Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 12, 2013

Hybrid Targeted Violence: Clearly Defining Complex Attacks

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on February 12, 2013

Today’s post is written by Tracy L. Frazzano, a Lieutenant with the Montclair New Jersey Police Department, and G. Matthew Snyder, a leadership instructor with a federal law enforcement agency. (There’s additional information about the authors at the end of the post.)


Nothing captures the nation’s attention more than mass casualty attacks.

These horrific, brutal, heartless, and calculated acts garner international media attention due to the compelling questions of “why” and “how”.

While mass murder rampages are perceived by many to be a modern phenomenon, they are neither new nor are they growing at epidemic rates. Despite being statistically rare events, they dramatically impact countless individuals, communities, and nations. Events involving sophisticated planning, varieties of weapons, and complex tactics will undoubtedly persist globally in highly unpredictable patterns.

The current Department of Homeland Security definition of an active shooter is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.” [1]  That definition does not adequately describe for first responders the dynamic crime scenes that involve a variety of lethal weapons and uncontained attackers.

The active shooter label is no longer sufficient to completely describe the enhanced threat that public safety will be called upon to deal with.

We define the term Hybrid Targeted Violence (HTV) as an intentional use of force to cause physical injury or death to a specifically identified population using multifaceted conventional weapons and tactics. This definition based on “hybrid” weapons and tactics better captures the operational range of hazards confronting first responders.

HTV assaults often use a combination of lethal conventional weapons (i.e. fire as a weapon, small arms, improvised explosive devices, etc.) and a combination of well-planned tactics (i.e. ambush, breaching, barricading, maneuver, etc.). The compound effect of this form of violence requires a more complex response strategy. These strategies blur lines between traditional law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical service duties and responsibilities.

Clarity and unity of vision must drive first responder decision making at chaotic HTV events.

(Multiple Weapons) + (Targeted Population) + (Planned Violent Action) = Hybrid Targeted Violence

Example: (Small Arms and Arson) + (School Population) + (Ambush Tactics) = HTV

Targeted violence directed towards innocent and defenseless people, especially children, demands a highly competent, rational reaction. Professionals must extract lessons from past events to better prevent, disrupt, and mitigate future attacks.

Preparation for future HTV events requires an appreciation for historical incidents while maintaining a keen awareness for impending threats. Past events that have involved combinations of ambush strategies, explosive devices, firearms, and other targeted assault tactics are worth analyzing. First responders can glean valuable training lessons from these events by comparing local resources against HTV tactics.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School Attack and the Aurora Colorado Theater Ambush, the New York Police Department published a revised active shooter risk mitigation report. [2]  NYPD’s report is one of many that provides a global analysis of HTV incidents with sufficient detail to permit further research.

Examples of noteworthy tragedies that can serve as the basis of first responder HTV awareness and training include:

  • May 18, 1927: Bath Township Michigan School Massacre: Ambush, bombing, fire as weapon, and shooting. [2]
  • December 30, 1974: Olean New York High School Attack: Ambush, bombing, fire as weapon, and shooting, (NYPD, p. 143).
  • April 20, 1999: Columbine Colorado High School Attack: Ambush, fire as weapon, IED’s, and shooting (NYPD, p. 121).
  • December 9, 2003: Visalia California PrintXcel Plant Attack: Multiple fires as weapons and shooting (NYPD p. 83).
  • November 26, 2008: Mumbai India Coordinated Attacks: Ambush, barricading tactics, explosives, fire as weapon, military maneuver tactics, and shooting (NYPD, p.50).
  • August 27, 2010: McKinney Texas Department of Public Safety Ambush: Ambush, fire as weapon, and shooting (NYPD, p. 13-14).
  • July 22, 2011: Oslo Norway Parliament and Children’s Camp Attack: Ambush, distraction VBIED, maneuver techniques, and shooting (NYPD, p. 175).
  • December 13, 2011: Liege, Belgium Saint-Lambert Attack: Ambush, shooting, and stun grenades (NYPD, p. 34).
  • July 20, 2012: Aurora Colorado Theater Attack: Ambush, chemical weapons, explosive booby traps and shooting (NYPD, p. 33).
  • December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School Attack: Ambush, breaching tactics, and shooting [3] (NYPD p. 91).
  • December 24, 2012: Webster New York Firefighter Ambush: Ambush, fire as weapon, and shooting. [4]

Executive and operational leaders need to make the transition from historical HTV lessons to planning for future HTV attacks. More importantly, these leaders must understand that these events occur with little or no notice, thus testing capabilities and the ability to respond to an unusual event with multiple agencies and multiple disciplines involved.

There is considerable confusion and chaos at the start of these events, so much that the initial first responders rely heavily on training and past experiences to recognize and react to the atypical threats. The problem is that training is historically inclusive of each public safety discipline (police, fire, EMS, etc.).

What is evident in all of these scenarios is a need for change – change in traditional roles of each organization dispatched to an HTV event.

The public, the media, and even first responders look to the law enforcement community solely to manage these events. Television coverage amplifies the visual of police officers and SWAT officers running to the scene wearing body armor and carrying tactical firearms. Initial images of the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings portrayed the fire department and emergency medical community in the “staging” area awaiting the police to deem the area safe or bring patients to them.

A collective paradigm shift in first responder perspectives and cultures must occur to better address hybrid threats and targeted violence.

Discipline-centered basic and advanced training has not fostered a spirit of dynamic cooperation at crime scenes and on the fire ground. For example, police officers are trained to address acts of violence, firefighters are trained to fight structure fires, and EMT’s are trained to care for the injured. These are fundamental roles that are not clearly defined during an HTV event.

When roles overlap, leaders across disciplines must question the methods of interoperability. For example, under the current model, can police officers, firefighters, and EMT’s simultaneously engage an active shooter within a burning building when lethal injuries are being inflicted every few seconds?  Hard questions like these must be addressed with an honest self-assessment.

While in the past, the roles of police, fire, and EMS may have been viewed as independent, HTV events present the need to share resources and alter the response protocols of each discipline. Interdependence and rapid interoperability must replace parochial role specific response strategies.

Effective responses to these events hinge on integrated public safety professionals applying finely tuned skills to perform essential tasks cooperatively in a lethal multi-hazards environment. Joint planning, training, and understanding across disciplines are required to more efficiently neutralize chaos and confusion during the initial response to an HTV incident scene.

The first few minutes of any emergency call for service are the most lethal for both innocent victims and first responders. Quick identification and recognition of an HTV incident insures that first responders request and receive the appropriate resources to engage the threat. Minimizing the damage inflicted by a determined attacker can pivot on a rapid recognition by all responders that a call for service is not a routine gun call, structure fire, or medical request.

The concept behind the term “Hybrid Targeted Violence” is intended to foster a change in mind-set to all first responder disciplines. Achieving that change through multi-discipline training and education will shorten the reaction time between attack initiation and neutralization through a Whole Community response. [5 ]

When lives are being lost during those initial few seconds to a HTV attacker, first responders must be capable of abandoning routine response strategies and adopting synergistic strategies. This paradigm shift will maximize lifesaving forces in the face of danger that is seemingly unimaginable.



1. Department of Homeland Security (2008). Active Shooter: How to Respond. retrieved February 1, 2013 from http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf

2. Kelly, R. W. (2012). Active shooter: Recommendations and analysis for risk mitigation. New York City Police Department, New York, NY. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/counterterrorism/ActiveShooter2012Edition.pdf.

3. Bomboy, S. (2012, December 18). Huge school bombing in 1927 puts Sandy Hook in context. National Constitution Center: Yahoo News. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://news.yahoo.com/mass-school-bombing-1927-puts-sandy-hook-context-185608674.html.

4. Shoichet, C.E. and Botelho, G. (2012, December 24). ‘Chaos:’ Gunman ambushes, kills two firefighters at New York blaze. Cable News Network. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/24/us/new-york-firefighters-shooting/index.html.

5. Federal Emergency Management Agency (2011). A Whole Community approach to emergency management: principles, themes, and pathways for action. Washington, DC. Retrieved on January 21, 2013 from http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4941.


Tracy L. Frazzano is a Lieutenant with the Montclair Police Department in New Jersey. She was awarded the 2011 Center for Homeland Defense and Security Alumni Fellowship and was detailed to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington, D.C. for one year. A 2010 graduate of the Center at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, she earned a Master of Arts Degree in Security Studies (Homeland Security and Defense). She also has a Master of Arts Degree in Human Resources Training and Development from Seton Hall University where she was inducted into the academic Kappa Delta Pi and Golden Key International Honor societies. Contact: tfrazzano [at] montclairnjusa.org

G. Matthew Snyder is an Advanced Leadership Instructor with a federal law enforcement agency. He has been employed as a police officer with the City of Waynesboro (VA) Police Department since 1992. Formerly a full time patrol officer, he now serves as a part-time investigator assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division. In 2010, Mr. Snyder retired from the U.S. Army Reserve at the rank of Command Sergeant Major with over 24 years of active and reserve service. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from James Madison University and he recently completed all coursework towards a Doctorate in Education at Liberty University. His ongoing dissertation research is focused on training and education related to Hybrid Targeted Violence. Contact: gmatthewsnyder [at] gmail.com.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 12, 2013 @ 3:15 am

HTV sounds as reasonable as Active Shooter since not all attacks involve firearms. One that sticks in my 70 year old memory follows:

Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) was an engineering student and former Marine, who killed 14 people and wounded 32 others in a mass shooting rampage located in and around the Tower of the University of Texas in Austin on the afternoon of August 1, 1966. Three people were shot and killed inside the university’s tower and 11 others were murdered after Whitman fired at random from the 28th-floor observation deck of the Main Building. Whitman was shot and killed by Austin Police Officer Houston McCoy. Prior to the shootings at the University of Texas, Whitman had murdered both his wife and mother in Austin.

With over 40% of the USA adult population on some form of psychotropic drugs what does this mean for HTV incidents/events?
Is there any existing research into MSM use of HTV events as story plotsin “entertainment”? Seems to me that violence against women and children is a staple of Hollywood and others and wondering if that visualation of violence is of any influence?

So let’s adjust the film ratings and use HTV as a rating whenever a film or

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 12, 2013 @ 3:23 am

tv show relies on HTV for its plot line.

And just as the Chemical Hazards Safety Board investigates all chemical accidents involving loss of life [established by the way over the ferocious opposition of both EPA and the chemical industry] why not have a national board to investigate and document systematically all HTV incidents/events?

And of course should HTV be considered part of Homeland Security as currently defined?

Comment by HGRATTAN

February 12, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

Agreed. See HBO Terror in Mumbai for vivid images of Taj Mahal in flame and shots fired.


Fire and EMS not trained/equipped to handle. Substantial argument of interdisciplinary HTV training.

Comment by Bruce Martin

February 13, 2013 @ 1:00 am

I imagine the public expects that the first responder disciplines will work together in these events. There are examples of paradigm shifts that may be instructive, e.g. the military’s move to “jointness,” and the airline industry’s move to crew resource management.

On the heels of the tragic 1994 South Canyon fire in Colorado, the federal wildland fire agencies engaged in a leadership development effort that continues today. Their effort, one of several responses after the fatal incident, sets up a common leadership language and framework across different agencies (see http://www.fireleadership.gov). Several areas in the country have used this curriculum as multi-discipline leadership training with HTV style events in mind. Other agencies are more specifically developing enhanced multidiscipline response teams and protocols. We do not have to invent new approaches; we do have to commit to executing on one.

Comment by Deptof homosecurity

February 13, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

Aviation Security
Border Security
Budgets and Spending
Business of HLS
Chemical Security
Congress and HLS
DHS News
General Homeland Security
Ground Transport Security
Homeland Defense
Infrastructure Protection
Intelligence and Info-Sharing
International HLS
Investigation & Enforcement
Legal Issues
Mass Transit & Rail Security
Organizational Issues
Port and Maritime Security
Preparedness and Response
Privacy and Security
Private Sector
Radicalization <—- Supposedly, those, all of them and a few more, are the dangerous incidents that the Dept of homeland security is the big expert in handling if needed and I just don't think it is possible if the deviants are making cup cakes and drawing pictures with the grand kids and looking out for santa and the reindeer, while hacked into the NORAD system!! That would just not be possible at all!! Shut those doors NOW!!

Comment by Donald Quixote

February 14, 2013 @ 10:15 am

Thank you for discussing this issue, especially by including that these acts are neither new nor growing at epidemic rates. These extremely unfortunate and rare events do have a very significant impact on the public and government for emotional and political reasons. It is easy to overlook the many other violent assaults and homicides everyday due to the nature of these incidents and the subsequent reporting in the 24 hour news cycle. When viewed as a percentage of annual assaults and deaths, they appear very small (and can it be controversially said rather statistically insignificant). However, they cannot be ignored in the arena of politics, public safety and public opinion. I sure do not wish to be involved in one.

The challenge of HTV remains prevention, disruption and mitigation in a free society. As policies, practices and tactics evolve after each major HTV incident, can we respond in time to these fast-moving incidents or prevent them in our society? Are the easy answers the right ones or truly possible? In the world of HTV preparedness, do we focus more on response or prevention with limited funding? Where should HTV be placed on the priority list for limited resources?

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 17, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

Com’on a Hollywood and its violence first to stand against guns and the hundreds of millions of guns held high – for all lawful purpose – and a pharma industry seeking to administer as many medications as possible….

We are certainly living the American dream as government imposes itself whenever possible….

God Bless America!

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