Critical Aspects of Back-to-School Safety

safer school

Summer has flown by, as usual, and school is starting in most parts of the country. Those of us in the West are already in session, and you lucky folks in the Midwest and East have until after Labor Day to savor the last days of summer.

In addition to lesson plans, creating a welcoming classroom, and getting to know our new students, many of us have school safety on our minds. We are charged with one of the most important tasks – keeping children safe while they are with us. This is bound to cause some anxiety as the school year gets underway.

School safety can be broken down into five separate areas, which helps us to put it in perspective.

Prevention – the capabilities necessary to avoid, deter, or stop an imminent crime or threatened or actual mass casualty incident. Prevention is the action schools take to prevent a threatened or actual incident from occurring.

Protection – the capabilities to secure schools against acts of violence and manmade or natural disasters. Protection focuses on ongoing actions that protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, networks, and property from a threat or hazard.

Mitigation – the capabilities necessary to eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property damage by lessening the impact of an event or emergency; reducing the likelihood that threats and hazards will happen.

Response – the capabilities necessary to stabilize an emergency once it has already happened or is certain to happen in an unpreventable way; establish a safe and secure environment; save lives and property; and facilitate the transition to recovery.

Recovery – the capabilities necessary to assist schools affected by an event or emergency in restoring the learning environment and healing from the event. This includes a plan for business continuity.

As you begin the school year, consider doing the following over the next two months:

  • Implement a school climate or safety survey for students, staff and parents, to pinpoint areas that need attention. If you are looking for a survey to use, check out this school climate survey compendium.
  • Foster a sense of belonging in your school community. Celebrate differences and offer a diverse menu of activities, mentoring and connectedness programs, so everyone has a place to call home.
  • Train your staff to identify the signs of those who are struggling so they can support and refer those needing help.
  • Review your crisis response plan. Ideally, this should be done every year, and no less frequently than every 3 years. We learn more every day in this field – you’ll want to be sure your plan reflects current recommendations.
  • Add a new type of drill. If you haven’t done a reverse evacuation or a lockdown drill in awhile, schedule one today. Then, review the results with your staff so everyone can make adjustments if needed.

I’d love to know more about your specific safety challenges and needs. Let me know by typing your safety challenges into this form. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great school year!

Key Points from 2018 FBI Report on Pre-Attack Behaviors

FBI 2018 Report Pre-Attack Behaviors

In 2014, the FBI published a report titled A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013. The report focused on the circumstances of 160 active shooter events that had occurred from 2000-2013. In July, 2018, the FBI released the second phase of the study entitled A Study of the Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the United States between 2000 and 2013.

This report details behaviors and warning signs that occurred before an attack, providing readers with increased awareness of what to look for in our own settings. In the aftermath of an active shooter incident, we often listen as the media dissects the risk factors and warning signs that may have been missed. It might begin to sound as if there is a consistent profile of the active shooter.

I want to stress one thing: experts and authorities are still very clear on the fact that there is no profile of an active shooter.

While it is true that certain behaviors and characteristics appear in multiple individuals that have perpetrated this type of violence, each situation must be assessed on its own. An assessment is valid for a moment in time. Risk will either be increased or decreased as circumstances and individuals change. It is this fact that gives us hope. When we identify threatening situations and individuals early, we can intervene and reduce, or even eliminate, the likelihood of violence.

What the study tells us

The key findings of this phase II study that I believe are most pertinent to those of us who work in schools are:

  • The 63 active shooters in the study did not appear to be uniform in any way such that they could be readily identified prior to attacking based on demographics alone.
  • Active shooters take time to plan and prepare for the attacks, with 77% of subjects spending a week or longer planning their attack and 46% spending a week or longer procuring the means for the attack.
  • The FBI could only verify that 25% of active shooters in the study had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. Of those diagnosed, only 3 had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. The FBI further states that, “declarations that all active shooters must simply be mentally ill are misleading and unhelpful.”
  • Active shooters were typically experiencing multiple stressors, an average of 3.6, in the year before they attacked.
  • On average, each active shooter displayed 4 to 5 concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter. The most frequently occurring concerning behaviors were related to mental health, problematic interpersonal interactions and leakage of violent intent. In 56% of cases, the first incidence of such behavior occurred more than 2 years before the attack.
  • For active shooters under age 18, school peers and teachers were more likely to observe concerning behaviors than family members. In 12 student shooters studied, 92% of cases involved a schoolmate noticing concerning behavior before the attack.
  • When concerning behavior was observed, the most common responses were:
    • communicate directly with shooter 83%
    • do nothing 54%
    • report to a non-law enforcement authority 51%
    • discuss with a friend or family member 49%
    • report to law enforcement 41%.
  • In cases where the shooter’s primary grievance could be identified, 33% were related to an adverse interpersonal action (or perceived action) against the shooter and 16% were related to an employment action (or perceived action) against the shooter.

If you’d like to read more of the report, you can get it here.

Next steps for schools

If you don’t have a threat assessment team in place, I urge you to make it a priority this school year. Threat assessment is a research-based prevention and school safety strategy that will help you identify and intervene with not only potentially violent students, but students who are struggling on many levels. Those students need our help. We can’t help them if we don’t know who they are.

I’ve trained schools across the country to implement this practice. Is your school next? Contact me here to find out how I can help.

Stop School Violence Grants

I want to make sure that as one of my valuable readers, you are aware of a newly released funding opportunity. The U.S. Department of Justice recently made an announcement regarding grant funding to support threat assessment technology and reporting for schools. Eligible applicants are states, units of local government and federally-recognized Indian tribes.

Funding may be used to assist local education agencies and nonprofit organizations through:

  • Training to prevent violence
  • The development and operation of anonymous reporting systems, hotlines and websites
  • The development and operation of school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams

As a local education agency (LEA), you are not eligible to apply. BUT, you can contact your state department of education and/or department of justice and encourage those entities to apply for these grants.

For more information on the grant application, click here.

To learn more about how the practice of threat assessment fits into your school’s safety plan, read this.

Are you prepared for this?

Are you prepared for this?

School safety is on everyone’s mind these days. Students and parents are frightened and they’re asking what we are doing to keep them safe at school.

How will you answer their questions?

This summer would be a good time to reflect on how you are doing in the critical areas of school safety. Honest, reflective responses on this assessment will help you provide answers to your students, staff, parents, and local school board. It will also allow you to assess your potential liability and fill any gaps to minimize it.

The SafeAware© School Safety Survey I just posted on my website takes only a few minutes to complete and can save you valuable time and money. Before you take it, there are a few things you should know about the most recent advances in school safety:

• A number of states are now requiring that school districts not only have a crisis response plan in place, but that plans be submitted to the state department of education for review and “grading.” This is a movement that is likely to catch on and spread across the country.

• As you may have heard me say, the FBI and Secret Service have used the practice of threat assessment for nearly 30 years to assessment potential threats. The practice has been adapted for use in schools and is now required in K-12 schools in Virginia. It is also required in public higher education institutions in Connecticut, Illinois and Virginia.

• The Oregon Task Force on School Safety has developed a statewide threat assessment system to train all schools’ threat assessment teams to use consistent assessment protocols.

• Florida’s governor Rick Scott has directed all schools in Florida to establish threat assessment teams by September 2018.

• The president of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) recently spoke to congress about the effectiveness of threat assessment as a preventive tool, and the need to require its use in schools. At the end of April, a Bill was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee to increase funding to the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC). The Bill includes the following statement: “SENSE OF CONGRESS—It is the sense of Congress that a fact-based threat assessment approach, involving school officials, local law enforcement, and members of the community, is one of the most effective ways to prevent targeted violence in schools, and is a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives in the February 14, 2018, attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and those who heroically acted to preserve the lives of their friends, students, and colleagues.”

• A number of states, including Wisconsin and Florida, have created school safety centers, with millions of dollars being awarded to school districts with a plan for updating and increasing safety. My services are considered an allowable expense for these grants.

I have training and safety/crisis plan development scheduled for school districts in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania this summer and fall. I want to remind you that as a current reader, you are eligible for special pricing on all services and training if booked before June 30 and completed by October 31. Please contact me for details and to discuss your needs.

Now, let’s get to that survey. You can get it here.

If you know someone who would find this information valuable, please forward it to them.

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

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.