School Safety Glossary

by Suzanne Sibole, Youth Risk Prevention Specialists

ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) – a method of training that prepares individuals to handle the threat of an active shooter. ALICE teaches individuals to participate in their own survival, while helping to lead others to safety.

Active Shooter – “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008)

Active Shooter Response – quickly assessing an active shooter situation and choosing “a reasonable course of action to protect your life” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008). Options include evacuating, hiding in a locked or barricaded space and taking action against the shooter.

ATAP – Founded in 1992 by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Threat Management Unit, The Association of Threat Assessment Professionals is a non-profit organization. Its objective is to learn more about how best to protect victims of stalking, harassment and threat situations; its mission is to share and facilitate the experiences and techniques of professionals in the field of threat assessment and/or threat management.

Breach – disregarding boundaries and engaging in behavior designed to assess the viability of gaining access or determining whether rules and consequences will be upheld. Breaching is considered a serious warning sign on the pathway toward violence and often occurs when a perpetrator is getting close to implementing attack plans.

Bystander Study – a study conducted in 2008 by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education to determine reasons students who had experienced violence in their schools did not tell adults or authorities about their concerns in spite of having prior knowledge that an act of violence was being planned by a peer.

Code of Silence – an unwritten, and occasionally unspoken, code of conduct between peers. Students typically believe that telling an adult about worrisome statements or behaviors of another student would carry negative consequences for the person who tells.

Cognitive Bias – the drawing of incorrect or illogical inferences due to the subjective perception of information used to draw a conclusion. It is considered a genuine limitation in our thinking and can result in mistakes and errors in judgment. One example of a cognitive bias that shows up in violence threat assessment can be referred to as an “attachment to existing beliefs”. It may be challenging to detect a deviation in a subject’s behavior if it differs from one’s prior experience with the individual. If one has a long-standing history with the subject in that has been favorable, it can be difficult for this assessor to see that the subject may actually be capable of inflicting violence and harm on others. This can be further complicated by so-called “blind-spot bias” that keeps one from seeing his or her own bias.

Columbine – The word “Columbine” is often used by itself, to refer to the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. The attack left 12 students and 1 teacher dead. The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, ended the rampage by shooting and killing themselves in the school library. There are many sources of information available on the Internet. For accurate information, be sure to visit a legitimate source such as this timeline by CNN or author Dave Cullen’s website.

Copycat Effect – the idea that a given behavior is increased by a recent occurrence of the same behavior. Suicide has been found to have a copycat effect. Suicide rates rise following the suicide of someone with whom a person identifies. A study conducted by Sherry Towers of Arizona State University, determined that 30% of mass shootings with a high number of victims (greater than 4) and national media exposure occur within 13 days of a previous mass shooting. This is referred to as the “contagion period.”

DHS (Department of Homeland Security) – a Federal agency with the missions of: preventing terrorism and enhancing security, managing U.S. borders, administering immigration laws, securing cyberspace, and ensuring disaster resilience.

Drills – events designed to simulate a response to an actual emergency. In school safety, drills are a critical tool to help condition our brains and bodies to follow a specific protocol when we are under duress. Drills conducted in schools include fire, evacuation, lockdown and reverse evacuation.

Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) – The center for Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) uses the term Emergency Operations Plan/EOP , to describe the process of emergency planning and the defined protocols used to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, and recover from all possible crises that could befall a given school. These plans must be personalized and incorporate an all-hazards approach that is specific to a given location.

Escalation – the process by which something that begins as a grievance or conflict, if not satisfactorily resolved, goes through specific stages which ultimately worsen the conflict and may lead to violence. Friedrich Glasl (1982) developed a nine stage model of escalation. His book, Confronting Conflict (1999) is a useful tool for any organization. When we speak of escalation in threat assessment, we are referring a model of pre-incident indicators that allow us to determine where a subject of concern falls on the pathway to violence.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) – FEMA is a federal agency with the mission of supporting U.S. citizens and first responders protecting against, mitigate, and recover from hazards. Since 2003, FEMA has become part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) – a Federal law applied to schools that receive funding through the Department of Education. The law protects the privacy of student education records. Specific provisions of the law can be accessed here.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) – a set of Federal standards that protects the privacy and security of individuals’ health information. Schools are often concerned about violating both HIPAA and FERPA standards when determining whether information about a student of concern can be shared with authorities or mental health professionals.

Howler – Groundbreaking research by Frederick S. Calhoun and Stephen J. Weston categorized individuals who make threats into “hunters” and “howlers”. Howlers are individuals who make contact, often from a distance, frightening or threatening a target. This “howling” can occur over an extended period of time but does not include actions that move the subject closer to violence. If this changes and the howler moves toward violence, he or she becomes a hunter.

Hunter – Frederick S. Calhoun and Stephen J. Weston categorized individuals who make and pose threats into “hunters” and “howlers”. Hunters are individuals who take actions demonstrating that they are moving toward an act of violence. Such actions include constructing a plan, acquiring weapons and moving geographically closer to the target.

Impulsive Violence – an act of violence that occurs spontaneously, often as a reaction to a perceived threat from another individual. This type of violence does not involve prior planning.

Intruder – someone who breaches boundaries and enters another person’s space. In schools, we typically react to an intruder’s presence by activating a “lockdown” protocol.

Intuition – a subconscious sense that picks up on peripheral clues while we are consciously focused on other things. Intuition acts quickly to provide information and is an important indicator of our level of safety. Gavin de Becker has written extensively about intuition in the book, The Gift of Fear.

Journal – a collection of personal writing that typically includes the author’s thoughts, feelings, memories, and plans. Journals have been kept by a number of mass shooting perpetrators and provide clues regarding the individual’s state of mind.

Leakage – a warning behavior that indicates preoccupation with, or plans for, violence. Leakage may be verbal or take the form of written or visual communication. Examples of leakage include threats, boasting, innuendo, jokes, drawing, social media posting, videos, or journal writing.

Liability Quotient (LQ) – a term used at Youth Risk Prevention Specialists to refer to a school district’s exposure to liability regarding school safety. Employing proper training and best practices to increase safety will lower a district’s LQ and provide peace of mind.

Lockdown – a lockdown is a safety procedure used during an emergency. Most school safety protocols employ several different types of lockdowns, which may include shelter in place, hard lockdown, intruder lockdown, and extruder lockdown. Typically, a lockdown procedure will entail immediately locking all external and internal doors, turning off lights, televisions, music and any other sound, silencing cell phones, closing blinds, and moving students away from windows and doors (depending on whether the threat is inside or outside the school).

Manifesto – a document or video left behind by an attacker that often details grievances, a sense of unfairness, commitment to a cause or other clues or reasons behind the perpetrator’s decision to commit the attack.

Mass Shooting – a mass murderer that kills four or more people in a single incident (not including him or herself), typically in a single location that has public access. This definition does not include shooting that results from domestic, drug or gang violence (FBI, 2005).

Mitigation – the capabilities necessary to eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property damage by lessening the impact of an event or emergency. In this document, “mitigation” also means reducing the likelihood that threats and hazards will happen.

Monster Guard – an app created by the American Red Cross to teach safety preparedness skills to children ages 7-11

OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – The OODA Loop is a 4-point decision-making strategy developed by U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd. It was originally a military term that has been used in other settings. Some school safety programs teach the OODA Loop to facilitate effective decision-making and action during an emergency. The 4 steps are as follows and can be repeated as needed:

  1. Observe – collect current information from as many sources as possible
  2. Orient – analyze information and use it to inform your situation
  3. Decide – determine a course of action
  4. Act – follow through on your decision

Pathway – a series of specific actions leading up to an attack. They include behaviors related to research, planning, preparation, and implementation of an attack (Calhoun & Weston, 2003)

Predatory Violence – predatory violence is an act of planned violence focused on specific targets or places.

Prevention – the capabilities necessary to avoid, deter, or intervene before an imminent crime or threatened incident occurs. Prevention is the totality of actions taken to avert a potential act of violence.

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.

REMS (Readiness & Emergency Management for Schools) – a collaborative Federal agency that serves school districts, local education agencies, and institutions of higher education with tools to increase safety and emergency management practices.

Response – the capabilities necessary to stabilize an emergency once it has already happened or is certain to happen in an unpreventable way. Responses include establishing a safe and secure environment, saving lives and property, and facilitating the transition to recovery.

Recovery – the capabilities necessary to assist schools affected by an event or emergency in restoring the learning environment. This includes attention to the mental health of staff, students and families, business office functioning and any changes or improvements to the physical site.

Risk Assessment – the process of evaluating the potential risks involved in an action or situation. A violence risk assessment may be conducted by a mental health clinician to evaluate the risk of violence in a patient or prisoner to assist with decisions about treatment and/or release into the general population. It typically differs from a violence threat assessment, which is defined below.

Risk Factors – circumstances that create a susceptibility or propensity toward a given outcome. Risk factors do not guarantee that a specific outcome will occur, as many variables contribute to process. There are opportunities to reduce the likelihood of an outcome linked to risk factors. Risk factors for violence include role models for using violence to solve problems, antisocial behavior or legal involvement at an early age and involvement with antisocial peers as a pre-teen and/or young teen.

Run, Hide, Fight – a response strategy for protecting oneself and others during an incident that involves an active shooter or attacker. This response requires assessing the situation quickly, running/evacuating if possible; hiding or locking down in a secure space if evacuation is not possible; taking actions against the attacker to protect and save lives if the run and hide options do not exist.

SafeAware System – a systematic approach to creating safer schools that includes prevention, preparedness, safety and crisis response planning, threat assessment team building, training and development, and staff and parent training.

Sandy Hook – The words “Sandy Hook” have become common parlance for the shooting attack that occurred on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 young students and 6 staff members. A timeline of events can be found here on CNN’s website.

Schedule – It is not uncommon for perpetrators of a mass shooting attacks to create a schedule as part of the planning and preparation stage before the actual attack. Written schedules have surfaced after the school shootings at Columbine High School. This has important implications for prevention and should be one focus of questioning and any search, when conducting a violence threat assessment and investigation into a subject of concern.

School Climate – A school’s climate is determine by the environment and quality of relationships among students, staff and teachers. A positive school climate fosters trust, respect, support, fairness, and connectedness throughout the entire school community. School climate is an important element of a school safety program, as a positive school climate has an inhibiting effect on school violence. In addition, a positive school climate increases parent involvement, learning and academic success.

School Climate Survey – a school climate survey is a tool used to assess the perceptions of students, staff members, and parents regarding areas of school climate such as equitable treatment, respect, support, friendliness, and responsiveness. It is a valuable step for determining specific areas in need of improvement. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) keeps a database of valid and reliable school climate surveys on its website.

Situational Awareness – paying close attention to what is happening around you and noticing when something seems “off” or out of context. Learning the warning signs and pre-incident indicators of violence will enable you to act quickly to prevent an attack or maximize your likelihood of staying safe if your awareness indicates that violence is imminent.

Stalking – stalking is a pattern of unwanted attention and behavior that causes discomfort, fear and a sense of intimidation in the victim. Stalking behaviors include, following the victim; showing up uninvited at the same location as the victim; sending notes, letters, emails, or gifts; calling or texting repeatedly; and knowing the victim’s schedule. Stalking is a crime and can be dangerous. A number of stalking victims have been later assaulted or killed by their stalker.

Tarasoff Warning – The Tarasoff Warning outlines a mental health professional’s duty not only to a patient or client, but also to individuals who are specifically threatened by them. It is named for Tatiana Tarasoff who was killed by Prosenjit Poddar, an acquaintance who had confided in his psychologist that he intended to kill Tatiana. This decision was first adopted by the California Supreme Court and has since been adopted by most states in the U.S. Here is link to the specific legal code in each state.

Targeted Violence – premeditated violence directed toward a specific target. Examples of targeted violence include school and workplace violence, domestic violence, stalking-related violence and threats/violence against public figures.

Threat – a threat can be a written or spoken intent to cause injury or death to another person or groups of persons. A threat does not have to be expressed in words. It can be the presence of a collection of behaviors known to indicate that an individual is intent and capable of inflicting harm and therefore, poses a threat to others.

Threat Assessment – “the process of assessing risks to a particular target, individual, or group of individuals, and designing and implementing intervention and management strategies to reduce the risk or threat” (Mohandie, 2000, p. 29).

Threat Assessment Team – a multidisciplinary internal team within a school district, school building, workplace, or government entity whose purpose is to evaluate, investigate, and assess potential threats to safety. School teams are made up of representatives from administration, student services and law enforcement, all of whom receive formal training in threat assessment.

Threat Management – threat management is comprised of the actions taken to reduce the likelihood of targeted violence and increase security in our organization. It follows a thorough threat assessment, and may be ongoing for an extended period of time. The goals of threat management are to keep everyone in our organization safe, provide referral and assistance to the threatening individual, and reduce fear in our school or workplace community. Threat management may include monitoring the individual, enlisting the help of mental health professionals, law enforcement, family or friends of the individual and/or legal constraints or consequences.

Trigger – a trigger is an event that occurs between 24 hours and 2 weeks prior to an act of targeted violence. Triggers may include loss, humiliation, or treatment perceived as unfair by the threatening individual. When conducting a threat assessment, it is critical to consider both past and upcoming potential triggers.

Truthfulness Bias – this is a cognitive bias that affects our thinking and decision-making. Many persons have a bias toward believing that what someone tells us is the truth. We want to believe that we are not being lied to, or mislead. Truthfulness bias must be carefully considered when conducting a threat assessment, particularly when talking to the subject of concern. It is not uncommon for violence perpetrators to state when confronted, that they were only kidding or would never commit an act of violence.

Warning Signs – by studying past acts of targeted violence, we have been able to learn a great deal about behavioral warning signs indicative of the planning, intent and capability to commit violence. Knowing the warning signs of violence is important for all educators, as is having a referral procedure in place for staff to report concerns and know that they will be followed up by threat assessment and management actions.

Werther Effect – the social learning concept whereby a vulnerable person hearing about of the suicide of someone with whom they identify believes that suicide is a good alternative for him/herself. This effect was shown in research conducted by sociologist Dave Phillips in 1974.

I hope you have found this glossary useful. It contains words and concepts connected to school safety. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.