How does a school proactively protect against violent incidents occuring on campus? While it is a complex question, experts at the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NATC) have researched, trained and consulted on threat assessments and the prevention of target violence in schools, including active shooters, for the last 20 years. In a report, U.S. Secret Service closely studied 41 incidents that occurred in K-12 schools in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017. Their report, Protecting Americas Schools – A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence, offers key findings and actionable steps for implementing a comprehensive targeted violence prevention plan.
“Physical security measures are critical to a school’s safety program, but recognizing concerning behaviors in students and knowing how and when to intervene is particularly critical to preventing violent situations,” said Sonya Luisoni, Senior Risk Control Manager at Safety National. “It may seem obvious to be on the lookout for students of concern, but in many instances of violence, obvious behavioral warning signs often go unrecorded without a proper reporting process and do not initiate the appropriate, timely intervention.”
The U.S. Secret Service developed a comprehensive targeted violence prevention plan in a concerted effort to provide a tangible threat assessment process. Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence provides a detailed eight-step framework for schools.
- Establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team of school personnel, including faculty, staff, administrators, coaches and available school resource officers who will direct, manage and document the threat assessment process.
- Define concerning behaviors, including those which should trigger an immediate intervention (e.g., threats, violent acts or weapons on campus), and other lower-level concerning behaviors (e.g., depressed mood, interest in violent topics or conflicts between classmates).
- Establish and provide training on a central reporting system, like a smartphone application, an online form or a dedicated school email address or phone number. Ensure that it provides anonymity to those reporting concerns and is monitored by personnel who will follow up on all reports.
- Determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention, especially if there is a risk of harm to self or others.
- Establish threat assessment procedures that include practices for maintaining documentation, identifying sources of information, reviewing records and conducting interviews.
- Develop risk management options to enact once an assessment is complete. Create individualized management plans to mitigate identified risks. Notify law enforcement immediately if the student is determined to pose an imminent threat of harm to themself or others. Take steps to ensure the safety of potential targets, create a situation less prone to violence, redirect the student’s motive and reduce the effect of stressors.
- Create and promote a safe school climate built on a culture of safety, respect, trust and emotional support for students. Encourage communication, intervene in conflicts and bullying, and empower students to share their concerns.
- Provide training for all stakeholders, including school personnel, students, parents and law enforcement.