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 workplace violence are preventable if businesses and schools 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.

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.

Active Shooters: Take a Holistic Approach to School Safety

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 school safety debates ensued about gun control, bullying, violence in video games, and mental health to stop active shooters. 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.

Safety on College Campuses

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 prevent 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 in creating a safer environment.

K-12 School Safety

To address school safety, K-12 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 to active shooters. 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. Instead, school districts need to work with an expert who understands both cultures.

Where Do Districts Start?

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 & 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.