Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

When the Shooting Stops – Six Gaps Your Active Threat Plan Needs to Address Today

The spectrum of active threat events, from lone perpetrator active shooters to complex coordinated terrorist attacks (CCTAs), requires compressed response timeframes, operational coordination, resource management, and accountability. The already-difficult task is further compounded by the multitude of stakeholders typically involved in response and recovery. When the shooting stops, it is the immediate fallout, including care for the victims and loved ones, that continues to challenge responders across the nation.

Public safety agencies, already burdened by the immediate tactical response to the active threat incident, must also consider their role in the human services response. While the immediate threat response may last minutes, the human services response can last for months into years.

Six Human Services Activities Every Active Threat Plan Should Address

The human services response needs following an active threat incident vary and are often informed by the scale of the incident, to include the number of people and locations impacted, the timeframe of the event, and the jurisdictions involved in the response.

Hagerty Consulting, Inc. (Hagerty) has conducted a thorough analysis of past active threat events, and worked with clients from coast-to-coast, to identify the following six key concepts for human services response that must be considered:

  • Family Reunification;
  • Victim Identification;
  • Mental Health Support for Responders;
  • Witness Management;
  • Family Assistance; and
  • Community Resilience.

The table below provides a brief overview of each of these concepts as they relate to the human services response following an active threat incident.

ConceptDescriptionStage of ResponseLocations Involved
Family ReunificationThe immediate human services response activity of receiving, identifying, and reuniting loved ones at Family Reunification Center(s) and/or hospital(s) where victims of an active threat are receiving medical attention.Immediate (0-72 hours after the incident)Family Reunification Center(s)

Hospital Family Reunification Center(s)

Virtual Coordination
Victim IdentificationActivities involving the identification and investigations of bodies recovered following an active threat event.Immediate On-Scene, Mobile Morgues

Victim Identification Center

Morgue/Medical Examiner’s Office
Mental Health Support for RespondersActivities focused on the responder community to ensure that emotional and critical incident stress management is supported following an active threat event.Immediate to Long-Term (a month or more after the incident)Within and Across Responding Organizations
Witness ManagementActivities surrounding investigative processing of witnesses, the scene, and evidence following an active threat event. Active threats are a crime. Immediate to Long-Term, depending on length of investigationInvestigative Processing Center (may be co-located with Family Reunification Center[s])

Hospitals Where Victims Were Transported

Virtual Coordination
Family AssistanceAn intermediate phase of the human services response to provide immediate support (including travel, accommodation, victim advocacy, spiritual and counseling care, donations management, property recovery, transfer of titles and other government identification. and funeral services) to those impacted by the active threat event.Intermediate
(36 hours – 1 month after the incident)
Family Assistance Center

Virtual Support Services Coordinated through the Family Assistance Center

Family Liaison Programs
Community ResilienceLonger term strategy to ensure that individuals affected by an active threat event can access advocacy and counseling services for the long-term recovery following an active threat. Long-Term Resiliency Center

Virtual Support Services Coordinated through Resiliency Center

Community Vigils and Remembrance Ceremonies


It is important to note that the activities and timelines associated with each concept may vary depending on the scale of the incident. The above table should serve as a point of reference rather than prescriptive guidance.

Obstacles to Active Threat Human Services Preparedness

Working with communities across the United States (US), Hagerty’s Active Threat Portfolio Team has observed a common gap in active threat preparedness: despite frequent acknowledgment of human services response as a key area for improvement in after-action reports (AARs), public safety agencies struggle to effectively address these concepts.

Common observations that contribute to ineffective preparedness for the human services response to active threat include:

  • Lack of ownership: Ask yourself, who can activate a family reunification center at a moment’s notice? Local law enforcement agencies often do not identify the coordination of the human services response (especially family reunification) as an activity for which they are responsible. Since active threat incidents are law enforcement-centric emergency events, it is imperative that law enforcement personnel are trained in serving in a leadership role for the human services response. While Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) will support the human services response following an active threat, they are not in charge of any of the concepts mentioned in the table above, and past experience has shown that their mobilization timeframes are limiting factors to meeting the near-immediate need of this task.
  • Not acknowledging immediacy: Ask yourself, how long would you wait to know if your son/daughter, husband/wife were safe? News of an active threat event travels quickly, in many cases streamed real-time via social media. Individuals in harm’s way will be communicating directly with loved ones. First responders who have been involved in responding to active shooter situations have noted loved ones arrive on-scene prior to or at the same time as first responders. While public safety agencies need to stop the threat, they also need to consider taking priority actions to manage the human services response. As incident command and unified command structures develop on-scene, a key step is identifying an individual to coordinate family reunification (the most immediate action in the human services response to an active threat). Having locations pre-identified can go a long way in alleviating this need.
  • Asking for help: Ask yourself, are you prepared to interview 1,000 witnesses? Constrained resources mean leveraging mutual aid for both life-safety and non-life-safety missions. The immediate tactical response to an active threat event (threat neutralization and immediate casualty care) requires a significant amount of resources. As a result, responding agencies often feel that they will not have the resources available to dedicate to the human services response. While the resources of the agencies that provide the immediate tactical response will be constrained, active threat events often require multi-agency responses, requiring partner agencies across a region to serve as force multipliers. It is critical that communities pre-identify likely mutual aid partners and work together to develop concepts of operation (ConOps) for the human services response that can be planned, trained, and exercised together, allowing for a more integrated response.

Take Action to Address the Six Human Services Gaps

The task of preparing for the human services response to an active threat event is enormous. There are many stakeholders involved, many of whom need to better understand their roles and responsibilities throughout all six of the concepts outlined in this article. To move forward with further strengthening capabilities and readiness, public safety agencies and communities can take the following steps:

  1. Start a conversation. Identifying the need to plan, train, and exercise the human services response is key. Form a small working group comprised of key organizations that would be involved in the human services response to an active threat.
  2. Ensure that stakeholders are identified. Having a complete understanding of which stakeholders need to be involved in each aspect of the human services response is critical to ensuring plans can be implemented and the support to loved ones can be provided. Human services response entities include traditional and non-traditional stakeholders, such as law enforcement and fire/emergency services personnel, VOADs, medical examiner’s office representatives, travel representatives (e.g., personnel from airlines, hotels, etc.), spiritual caregivers, translators, and personnel from various local, state, and federal government agencies.
  3. Conduct an assessment. Develop a tool that identifies triggers for the activation of all aspects of the human services response to an active threat. Designate facilities, then define the personnel required to establish and operate the facility. Also address equipment, coordination, technology, and public information needs.
  4. Develop a plan. Ensure that the plan is user-friendly, accessible, and scalable to meet the needs of the incident. Include checklists with expected actions to provide the plan’s users with meaningful guidance. Work with partner agencies to develop an agreed-upon set of response tools and forms that can be used during a multi-agency response. Draft mutual aid agreements.
  5. Train and exercise the plan. Training personnel from all entities that will be involved in the human services response and validating plans by conducting discussion-based and operation-based exercises is essential. After each exercise, plans must be refined so they are ready to be used in a real-world incident.

The human services response to an active threat is an immense undertaking. Hagerty has helped communities across the country address this challenge. Understanding the six concepts and preparing for them through planning, training, and exercises is critical to ensure that an already complex emergency response is conducted as effectively as possible. Contact David Schuld to find out more.


David Schuld is the Lead for the Active Threat Portfolio at Hagerty, where he manages a group of subject matter experts to help support the development of plans, training, and exercises related to active threats, such as active shooters, vehicular attacks, and CCTAs. Prior to joining Hagerty, David was the British Government’s Crisis Management Advisor for the US, leading emergency preparedness cooperation and coordination from the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. For more information about how Hagerty can help your organization, visit our active threat event preparedness page here.