Columbine. Oklahoma City. The Charleston church shooting. Beyond the tragic loss of life, all of these violent events all have one thing in common. They each had a before — a moment when someone could have spotted warning signs and taken steps to prevent it. That’s why we offer violence prevention solutions tailored to the needs of your organization — including behavioral threat assessment training. Because the best way to save lives from a violent attack is to make sure it never takes place.
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.
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 policy development and employee training that will keep your employees and customers 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 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
The following article by Paul Mascari 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
As a leader in education, you know what is needed to keep your students safe. In the last several years, schools have spent millions and millions of dollars on safety improvements like cameras, reinforced doors, emergency notification systems, and access control. You know what you need to do, but do you know how to do it? Who do you rely on for safety and security advice? Security technology vendors? Local police departments?
If you are looking at new construction or remodeling in your district, utilizing the services of an independent security consultant can save significant money in both the short and long run. A security consultant who specializes in school safety can make recommendations based on the unique learning environment and industry best practices.
Furthermore, a review of school safety policy & procedure can lead to evidence and research-based recommendations that offer greater protection for students, staff, and visitors – often for less money than reactive measures like bullet-resistant glass.
Security vendors are experts in the products sold by their company, but they also have a vested interest in selling schools as much as they can. According to RAND Institute policy researcher Heather Schwartz, districts need an independent third party to “wade through the marketing from the different [security] companies.” Unfortunately, some companies are also taking advantage of the genuine and understandable fear and emotions surrounding school safety. After all, can we put a price on the safety of our children?
We can’t and shouldn’t put a price on safety, but we have a responsibility to ensure we are spending limited resources allocated for security in a way that best protects our students. Perhaps you don’t need as many cameras as a vendor recommends. Maybe your current access control system works just fine but could be reconfigured. An independent security consultant can review RFPs and bids, potentially saving your districts considerable money for reinvestment into other safety initiatives.
Understandably, schools often turn to their police department for safety advice. While police undoubtedly have the safety and wellbeing of students forefront in their minds, they usually lack the expertise necessary to make recommendations that fit in a school environment.
Schools should always include police and fire department personnel in any discussion related to safety and security, but also need to consider that, by nature, emergency first responders have an entire community to protect, and they often come to the table with that perspective. It is not safe to assume that someone who is an expert in response is also an expert in prevention.
Whether you are merely updating an aging security system or are about to design and build a new high school, investing a relatively small amount in an expert assessment of your safety and security needs can not only save you a significant amount of money but can also make your school safer.
Mass shootings first entered the national conscience on April 20, 1999 when two teens* killed 13 people and wounded 24 others at Columbine High School in Colorado. National debates ensued about gun control, bullying, violence in video games, and mental health. Following Columbine, many schools instituted airport-like screening procedures at entrances and “zero-tolerance” policies to violence. However, school safety did not improve, and most of those schools rolled back some of the more extreme measures they had put in place.
On April 16, 2007, a gunman* opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus, killing 33 and injuring 23. It was the most violent mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The national debates were the same, but the response of higher education was very different. After the Virginia Tech shooting, and the mass shooting that followed less than a year later at Northern Illinois University, college campus administrators responded swiftly by:
- creating multidisciplinary teams to address the breakdowns that had occurred in communication
- forming threat assessment teams and providing training to faculty and staff in an attempt to identify people who might be on a path to violence
- ensuring campus and local police had the training and capability to respond to a shooting in progress
- putting mostly sensible physical security and mass notification systems in place
In short, higher education took a decidedly holistic approach to preventing campus violence.
Arguably, the advantage higher ed had over K-12 was, despite the internal silos existing on college campuses, all the people necessary to the safety conversation were all still part of the same institution – part of the same team. Most colleges and universities have dedicated security or police and dedicated counseling services. Faculty or professional staff of some sort are involved in nearly every aspect of an undergraduate student’s time on campus. Getting representatives from these areas together was instrumental for creating a safer environment.
To address violence in K-12 schools, district administrators need to take a similar approach. But this can be challenging when the people who need to be at the table are not all from the same institution. School districts primarily rely on local law enforcement for safety and security on their campus. While some larger school districts might have security staff, it is the police who respond during a crisis. Police have an entire community to serve, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to adopt the culture of a particular school district on their own. Rather, school districts need to work with an expert who understands both cultures.
When addressing safety, the first thing a school needs to do is get an overall assessment from an independent professional. This evaluation would examine:
- physical security (cameras, alarms, access control, etc.)
- policy and procedure (building access, emergency response, threat assessment and management)
- training protocols for faculty and staff
Receiving an unbiased, independent review from someone who not only specializes in school safety, but who also is not selling any of the products or services the district might need to buy, gives a district superintendent the proper foundation for producing an effective safety and security “master plan.”
As a former police chief at a major university in Milwaukee, I understand both viewpoints – that of the police and that of the academic institution. Speaking the language of both cultures, I serve as an intermediary between law enforcement and school administration, helping both parties understand what the other one brings to the table, as well as the unique challenges each face in responding to security threats. Together, we can develop a unified approach to help keep students and staff safe.
* More often than not, perpetrators of mass violence are seeking notoriety. Thus, commentary on school shootings in this blog will never refer to a shooter by name.