Gleaned from two decades of case history, the final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety, and supporting federal publications reveal that all schools, colleges, and universities share common vulnerabilities, which are rectifiable gaps in school safety found below the threat assessment threshold.
Emerging External Threat
Failure to stop an emerging external threat is caused by two prevalent factors:
- Belief that your security personnel alone, equipped with limited resources, can address all external threats. This is an operational and logistical impossibility.
Reliance on such unrealistic expectation has resulted in at least 621 incidents and remains a failed proposition. Security personnel fail to see developing external threats, because they cannot always be everywhere, even using cameras. Depending only on security personnel, who are usually spread thin over a sprawling campus, to address emerging external threats, risks the lives of many on the limited resources of a few.
- School security evokes a general expectation that faculty and staff will “See Something, Say Something®,” at the threat-assessment threshold. This is also an unrealistic expectation.
Non-security personnel are not trained to know specifically what to look for or how and where to look for it. “See Something, Say Something®” – what exactly does something look like? How, why, when and where do you find something, and how do you know if it is an actionable item? Faculty and staff are a tremendously underutilized school safety resource as they far outnumber designated security personnel. However, expecting untrained faculty and staff to address external threats inhibits school violence mitigation.
Evolving Internal Threat
A student in room 102, seat 5, has soundly defeated all physical security measures from the front gate to the bullet-resistant glass and the locks on every classroom door. He is supposed to be on campus, and you eagerly invite him in every day. If that student exhibits potential violence indicators or other observable concerning behavior, he may be experiencing personal difficulties at home, medical or mental-health issues or other contributing factors. Neither law enforcement nor a security guard can make this determination, because neither one is a trained school counselor. Additionally, presenting dysregulated, disruptive or other concerning behavior does not necessarily make this student a security risk. In such cases, threat assessment is inappropriate, whereas behavioral assessment is warranted. It is prudent to solve an internal crisis sooner than later. However, traditional measures often prove ineffective because of three prevalent factors:
- Believing that security personnel can solve internal behavioral problems is unrealistic, because they are not trained school counselors.
- Faculty and staff often fail to recognize or report potential threat/ violence indicators or other concerning behaviors to trained school counselors. Expecting to manage such behaviors, without engaging trained school counselors, is an unrealistic expectation.
- Expecting faculty and staff to recognize and address concerning behaviors to trained school counselors without the mechanisms in place to do so, is also an unrealistic expectation.
Reliance on such unrealistic expectations results in failure. Regardless of how robust your school security may be, these gaps in school safety, found below the threat assessment threshold, will persist until addressed. To remedy such gaps in school safety is to introduce added protective layers to your existing school security, thereby significantly increasing threat resiliency and reducing foreseeable risk. Without these protective layers, there’s nothing to stop an external emerging threat or an internal evolving threat from developing into an active threat. At which time, you will have no other choice but to rely on your physical security (part of Shield Three) to stop physical violence.
The purpose of Shield Three is to respond to an active threat by keeping people safe from exigent physical harm. Response options are, by design, reactive measures. Conversely, proactive measures address an emerging external threat or an evolving internal threat at the lower intervention thresholds. More effective than physical security, such measures work to keep people safe below the threat assessment threshold. However, school safety does not work like a light switch and must be sustainable.
Proactive measures provide you with two additional protective shields:
- Shield One comprises recommended best practices to stop an emerging external threat.
Shield One provides a trained level of situational awareness, the technical skills to recognize a potential threat, identify preoperational surveillance, and other such tools of the protection trade.
- Shield Two comprises recommended best practices to stop an evolving internal threat.
Shield Two provides a trained level of behavioral assessment to include the mechanics of concerning behavior detection, evaluation, and intervention.
School safety is only as strong as your weakest shield, especially if yours is an open campus, where the onus of protection is placed squarely on the first two shields. The two protective shields – outer and inner – work at the behavioral- assessment threshold and integrate with the third shield (your existing school security), which works at and above the threat-assessment threshold.
All three shields combined, work to prevent and mitigate school violence beginning at the lowest intervention threshold. By replacing identified gaps in your school safety with recommended best practices and integrating them with your existing school security, this program trains your faculty and staff to remedy vulnerabilities below the threat assessment threshold facilitating sustainable school violence intervention.