Policy Recommendations from the Mass Attacks Defense Chain Toolkit

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On this page, we present recommendations for policymakers and executives who have authorities and resource responsibilities to support mass attack defense.

Policymakers and Executives: What You Should Know Now

Leaders Need to Support Prevention and Response Teams, and There Are Many Authorities and Tools That Can Help. This toolkit identifies top needs for teams so that they can prevent attacks, prepare for and respond to attacks in order to reduce casualties, and support resilience after attacks. Leaders have both internal authorities, such as convening groups and conducting planning and training activities, and external tools at the local, state, and federal levels on which to draw. These authorities can allow leaders to expand the scope and utility of mass attack defense beyond a dedicated small program or staff. In this section, we introduce many of these options.

Policymakers Need to Fund Improvements to Procedures and Training, Especially for Attack Prevention. We identified gaps in our capabilities to prevent attacks that can be addressed through improved procedures and training. There are needs to improve training and/or procedures on public education on reporting, finding and addressing pre-attack site surveillance, finding and addressing pre-attack gun diversion, wellness checks, and threat assessment. The development and fielding of improvements should be funded.

Resources Are Available from Federal Programs and the Private or Nonprofit Sectors. In this section of the page, we provide a list of options for grants and additional resources, including some that do not appear to be widely known.

For readers interested in gun policy, the RAND Corporation has conducted research on what is known (and not known) about the potential impacts of gun-related policies on mass attacks. That research is on the Mass Shootings in the United States page of RAND's Gun Policy in America site.

Supporting Prevention and Response Teams

On the other pages in this toolkit, we have described needs for interagency and community teams for preventing attacks, preparing for and responding to attacks, and supporting resiliency following attacks. We also have described needs for ongoing planning, communications, and training. Government officials have both direct authorities for mass attack defense and other agency, community, state, and federal capabilities that they can leverage. Sources of external support are described in the section on resources from federal programs.

For General Planning and Coordination

Officials can initiate programs for effective review, planning, and oversight. For example, governors, county executives, and mayors or city managers can convene such proceedings as summits and appoint task forces to conduct comprehensive reviews of mass attack prevention and response.

Whether officials are authorized to undertake specific mass attack defense initiatives or not, they can draw on media access and their public information roles to build consensus that additional initiatives are necessary and that resources must be found to support those initiatives. Similarly, officials exercise significant policy and budget oversight, which enables them to press agencies for greater coordination.

RAND's Better Policing Toolkit provides a guide to common challenges in implementing new multistakeholder initiatives and candidate solutions for addressing them, using findings related to implementation, project and change management, and program evaluation science. Although this guide was written for our earlier toolkit on policing strategies, it also applies more broadly to defense initiatives (Hollywood et al., 2018).

In spite of their tragic impact, mass shootings and other mass attacks are rare events. As a result, the tendency for sporadic mobilization and longer-term loss of initiative hovers over prevention and mitigation planning. That is why executive commitment is required to adopt policies and training and exercise practices that sustain needed momentum and keep skills and knowledge current. All government executives, as well as legislatures and city or county councils, can perform an important oversight function when they review preparedness around mass shooting prevention and response strategies. Consider the following steps, which, according to our expert interviewees, several jurisdictions have found effective:

  • After a mass shooting or other multicasualty violent event is analyzed in an after-action report, executives should ask their local teams to obtain a copy and review it to assess its implications for their jurisdiction.
  • Establish contact with an agency or program that has developed training scenarios and exercises that mimic the most-recent shootings to help ensure that responses are consistent with best practices.
  • Assign an official in an oversight role to review the state of "readiness" across the local jurisdiction on an annual or other periodic basis.
  • As much as possible, leverage existing interagency coordination and response structures and programs rather than trying to create an all-new mass attacks capability.

For Attack Prevention

RAND's recent Practical Terrorism Prevention report provides general guidance and recommendations on what mass attack prevention programs that partner with the community should look like (Jackson et al., 2019).

Public reporting resources. State, county, and municipal executives can build on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "See Something, Say Something" tip-reporting protocol and adopt jurisdiction-wide public messaging themes that remind people to report harmful activities and vocalized intentions.

Threat Assessment Resources

The following organizations can provide support for collecting additional information about tips, conducting threat assessments, and determining follow-up actions:

  • The Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative facilitates sharing suspicious activity reports that are potentially related to terrorism with federal, state, and local agencies (DHS, undated).
  • States and many larger localities maintain fusion centers that work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to assess—and, where justified, investigate—tips and leads in efforts to thwart the execution of violent plots.
  • States and localities might maintain additional threat assessment and management or behavioral intervention teams, which can help identify threats and connect people with resources.
  • The Threat Assessment section of the Prevent phase provides guidance and references on assessment tools and processes.

Suicide Prevention Resources

The need for cross-agency cooperation is nowhere more salient than in the case of suicide—and, especially, in suicide plans that include the use of violence against others. In the near future, one nationwide phone number—988—will be available to connect people with suicide prevention resources. (Note the existing national hotline number: 1-800-273-8255 and webpage at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, undated.)

Mental Health Resources

Cities and counties provide numerous mental health services to individuals in crisis, including students and coworkers. For example, clinically trained Mobile Crisis Teams often collaborate closely with police Crisis Intervention Teams. These teams play key roles in working with people at high risk of perpetrating violence.

As described in the Follow-Up Actions section of the Prevent phase, community nonprofit and private-sector partners can also play key roles in identifying and working with those who are at risk of perpetrating violence; we recommend that executives with planning responsibilities identify and coordinate with potential partners.

Gun Safety Resources

Officials can make a table of

  1. locally applicable laws and policies that permit separating firearms from those who pose a clear danger to themselves or others
  2. the conditions under which those laws and policies should and should not be used

People who attempt to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer but who do not pass the background check are identified in feedback messages to state fusion centers. States can work with the law enforcement agency where the would-be purchaser resides to assess the threat posed; they can also inquire whether the person sought and possibly obtained a firearm under illegal circumstances after the declined purchase.

For Attack Mitigation

Advance planning and training is necessary for Rescue Task Forces, which integrate multiple agencies into mass attack response, and all personnel who might play a role in its execution must be trained.

Governors who have standard setting powers for accrediting EMS personnel can hold state-level meetings to ensure that medical responses to violence-prone individuals are informed by the latest evidence-based doctrine.

Needs to Fund Improvements to Procedures and Training

Through our literature reviews, interviews, and case analyses, we identified gaps in our capabilities to prevent attacks that can be addressed through improved procedures and training, especially in the area of attack prevention. We describe these gaps and recommendations below. There is a need to improve procedures and training on public reporting, finding and addressing pre-attack site surveillance, finding and addressing pre-attack gun diversion, wellness checks, threat assessment, programs for helping those who are chronic threats to themselves and others, and attack prevention processes in general. The development and fielding of improvements should be funded.

Improving Education on What the Warning Signs Are and How to Report Them

Public reporting is the backbone of detecting plots; as noted earlier, two-thirds of our foiled plots were discovered as a result of public tips. The national "See Something, Say Something" initiative and similar public education campaigns are highly visible. However, the specifics of the most important warning signs to look for and information about how and where to report them are much less visible. We recommend adding information about key warning signs and key ways to report (e.g., 911, tips.fbi.gov, the jurisdiction's state or local tipline, anonymous tiplines) to public education campaigns.

  • More broadly, there is a need for federal support for state and local public information programs to encourage reporting of significant threats to public safety. Beyond funding, information templates for state and local officials that identify key warning signs and how residents should notify authorities (that can be customized by localities) would be valuable.
  • In terms of education, there is a need to continue funding the development, dissemination, and evaluation of statewide school-based reporting and assessment models. Features of reporting systems found to be effective can be used as national models.

The Initial Detection section of the Prevent phase page provides our findings on what is most important to report: serious threats and actions that reasonably look like plans to kill.

Improving the Detection of Site Surveillance and Probing

Our data include cases in which plots reached the stage of on-site probing and surveillance prior to being foiled. However, there have been few cases of detecting this activity. There could be an opportunity to educate responders on and bring in more clues related to site probing and surveillance; funding of more research on this topic is needed.

Improving the Detection of Gun Diversion

Obtaining firearms and ammunition is an inherent and observable part of preparing for a mass shooting. We identified several gaps in detecting gun diversion that could be addressed with process and training improvements, which we detail below.

There is a lack of education on suspicious gun purchases. We found few examples of education and training on how to detect and report suspicious gun acquisition attempts. The development and dissemination of education and training on how to not sell a gun to the wrong person are needed. There is also a need to ensure that reports of suspicious gun acquisition attempts get vetted and assessed in a timely manner, like other types of tips; funding is needed to support integrating suspicious gun reports into states' and localities' threat assessment and intervention processes.

  • One of the few resources we identified on how to detect suspicious gun purchase attempts is from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. However, this site is focused primarily on detecting straw purchase attempts (National Shooting Sports Foundation, 2021).

  • Relatedly, the Sell with Certainty campaign encourages private gun sellers to go through federal firearms licensees, which perform National Instant Criminal Background Check System background checks on would-be buyers (sellwithcertainty.org, undated).

There are communication shortfalls around banned individuals. There have been communication breakdowns in which people who were banned from obtaining guns because they posed a threat to themselves or others were able to do so anyway, or they were denied but did not act on a threat. There is a need for funding to improve data-sharing and processes to (1) determine whether a person who was banned has attempted to obtain a gun and (2) ensure that the needed threat assessments and subsequent interventions occur.

  • Improving procedures for following up with people reported to fusion centers as failing a gun background check would be a key step here.

Disseminating Best-Practice Procedures and Training for Wellness Checks

People who are concerned about the health or mental status of a relative or friend often call the police to check on the person's well-being, and an interview with a reported person is a common part of the threat assessment process. Interviews can be risky; responders can find subjects in states of mental confusion, anger, despondency, or worse. We found few examples of guidance or training on how to conduct these types of checks. We did not find standards for how to ensure that reports from these wellness checks are integrated into threat assessment. We recommend funding development and dissemination for wellness checks; specifically, how to conduct them, what to report, and how to use the findings in threat assessment.

Systematizing Threat Assessment

Threat assessment by multiagency and partner teams is a key recommendation both in this toolkit and of many other sources. However, there is much less information on how to conduct threat assessments. The threat assessment tools and frameworks reviewed tended to feature long lists of potential indicators, noting all as items that the threat assessment team might want to consider in making a subjective threat judgment without discussing how. There is a need to fund the development of a more systematic, best-practices approach to threat assessment, with the addition of supporting tools.

Disseminating Best-Practice Programs for People Posing Chronic Threats to Themselves and Others

Our experts and advisers noted that mental health challenges often are not considered with a long-term view. Law enforcement might drop someone off for an involuntary hold, and the longest that the person can be held in a medical facility for mental health evaluation and treatment is typically 72 hours. The person might be medicated in that time, but then they are released. As the medications wear off and there is no access to continuing care, the person's mental state could deteriorate. The cycle continues with no long-term plan, and law enforcement is once again put into the position of having to address the problem. Therefore, there is a need to develop and disseminate model strategies and programs that can provide for long-term interventions with those who are chronic threats to themselves and others.

Systematizing the Attack-Prevention Process

As noted in the Prevent phase, in some of the highest-casualty mass attacks that reached execution, there were initial reports about the attackers, but these investigations were dropped prematurely. There is a need to fund the strengthening and systematizing of state and regional multiagency teams and prevention processes in general.

  • A principal element of systematizing the process is funding the creation of and improving coordination, planning, and training for teams of community partners, especially partners in mental health, community development, and social and community services outside law enforcement. Funding-specific guidance and support on when and how to share information about specific cases that are in line with federal, state, and local privacy requirements would be highly valuable.
  • Another element of systematizing the process is reinvigorating Threat (formerly Terrorism) Liaison Officer programs in many fusion centers and police departments by providing updated training resources. These programs play a valuable role as a region's tripwire and force multiplier. These officers can train agency personnel, community groups, and public groups to increase awareness and quality reporting as the eyes and ears in the field to spot genuinely threatening behavior.

Resources from Federal Programs and the Private/Nonprofit Sector Federal Grants

Below, we discuss grants and other funding opportunities. Some are widely known, and some are less so.

Developing Training for Post-Attack Follow-Up Actions, in General

Our experts emphasized the importance of planning for actions after a major attack, including conducting immediate investigations; providing support and mental health services, both immediately after the attack and in the weeks and months following; and conducting after-action reporting and recognition. However, we did not find much information on education and training for follow-up actions; training and exercises for mass attacks tended to end after the Mitigate phase, with evacuating casualties and securing and investigating the attack site. Funding training for Post-Attack actions and adding post-attack actions to training events would be highly valuable.

Federal Grants

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) funds for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program now total more than $1 billion nationwide and can be requested to support attack prevention and preparation (DOJ, 2019).

More broadly, the DOJ Office of Justice Programs regularly has grant solicitations that are directly relevant to defending against mass shootings, terrorism, and other mass attacks (DOJ, Office of Justice Programs, undated). For example, note the Bureau of Justice Assistance's (BJA's) recent Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence grant program (BJA, 2021). Specific solicitations will vary from year to year.

DHS opportunities include the following:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants. Millions of dollars annually in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mental health block grants pass through states to localities, where a portion can support anti-violence mental health crisis centers (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2021).

Other Federal Opportunities

Stimulus Funds. In a 2021 Treasury Department policy decision, unallocated federal stimulus funds can be reprogrammed to evidence-based community violence reduction efforts (31 CFR, Part 35).

Asset Forfeiture Funds. A lesser-known DOJ policy allows for federal asset forfeiture funds made available to participating states and localities through the Equitable Sharing program to be used for training and other programs. Anti-violence and other mass shooting initiatives would appear—with certain fiscal and programmatic limitations—to meet eligibility criteria (DOJ and U.S. Department of the Treasury, 2018).

State and Local Foundations and Philanthropies

Local Police Foundations. With respect to the private and nonprofit sectors, civic and business leaders in many municipalities and counties have created local police foundations to help with expenditures that are not covered by local appropriations (DOJ, Community Oriented Policing Services, 2021). Officials should check with their local foundation to determine whether funds might be available for anti-violence expenses, such as travel to DHS and other centers and academies, many of which offer prevention and live event mitigation curricula.

Other Local and State Philanthropies. Officials should consider making a list of local and state philanthropies acting in their area and seeing whether those philanthropies would consider funding prevention or mitigation initiatives.

It is important to recognize that these options are just that—options—and one or another funding source may stipulate against the use of funds for mass shooting initiatives, but there are also significant dollars that support needed innovations and remain available.


  • BJA—See Bureau of Justice Assistance.
  • Bureau of Justice Assistance, "Funding and Awards: FY 2021 Preventing School Violence—BJA's STOP School Violence Program," webpage, updated July 28, 2021. As of January 4, 2022: https://bja.ojp.gov/funding/opportunities/o-bja-2021-47003
  • Code of Federal Regulations, Title 31, Money and Finance: Treasury, Subtitle A, Office of the Secretary of the Treasury, Part 35, Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • DHS—See U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • DOJ—See U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency, "Homeland Security Grant Program," webpage, updated 2021. As of January 4, 2021: https://www.fema.gov/grants/preparedness/homeland-security
  • Hollywood, John S., Andrew Lauland, Dulani Woods, Kenneth N. McKay, and Yingzi Zhang, "Tips for Implementing Strategies," Better Policing Toolkit, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, TL-261-RC, 2018. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL261/better-policing-toolkit/tips-for-implementing-strategies.html
  • InterAgency Board, Improving Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response: Best Practices and Recommendations for Integrating Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS, Arlington, Va., September 2015.
  • Jackson, Brian A., Ashley L. Rhoades, Jordan R. Reimer, Natasha Lander, Katherine Costello, and Sina Beaghley, Practical Terrorism Prevention: Reexamining U.S. National Approaches to Addressing the Threat of Ideologically Motivated Violence, Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center operated by the RAND Corporation, RR-2647-DHS, 2019. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2647.html
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation, "5 Ways the Firearm Industry Is Helping to Keep Guns out of the Wrong Hands," webpage, January 1, 2021. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.nssf.org/articles/firearm-industry-taking-action/?hilite=don%27t+lie+other+guy
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, homepage, undated. As of January 4, 2022: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  • RAND Corporation, "Gun Policy in America," webpage, undated. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy.html
  • sellwithcertainty.org, homepage, undated. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.sellwithcertainty.org/
  • Smart, Rosanna, and Terry L. Schell, "Mass Shootings in the United States," webpage, April 15, 2021. As of January 4, 2022:
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "Substance Abuse and Mental Health Block Grants," webpage, updated December 7, 2021. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.samhsa.gov/grants/block-grants
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Nationwide SAR Initiative (NSI)," webpage, undated. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.dhs.gov/nationwide-sar-initiative-nsi
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program," webpage, updated February 4, 2022. As of February 4, 2022: https://www.dhs.gov/tvtpgrants
  • U.S. Department of Justice, "Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program," webpage, December 9, 2019. As of January 4, 2022: https://bja.ojp.gov/program/jag/overview
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services, "Highlights from the Local Police Foundation Survey Report," Dispatch, Vol. 11, No. 4, April 2021.
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, "Grants/Funding," webpage, undated. As of January 4, 2022: https://www.ojp.gov/funding
  • U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of the Treasury, Guide to Equitable Sharing for State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies, Washington, D.C., July 2018.