Mass attacks and assaults, whether driven by personal motives or ideology, evoke significant concern and fear. However, actions can often be taken to prevent, defend against and respond to such attacks. A recent research project funded by the U.S. National Institute of Justice analysed over 600 mass attack typologies, hundreds of articles and resources and dozens of expert interviews to ultimately develop the Mass Attacks Defense Toolkit, an online educational toolkit with different strategies, guidance and links to additional resources.
These are the five critical points derived from this research project:
1. Many of these massive attacks could be proactively prevented. Public reports prevented nearly two-thirds of the foiled plots emphasised in the Toolkit. Therefore, it is important to be alert to possible warning signs, such as the following:
- Motivation: Inspired by previous attacks, desire to fulfil an extremist cause (especially in case of expulsion from a group/organisation for being too violent), desire to fulfil an extremist cause believing that there is no choice but to attack because of perceived danger or threat.
- Preparation: Creates a written plan, attempts to recruit others, seeks information on how to maximise impact, coordinates with known violent extremists or travels frequently.
- Exposure: The importance of detecting warning signs.
2. Communities need multidisciplinary teams to monitor and assess warning signs and determine what to do next. Each case needs a single responsible person to direct the necessary follow-up.
Threat assessment involves not only gauging the likelihood of an attack but also deciding the subsequent actions to be taken, many of which may fall beyond the purview of the criminal justice system.
3. Sufficient preparation minimizes casualties during the crucial initial phases of an attack before responders reach the scene. From a site security management perspective: Buffer zones need to be created, crowd movement opportunities need to be facilitated, it may be more appropriate to hide in a safe place rather than try to escape the scene safely and fight only when escape and hiding are not possible.
4. A successful collective reaction to a mass attack necessitates thorough planning and training that involves all individuals participating in the response. Effective responses to attacks include coordination between medical, police, fire and emergency services, as well as hospitals, victim service providers and site security managers.
For this to happen, leaders must provide adequate planning and training support and direction.
5. The recovery plan should include planning and training for potential consequences. Actions in the immediate aftermath of the attack include locating and arresting the attackers (where appropriate), investigating the perpetrators and possible conspirators, and providing access to mental health and emotional support, such as the establishment of family assistance and victim welfare centres.
Short-term actions include mental health and emotional support to victims and survivors, along with meetings and gatherings to discuss critical information about the response, as well as reviewing available resources for victims.
Long-term actions for relief groups include providing mental health and ongoing emotional support to survivors, overseeing the recovery process for victims, and engaging in recognition and learning, such as awards for acts of bravery, ceremonies for victims, and memorials and after-action commemoration and debriefing events.