In the wake of recent violent attacks on university campuses, schools have added emergency communication systems and critical response plans. These are vital for dealing with a crisis once it has occurred, but resources for preventing an attack and managing the fear of violence are even more important. Many schools have not taken this important step.

Research on school attacks illuminates the importance of threat assessment teams. College and university teams need to be able to identify, assess, and manage persons who come to their attention as a potential threat. A multi-disciplinary "integrated systems approach" has proven - in a number of cases - to accomplish this important task.

The composition of the team is very important. Most schools have decided that the core membership consists of leaders from campus security, student life, counseling services, legal and public affairs. But don't get caught in a "one size fits all" trap. Every school needs to think through the configuration that best fits their student body, location, resources and campus culture. Some schools have one team to deal with students of concern and a separate team to deal with employee/faculty concerns. Others schools have a team that deals with both students and employees and includes team members from Human Resources and Employee Assistance.

An effective campus threat assessment team faces a number of challenges. Unconventional behavior is expected and accepted in colleges and universities. Assessing dangerous behavior is not easy in such open and engaging learning environments. Many universities are now taking steps to adapt (for their own settings) the well-established essentials of behavioral threat assessment and to provide training to their threat assessment teams.

University Threat Assessment is a new and emerging field. It is essential that threat assessment teams receive effective training from professionals with an extensive background in providing threat assessment in both law enforcement and educational settings. When evaluating trainers, universities should consider the following:

  • Look for professionals who have worked in organizations that have an established track record of using threat assessment effectively.
  • Make sure the prospective trainer has direct experience in applying established principles of threat assessment to a school environment.
  • Training should involve the entire team and include case simulations that allow team members to work through problems together and prepare for potential situations.
  • The training should be customized to the unique needs of the campus community.

As more colleges and universities put best practices and training in place, they will become the benchmarks to which standards of practice are measured in both the eyes of the public and the law.

What has your university or college done to establish or prepare a threat assessment team? Please comment and let us know. If you are interested in learning more about threat assessment check out the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals.

About the Author

David F. Swink

David Swink is Chief Creative Officer of Strategic Interactions, Inc., based in Fairfax, Virginia.

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