Secret Service Report Outlines Warning Signs Before a Mass Attack

The U.S. Secret Service released a report Tuesday, July 9th analyzing trends from 27 mass attacks that took place in the United States during 2018. In nearly all of the incidents, the assailant made threats or communicated in a way that caused others to be concerned. Out of the 27 mass attacks carried out in the U.S. last year, 91 people were killed and 107 were injured.

The report, Mass Attacks in Public Spaces – 2018, was announced in a news conference held by Secret Service Director James Murray, outlining attacks where three or more people were injured or killed. The report indicated that assailants exhibit common patterns of behavior and often show warning signs before a mass attack.

Common Patterns of Behavior Evident in Assailants

Regardless of whether the attacks were acts of workplace violence, domestic violence, school-based violence, or inspired by an ideology, the report found some common patterns of behaviors in the assailants, along with similar circumstances.

In 2018, two-thirds of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms before the attacks, ranging from depression to psychotic symptoms often including paranoia and hallucinations. Almost half of the attackers had been diagnosed with a mental illness or had been treated for mental illness.

In nearly all of the incidents, the assailant made threats or communicated in a disturbing way prior to the attack. In three-quarters of the attacks, other people were upset enough about the behavior to speak up about their concerns.

The report also found that guns were used in 24 of the 27 mass attacks. In fact, in half of the mass attacks, the attacker was motivated by a grievance related to a domestic, workplace, or other personal situation.

Where Mass Attacks Happen

This graphic from the report shows where mass attacks in public places happened in the United States in 2018.

The Secret Service report also detailed sites of attacks in 2017 and 2018, which is outlined in these visuals. As you can see, in 2018 attacks that occurred in places of business increased substantially, but it’s fair to say that attacks across the board, from public spaces, to schools, to transit centers, and places of worship are on the rise.

The report’s findings emphasize that warning signs can often be identified prior to an act of violence and that if appropriate systems are in place to identify behaviors of concern, the way we gather information to assess the risk of violence, and how community resources are used to mitigate risk, we can perhaps make inroads in combating future attacks.

Mass Attacks in the Workplace

As it relates to the workplace, in 2018 alone, there were three separate instances of mass attacks in September and one in December that were perpetrated by current employees. The fundamentals of threat assessment and employee training are more important than ever before, as is the importance of assessing and evaluating electronic security strategies and maintaining best practices as it relates to access control.

As might be expected, this report is eye-opening in its detail and incredibly valuable for anyone involved in security operations at any level—for businesses, schools, hospitals, places of worship, etc. If you’d like to read the full text of the report, you can access it here: Mass Attacks in Public Places – 2018.

If our team at 3Sixty can help you and your team understand and work through the process of building an integrated electronic security plan we’d love to help. Feel free to reach out and connect with me on LinkedIn or send me an email.