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.

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.

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 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.