Stopping the Next School Shooter

According to the Washington Post, the fear of school shootings has driven school security to become a $2.7 billion market. Sales of everything from $3000 ballistic whiteboards to $200,000 camera systems are contributing to that industry growth.

Fear is driving the school security industry. While media reports suggest that school shootings are on the rise, the data is conflicting, and schools remain some of the safest places for children. But even one school shooting is too many, and the trauma of an incident as horrific as a school shooting drives policymakers and communities to look for solutions.

The solutions receiving funding focus mainly on fortifying our schools and enhancing the response to an active assailant. Security measures are designed to slow down or stop a shooter. Districts are teaming up with local police and training consultants to put on advanced training and increasingly realistic drills to teach students and staff what to when the shooting starts. Very little focus is on what everyone wants to do – stop an attack before it happens.

After the tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department Education launched the Safe Schools Initiative. Their 2004 report concludes that acts of school-based violence, including active shooter incidents, can likely be prevented using a strategy called Threat Assessment.

Developed by the Secret Service, Threat Assessment takes into account that there is no profile for an active shooter, and an overwhelming number of shooters told someone what they planned to do or left significant clues about their plans. Research shows that threat assessment models adapted for schools – designed to spot behaviors consistent with school shootings – reduces suspensions, improves school climate, and prevents violence.

A lockdown drill does not prevent an active shooter any more than a fire drill prevents a fire. If we are going to get serious about school safety, we need to get serious about prevention. Fifteen years after the findings of the Safe School Initiative, comprehensive threat assessment programs must be in every school.

threat management

Are Mass Attacks Domestic Terrorism?

I see a lot of people calling the two most recent mass shootings domestic terror attacks. If a different label gets us to start focusing on preventing these incidents like we have been preventing foreign terror attacks since 9/11 – with intelligence gathering, information sharing, and threat management – then call them whatever you want. Whether attacks are fueled by ideology, hate, or grievances in school, the workplace, or at home, there are opportunities for intervention and prevention.

According to the U.S. Secret Service Mass Attacks in Public Spaces (MAPS) report, ideology was a motive in 7% of the mass attacks in 2018. This was down considerably from 21% the previous year. However, in 78% of the attacks in 2018 and 79% in 2017, the perpetrator exhibited behaviors that caused concern in others.

active shooter mass attacks
U.S. Secret Service report on Mass Attacks in Public Spaces

The behaviors that elicited concerns were similar, regardless of the motives behind the shootings. Had these concerns been reported and investigated, the attacks could have potentially been averted.

The next mass shooting will not be prevented by stricter gun laws, arming more “good guys,” increasing security, or changing the national discourse. The next shooting probably has already been prevented because someone was concerned enough to call the police who then investigated and managed the threat. As the MAPS report recommends, the public needs to “See Something, Say Something,” and law enforcement needs to “Do Something.” Schools, workplaces, places of worship, and police departments must adopt a prevention mindset and have policies and procedures in place to identify, assess, and manage threats.

School Safety Training: Workshop on School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG)

Upcoming School Threat Assessment Training.

Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) Workshop

The school safety training for threat assessment teams runs approximately 6.5 hours of presentation time, not including breaks. There is a short pre-training and post-training evaluation form that allows us to give teams an evaluation report after the workshop. Before the workshop, we provide a 60+ page PDF that has workshop slides, threat assessment forms, and case exercises that teams can copy and provide to all participants AND to any other school staff in their school system. We also provide each attendee with a copy of the 2018 publication of Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines – a $50 value.

Who should attend?

A typical team will include a school administrator (e.g., principal or assistant principal), one or more mental health professionals (such as a school psychologist, counselor, and social worker), and a law enforcement officer (often a school resource officer). Depending on school staffing patterns, some schools will choose to include teachers, a school nurse, or others who have expertise working with troubled students.

What is covered in the CSTAG workshop?

  1. Rationale for threat assessment
    • Misconceptions about the nature and scope of school violence
    • Ineffective responses to school violence – zero-tolerance discipline and excessive security measures
    • Public health approach to prevention using a multi-tiered model – prevention, not prediction of violence
    • Case study of a school shooting that illustrates the need for threat assessment
  2. How to conduct a threat assessment
    • FBI and Secret Service/Department of Education principles of threat assessment
    • Development of the Virginia model, including the decision tree and interview process (including practice interview)
    • How to identify and resolve transient threats
    • How to identify and resolve substantive threats
    • Mental health assessments – when, why, and how
  3. Cases studies illustrating the three pathways to violence
    • Conflict pathway
    • Antisocial pathway
    • Psychotic pathway
  4. Research support for threat assessment
    • Brief and non-technical overview of the field tests, controlled studies, and large-scale implementation study
    • Benefits of threat assessment – low rates of threats being carried out, reductions in-school suspension, reductions in racial/ethnic disparities in discipline, improvements in school climate
  5. Legal and practical issues
    • Confidentiality and the need to warn potential victims, the Tarasoff case, what FERPA permits schools to do
    • Liability – how threat assessment provides protection
  6. Team exercises to resolve transient and substantive threats of violence
  7. Next steps in implementing threat assessment at your school
    • Free online training
    • Orientation for students, parents, and staff
    • Questions and answers on implementation

The information in this article was adapted from the CSTAG workshop description by School Threat Assessment Consultants LLC. Paul Mascari of Clearwall Safety Consultants LLC is an authorized provider of the CSTAG workshop for Southeastern Wisconsin.

threat management

Workplace Violence Prevention: Stop a Tragedy Before it Happens

According to the US Secret Service annual report on Mass Attacks in Public Spaces released this week, almost all of the perpetrators of the attacks had made alarming or threatening statements directed toward or in the presence of others. In more than 75% of the cases, someone had noticed concerning behavior. The takeaway? Incidents of targeted workplace violence are preventable if businesses incorporate behavioral threat assessment in their prevention efforts.

Threat Assessment and Workplace Violence Prevention

When you look at your workplace violence prevention program, ask yourself the following:

  • Do your employees know how and where to report threats or concerning behaviors?
  • Does your HR or leadership team know what to do with those reports?
  • Are you sure your local police know how to handle threats of violence?

If you are unsure of the answer to any of these questions, let us help you. We are experts in security and behavioral threat assessment and can assist with violence prevention policies and training that will keep your employees and customers safe.

Bike Helmets Won’t Keep Your Kids Safe

A helmet won’t prevent your child from getting in a bike accident. Don’t get me wrong – make sure your kids wear their helmets! There is no doubt it will protect them if they do fall, but we hope it never comes to that.

As parents, we do a lot of things to keep our kids safe. We make them wear helmets when they ride their bikes. But we also teach them how to look both ways before they cross the street, watch for vehicles, and not be reckless on their bikes to prevent them from ever having to rely on that helmet. When we talk about school safety but don’t talk about ways to prevent school violence, we are neglecting the single most effective way to keep our children safe.

If your child’s school doesn’t focus on violence prevention efforts like behavioral threat assessment, have them call us. Common sense protective measures are essential, but let’s do things that make sure we never need to rely on those measures.

#activeshooter #beyonddrills #prevention #threatassessment #clearwallsafety

School Safety: The Importance of Threat Assessment

The following article by Paul Mascari on how threat assessment improves school safety is being re-posted from the December issue of the Wisconsin Association of School Business Official’s Taking Care of Business:

What did you know, when did you know it, and what did you do about it? Inevitably, these are the first questions asked of schools and law enforcement following any school shooting.

How Do You Stop an Active Shooter?

But how do you know and what do you do about it? If we could accurately predict violent acts, we would not be in the situation we are in with violence in our schools. There is considerable research on acts of mass violence, including school shootings, and the one thing they all have in common is the conclusion that there is no reliable profile for someone who will commit a school shooting.

So if mental health experts and law enforcement professionals cannot accurately predict violence, how can educators? The simple answer is – they can’t.

Behavioral Threat Assessment Prevents Violence

What schools can and should be doing is creating a threat assessment team and drafting a district-wide threat assessment policy. While the creation of School Safety Intervention Teams (SSIT) and attendance at mental health/threat assessment training is required under the most recent round of Wisconsin Department of Justice school safety grant funding, this is also the most effective proactive measure a district can take to prevent violence and keep schools safe.

Having served on and chaired numerous threat assessment teams, I can tell you the most important thing any team can do is meet regularly – especially when there is not a threat. Use the opportunity to discuss scenarios, review and refine policy, and take advantage of professional development opportunities as a team. While the training provided by the Office of School Safety is a significant first step, eight hours of training will not be enough for a team to be proficient if they do not take the initiative for further development.

Best Practice in School Safety

States like Virginia have been mandating threat assessment in schools for years. A threat assessment model adapted to the K-12 setting, the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (VSTAG), was first developed in 2001 at the University of Virginia and has been the subject of numerous field tests and academic studies.

Because of its proven effectiveness in tests and studies, VSTAG is listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices and is an excellent resource for threat assessment policy and procedure development.

Behavioral Threat Assessment Reduces Suspensions

Research also suggests that schools utilizing evidence-based programs like VSTAG see reduced rates of suspensions and racial disparities in school discipline. The Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education has a wealth of information and statistics to support the positive outcomes that come from using threat assessment.

There is no doubt that a heavy burden rests on any threat assessment team. What did you know, when did you know it, and what did you do about it? The good news is threat assessment works, and there are considerable evidence and real-world examples to prove it. If schools put time and effort into developing a sound threat assessment policy and threat assessment team, it undoubtedly will be the single best proactive measure they can take to make schools safer.