Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

National Preparedness Month – Immediate and Sustained Active Threat Response Planning

In the first week of National Preparedness Month (NPM), we look at how multi-disciplinary planning, training, and exercises are preparing the San Antonio Urban Area and the Alamo Area region for the full life cycle of active threat events using support services from Hagerty Consulting, Inc.’s (Hagerty’s) Active Threat Portfolio. As one of Texas’ “fastest-growing and most vibrant regions,” San Antonio’s Office of Emergency Management (SAOEM) recognized the value of regional collaboration before Hagerty even entered the scene. As a result, the City of San Antonio’s decision will not only reinforce its prominence within the state but hopefully come to represent standard practice nationwide.

The Challenge of Active Threat Preparedness

Active threat events range from lone perpetrator mass shootings, bombings, vehicular attacks, and complex coordinated terrorist attacks (CCTAs).  For any of these events across the Active Threat Spectrum, local, state, and federal public safety agencies and their partners across the region need to plan, train, and exercise[1] for a number of capabilities, outlined in Hagerty’s innovative Life Cycle of an Active Threat Event:

Hagerty Active Threat Portfolio’s Life Cycle of an Active Threat Event

Active threat preparedness requires a regional approach due to the dynamic and complex nature of these events, as well as the overwhelming response and effect they have on a community. Hundreds or even thousands of first responders from communities across a region may be involved in the response (for example, 2,600 law enforcement officers responded to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting, an active threat event that lasted less than 80 seconds). Communities need to work together with a common goal to prepare for activities prior to, during, and following an active threat event.

Historically, however, active threat preparedness planning, training, and exercises activities has focused on the immediate actions taken during an active threat: the civilian response and the tactical response. Active threat preparedness needs to go far beyond this short time period. In 2015, Hagerty developed the Life Cycle of an Active Threat, and its Active Threat Portfolio has been supporting urban areas, communities, and organizations to develop more extensive plans, more integrated training, and superior exercises to strengthen readiness against active threats.

Response to an active threat does not end after the neutralization of the perpetrator. Public safety agencies need to be prepared for sustained response, which often requires a regional response across stakeholder groups to operate effectively. A prime example of this is in components of the immediate human services response, including witness management and family reunification.

Preparing Beyond the Tactical Response and Toward Immediate Human Services

Following an active threat event of any size and at any location, victims and their loved ones may become separated, with their whereabouts unknown. The process to coordinate the reunification of victims and loved ones is complex and emotional, and stakeholders need to be prepared to rapidly establish the systems for the immediate human services response. In Texas, Hagerty is working with the SAOEM and their regional partners across the public safety, governmental, non-governmental, and private sectors to explore preparing for this often-overlooked but critical operation.

The preparedness process for immediate human services response used in San Antonio is founded on three principles: 1) be comprehensive, 2) be constructive, and 3) make it adaptable.

Be comprehensive. From the onset of the process, stakeholders understood the need for a Whole Community approach for activities such as witness management and family reunification. No stakeholder or agency could manage the activities of even one of these components. The project brought together stakeholders across the community, including city and county public safety agencies, regional transit agencies, non-governmental agencies, victim services groups, hospitals, public works, and partners like airports and schools. Over the course of several planning meetings and workshops, this regional, multi-disciplinary group identified roles and responsibilities it needed to activate, operate, and demobilize facilities that support witness management and family reunification needs following an active threat.

Be constructive. Stakeholders involved in the process understood that concepts of operations (ConOps) are always a work in process and that assumptions, roles, and actions need to be regularly examined.  The method follows best practices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) National Preparedness Goal: develop the plan, train to the plan, and then validate through exercises. Stakeholders across San Antonio and the region were involved in the step-by-step approach that included reviewing best practices in planning for witness management and family reunification, conducting a validation workshop, and walkthroughs of the facilities that may host large-scale witness management and family reunification operations, all of which will lead to a full-scale exercise (FSE) in October 2018 to validate the ConOps for witness management and reunification.

Make it adaptable. The ConOps and stakeholders involved in San Antonio’s current immediate human services response initiative will be the same agencies to provide response services in an active threat event of any scale, whether a lone perpetrator mass shooting, or a CCTA. This flexibility in the ConOps allows the region to adapt the plan to several possible situations and locations, from schools and places of commerce, to large public venues.

Active Threat Preparedness Means Whole Community Approach

Wherever on the spectrum of active threat events public safety agencies and their community partners are preparing, the same three principles being applied in San Antonio and the Alamo Area region can be applied in any region:

  • Be comprehensive. Involve stakeholders from across the region from a multitude of disciplines in the preparedness process.
  • Be constructive. Build a foundation through planning, train to the plan, and validate the plan and training through exercises.
  • Make it adaptable. Ensure that the ConOps is scalable across of a spectrum of situations.


[1] The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) is essential for providing funding and expertise in planning, training, exercising, responding, and recovering from such incidents

To learn more about how Hagerty can help your region undertake active threat preparedness efforts, visit hagertyconsulting.com/preparedness.

David Schuld leads Hagerty’s Active Threat Portfolio, and supports public safety agencies and their public and private sector partners to consider preparedness activities across the full life cycle of an Active Threat Event, events that include active shooter, vehicular attacks, bombings, and CCTAs. He has successfully managed numerous active threat related projects across the United States (US) and has supported the development of thought leadership in the field of active threats. His earlier professional experience includes working as British Government’s Crisis Management Adviser for the US, where he managed teams that were addressing emergencies across the country and the world.