Providing a safe environment for students, faculty and staff is essential to the mission of higher education. However, in today’s climate of school shootings, stories of campus violence and threats to campuses, it can be difficult to ensure students are safe. Threat assessment and responding to campus threats is one way to help combat potentially dangerous situations. Here are five ways you and your campus security team can help to create a culture of safety and help your institution achieve its mission.
- Develop a Plan for Threat Assessment
The first step in proactive risk management is developing a way to filter actual threats from instances of students just acting out. This does not mean that if a concern is raised it should be ignored, but the degree of response should reflect the degree of the threat. A student who rants on Facebook about anger towards a school policy might just be venting over a difficult situation, but it could be sign of something more severe. Developing a method to assess concerns will help you respond quicker to actual threats should they occur. Here is a sample template for setting criteria to assess threats from the US. Department of Education: Threat Assessment Worksheet
- Identifying and Training a Team on Threat Assessment
Once you’ve set your criteria and threat assessment checklist, it will be necessary to create a consistent, campus-wide approach following those criteria. The first step is to identify your assessment team. This can be a Behavioral Assessment and Intervention Team (BAIT), a Campus Emergency Response Team (ERT) or another type of team. Chances are you already have a team. Bring your team together, disseminate the threat assessment criteria and hold regular training sessions to ensure your team is on the same page.
- Following Up on Concerns After a Situation is Resolved
You receive word of a student who threatened a professor after failing a course. Your assessment team identifies it as a medium-level threat, made the appropriate personnel aware of the situation and intervened with the student. He admitted he was wrong and should have never said what he said. He offers his professor an earnest apology, takes accountability for his own lack of performance and next semester he does not have any classes with that professor. From a threat assessment and risk management perspective, this issue is resolved and case closed, right? Wrong. Anytime a threat is made or a concern is raised, it is imperative to keep track of the incident and to check in periodically to make sure there is no reprisal or escalation. Chances are that the student was never a real threat and won’t pose any future threats, but checking in periodically won’t hurt, whereas failing to track the situation could result in a missed escalation or rise of a new threat. Not tracking the situation is one of the most common pitfalls to avoid in campus threat assessment.
- Working with Local Law Enforcement
Some colleges and universities shy away from involving local law enforcement out of fear that the call could bring the situation out into the light of day and create bad press. This is a true mistake in campus risk management. Local law enforcement should be made aware of any potential threats that you rate as medium or higher in order to be better prepared should a situation escalate to actual violence. An intervention team is a great starting point, but only law enforcement is equipped to deal with violent situations. Hopefully you will never have to deal with active violence on your campus, but if you do, having a report on file that you were aware of, and dealing with, the situation will not only help police to quell the situation sooner; it will eliminate any accusation of liability through negligence.
- Creating a Sensitive Campus Communication Plan
There is a precarious balance between informing your campus of potential threats and protecting the privacy of students or other persons involved in the situation. Handling that situation requires a communication plan that is informative enough for the campus to stay safe but does not name names or make the person of interest in the threat a target for the campus. It is your duty to inform, but also your duty to protect. Work with your assessment team to develop a communication strategy that helps achieve this difficult balance.
For more information on campus threat assessment, intervention and risk management, please join us for this 60-minute webinar:
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Kevin – Higher Ed Hero