School Security: Managing Threat Assessment

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Police Officer speaking at a community eventThere can be no question that the problem of school-related violence is a serious issue. Although significant efforts have been made to identify students who are considered a high risk for a violent act, the process has proven time and again to be fruitless. Attempting to determine the next “school shooter” is extremely difficult because there is no particular formula in order to determine it. The use of profiling has not helped the situation. Indeed, there are better methods out there to help stem the potential for violence in a school or public setting.

Threat Assessment: A Better Method

Instead of profiling, one of the better methods to combat this problem would be in strategies related to threat assessment. This approach uses a set of analytical tools to determine the viability of a threat. The main purpose is to determine whether a threat is likely to be carried out or not, and it takes a concerted effort from staff, students, parents and public safety professionals to determine the likelihood of a threat actually being carried out.

A good approach is to rely on trained experts who have developed data on the situation. Individuals with the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service have spent whole careers on the subject of violence prevention.

Threat Assessment: Knowledge is Power

The first idea of an effective threat assessment policy is to have as much knowledge as possible. For example, school shooters are not always outcasts and prior to attacks, many assailants display warning signs. There were usually warning signs that preceded the attack in most of the incidents. Either the attacker told someone of their plan or they did some other violent act that should have caused concern.

Threat Assessment: Knowledge is Good, Action is Better

Knowledge isn’t powerful unless a plan is in place to help prevent a potential attack. The FBI and Secret Service have developed several steps that a school can take in order to prevent a potential violent attack. These would include the following:

Build an Effective Interdisciplinary Team

The school should build a team that consists of school-based staff and members of the broader school community including law enforcement, clergy, and social service personnel. It is important to make sure that every member of this team is appropriately trained and training is offered through the Secret Service on methods to prevent dangerous situations and creating schools that are safe.

Create an Open Climate Among Students and Staff

It is important to create a climate of trust within the campus because students know well in advance of adults if there are any ominous problems afoot. Because of that, it is up to us to make the students feel comfortable and able to report any potential problems or threats of violence.

Understand the Different Types of Threats

When a student makes a threat, it is important to remember that it should be immediately classified properly. There are different types of threats, including direct threats, which are geared toward a specific target and are clear and explicit; Indirect threats, which are rather ambiguous and could or could not happen; and conditional threats, which usually arise unless certain demands or terms or met.

Threats can have different levels as well, including low, which is a minimal risk and is inconsistent or implausible and has an unlikely risk of being carried out; medium, which has some adamant areas about the threat but appears general and not very organized; and high, where the attacker has a well-thought out plan, has acquired a weapon, and has taken other concrete steps as well.

Familiarize Yourself with an Appropriate Assessment Model

The FBI has a four-step assessment model that will gauge the personality and nature of the student; the dynamics of the school; the social dynamics of the student; and his or her family dynamics as well. They will attempt to properly analyze the student’s emotions, resiliency toward failure, propensity toward depression, personality traits, and tolerance toward frustration.

By having these preventative measures in place, a school can go a long way in increasing their chances of avoiding an episode of school violence.

Learn More

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