“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.

It’s every officer’s worst nightmare – there is a person attacking a location with a steady stream of victims. Whether they are using a vehicle, bomb or firearm, the situation is always tragic and causes the nation to mourn. Once an active threat begins, there is never a “win” situation – the best first responders can do is mitigate loss. This is done by responding quickly and accurately given the situation.

Whenever a mass shooting of any kind occurs, officers and citizens alike wonder what could have been done differently. While it may be nearly impossible to prevent these situations from ever happening again, what can be controlled is the way officers respond through active threat training.

San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office

Agencies such as San Mateo Sheriff’s Office in California have put even more emphasis on training for active threat situations. Training officers as well as Sheriff Carlos Bolanos were able to demonstrate to local media how important it is to experience these events in a realistic environment. By going through heart-pumping scenarios on their V-300® 4K, officers can learn to work through fear and practice making split-second decisions.

“I think what we’re hearing very clearly is the public’s expectation that law enforcement is going to go in and immediately eliminate the threat to safety, and that’s what we’ve been training on for many years.” -Sheriff Carlos Bolanos

San Mateo County SO is the first law enforcement agency in California to have a 4K simulator. The crystal-clear picture helps officers feel like they are really in the active threat training scenario projected onscreen.

Enid Police Department

Not long after the CNN footage was recorded in Enid, Oklahoma, a mass shooting at a medical building in Tulsa occurred. This further solidified the need for Enid Police Department to continue their active threat training.

Enid PD officers notice a difference, with Officer Thomas Duran mentioning that he believes he is a better officer after the training compared to before. In the video below, you can see how Officer Duran must scan all angles for threats. He must take care not to react too abruptly and shoot an innocent running away, but also must neutralize the threat.

Active Shooting Training

VirTra has created three separate nationally-certified curricula dedicated to active threat response. Titled “ATAK” (active threat / active killer), each course has been reviewed and NCP-certified by IADLEST. Totaling 11.25 hours of coursework, officers can learn everything from the history of active threats to the steps for a response.

Like other V-VICTA® curriculum, the ATAK series includes a lesson plan, presentations, testing materials, class surveys, rosters, and more. There are assigned scenarios designed to let students practice the skills they learn in class. This provides the “teach, train, test, sustain” methodology used in all V-VICTA courses.

To adopt our active threat training program and many others to your training regimen, contact a specialist.

“Keep your head on a swivel!” It is a phrase drilled into every trainee, every officer consistently by all instructors. There is no wonder why; knowing your surroundings at all times is critical, as it allows you to pinpoint threats, alternate routes, people in danger and more. But for this action to become second-nature, it must be practiced constantly, starting in the academy and continuing throughout one’s policing career. 

The good news is that most training events can teach officers to keep their heads on a swivel. For example, VirTra’s V-180® and V-300® immersive training simulators are designed to do just that.  

The V-180 Training Simulator 

The V-180 is a three-screen, 180-degree simulator which officers step up to. By surrounding the officer in VirTra’s seamless high-resolution video, officers feel like they are standing in the shown environment—not the classroom. As the scenario progresses, people and actions will occur on all three screens, teaching trainees to look around the alley, home, or other shown environment to fully understand the situation. To further training and reduce repetition, instructors have the ability to alter branches in the event, thus creating new events on different screens.  

The V-300 Training Simulator 

While the V-180 is a powerful training tool, the V-300 is the best law enforcement training simulator on the market. Instead of 3 screens, the V-300 boasts 5 screens, which surrounds officers in 300-degrees of real-life action. This training simulator takes the lesson “keep your head on a swivel” to the next level by requiring officers to move around the simulator to get all angles on the situation.  

A bigger training simulator allows more officers to train simultaneously, such as a unit, learning to cover one another. Having more screens also allows the scenario to feature events on more screens, which is shown in the VirTra scenario below. Watch as these officers engage in an Active Threat / Active Killer situation, which forces them to move around the simulator to pinpoint and stop all threats. 

Teaching your officers to keep their heads on a swivel is a critical tool that may save their lives—and the lives of civilians and suspects alike—in the field. To learn more about how VirTra can aid in this skill, or try it for yourself at an upcoming trade show, talk to a VirTra specialist. 

Despite having different names, there can be confusion on the difference between an active threat and a hostage or barricade situation. Understanding the difference is crucial because each situation requires different, unique law enforcement responses.


A hostage is a person held captive against their will until a specific ultimatum is met. The hostage is usually held by force—sometimes with the threat of a deadly weapon, such as with a gun to their head or knife to their neck—but occasionally hostages are held by verbal threats. The subject expects some kind of demand to be met in exchange for not harming the person they are holding hostage.

When faced with a hostage situation, law enforcement must reason or negotiate with the hostage taker and attempt to get them to peacefully surrender without harming the person/people they are holding hostage. As each situation is different, these complicated events require flexibility and preparation for many different routes the encounter may take.


In a barricade situation, an individual confines themselves to specific area that does not allow others to enter, then refuses to leave the area despite commands. A barricaded subject poses a danger to others, but unlike an active threat event, they are in a relatively fixed position and not roaming where a stream of potential victims may be.

Barricade incidents can be dangerous as many subjects have deadly weapons. At times, they threaten their own lives or the lives of others from their position. Barricades can go on for hours, as seen in this incident in Georgetown, KY. Sometimes others are within the barricaded area with the subject, despite not being held hostage.


A hostage barricade situation is a combination of the two incidents above; the subject is confined to an area and unwilling to leave while also holding a person against their will in exchange for an ultimatum. Hostage/barricade is often confused with an active threat, especially when shots are fired.

An example of a hostage/barricade would be when a bank robber is interrupted by police, then holds a customer or teller against their will to try and wrestle control away from law enforcement. In unfortunate circumstances, these situations may evolve into a murder/suicide where the subject kills the hostage(s) and then themselves.

Active Threat

There are characteristics of an active threat/active killer event that distinguish it from any of the aforementioned situations. Some of these include:

  • An ongoing supply of potential victims
  • A detailed plan for the attack
  • Location is chosen for tactical or personal reasons
  • Traditional “contain and negotiate” police tactics are not appropriate to use
  • The goal for the killer is to kill as many people as possible in a short time

Active Threat / Active Killer Coursework

Module 1 of VirTra’s ATAK curriculum delves into not just preparation and practice for dealing with active threats, but helps law enforcement trainees distinguish between active threats and other situations. The 3-hour V-VICTA™ course offers testing and simulator practice on correctly identifying the threat, and then in turn, handling it in the proper way.

To learn how VirTra’s certified curriculum and immersive training scenarios can help law enforcement handle even the toughest events, contact a product specialist.

It’s common to think of a “shooter” when hearing the words “active threat,” but having this mindset doesn’t prepare officers for the incidents that involve explosives and IEDs. Even the infamous Columbine Massacre killers set up explosive devices, although a detonation did not occur due to faulty construction. Because of the frequency of which explosives are used in active threat situations, VirTra’s V-VICTA™ curriculum now has a third module focusing on explosive and incendiary device considerations.

What is an IED?
Improvised explosive devices – commonly shortened to IEDs – are often made from items found at hobby or supply stores. These include pipe bombs, crickets and others. Seemingly inconspicuous, everyday items can be used to make deadly homemade explosives. In overseas warzones, IEDs can even be made from military munitions and ordnance and functioned into vehicle-borne IED’s that can cause massive damage.

How Officers Deal with the Threats
In the face of this type of active threat, there are numerous considerations an officer must be aware of. These include:

• Blast pressure – Try to avoid being in the blast area. If impossible, there are ways to mitigate the effects of both extreme pressure and fragmentation.
• Activation methods – Most explosives have active switches, meaning they can be activated upon command. In rarer situations, there are deadman switches that activate if reached by the subject.
• Headshots – To quickly stop the threat without accidentally detonating the bomb in the process, gunfire must be accurately placed. A headshot is the quickest way to achieve central nervous system shutdown, eliminating the threat.

The Coursework
Because Active Threat / Active Killer events are some of the most challenging events to prepare for, the three-part ATAK series aims to increase officers’ understanding and awareness of various types of threats.

ATAK 3 is an NCP Certified V-VICTA course that contains 5.25 hours of rigorous curriculum. When used with the other two ATAK courses, it amounts to 11.25 hours total. Not only are instructors provided with a manual and testing materials, but also training tips and scenarios where students can practice what they have learned in the classroom in a safe, simulated setting.
If you’d like to learn more about how to incorporate this training into your agency, contact a product specialist here.

Sadly, the number of active threat situations within the United States has been consistently growing for more than a decade.

According to the FBI, 277 active shooter incidents have occurred between 2000 and 2018, with 844 people killed. The number of incidents and casualties are staggering, but take notice that these are just active shooter incidents and do not include subjects without guns, but instead armed with explosives, knives and other methods of injuring or killing innocents.

To help officers prepare for these terrible instances, VirTra created two modules designed to educate officers on how to best handle an active threat, protect civilians and minimize loss. These curricula, which fall under the Active Threat / Active Killer (ATAK) program, consist of two modules and soon to be three.

In total, this will be 11 hours of nationally-certified V-VICTA™ coursework, which comes free on all law enforcement training simulators. To ease the instructor’s workload, this V-VICTA curricula includes: class rosters, pre and post-tests, presentations, corresponding video training scenarios and more.

These realistic scenarios are designed to be used alongside the coursework for maximum learning and skill building. To further help instructors, scenarios are often based on real-life events. In the case of Active Threat/Active Killer, the 1999 Combine High School Massacre was used as a foundation for a few training scenarios for officers.

Officers and trainees will, throughout all modules, review the history of ATAK events and learn lessons from past police response.

For more information on V-VICTA and how it can provide effective training for your agency, please contact a VirTra specialist.

This month, VirTra will debut its new V-VICTA® curriculum. The release is being announced at the 2019 ALERRT Conference in Colorado. This annual event focuses on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. ALERRT, or Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, provides information and training for first responders. VirTra will be participating in the conference as one of ALERRT’s platinum vendors.

The new curriculum is called ATAK, an acronym for Active Threat/Active Killer. The course goal is to prepare first responders for active threat situations. A critical element of ATAK training is distinguishing between what is an active threat and what isn’t. Upon completion of the course, students will understand the tactics used during an active threat and why they are different than the strategies used in a non-active situation.

Active Shooter Statistics

Data published in 2018 shows an increasing number of active shooter incidents in the United States, with a peak of 30 incidents in 2017 (Statista Research Department, 2019). According to FBI data released earlier this year, there were 27 active shooter situations in 2018, leading to 213 casualties (Active shooter incidents in the United States in 2018, 2019). Due to these trends, VirTra believes it is necessary to have specific training courses to prepare officers for active threat situations.

Similar to other VirTra scenarios and courses, ATAK content is based on real-life incidents. Looking at the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2008 Mumbai attacks, students will be able to take away critical lessons and use them as preparation for future attacks.

Active Shooter Training Curriculum

This first volume of ATAK will have an estimated completion time of three hours and best suits a class of eight participants. It will consist of a lecture, simulation scenario event training, and pre- and post-tests. The recommended eight participants should be placed in pairs when scenarios take place for maximum effect. Instructors may pair it with other courses such as the “Tourniquet Application Under Threat” course for supplemental techniques and skills.

V-VICTA® Training Simulation (ATAK)

Like previous V-VICTA® curriculum, ATAK will come with a training manual that includes note taking materials and a scoring rubric for instructors. Students are evaluated based on their ability to perform the required skillsets. Instructors monitor performance within two immersive scenarios. VirTra recommends repeating the scenarios until students “pass” by taking the correct actions. Another helpful trick is letting them watch other pairs complete the scenario, which allows students to learn by example.

To stay up-to-date with the trend of active threat situations, it is crucial to prepare officers. These events are unexpected and daunting, requiring training in advance. Frequent and accurate preparation increases the goal of minimizing the damage done by the threat as much and as quickly as possible.

Stay safe, train hard.


  • Active shooter incidents in the United States in 2018. (2019, April 10). Retrieved from FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-in-the-us-2018-041019.pdf/view
  • Statista Research Department. (2019, May 8). Number of active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2018. Retrieved from Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/324995/active-shooter-incidents-in-the-us/
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