Be extra vigilant this week

There are at least two reasons to be extra vigilant this week when it comes to school safety.

First, we know that anniversary dates of past school violent attacks are particularly significant to those planning a similar act of violence. Friday, April 20 marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Second, Friday, April 20 is also designated as National School Walkout Day to protest school violence. This means that many of our schools will not be following their normal routines and students will be out of the building, on school grounds or otherwise out of class and hard to keep track of. It’s also a fact that transition times, those moments in our school day when students are moving from one place to another, are a high risk time for a multitude of incidents.

I urge you to create awareness among your school’s staff and encourage extra caution and vigilance for the remainder of the week.

School Safety for Less

School Safety for Less

 

Are you thinking of making improvements to your school’s safety?

I want to let you in on a way to improve your school safety for less.

For the next few months, my loyal readers and followers can engage any of my services at prices that haven’t changed since 2012. That’s right – until the end of the fiscal year (June 30), I will honor my old prices for any booking or project that comes to completion by October 31. This gives you nearly 3 months to book, and over 6 months to host a training, purchase an online course for your staff, obtain a threat assessment consultation, or update your school safety plan.

As a lifelong educator dedicated to making schools better places for students to learn, and for staff members to thrive, I have always made sure that my services fit with schools’ tight budgets. Since founding Youth Risk Prevention Specialists 6 years ago, I have sought to provide outstanding school safety services at an affordable price and I have never raised prices. We all know that inflation is one of life’s certainties, and in order to continue doing this important work, I must make a few changes.

As violence threat assessment finally begins to get the recognition it deserves. I expect a surge in schools seeking this type of training. I have been doing this work for many years, and have obtained the education and experience necessary to provide the most current, research-based training and assistance to schools setting up threat assessment teams. There are many large safety companies that focus on a particular product or safety niche and I am concerned that they will develop “pop-up” threat assessment training services to complement their products or services. Even without adequate training or expertise in this area, they will likely get a lot of takers. Why? Because they have thousands of dollars to invest in advertising. A very small business like Youth Risk Prevention Specialists does not.

What I do provide is experience, knowledge, over-the-top service and customization to make sure you get exactly what you need to improve your school’s safety. I’ve worked nationwide with schools, organizations and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on projects that increased the safety of schools, workplaces and faith-based entities. I’m an active member of the Association of Threat Assessment Association (ATAP) and have been on the front lines of implementing violence threat assessment as a preventive practice in schools.

If you’d like to learn more about what Youth Risk Prevention Specialists can do to help make your school safer, simply click here for service descriptions and training outlines, or here to contact me with your specific needs. I’m happy to provide more information or answer any questions you may have.

 

 

Managing Someone Who Poses a Threat

how to manage someone who poses a threat
We’ve talked a lot about violence threat assessment in the past. Today, I want to talk about threat management. How, exactly, should we proceed when managing someone who poses a threat to our school’s safety?

There is no strategy that will work in every situation, or every time. We must address the specifics of each situation and the needs of everyone involved to ensure the safest outcome.

I can tell you that there are some things we always want to attend to when managing a threat.

  1. First, we need to ensure the safety of everyone involved. This means investigating the threat, notifying targets and implementing strategies to keep everyone in our buildings safe.
  2. We want to be aware of any existing connections and violence inhibitors that we can leverage to help a person of concern find alternatives to violence. This may take the form of contacting and partnering with family members, school staff or mental health providers who have a positive relationship with the subject.
  3. We want to understand the person’s perception of a situation or possible grievance, and help him or her to see that we will work to solve it to the best of our ability.
  4. We want to treat the subject with dignity, which may preserve the last bit of what is holding him or her together.
  5. If we must force a student out of school in the form of a suspension or expulsion, we need to do so with kindness and compassion, and keep the lines of communication open so we are not severing the relationship.
  6. We want to be mindful of the subject’s social media presence and communication with others, and monitor him/her for any hint of a violent mindset. This may continue for an extended period of time .
  7. If we are concerned about a student who is currently attending school, we may have to institute labor-intensive procedures such as daily check-ins or backpack checks, and even constant supervision, if necessary.
  8. It’s imperative that we continue to communicate with those in our school about any words, behavior or incidents indicative of movement toward violence in a person of concern. When we don’t do this, it’s much easier for each incident to appear isolated, and to lose sight of the true picture of the threat posed by an individual of concern. We must keep connecting the dots for each situation of concern.

To learn more about how I work with schools set up their own threat assessment teams, click here.

 

There is one thing you can do

There is one thing you can do
It has happened yet again. Today marks the 18th school shooting this year. Each and every one of them is devastating. As educators, we mourn with the families, students, and school staff members who have suffered. We look at our own schools and workplaces and wonder whether we’ve done enough. I don’t know what each of you has done to create a safer school, but I do know there is one thing you can do.

If your school hasn’t yet trained and developed a violence threat assessment team, maybe now is the time. We can’t prevent all mass shootings, but we can decrease the number by knowing what to watch for, identifying struggling individuals, and linking them to help. We can connect the dots that spell out warning signs and disrupt the pathway to violence before it reaches a harrowing conclusion.

For a snapshot of what setting up a threat assessment team involves, read this.  If you have considered taking action to train your staff in violence warning signs, threat assessment, and threat management, could there be a better time?

Youth Risk Prevention Specialists provides schools nationwide with the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have done everything they can to create a safe school environment. To learn how the comprehensive SafeAware© program delivers that, simply click here.

How you can help prevent human trafficking

help prevent human trafficking

I was recently contacted by Ralph Goodman, a locksmith by trade, and an excellent blogger. Mr. Goodman offered to provide some tips for educators on how we can help identify and prevent human trafficking. We are learning that human trafficking is far more prevalent than most of us know, so I thought the time was right to publish Mr. Goodman’s guest post.

Here’s how you can help prevent human trafficking.

What Children Need to be Taught About Human Trafficking

It’s important to teach children that human traffickers will often use subtle coercion techniques and even rely on building a rapport or relationship before things escalate to trafficking. It is not always the result of abduction.

Who is most vulnerable?

The young people most vulnerable to human trafficking are typically neglected children or those who are predisposed to substance abuse. Predators are looking to isolate their victims and make a victim feel reliant and beholden to them. This is most commonly done through fostering addiction or capitalizing on a pre-existing dependency issue.

School staff members should be alert to those who are isolating themselves or getting involved with addictive substances. Any type of extreme social risk-taking behavior such as meeting strangers found online in private, especially those who are significantly older, should be a red flag. It’s a good idea to keep a list of resources handy to help deal with a vulnerable child.

How to get away

The best way to avoid being taken prisoner by a human trafficker is to teach children to avoid placing themselves in vulnerable situations. An easy thing to be done at school is to take notice of the most dangerous locations where a child could be abducted or may be engaging in risky behavior. This allows intervention so that a child can be distanced from a dangerous individual, even if an “abduction”, in the strict sense of the word, is not taking place.

Educators can also teach students that if they are ever grabbed or attacked by someone, it is best to scream and try to run. If caught, a child of any age can effectively fight back by striking at the eyes, throat, and groin of their attacker. Devices such as stun guns and pepper spray are likely to be banned by schools and are generally unwise to give younger or immature children.

What to do if trapped physically?

Regardless of whether a child is abducted or coerced, they are likely to be held against their will at some point. With younger children, it may seem like techniques to break duct tape and zip ties will not work, but just like breaking boards or ripping phone books, it is more technique than strength. You can teach children to follow the steps below:

  1. With temporary restraints like tape and zip ties, they are easier to break if they are as tight as possible. Zip ties can be tightened, but tape must be applied One way to facilitate this is to hold elbows together if wrists are being taped, so the tape has a better chance of being tight.
  2. Lift arms overhead and then bring elbows to your ribs as fast and hard as you can. If the restraints are tight enough and you follow through, the restraints will snap. (This works best if you are standing, and is not possible if hands are behind your back.)
  3. If arms are behind your back, move them away from your torso as far as you can. Bend over at your waist. Then throw your hips back, standing up in a single motion, as you bring you pull wrists hard and fast back to your torso. (This also works best while standing.)

There are many ways to be restrained, but tape and zip ties are the most likely because they are cheap, easy to use, and readily available. When it comes to teaching children how to escape from a kidnapping, it is tempting to tell them everything, but it is best to keep things simple and as relevant to the most pressing threats as you possibly can.

The circumstances that lead to human trafficking can appear to be self-imposed. It will often feel this way to the victim. However, viewing the situation in this light is not helpful when addressing the problem. Fostering that feeling of guilt and complicity is what traffickers want. A victim that feels responsible for their situation is unlikely to seek help.

Children and teens need to know that they are the victims no matter what they have done. In cases where drugs have been used, it is important not to dwell on this or appear to assign blame. The peers of a child being groomed for human trafficking can often pull away to distance themselves from the victimized child’s behavior. For the peer, this can seem like escaping a bad influence, but it may have the unintended result of further isolation for the victim.

Children also need to know that it is important to reach out if they feel trapped in a situation. Even if they have to admit to things they are ashamed of, they need to hear that any escape is better than life as a prisoner. As an educator, you can make yourself available and approachable to your students.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing for children to realize is that they and their friends might not be stolen away like something in the movies. This process can be gradual. And at no point are they helpless or beyond saving. If they are physically trapped or emotionally trapped, there are options for escaping human trafficking.

Ralph Goodman is a security expert and lead writer for the Lock Blog, the #1 locksmith blog on the Internet. The Lock Blog is a great resource to learn about locks, safety, and security. It offers tips, advice and how-to’s for consumers, homeowners, locksmiths, and security professionals. Mr. Goodman has been featured widely throughout the web on sites such as Business Insider, Zillow, Bluetooth, Apartments.com, CIO, and Safewise.

I’m very concerned right now

school shooting

Today, there was a school shooting in my home state of New Mexico. Two students were killed, along with the gunman. This is the second shooting perpetrated by a teenager in New Mexico in the past 4 months. I’m worried there will be more, devastating communities across the country.

Not long ago, I reviewed research on the copycat effect of mass shootings. Mark Follman from Mother Jones has researched and written about something many are calling the Columbine Effect. Dr. Sherry Towers and her team found that mass shootings increased the incidence of similar events within a period of 13 days. It was noted that this effect is present in 30% of mass shootings and 22% of school shootings.

I’m very concerned right now.

We are fast approaching the 5-year anniversary date of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and we’ve recently seen some devastating mass shooting incidents in our country. In these next few weeks before holiday break, we need to be exceedingly vigilant. We already know that being home for an extended period of time can be highly stressful for some students. We also know that the holidays, often fueled by alcohol and family issues, can be a time of strain and conflict. These stressors can intensify the vulnerability of a student or adult who is struggling.

If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, take a look at these resources for information about the warning signs of violence and suicide. Be sure everyone on your school’s staff is adequately trained to report concerns and that there is a team in place to evaluate, assess and intervene when necessary. If you need help with any of this, please don’t hesitate to contact me here.

Let’s all do our part to ensure a safe and peaceful holiday season.

 

What Really Keeps Us Safe

What really keeps us safe

With the recent violent events in the news, questions are bound to surface about what really keeps us safe. It’s enough to make our heads spin, keep us up at night, and second guess the safety measures we’ve put in place in our schools and workplaces. Events like what happened in Las Vegas can make many of us throw up our hands and wonder, “how can we possibly prevent something like that?”

After every incident of targeted violence, we learn a little more about how to protect ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We do need to keep our doors locked and have consistently enforced check-in procedures at our entrances. We need to pay attention to who is in our buildings and be willing to question those we don’t recognize or who exhibit signs that they don’t belong there. We need to practice drills for all different types of emergencies, have a solid emergency response plan and effective communication system. We need to learn warning signs and have a process for intervening when we see them. Nothing has changed in that respect.

But there is one thing we come back to again and again.

It’s what really keeps us safe.

Relationships. Listening and taking concerns seriously. Paying attention and noticing when someone is struggling. Creating a welcoming and positive school climate. Stopping bullying, harassment and disrespect in its tracks.

These are not the glamorous, novel, or shiny new strategies. They are not the latest in technology or must-have safety gear.

But, they are what matters most.

After every mass shooting or incident of violence between individuals, we find someone who is unhappy, angry, feels dismissed or has suffered at the hands of someone else. When we dig deeper, we find that the person has often been in turmoil for a significant period of time and feels that no one is listening or helping to resolve the situation. We see the bullied and the bullies. We see those with a grievance who feel dismissed or disenfranchised. We find individuals who are at the fringes of the groups to which they want to belong. We see sadness, rejection and anger, and often an inability to make things better.

A sense of belonging is at the very root of human existence. Without proper bonding and positive interaction, infants fail to thrive. When children are neglected, they fall behind both socially and academically. When teens feel alone and unwanted, they become depressed, suicidal, and turn to all sorts of risky behaviors. When teens and adults have felt this way for years, they either turn the overwhelming feelings inward or outward. Often, they do both.

The best way to prevent this is to take a hard look at what we’re doing to build positive connections and an inclusive environment. We must look at this from the perspective of those we serve…our students. We may have programs in place that we believe address all of our school climate concerns, but if students don’t feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and concern from our staff and each other, we’re not doing the job as well as we think we are. If you need help finding a tool to assess how students perceive the school in these respects, take a look at this compendium of surveys or put together some focus groups and study the issue. Then, work together with all stakeholders to change what needs to be changed, and continue to monitor and evaluate until students and parents tell you that you got it right.

I was just about to ask…..

Are we becoming too complacent

I was just about to ask, “are we becoming too complacent?” In fact, that was the original title of this article. I recently noticed that we, as a society, might have allowed ourselves to put some aspects of school safety on the back burner because we hadn’t seen any major safety breaches in the past couple of years. I had begun to receive fewer requests for school safety and violence threat assessment training. Friends and acquaintances who work in schools had been commenting that security was getting a bit lax in their respective buildings.

And then, it happened. Before I could finish this article, there were 2 incidents…the stuff of our worst nightmares. Honestly, I knew it would.

On August 28, a 16-year old boy shot and killed 2 women and injured 4 others in a small community library in Clovis, NM. On September 13, a 15-year old boy shot and killed another student and wounded 3 others before being subdued by a heroic school employee.

I suspect we aren’t complacent anymore.

My phone has started to ring. But, it is not school administrators who are calling me. Rather, the calls come from reporters around the country who want to know how we can prevent this from happening again.

A recent Gallup poll called the Work and Education poll, was conducted in early August with a random sample of 233 parents of K-12 children. Gallup has administered this poll annually since 1977. This year, 24% of parents reported worrying about their child’s physical safety at school. The percentage has not been this low since August 2012, just a few months before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, parental fear rose to 33%.

Historically, this particular poll has shown that parental fear has increased following a school shooting:

  • After the Columbine High School shooting, parental fear rose to 55%, the highest in the history of the poll
  • After the Santana High School shooting in Santee, CA, parental fear rose to 45%
  • After the shooting at a Pennsylvania Amish schoolhouse, parental fear rose to 35%

The poll also asked parents, “Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go back to school this fall?” Just 6% of parents reported that their children expressed concern regarding their safety while at school, the lowest number in 18 years of survey administration. The average has been 11%.

I am certainly not saying that I want parents, school staff members and students to live fearfully. I simply want to encourage those connected to schools to be mindful that we must continue to employ the school safety and prevention measures we have adopted, even when we are experiencing a positive, less violent cycle.

Perhaps now is a good time to review your tolerance and bully prevention policies and programming, and take a hard look at school climate. This might be the year to administer a school climate survey to students, parents and staff members. We have recently witnessed several high-profile incidents related to hate and intolerance. While we cannot always control what happens in the larger world, we can foster a sense of belonging and ownership within our school communities.

Has your school assembled and trained a threat assessment team? A referral to this team is vital when students or staff members have concerns about behavior or threats. When asked whether warning signs had been missed in the recent Washington shooting, Sheriff Knezovich commented, “they are always missed.” While I’m not in complete agree with the sheriff, here’s how this can happen:

When we don’t have a process in place to gather extensive data and compare notes with others, each behavior witnessed seems like an isolated incident. We must put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a true and accurate assessment of violence risk.

Do you have your threat assessment team in place? Have all team members received high quality training? I train school staff members using the very model employed by the FBI and Secret Service to assess threats. If you’d like to know more, simply contact me here.

For a quick recap of some key warning signs, you may want to listen to this recent radio podcast. For an extensive list of warning signs, read this.

Your Back-to-School Resource Guide

It’s the beginning of a new school year and you have a lot to do!

I’m a big fan of having research-based strategies and practices at hand, ready to implement when the time is right. I’m also a proponent of low cost training and resources to help school staff members do their jobs more efficiently. The resources below provide both!

Bookmark this resource guide for later use. It’s full of prevention and safety resources for your student services staff and building administrators.

Have a great beginning to the school year!

End of School Year Vigilance

With everything else on educators’ plates right now, we need to remind ourselves to practice end of school year vigilance. The spring months typically have the highest number of school violence incidents, and we have seen an increase in school threats over the past few weeks. While many are transient with no substantial plan, we must evaluate each one to ensure safety.

What to watch for

If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, you can refresh your memory with this list of warning signs.

We also want to watch for students who may dread the summer months and loss of structure and support that school provides. Unfortunately, the spring and summer months are also host to a high number of suicides. If you’d like to send some information out to parents along with other end-of-year correspondence, here are two options for you: warning signs of suicide and tips for parents.

If you find yourself with some free time, and are yearning to learn something new this summer, Youth Risk Prevention Specialists offers a free online school safety course that takes about 20 minutes to complete. A longer, more in-depth course is available for just $15, and takes about 2 hours to complete.

I want to thank you for all you do to help keep kids safe throughout the school year. I wish you an amazing, relaxing summer.