerous active shooter events have required public safety agencies small and large to analyze their abilities to respond to these events. Consistently, there have been 125 people killed each year in active shooter events in the United States and many more injured. Research by the Department of Justice found that active shooter events have increased 600% since 2009 and the lethality of these events has increased 150%.


Universally, every active shooter event has demonstrated that 9-1-1 communication centers will be quickly overwhelmed at active shooter events. At the 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting, three dispatchers handled 2,027 emergency calls. At the 2012 Aurora Theater Shooting, 13 dispatchers handled more than 6,000 emergency calls. At the 2013 Paramus, New Jersey mall shooting, Paramus 9-1-1 received so many calls that they had to transfer calls to five New Jersey counties, the NYPD, and the State of Pennsylvania.


Numerous after-action reports have found similar problems with 9-1-1 communications at active shooter events. In some reports, reports have found that 9-1-1 communicators are very skeptical at first, not believing that callers are actually experiencing an active shooter event. In other cases, 9-1-1 communicators have had lengthy arguments with the callers about their location, not believing or understanding where they were. In other cases, 9-1-1 communicators have simply stated, “We have the call” and disconnected on callers who had critical information to share.


This presentation will discuss the concept of an integrated law enforcement, fire, and EMS response. Multiple active shooter events in the United States have resulted in delays exceeding three hours for medical personnel to get to the injured. Numerous published research papers demonstrate that one third to half of the deaths are preventable with quick treatment and rapid transport to a trauma hospital. This course will discuss the use of the Rescue Task Force model, as well as other type of rescue team models.


This presentation explores multiple challenges faced by 9-1-1 centers at active shooter events, including overwhelming calls, inconsistent information, triaging calls, questions to ask callers, the concept of “stale information”, use of encrypted channels, PSAP information sharing, PBX phone systems, sentinel benchmarks, protocol deconfliction, the use of social media to locate victims, and more. In nearly ever active shooter after action report, the 9-1-1 centers reported major problems, including complete radio system failure, CAD failure, numerous “dropped” 9-1-1 calls, and lack of radio discipline.


Threat Suppression staff led the development and implementation of one of the nation’s largest joint public safety active shooter response protocols in a metropolitan city in the Southeast. Our staff also organized and led 75 large multi-agency active shooter exercises testing joint public safety response. In addition, we have conducted large-scale 9-1-1 active shooter surge drills to discover methods to increase effectiveness of the 9-1-1 system. Our staff also trained more than 400 9-1-1 communicators with the city’s police, fire, and EMS dispatch centers. This presentation utilizes numerous 9-1-1 calls and radio traffic recording from multiple events. Our staff members have also responded to a reported active shooter event at a mall crowded with 18,000 shoppers on Christmas Eve, 2015 in which one person was killed and 17 were injured. Our staff also responded to the April 30, 2019 active shooter event at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where two people were killed and four others critically injured.


Our staff have trained more than 200,000 public safety providers from local, state, and federal agencies on active shooter response. Following an active shooter event, the 9-1-1 Communications Center Director stated, “The event happened exactly like Threat Suppression said it would in training. It was almost like the event was following the training script and the callers were following the course outline.”

To download a PDF description of this course, please click the PDF to the right. For more information on booking this course, please email or call 1-800-231-9106.


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