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From the Battle of Fallujah to Helping Utilities Respond to Active Shooter Incidents

Utility Security Magazine:
Tell our readers more about how you got into active shooter response training and what made you passionate about it.

Jake Edwards:
It really started for me right after 9/11. After that attack happened, I joined the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq. I was in the Second Battle of Fallujah, which was a massive and deadly battle and one of the largest urban combat battles in recent U.S. military history. When I was in that battle, facing gunfire, it helped me understand what was needed to survive that sort of conflict. I had to trust and work with new people under pretty extreme conditions.

After I was honorably discharged from the military in 2009, I felt a passion to share the insights I learned from my military experience and began training military members and Department of Defense civilians how to handle going into combat zones. I spent some time teaching folks combat skills, urban operations and how to effectively move through combat zones.

Some of the folks I trained to go to different countries all around the world would be traversing these nations unarmed. At that time, I had been in a lot of two-way gunfights, but now I’m training unarmed folks. This was a very valuable experience because it really helped me evolve into learning specific tactics and combative and self-protection techniques that I could blend in with gunfight survival skills.

But what really drove me deep into my passion for active shooter training was when I went to work with a command that had just lost nine military advisors from a green-on-blue attack. [Green-on-blue attacks are insider attacks involving Afghan soldiers that target US troops.]. The nine were all returning from a meeting when an Afghan colonel opened fire on them.

Because these green-on-blue attacks were getting worse, there was a need to revamp the training. So, I was tasked to serve as the lead active shooter insider threat instructor for our team where I helped create some of that training beyond the classroom. We created a practical application part that was groundbreaking for the time. The immediate options we taught were escape-barricade-fight. This was before the FBI helped produce the Run-Hide-Fight options commonly seen today.

Utility Security Magazine: Given what you’ve learned from this experience, how has it informed your viewpoints on training for active shooter situations in civilian locations like utilities?

Jake Edwards: I have been lucky to have trained more than 50,000 people in my lifetime, and that helped me learn how to express points of view that are impactful. Often, I’ll start off an active shooter training by asking if anybody in the room has been in a car accident. And usually I’ll see about eight out of every 10 raise their hand. It’s at that point that I explain that prior to that accident happening, they had no idea that their respective days were going to be greeted with unexpected violence. But they had tools to help them. They had seat belts. They had airbags. They put themselves in a position to survive. And that’s what you have to do when faced with an active shooter. You have to put yourself in a position to survive.

Utility Security Magazine:
As you go into organizations to train on active shooter response, what things do you often see that organizations get wrong?

Jake Edwards:
The main thing that people get wrong is they think they can predict the future before it happens. Or that the solution is as easy as distributing a cheat sheet and expecting that to be enough. And often, this means they lose sight of the goal and instead focus on the process. The goal is the desired outcome, and it is likely the same for everyone. If an active shooter incident happens, the desired outcome is to mitigate the damage and to survive.
You can’t shortcut the training or take the easiest path. You need to practice. Because at the end of the day, when our prevention efforts fail and evil picks a time and place, our level of training is the only thing that is going to matter.

Utility Security Magazine:
Those are powerful words, and I couldn’t agree more about the importance of training. With active shooter incidents, fear can often be something that distorts and paralyzes people. How do folks who may have never seen a gun before and experience a potentially debilitating fear work to overcome that?

Jake Edwards:
Fear is a natural thing, and it is challenging to simulate the actual risk of death or injury in training. So, the key is to really simplify the response by training people to focus on the outcome that they want. As I just mentioned, we all want the same outcome. We want to survive. So, if you just focus on how to survive, it helps to simplify the actions.
Another thing I try to convey is that when an active shooter threat occurs, it doesn’t occur everywhere to everybody at the same time. For example, let’s say you’re in a 30,000-square-foot building and there are gunshots. For some, they may be in the line of sight of the shooter. Others may have time to run or lock the doors and barricade. So, I really try to stress the importance of thinking about right now. What can I do right now to survive this situation?

Utility Security Magazine:
In doing research for this article, I heard you speak on a podcast about the dangers of using the term “lockdown” when creating an active shooter response program. Can you tell us why utilities should avoid using that term?

Jake Edwards:
“Lockdown” has many different meanings. If I were to tell you that you had to go into a lockdown at the building you are in right now, what would you think that meant?

Utility Security Magazine:
I’d say it meant that we all had to stay in the building and barricade ourselves for an extended period of time.

Jake Edwards:
Exactly. And if the objective is to survive by creating as much space between you and the threat, having that definition of “lockdown” as a strategy could be the worst thing that one does. That term can create a blanket solution in the minds of people and cause them to not evaluate their specific situation and define a path that leads to their most likely chance for survival. Will locking down be a strategy that is best for some? Yes. But it is never the solution for all in an active shooter incident, especially if it’s a large facility.

Utility Security Magazine: There are lots of technologies and tools that allow organizations to communicate quickly about an event. How do you train folks with the usage of that technology in mind?

Jake Edwards: I think the most important thing to consider when thinking about using technology in an active shooter threat is that it will always come second to saving lives. If there is a shooter, what everybody needs to focus on first is survival. Don’t stop to text warnings. Don’t stop to call the police. People need to be trained that the first goal is to, again, focus on the desired outcome, which is to survive. Get away. Create distance, and if you get to a position that is safer, then you can likely use the technology to communicate or alert.
This is not to say that the technology isn’t valuable, and there are lots of tools that offer helpful solutions. But it is vital that it is never prioritized as the first response.

Utility Security Magazine: Success for any of an organization’s initiatives or goals often comes down to leadership. What advice would you give to security leaders about how to best lead their team to an effective active shooter response?

Jake Edwards: I want to quote my buddy Chase Hughes and his definition of leadership. He says, “Leadership means your behavior alone creates followership.” Does your behavior have the ability to produce followers? What are you doing with your actions to inspire others to embrace being ready for active shooter situations? What you do means an awful lot more than what you say. Are you involved in the training? How are you absorbing it? Are you demonstrating the values that will lead to your desired outcome?

About Jake Edwards: Jake Edwards is the founder of Threat Response LLC and currently oversees the crisis management training of over 100,000 staff and students combined in one of the largest school districts in the United States. Threat Response LLC has multiple instructors on staff that provide practical application training for all levels of crisis mitigation and response. To reach Jake, visit or search “Threat Response LLC” on LinkedIn or Instagram.