The Five Stages of an Active Shooter Event

The Five Stages of an Active Shooter Event

Chris Grollnek

Active Shooter Information Chart through 2012

Police departments do not have to wait until bullets are flying and people are dying to stop the active shooter. Sometimes, officers are able to step between the shooter and his intended victims long before the screaming and bleeding begins. There are five phases of this type of incident.

  1. Fantasy stage
  2. Planning stage
  3. Preparation stage
  4. Approach stage
  5. Implementation stage

Fantasy Stage

Initially, the shooter only dreams of the shooting. He fantasizes about the headlines and the news coverage he’ll receive. He pictures breaking the death count record of the previous active shooter, and going out in a blaze of glory. He may draw pictures of the event, make Web postings and even discuss these desires with friends and foes alike. If these fantasies are passed on to law enforcement, police intervention can take place prior to the suspect’s attack. In this case, there may even be zero casualties.

Planning Stage

The suspect is still a potential active shooter at this stage. He is determining logistics – the who, what, when, where and how of the infamous day. He may put plans down in writing and will often discuss these plans with others. A time and location will be decided upon – one that will ensure the greatest number of victims or, in some cases, target specific individuals. The potential shooter will determine the weapons needed and how they will be obtained. He will decide how to travel to the target location and how to dress to conceal his weapons without arousing suspicion. If the police are tipped off at this time, intervention may be made with zero casualties.

Preparation Stage

A law enforcement agency can still intervene during the preparation stage. The suspect may be obtaining gun powder or other chemicals for his improvised explosive devices. He might break into a house to steal weapons and ammunition and/or hide them away in a designated place closer to where he plans to attack. He may also do a practice run or walkthrough of the operation, gearing himself up for the assault. Potential shooters have been known to call friends and tell them not to go to school or work on a certain day, in order to keep them out of the line-of-fire. If one of these people informs police of their concerns, there is another opportunity for law enforcement to intervene before the event. If this is the case, there is a real possibility that there may be zero casualties.

Approach stage 
The closer the time to the planned event, the more dangerous it will be for an officer taking action. By the approach stage, the suspect has made his plans and has committed himself to carry out the act. At this point, he is actually moving toward the intended target and will most likely be carrying the tools that he’ll use for the massacre.

Officers may come into contact with the suspect at this stage because of a citizen complaint, a traffic stop or something similar. A thorough investigation can lead to an arrest of the suspect before he brings down a multitude of innocent people in a shooting or bombing. However dangerous the stop, an alert and armed officer has a final chance to intervene if he is prepared and aware during every street contact. This contact could become a lifesaver and may end in zero casualties.

The Implementation Stage

Once the shooter opens fire, immediate action must be taken. Initial responding officers need to immediately proceed to the suspect and stop the threat. If he is not stopped, the active shooter will continue to kill until he runs out of victims or ammunition. Remember, the active shooter is unique because he is going for the “top score,” or the highest number of kills on record for an active shooter incident. It is almost like a bizarre video game, except it’s real.

The sooner someone – anyone – effectively intervenes through an act of courage, the fewer funerals will result. In past incidents, active shooters have been thwarted by police officers, security guards and school teachers. In October 2006, Principal John Klang of Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wis., died wrestling an armed 15 year-old student to the floor. Klang saved every life in the school – except his own (Marcou, 2007).


Marcou, D. (2007, October 1). 5 Phases of the Active Shooter Incident. Police

Retrieved from

The Five Stages of an Active Shooter Event

Chris Grollnek Subject from Corporate Rescue/Safety and Security Conference:

Key Note Address, Rhode Island 2009

About Active Shooter Prevention Expert

Active Shooter Training and Domestic Terrorism Prevention Expert PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY Chris Grollnek is an award winning former lead police investigator and one of the nation’s highly sought Active Shooter Prevention and Physical Security Experts. Through lecturing, training and responding to critical incidents as an independent investigator, at the request of public officials and private entities, Chris assists in shaping public and private safety standards. Recognized as a pivotal leader in security change management strategies, Chris has a proven record of success in implementing strategic policy for both government entities and corporations. He is frequently sought by national media outlets to provide contributing insight on the phenomena of active shooter events and domestic terrorism. Chris is a dynamic, forward-thinking physical security manager and vulnerability analyst.
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