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.

 

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 and attacks 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 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 also available for individuals, and to train your entire staff. It 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.

School Safety on Election Day

vote

The 2016 election is coming up in just two weeks, and many of your facilities will be used as polling places. Have you considered how you will secure them? While I can’t help get your preferred candidate into office, I can help with a few safety suggestions. Here are some things to consider:

Will workers, volunteers, and voters be restricted to accessing only certain areas of the building, unoccupied by students?

Are restrooms available near the polling area to keep visitors from requesting access to other parts of the building?

Will you or your local government provide additional security on election day?

What types of background checks will election workers and volunteers complete?

Will voters have a designated parking area, separate from parent, staff and student parking and away from student drop-off and pick-up?

Do your surveillance cameras cover the area to be used for polling? Will someone monitor them regularly?

If your school will be in session on election day, and it is a designated polling place, planning ahead will alleviate a lot of potential headaches on November 8.

Survey Update:

You may recall that I recently requested input from readers about safety challenges and needs. My objective was to learn about the areas of safety that concern you most, so I can focus future articles on them.

I regret to say that I received too few responses to provide any meaningful direction. So, moving forward, please feel free to contact me at any time with requests for posts on specific school safety topics. If you are wondering about the best way to handle something, chances are good that someone else is, too.

 

Your Top School Safety Needs

I want to hear from you!

Here’s your chance to help other schools, by telling me about your school’s safety success and challenges. It will take less than 2 minutes to complete the survey, and your input will provide ideas and answers for all of my readers. My goal is to help facilitate school safety improvements for everyone in an informed, efficient manner. If there are topics about which you’d like more information, let me know and I’ll devote future posts to them.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XG9V8T7

The survey link will be active until Friday, October 14.

Look for results next week!

Please feel free to share this email and survey link with others.