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Random acts of violence involving active assailants have been increasing in frequency and severity, at least until the coronavirus pandemic. As public health authorities ordered workplaces and public spaces to close or restrict their operations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, active assailant events appeared to be on a brief pause.

Security experts note the pandemic also has largely suppressed political violence in conflict zones, for example in Hong Kong, but they warn that tensions have increased, and the pandemic may lead to a spike in violence in the coming months and into 2021. As a result, businesses may wish to consider the advantages of stand-alone terrorism insurance or broader coverage that applies to active assailant incidents, strikes, riots and civil commotion.

In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation cataloged 28 active shooter incidents in 16 U.S. states. These incidents resulted in 97 people killed and 150 wounded, excluding the shooters. The FBI defines such incidents as one or more individuals who actively engage in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. The year before, there were 27 active shooter incidents, in which 85 were killed and 128 wounded. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, terrorists committed more than 9,600 attacks, claiming nearly 23,000 lives, according to the Global Terrorism Database.

Active assailants and terrorists may have different motives and methods for their attacks, and those differences are reflected in the coverage triggers of stand-alone terrorism and active assailant policies. For example, terrorism insurance is triggered by property damage resulting from a political, religious or ideological motive. In addition to physical damage, terrorism coverage may extend to business interruption and specified extra expenses. Riots and strikes are typically excluded from active assailant policies, but the coverage can be added back into terrorism policies.

In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, terrorists committed more than 9,600 attacks, claiming nearly 23,000 lives, according to the Global Terrorism Database.

Active assailant insurance, on the other hand, is triggered by physical damage, bodily injury or death affecting three or more people present during the attack, whether the attacker’s motive was terrorism or not. The coverage also applies whether an attacker uses a gun, knife, other handheld weapon or a road vehicle to inflict physical damage, bodily injury or death. Gang-related activity, domestic violence and random criminal acts are excluded under active assailant policies. AXA XL’s Active Assailant solution provides coverage for various extra expenses, including security costs, relocation, employee retraining, counseling and medical expenses. AXA XL policyholders also have access to crisis management services from S-RM, a leading global crisis consultancy.

Two tragic incidents in the past five years illustrate some of the distinctions that terrorism insurance and active assailant coverage are designed to address.

In November 2015, three assailants motivated by religious ideology attacked the Bataclan concert hall in Paris with automatic weapons and explosives. The attack claimed 130 lives and injured hundreds. Bataclan reopened the following year after a renovation. The Bataclan incident was determined to be part of a coordinated series of terrorist attacks conducted by a radical Islamist cell operating in Europe.

Nearly two years later, a heavily armed lone shooter opened fire on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more in October 2017. No motive has been determined for this mass shooting. Under traditional stand-alone terrorism insurance, the Las Vegas incident likely would not be covered because there was no indication the attacker had a political, religious or ideological motive.


Mitigating the risks

The impact of terrorism or an active assailant incident on a business can range widely and include reputational damage; business interruption; liability; questions about the organization’s duty of care before, during and after the event; and permanent closure. To mitigate the risks of such events, businesses should remain aware of global developments and review their security posture and crisis response plans at times of heightened tension.

Organizations should continue to monitor the underlying risk drivers of political violence, which include:

  • Growing inequality. The wave of protests against racial injustice that began in the United States in May 2020 have spread to Europe and elsewhere, bringing attention to inequality.
  • Economic difficulties. The global economic downturn caused by the pandemic is likely to lead to a prolonged recovery, fueling unrest.
  • Geopolitical tensions. Unrest, conflict and terrorism may arise as tensions mount worldwide. Events ranging from the general election in the United States, to China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, to policy issues in the European Union, may trigger violence.
  • Weak institutions. Instability in numerous countries may exacerbate inequality, hamper economic recovery and heighten regional tensions.


Security experts advise that people who are caught in a terrorist or active assailant incident, such as a mass shooting, should take action in the following order:
Run. Exiting the premises and getting away, if possible, may be the safest option.
Hide. Seeking concealment and avoiding detection by the assailant may reduce the likelihood of injury or death during the attack.
Fight. When people cannot run or hide during an attack, resistance using any available means may confuse and deter the assailant.
Another tactic that can give security forces and hostage negotiators time to formulate a response is to engage the assailant in conversation. As a practical matter, assailants usually do not continue to kill while they are talking, and most terrorists want people to know why they are committing the attack.

Every second counts in an active assailant incident, with the potential to save lives. To reduce the risks, organizations should enlist the help of trusted insurance partners and conduct thorough security risk assessments. Random acts of violence are impossible to predict, but preparation and strengthening responses can make an enormous difference when they occur.

Learn more about AXA XL’s Active Assailant insurance.


About the authors

Morgan Shrubb is an underwriting manager in AXA XL’s North America War, Terrorism & Political Violence insurance team, based in Atlanta.

Alexander Baker is an underwriter in AXA XL’s War, Terrorism & Political Violence insurance team, based in New York.

Jason Gardenhire is an underwriter in AXA XL’s War, Terrorism & Political Violence insurance team, based in Dallas.

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.