bombs for clicks

They believe in something. Enough to kill people, including themselves. Federal authorities arrested a NY man in his 50’s for plotting to blow himself up with a 200 lbs bomb on the Washington Mall on election day. While this may seem entirely mad, there is a rationale that motivated his behavior. He wanted to draw attention to his idea of a better form of government – sortition – where representatives are randomly selected as opposed to using voting polls to determine the legislative body. While it has been suggested that rampage actors may kill to gain personal notoriety or fame, it may be more likely that they wish to draw attention to an issue or more importantly, a solution that they feel would resolve an injustice.

As one commenter on an article stated:
“So, here’s the plan… I blow myself up, right… and then, there are no remaining believers in ‘sortition’… wait, this is the best part… so, then the press has to figure out what the heck ‘sortition’ is and they will finally have to look at my web site cause that’s the only place you can find it.”

And suddenly, millions of news absorbers learn about this new concept. This is not far from the new awareness about incels that came from a man who drove down people on the streets of Toronto in April of this year. It was the stated intention of Anders Breivik who murdered scores of children in Norway just to publicize his Manifesto. While it can be misleading to focus on the ideology itself as the root cause of the violence, we need to understand the enabling publicity that they garner for these actions. They may do it for the attention that they will inevitably get. There has been a recent media movement to avoid saying the name of the accuser but this may have limited impact on reduction. What they really want is attention to their cause, the injustice that they perceive and sometimes the solution that they desire.

The sad reality is that there will always be widespread coverage of these events. The absurdity of the act will naturally lead to questions about why they did it. A haunting remnant of the Las Vegas concert shooting is the apparent lack of motive. Many in the news and social media posts will demonize whatever ideology backed the assailant’s reasoning but the truth is that every belief system has it irrational and dangerous fringes. Finger pointing and accusations just tends to lead to further division and animosity.

So what solutions can work to prevent rampage violence? There is no simple, single answer but we can look at what did stop this tragedy from occuring. A bystander, a person who know about the potential danger came forward and reported it. We need to thank the law enforcement officers who intervened but that would not have been possible unless someone stepped forward. Oddly enough, it is not uncommon for perpetrators to “leak” information about their intended rampage. It is perhaps the same desire for their plan to get attention from the media after the incident that leads them to tell others beforehand. The best hope to stop these tragedies from occurring is for people to be aware of potential threats and to decide to do something. Thank you to whoever came forward about this thwarted bombing planned for November 5th.

Female Shooters

In the aftermath of the YouTube headquarters shooting where we had the rare occurrence of a female active shooter, there was a proliferation of articles and posts indicating how rare these incidents are, suggesting “toxic masculinity” as a source of this horrible violence. This approach may be detrimental to real prevention efforts as comparing the different genders of mass shooters has more to do with the political/cultural agendas than saving lives.

Let’s take a tweet by filmmaker Michael Moore.

While anecdotes are not evidence, it is easy to refute the absolute “ever” as we can quickly come up with contrary examples. Dorothy Dutiel was a young woman who killed her girlfriend at Independence High School in Glendale, Ariz., before shooting herself, back in 2016. In a combination of workplace violence and school shootings, Amy Bishop was a professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville campus when she was denied tenure,causing her to kill three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting in 2010.

The examples can continue, but, it is certainly true that there are more male shooters than females. However, we need to also consider when the female is the initiator of the violence. In the area of domestic violence in the workplace, again the vast majority involve a male perpetrator assaulting a female victim, but there is a trend in the less common cases involving male victims. This entails when the female in the relationship secretly conspires with a male assailant to kill her unwitting partner. Out of about 850 cases, there is a small representative (37 cases) where the woman hires a hit man or colludes with her boyfriend to kill her partner while he is at work. 

To illustrate with a case, Sherie Lea was convicted in a Australian court in 2011 for conspiring to have her husband killed while at work. Working with a man she met through a motorcycle club, they attempted to hire a hit man ( actually an undercover police officer) for $25,000. This money would come from the $500,000 life insurance policy that she just took out on her husband. She provided photos to the would-be assassin and even took him to her husband’s workplace to point out likely spots for the murder. In order to garner support and sympathy, she even lied about alleged domestic abuse and sexual assaults committed by her husband. While this anecdote simply point out a single example, it does demonstrate that while women may not be as physically violent as men, they are certainly capable of malicious and lethal actions

Again, there is no value in trying to compare the two sexes in determining some blame based on gender. Rather, we need to focus on the individual’s character and values that motivate someone to seek the death of another.  


Statistics, public policy and personal responsibility

Amid the fervor regarding the student walk-out protest and gun control legislative initiatives, I would like to point out a perspective rarely seen in the news or  social media. As public policy has broad control over the population as a whole, these decisions should naturally be based on well-researched studies that accurately determine what is best for the most amount of people.  That is why laws are essentially rules, not exceptions.


If anyone has been in a debate or discussion recently,  you will hear a reference to some study that supports the speaker’s standpoint, usually obtained from a social media post or from a 5 minute news segment.  Aside from the deficiencies of many of these soft science study designs, there is the challenge of extrapolating the study’s conclusion to real life scenarios.  This is almost as bad as someone providing an anecdote to prove their point. However, many will rely on these studies as some sort of proof that policy X is the answer to the problem of gun violence.


What is missing is the personal responsibility approach to many of these conversations. While they may be motivated by a Black Swan event such as the Parkland High School shooting,  this distracts from the more common threats to our youth. This not only pulls away resources from the more likely dangers of suicide, car accidents and overdoses, there is a fundamental limitation in this perspective of trying to prevent rampage violence.  It creates this amorphous, generalized threat and remedies that disregards the individual’s responsibility and power to prevent violence.


To give an example,  gun owners may be confronted with the statistic that a firearm is more of a threat to the owner from suicide or accidents than its benefit for self protection. There may be some merit  to this statement. However, it does not consider the all the factors that go into the option of the gun being a danger or an aid. Suicide is an extreme example of personal choice and the probability of an accident is directly correlated to the owner’s safety behaviors.  The point is the individual has the control if it will be used against them or to save them.


Public policy  should be based on well-researched studies that can help determine what is best for the community.  However, the predominant external locus of control perspective (identifying outside influences as the explanation for a person’s status), has created a culture which does not look at what they could have done personally to prevent a tragedy.  While most of us do not live near the location of this latest tragedy, everyone of us has someone in their lives, either at school, family members or relations, that is at risk. Naturally, I am talking about all people, including those outside the security profession. While the interest in public policy is good for engaging  our youth, I encourage people to challenge others about what they can personally do, with the people and situations in their lives, to prevent this senseless violence. Will banning AR-215’s reduce the number of school shootings? Hard to determine. But certainly reporting concerns and intervening/supporting a disturbed person can make a difference. I encourage other professionals to widen this support.  thank you

Why did Paddock kill all those people in Las Vegas?

This question is asked after every act of rampage violence and there is still a lot to be determined about the Las Vegas mass shooting. And yet I am pretty certain about why he did it. It’s because he was a jerk. I would prefer to use stronger terms but I am trying to  maintain a level of civility in this essay. If this answer is too simplistic at least it has the  redeeming quality of being undeniable.

There are two facets to this explanation.  First,  is in response to the knee-jerk reaction of the mainstream media and social media pundits to label an ideology as the culprit. There is a drive to blame a  political party,  belief system  or certain values as the motivation for murder.  As ridiculous as it may seem, people wanted to know who Stephen Paddock voted for in the election with the underlying assumption that everyone else who voted for the same candidate is capable of such evil.  After the Texas church shooting,  atheists were seen as the next Boogeyman.   The reality is that every belief system has an extreme which is illogical and dangerous. A southern proud of their Confederate heritage kills innocents in a church, abortion clinics are blown up  and a simple baseball practice for conservative legislators becomes a shooting range for a liberal. It is understandable how politicians will use a tragedy to get more clicks but there is a dangerous tendency to look at the extreme members of any ideology and attribute their inhumanity to the entire population that holds similar beliefs along the continuum. A person may believe in securing the borders and limiting immigration but would never slaughter children at a summer camp just to raise awareness about the issue.  I believe that we are being guided by the mainstream media and well funded entities that are generating memes and posts on social media to divide the country by demonizing contrary views and any of its adherents. We have seen this after every mass shooting as the blame directly is placed on the thousands of members of the NRA.  Quite simply, after a shooting there is a dangerous push to blame an ideology and vilify anyone who leans in that directions which only feeds the risk factors for the next one. (Note- It is a separate issue when discussing the organizations such as ISIS and Antifa that recruit, coordinate and plan assaults.  There is an ideology but it is the organization that must be stopped from their violent intentions. Most mass shooters are of the Lone Wolf variety).

The second point is that there is someone clearly to blame –  the shooter but we need to ask why the shooter went to the extreme edge of the ideology to believe that such violence was justifiable. What was it that brought them to such an edge?  There are various factors in this complex issue including their stability, mental health,  desire for notoriety and deep seated resentment.  That last point is key as it demonstrates their pathological selfishness.  In other words, they’re jerks.  What is critical is that it is possible to help them stop being jerks. Everyone is a jerk to some degree but what stop to you from being a world-class jerk? There is not a  simple, one-step solution and law enforcement intervention is critical near the final stages, but there is an entire lifetime of opportunities before they started planning the shooting where people can intervene by providing support, demonstrating compassion and building rapport to help stop someone from falling into such extreme beliefs.    If there is one takeaway from this writing, it is that people should be judged individually for their actions. Except for the extreme edges, the broad ideologies, political parties and religious believes themselves, with all of the adherents, should not be viewed as the culprit.  This is only dividing the country, further deepening animosities which will lead the jerks to commit more shootings. Sadly, an important step these days, is being very aware of how you were being fed information from the traditional channels and social media.  Friendships are lost while debating potential legislation on Facebook when the reality is that everyone has the opportunity to prevent violence by demonstrating compassion and care in their everyday relationships.


Bystander Interventions Can Save the Day

It is not always about guards and guns. It is about doing something to help when you see the need. 17-year-old Malyk Bonnet did just that on his way home from work in Quebec. Bonnet noticed an arguing couple at a bus stop and intuitively felt that the woman was in danger. She was.

According to a police report, “We were looking for a 29-year-old woman who was kidnapped by her former boyfriend earlier that day, and we believed that man was very dangerous,” said Lt. Daniel Guérin of the Laval police.

Bonnet offered to buy them bus tickets to Laval and went with them, chatting up the man until they reached their destination where he even provided money for food. It was at the restaurant where he discreetly made a call to the police.

While arguments can be made for active shooter interventions by responsible armed citizens, it is bystander intervention and preventative actions such as Malyk Bonnet’s that can also make a big difference. Because Bonnet could not call the police immediately, he still found a way to intervene and protected the victim without endangering himself.

It is more than Bonnet’s cleverness that makes him a hero. It is the fact that he cared enough to do something. While most people would be thinking about getting something to eat after a long day’s work, Bonnet had his eyes open to the situation and interactions around him. Most important, he utilized his resources and time to make a difference.

A lesson can be learned that violence prevention is not just about active shooter drills and gun control arguments. Violence prevention also relies on bystander intervention, people paying attention and taking action because they care enough to help people in need.

Regal Cinemas Bag Check

Regal Entertainment Group, the largest movie chain with over 550 theaters, started checking the bags of their patrons in response to recent movie theater assaults. There has been a recent string of violence in movie theaters:

In Lafayette, Louisiana, two people were killed and seven wounded during a showing of the comedy “Trainwreck.”

In Nashville, a man wielded a hatchet, a pellet gun and pepper spray at “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

In Aurora, Colorado James Holmes killed 12 and wounded up to 70 others in a movie theater in 2012.

Regal Cinemas explained,“Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America… To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, backpacks and bags of any kind are subject to inspection prior to admission. We acknowledge that this procedure can cause some inconvenience and that it is not without flaws, but hope these are minor in comparison to increased safety.”

Will their new procedure increase security at movie theaters? That is to be determined. It is a sad indication of our times that one of our our favorite leisure activities begins with a reminder of the possibility of violence. While it has been long accepted that such bag searches are necessary in contentious places such as courthouses, public venues that provide services and retail shops such as malls, sporting events or just about any public area may develop similar requirements.

Will bag searches help? A handgun can be easily concealed on a person but the expense of metal detectors and the privacy concerns around pat-downs make the detection of a handgun difficult to implement. Other comments on this new policy point toward profit margin concerns and the impact of people bringing in their own snacks. I guess I will have to start buying those $5 bags of M&M’s at Regal theaters.

Mass Notification of off-campus events

Early in 2016, Uber driver, Jason Dalton, went on a shooting spree which included areas within a couple of miles of Western Michigan University campus. However, as Western Michigan University’s notification system was not activated for this event, many members felt that they should have been informed. One senior began a petition pushing for changes in the notification criteria. From their standpoint, the issue is simple. Higher education institutions need to inform members of local potential dangers, regardless of source or jurisdiction.

With the advent of campus mass shootings, the 2008 Clery Act requires higher education campuses to have a mass notification system to warn staff, faculty and students of danger. While the original intention was to address school shootings, warnings about near campus events may also need to be broadcast. As a rampage event can easily cross campus boundaries and as constituents are coming on and off the property, emergency personnel need to consider if, when and how to communicate these dangers.

However, implementation does have its challenges. There is an inherent challenge between confirming the threat and delivering the message as fast as possible. Consider the cases of umbrellas being mistaken for rifles; the resulting false alarms then impact credibility and the notices not being taken seriously. Timeliness, especially considering that these shootings are usually over in minutes, and verification become compounded when communication is required with additional authorities. If the incident was entirely on campus, campus safety can quickly confirm the validity of the danger and initiate communication. Off campus incidents would need to be confirmed with the local law enforcement agency that has the jurisdiction, adding to the delivery time and the chance for misleading information. This issue is not relevant only to higher education; similar challenges are faced by office complexes and adjoining businesses.

So should emergency personnel initiate the mass notification system for near campus events? Faculty, staff, students and their parents certainly think so. A possible solution is to ensure quick and accurate messaging through drills and active partnerships between campuses, large employers and local law enforcement in a form of a coordinated community response.

“Triggers” for an Active Shooting

Photo by Lunde Studio :

On February 25th, 2016, Cedric Ford went on a rampage, killing 3 co-workers and injuring 14 others at Excel Industries in Hesston, KS. As it has been well established, shooters like Ford do not simply “snap” but are under a great amount of pressure and stress that can reach a tipping point by a negative action or event.

In the case at Excel Industries, Ford was just delivered a domestic abuse restraining order for the second time and it was about 90 minutes later that the rampage began. The aggravating factor may be the embarrassment of a deputy serving him court papers in front of his co-workers, not just once but twice, or that he evidently did not think he deserved it. After all, he did not show up for the court date after the first summons.

This all has significance regarding threat assessment procedures. It is fairly common for shooters to ruminate or think about their assault for a long time but it is a catalyst, an event or incident, that finally sends them over the edge. In this case, it was being served domestic abuse restraining order papers. In other similar cases, it is some legal or official grievance procedure such as divorce or child custody proceedings, a discrimination lawsuit or losing a workers compensation claim that makes them “lock and load”.

Security and threat assessment professionals must be aware of these potential “triggers” that can lead an individual to finally take the destructive path that they’ve been pondering. There are events and proceedings that security can monitor in the prevention of a rampage shootings. If any negative legal or disciplinary action are identified, security can implement additional security measures such as hiring an off-duty officer on that court date or at least have someone check in on the individual involved. There is no 100% certainty that any action or court decision will initiate a shooting but these events can be anticipated and therefore, management can be better prepared.

Suicide is the Greatest Danger

Just this week, an employee was found dead in a conference room next to a gun at the Apple’s California Headquarters in Cupertino. This came a day after a shocking decline in Apple’s stock price following their first ever decline in revenue in 13 years. It is unlikely that this incident will get much coverage. The subject of suicide is rarely covered by the media, whether it occurs in a residence or business.

However, suicide is by far the greatest risk of intentional injury. In fact, an employee is many times more likely to shoot themselves at work than to be assaulted by a coworker, client or even ex-partner. Considering those last three types combined, there were 137 murders in 2014 across the USA compared to the 293 employees who killed themselves while on the clock. Furthermore, when you add the 130 deaths from robbery, once the overwhelming source of occupational homicide, it still doesn’t add up to the number of people who commit suicide while at work. The prevalence of suicide at work is indicative of the surge of this crisis across the country in general. Suicide is the leading cause of death for veterans and in recent years, has even surpassed death from car accidents.

The impact of such incidents at work should not be ignored. The emotional trauma to employees, interruption of business productivity, and public relations damage can be just as devastating as a homicide. There is a connection to workplace violence as it sometimes appears to have the intent of causing harm to the company or organization. Consider the teacher who set herself on fire at recess or the Disney employee in Hong Kong who climbed on top of Space Mountain and threatened to slit his throat in front of all of the visitors. Such actions clearly indicate malicious intent towards others.

There has been so much attention, resources and even arguments to change legislation to address the active shooter threat but the evidence shows that the common danger of workplace suicide is simply ignored by the mass media and therefore prevention efforts may be misguided. However, the warning signs, the threat assessment procedures and security measures that have been honed to prevent workplace violence can also be used to prevent suicide at work as well. There are significant differences to the motives, symptoms and intervention strategies and not all cases are similar but the primary prevention step is always the same. Be aware of the challenges, stability and welfare of those around you. It is this vigilance that can prevent not only the active shooter but those that intend to hurt themselves.

Healthcare 2nd Most Dangerous Industry

You are probably wondering which is the first, and as some of you may have guessed, it is law enforcement. However, we could argue that healthcare experiences the most cases of workplace violence, as the violence that law enforcement officers face from apprehending criminals does not really qualify. Enforcing the law inherently involves antagonism and physical confrontations but healthcare is intrinsically the opposite. It is about healing people, not getting hurt.

It is well known within the field that violence is ubiquitous. Trauma units are the final stop in crime activity. Drug seeking behavior has increased dramatically, the waiting rooms are filled with anxious and desperate family members experiencing emotional drama on a daily basis. Doctors, nurses and support staff have all encountered verbal abuse, with high numbers experiencing physical violence as well and it is not all related to the medical issue. From a recent visit to the emergency room, I can personally attest to the sticker shock faced at payment checkout.

A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine, Workplace Violence against Health Care Workers in the United States, revealed some interesting findings. 41% of the shootings occurred outside, probably in the parking lot, with the next most common location being the emergency department. When the motive was able to be determined, 27% involved an act of revenge. Imagine a shootout between gang members where someone comes in the hospital to finish a job.
But related to our recent post, non-malicious, intentional injury (suicide) was a close second. 21% of the shootings were related to suicide and 14% were mercy killings, typically committed by family members. As a subcategory, mental health facilities are identified as the most dangerous, with the vast majority of workers (70%) having experienced violence while at work, an astounding 69 times more dangerous when compared to other industries.

Even then, the studies may not be capturing all of the cases as these incidences are notoriously under-reported. One factor for this is that healthcare workers are generally more forgiving and focused on helping their patients as opposed to reporting them. In our own study of domestic violence in the workplace, we found similar higher rates in the healthcare industry which may have the same basis. The people attracted to this industry are more likely to be the caregivers who put their own safety and needs behind others.

The solution to this issue cannot be a simple one step fix. It must be a combination of environmental controls, staff training and changes to procedures that will limit worker vulnerabilities. Fundamentally, a shift must occur within the culture that the abuse health care workers face is not “part of the job.”

Lockdown Fatigue

A disturbing news article described one professor’s response to the active shooter crisis at UCLA this week. The event occurred during one of the worst times, during finals, prompting Professor Vivian Lew to suggest to her students that they complete the exam in another area regardless of the lockdown mass notification. Despite later claiming that she was not aware of the extent of the lockdown and instructions, it was an admittedly poor decision and there can be a rich discussion on how intelligence is qualified on campuses these days (see protests against Milo Yiannopoulos’s event which was later cancelled due to a bomb threat).

However, this disregard for the very real threat may be in part due to the “fatigue” from lockdown drills (before you scoff, be honest about whether you finished that email before getting up for that last fire drill). This contempt of practicing emergency procedures can be explained away as ignorance or laziness but as security and safety professionals, this attitude and behavior is a challenge that must be addressed to ensure the safety of all constituents.

Worse off, the false alarms that have visited numerous campuses (here, here, here and here for a few examples) were not practice drills but were initiated on the premise that the danger was real. The challenge for all those in charge of making such announcements is to weigh sending it out as soon as possible (most events are over in minutes) and verification of the threat. There is no simple answer but the deciding factor may be that it is easier to get over the embarrassment of a false alarm than to face the surviving family members of someone who was never warned.

What exactly occurred and the professor’s explanations are specific to this one case. Better training, consequences and common sense can help but administrators need to find a way that their constituents will quickly follow procedure. Pacing of drills, developing systems to quickly verify threats and basic role modeling are perhaps one method of making such advances. However, while response improvement is important, the effort and emphasis on prevention should be given as much, if not more, priority.

Is there an Epidemic of Mass Shootings?

We have witnessed the worst mass shooting in American history. When Omar Mateen killed 50 people in a nightclub in Orlando, the anger, the fear and the remorse resounded throughout our country. At the news, a common reaction was “not again”. The horrific number of victims has led people to believe that there is a rise or even an epidemic of mass shootings.

But is this the case? Is it getting worse? On Friday, June 17 at 1:00pm CST and Wednesday and again on June 22 at 12 noon CST, we will offer a live, free presentation on the definition(s) of mass shootings and look at a handful of recent studies and databases that track this phenomenon. The studies vary in what they consider a mass shooting and where they obtain their data.

The truth is that one victim dying from violence is too many. However, before we begin blaming (guns, mental health, Islam, etc), let’s get a look at the stats….

There will be opportunity for discussion at the end of the 50 minute presentation.

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Domestic Abuse as Warning Sign of Mass Shooters

In the aftermath of the Orlando Pulse tragedy, much investigation and speculation went into the history and motives of the shooter, Omar Mateen. One discovery may be a common trait among mass shooters – he had a history of domestic abuse. Sitora Yusufiy, his ex-wife, has given numerous interviews, describing the abuse. Although there were not charges or restraining orders taken out against him, this can be expected due to the resistance to come forward.

However, the Mateen case is not unique. Many public shootings have their violent start in a home and against family members. To pick one case out of many, Herbert Chalmers killed his girlfriend, raped his ex-wife and then went on to his jobsite to kill his boss and shoot her daughter. Within the context of workplace violence, a specific type (Type IV) focuses on when domestic violence spills over into the workplace. Two of the worst offenses claimed 8 lives each. Robert Stewart killed elderly residents at the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home in Carthage, NC and Scott Evans Dekraai shot workers and customers at a hair salon in Seal Beach, CA.

The one prevention factor of this type of workplace violence is that the victims are almost always aware (terrified) of the threat and this fore-knowledge is critical in terms of prevention. The real trick in stopping such a shooting in the workplace is in notifying their employer, but this disclosure can also help stop mass shootings. Mateen’s current wife, Noor Salman, reportedly may have known of his plans to commit a mass shooting (further investigation is not possible at the moment as she is apparently missing), but did not notify authorities. This failure has been condemned and defended across the internet with the psychological abuse identified as the reason that prevented the disclosure.

Lately, gun control has been primary focus of many seeking to prevent mass shootings and there is a factor here as well. People charged with domestic violence and those who have a restraining order against them are prohibited from possessing firearms. While it may only slow the assailant from obtaining a weapon, there is a misconception about “permanent” restraining orders as they are not actually indefinite. In actuality, they may last a couple of years which creates a burden on the law enforcement agencies that must confiscate the weapons and maintain them until they are returned at the end of the restraining order period. In truth, a determined shooter can obtain a firearm by other means.

The clear take-away from the connection between domestic abuse and mass shootings is that they are all rooted in the demented and violent character of the assailant. It is possible to stop them but only if the victims get the support they need to come forward.