Recently there have been shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and at Santa Fe High School in Texas. These are just a couple of the multiple cases of targeted school violence experienced in the United States recently. Between January 2009 and May 2018, the US has had 288 school shootings, as compared to 2 in Canada, 2 in France, and 1 in Germany. In fact, an article on CNN World has indicated that the US has had “57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined.” School violence is a huge problem in the U.S. and must be dealt with immediately.
To deal with this problem, it is imperative to develop and deploy a threat model to prevent these targeted acts of violence. In July 2018, the United States Secret Service (USSS), Department of Homeland Security completed the initial phase of the model with the release of Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Model. This guide provides a basic outline for learning institutions to create a targeted violence prevention plan. In a news release, USSS stated, “The guide provides schools and communities with a framework to identify students of concern, assess their risk for engaging in violence, and identify intervention strategies to mitigate the risk.” Overall, the model is designed in a way that it decreases the risk of students engaging in harm.
From the USSS model, the first of the cr
ucial steps that schools should take include establishing a threat assessment team. The team should be composed of faculty, staff, administrators, resource officers, and coaches who will be responsible for directing and documenting the threat assessment process.
Secondly, it is vital to define and review concerning behaviors. The school should focus on behaviors that are restricted and that can require assessment and can trigger immediate intervention. For instance, the team should be on the lookout for weapons in the school and violent acts from stakeholders, among other critical behaviors.
Next, it is imperative for learning institutions to develop and implement a central reporting system with the latest advancements in technology, the best option for a reporting system would entail the use of an online form on the school website. Moreover, the system should be accessed from various devices such as smartphones and laptops, and via different browsers and device operating systems. It is crucial to ensure that the reporting system maintains high confidentiality and anonymity of the people report concerning behavior. Students are morelikely to report threatening behavior if the system assures them that there will be no retribution. The reports should be assigned to relevant personnel for proper monitoring, response, and follow-up.
Another crucial step involves assessing the threshold for the intervention of law enforcement. Some concerns or incidents reported in the central reporting system might warrant law enforcement intervention. For instance, planned school attacks and reports regarding weapons should be reported to relevant law enforcement.
At the same time, the model should be assessed to keep track of threats and attackers. USSS Model recommends proper documentation of information and examination of online social media pages. Moreover, the threat assessment team should review academic and pertinent records related to learners to gather crucial details regarding previous threats to improve future assessments. Based on this step, it is evident that if the threat model is successfully implemented in a school, it will be a powerful source of information on profiles of student attackers (which have been missing in the past).
Schools also should create risk management options that will further help reduce the risk to the school community. For instance, measures should be put in place to ensure that students have no access to weapons. Those with concerning behavior should receive counseling and proper follow-up, instead of just sending them home.
Learning institutions should promote safe environments and positive climates “built on a culture of safety, respect, trust, and social and emotional support.” The school fraternity should support diversity and every student should be embraced despite their differences. All stakeholders should be encouraged to engage in healthy communications to resolve conflicts.
Stakeholders should be trained to be vigilant, to identify concerning behavior, and send the information to the centralized system. Schools should identify the training needs of all stakeholders.
This strategy improves the effectiveness of the threat assessment model since all parties will understand their responsibilities and the steps needed to keep the school safe.
If schools follow the above basic instructions while developing and implementing a violence protection plan, then they will effectively mitigate the risk of stakeholders engaging in malicious action that could harm the school community. It is significant to note that the guide acts as a starting point for an implementation strategy that will also require customization to meet the specific needs a of a learning institution. Another crucial recommendation for schools involves engaging legal representatives while creating the model to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.