In recent weeks, two very serious and disturbing plots to commit a mass shooting at school were disrupted. Two middle schoolers in Lee County, Florida were arrested for conspiracy to commit a mass shooting. Four high school students were arrested for conspiring to commit a mass casualty attack which was scheduled to occur on the 25th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Although incredibly troubling, thankfully these plots were identified, and law enforcement agencies were able to prevent them from being put into action.
Physical and technical security features, emergency policies and procedures, and safety and security training are all critical elements needed to create safe and secure environment for your school. At SEC, we believe, though, one of the best ways schools can help prevent a targeted act of violence from occurring is to have in place a well-trained and well-structured threat assessment team. Having the ability to identify, assess, intervene, manage, and monitor the threats to your school is essential.
Since the late 1990’s, the Secret Service’s Nation Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) has been researching targeted acts of violence in schools. One of the significant findings coming from this research is that the large majority of the individuals who committed or attempted to commit these attacks did not just “snap.” More commonly, they walked a path from having the idea to committing the act that took days, weeks, or even years to complete. While on this path, most exhibited identifiable behaviors of concern that were observable to at least one person. In many cases, they were observable to multiple people. If behaviors of concern can be identified and assessed, and if intervention strategies can be put in place, it can greatly reduce the likelihood of future students reaching the end of their path. That is what an effective threat assessment team can do.
In 2018, NTAC published Enhancing school safety using a threat assessment model. An operational guide for preventing targeted school violence. This comprehensive resource provides detailed guidance on strategies schools can follow to create and sustain teams that will allow them to be able to assess threats related to their students, staff, and facility. The guide is broken up into the following eight steps:
- Establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team
- Define prohibited and concerning behaviors
- Create a central reporting mechanism
- Determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention
- Establish assessment procedures
- Develop risk management options
- Create and promote safe school climates
- Conduct training for all stakeholders
If you are an administrator who is interested in creating or updating your threat assessment procedures, I encourage you to review this guide and visit the United States Secret Service website at www.secretservice.gov to access additional reports and guides NTAC has produced relating to targeted violence in schools. Additionally, if we, at SEC, can be of any assistance related to your school safety and security needs, please feel free to contact us at www.secureed.com.