Podcast Interview with Harry Rhulen: How to Recognize a Potential Threat
On Friday, May 25th, another school in America witnessed an active shooter within its halls. A 13-year-old Noblesville Middle School Student from Indiana entered his science class armed with two guns and opened fire. Although the quick action of a science teacher mitigated the situation, the teacher and one student were injured. In response to the shooting, Novume President and Firestorm Co-Founder, Harry Rhulen, was interviewed by the Indianapolis-based FM Radio Station, the Hammer and Nigel show.
Question: Does Firestorm/Novume approach school violence and active shooter situations from the behavioral side, or the security side?
Harry: We approach school violence prevention from both sides. Our solution is divided into two categories: First Look/ Last Stand (Copyright Firestorm 2018). First Look is the behavioral piece that enables schools to mitigate violence from occurring and prevent a student from bringing a weapon to school. Last Stand includes hardening schools, i.e. – metal detectors, additional SRO’s (school resource officers) etc. The Last Stand pieces are designed to reduce the number of casualties. They are not designed to prevent the shooting from occurring, but rather to reduce the number of people who might be injured or killed in a violent situation.
Identifying behaviors of concern vs. physical security. That is what we call First Look vs Last Stand.
Question: During your research, what has been the one thing that really was an eye-opener for you?
Harry: It’s not necessarily negative behaviors that we’re looking for to prevent violence, but rather behaviors of concern – or changes in behavior. For example: If an outgoing, gregarious student who was always the jokester in the classroom suddenly becomes quiet and distances themselves, that’s a change in behavior. It’s the change in behavior that signals something is going on in a young person’s life. Training our students, faculty, and staff how to spot behaviors of concern and then what to do with that information once they spot it is critical.
Question: What has your research told you about bullying?
Harry: We conduct a great deal of research on bullying. Bullying is one of the biggest problems we face in our country, not only in our schools but also our workplaces. There are roughly two million reported cases of bullying annually in our nation’s schools. Similarly, there are about two million incidents of workplace violence reported annually. Bullies do not disappear once they graduate high school; they enter our workforce.
Bullying is the root cause of not only school shootings, but of many of the sexual molestation problems and suicide problems see in schools.
Question: It’s one thing to spot behavioral changes in someone, but what action should someone take if they do indeed see a radical behavioral change? What’s the next step?
Harry: Schools need a comprehensive [violence prevention] program. If you look at sharetheformula.com, what you’ll see is a 9-step formula to mitigate violence. Training people on behaviors of concern is the first step. The next step is providing the students, faculty, and staff an anonymous reporting system by which they can report something they’ve seen. Behaviors of concern can be very mild; something that a student normally would not report, therefore, we must make it easy for people to report these behaviors.
*See editors note for more information on #ShareTheFormula
A school or workplace must have an anonymous reporting system that feeds into a central repository and is monitored by a trained individual. An anonymous reporting tool and central repository are easy pieces to implement, but are so critical to the success of the school. Schools also need to be monitoring media and social media. In the social media aspect, students are telegraphing their intent to harm, or they know that one of their peers is telegraphing their intent. We can identify these threats by monitoring social media. We’re beginning to utilize artificial intelligence tools to scrape through the social media and provide the early warning signs.
Question: How much does the media glorify school shooters? Are you seeing students believe they can become stars, or infamous because the way they’re treated in the media?
Harry: I do not blame any of it on the media; I think the media is doing its job by reporting current events. There are, however, at-risk students in every school in the United States. I call these students, ‘sitting on the fence.’ In many schools, these students never fall off the fence. The constant bombardment of shooting incidents on their tv’s, cellphones, computers, and iPads, however, does push students off the fence.
We’re seeing an increase in school violence (in these shooting-type of events) because of the inflow of information.
Question: What will people find when they go to the sharetheformula.com website?
Harry: They will find the pieces of the 9-step Formula that must be implemented to prevent an incident of violence. This begins with training on behaviors of concern, implementing anonymous reporting, establishing a central repository, and training staff as to what to do with information once it enters the repository.
What I hope is that people take the Formula to their superintendent, their next school board meeting, or their State Department of Education and say, ‘Why aren’t we doing this? And if we’re not doing this, explain to me that what we’re doing is better.’ Firestorm and Novume do not have any claim to saying we’re the only ones with ideas in this area. But after 11 years, we have determined the best practices to mitigating violence. Tell us what we can do better.
Firestorm was on the ground after the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech. Since then, it has been our goal to prevent similar incidents. We created the 9-step formula to stop the violence. Please visit www.sharetheformula.com to download the nine elements and help us #ShareTheFormula to prevent violence.