Posted on Jun. 20, 2023 by Niki Nelson

“Active shooter” or “active threat” are simple phrases for events that can take multiple forms. This includes the type of attack – sometimes it is not a “shooter” at all, but a bomb detonation or a vehicle targeting a group. In the Columbine Massacre, there were two shooters who also set up bombs (which thankfully were not detonated).

The location is a factor that varies significantly. People tend think of schools or places of worship when discussing an active threat, but businesses and medical buildings have been targeted. It is typically in a crowded area with a steady flow of possible victims, but not always. The attacker could be targeting a specific group of people – whether it is a religious group they disagree with, or a former workplace.

Because of all the varying factors, police officers should be prepared for multiple situations. It is not always easy to gather role players or borrow space in the local mall to conduct drills. VirTra’s scenarios allow you to respond to more than one active threat situation all within your agency’s training room.

Midnight Madness: Movie Theater

Most of us remember the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO in 2012. With 82 victims – 12 of which were killed – it is a horrific event that is remembered by first responders and American citizens alike. This event inspired VirTra to create a scenario from the after-action reports where officers must respond to an active shooter roaming through a movie theater.

What makes this scenario so immersive per our agencies is the way it helps with split second decision-making. As the officer makes his/her way in the direction of the shooter, other innocent victims are running away, sometimes quickly popping out from inside showing rooms. If you are being overly reactionary, you may accidentally target one of them instead of the perpetrator.

Courthouse Crisis

As its name suggests, this scenario is in a Superior courthouse where security has been breached and multiple shooters are outstanding. Despite their tight security efforts, courthouses have been targeted before. One example is the 2005 shooting at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, GA. Like the scenario, he also overpowered a security guard. In this scenario, you can apprehend the perpetrator – in Fulton County, the attacker was on the run for a few days before his capture.

What makes this scenario unique is how it reinforces officers’ need to keep an eye out for multiple threats. As we have seen, it is not always a single person. Another important factor is that this scenario – like nearly all VirTra’s others – does not have just one option where you “shoot the bad guy.” Officers can practice negotiation techniques that, if effective, may cause the suspect to surrender or release a hostage.

Courthouse Crisis

Mad Bomber Multi-Incident Scenario

As previously mentioned, active threats are not always “shooters” but can also involve IEDs. Sometimes hostages are involved too. In the “Mad Bomber” scenario, a disgruntled office worker has a bomb strapped to his chest and is holding several other individuals hostage. He threatens to blow up the building, but there are many times where the subject expresses his emotions and state of mind.

Despite the bomb’s switch in his hand, there are opportunities where the officer in the scenario can de-escalate the subject. While lethal force is an option, there are many teaching points regarding hostage negotiation and crisis communication within this scenario.

The law enforcement multi-incident interactive scenarios discussed above are just a small sampling of what is available. Depending on the VirTra system you own, there are numerous options with varying teaching pain points. VirTra recommends checking the Customer V-RC Portal for the updated scenario master list.

Additionally, there are three different courses focused on active threats: “ATAK: Active Threat / Active Killer” has three modules that are NCP-certified by IADLEST. Instructors can provide 11.25 total hours of coursework that has been thoroughly reviewed and can be used in tandem with the simulator. Like all V-VICTA® coursework, these courses are free to all current customers. You can learn more here.


If you would like to incorporate simulation training into your agency’s regimen, contact a specialist.

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