Retired FBI agent continues ‘mission’ to limit carnage in active shooter situations

By Lou Michel
Published December 26, 2019

The images are all too familiar: police and federal agents swarming the scene of an active shooter.

It could be a teenager shooting up a school or, more recently, a suspected member of a hate group and his companion targeting a Jewish business in New Jersey.

What must be racing through the minds of those first responders as they run into harm’s way?

Williamsville native Jonathan R. Lacey has a pretty good idea. The retired Buffalo FBI agent and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has seen more than his share of violent episodes. That’s why he is now working to spread the word that people are not helpless against shooters.

“These shootings are occurring with more frequency and it is heartbreaking, but for me it is a call to action. We can’t let this overwhelm us,” said Lacey, who operates Security and Training Solutions from his Elmwood Village home.

In his more than two decades of service at different FBI offices around the country, Lacey pursued white-collar criminals and worked in counterintelligence to protect national security interests, but it was in his final years that he was given the chance to teach proactive measures aimed at saving lives when shooters open fire.

Aware that shooters preparing for attacks will often study past massacres for insights, Lacey took a page from their book. He studied surveillance videos of mass shootings and coupled that knowledge with his own experiences of responding to active shooter calls. The result was a prevention curriculum.

For his last two years as the Buffalo FBI Office’s crisis manager and active shooter coordinator, Lacey provided training to law enforcement organizations and community groups throughout the region.

Lacey says several steps can be taken to increase the chances of surviving an active shooter incident:

• When entering a public setting, such as a shopping mall or restaurant, be on the lookout for alternative exit routes. “Have a quick escape plan,” he said. “It’s mental preparation.”

• If additional escape options are unavailable, such as a back door or a restaurant’s kitchen, consider creating your own opportunity by breaking a window and climbing out to escape.

• Find a hiding place, preferably one that provides cover from bullets. That may include a concrete or brick wall. If there is access to another room, take advantage of it and attempt to put up a barricade.

• In situations where it is impossible to escape or set up a barricade, a counterattack may be the best option.
“If you have no other options, you might have to fight,” Lacey said. “Many attackers are not expecting a fight.”

In the workplace, he said, establishment of a comprehensive prevention policy can limit the chances of an attack and reduce anxiety among workers. Under his business model, Lacey said he plans to focus of working with businesses, community groups and families.

“The training,” he said, “needs to be delivered in a way that is realistic and empowers individuals, but does not traumatize them.”

Lou Michel– Lou Michel is the main crime reporter for The Buffalo News and co-author of the best-seller, “American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing.” He has received numerous state and national journalism awards.