The Pre-Attack INdicators (PAINs) of an Active Shooter

Active Shooters rarely have an exit strategy; they expect to die (suicide or suicide by cop) or be captured. Because the attack will be their first and last act of extreme violence, they will exhibit behavioral and physical PAINs immediately before the attack.

An apt description of these PAINs is First Timer’s Syndrome. Good situational awareness will help you observe actions that slightly deviate from baseline operations and may pose danger.

Identifying Physical Pre-Attack INdicators

Physical PAINs (image below on right) include appearance and dress, and can include:

  • Oversized clothes or clothes not appropriate for event/weather
  • Keeping hands in pockets/concealed
  • Confirmation touch (repositioning weapon)
  • Small bulges near waist or hip
  • Adjusting waistband or clothing
  • Undo Attention to carried objects
  • Oversized torso or bulky jacket/vest
  • Favoring one side (strong side)
  • Blading (turning body to protect weapon

Active Shooter Pre-Attack INdicators

SafePlans Active Shooter PAINs

SafePlans Active Shooter PAINs

Identifying Behavioral Pre-Attack INdicators

Behavioral PAINs (above on left) include overt actions and more subtle gestures. These may include:

  • Minimizing door-to-door distance from vehicle (parking in fire lanes, etc.)
  • Low familiarity with the area
  • Nervousness
  • Mental discomfort
  • Tunnel vision/1,000-yard stare
  • Repeated comments and/or prayer
  • Muttering
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble communicating
  • Repeated entries/exits to area

The Value of Situational Awareness and Intuition

It’s important to note that these PAINs are almost always consistent with perfectly innocent explanations and do not automatically indicate danger. When the behavior is carefully and prudently explored and the person is determined not to be a danger, our intuition learns how to better distinguish future threats.

It is your intuition, training and experience that help you determine if the situation poses no threat, if further investigation is needed, or if immediate response is required. In the very rare instances, when immediate action is required, your mindset and early observation will improve your response.

This post is extracted from a cover article featured in Campus Safety Magazine.  Please contact SafePlans for the entire piece or to learn more about SafePlans’ Active Killer Defense training and Prepared with SafePlans preparedness programs.


About the author:
Brad Spicer is the founder of SafePlans, a leading provider of all-hazards preparedness solutions; including a DHS designated anti-terrorism technology and national active shooter prevention and survival program.


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