School Violence: How to Stop the Madness
On February 18, Firestorm hosted more than 500 schools for a Virtual School Violence Stress Test. Groups participated via GoToWebinar and Twitter, and tested their plans and assumptions. Firestorm also produced a paper after the session that may be downloaded below.
The paper opens with an introduction by Firestorm CEO Harry Rhulen. Contributors to the paper include Nora K. Stransky, CIC, CPIW, President, Special Markets Insurance Consultants, Inc., Scott Smith, Product Manager for RenWeb Parent Alert, Matthew V. DelDuca, Partner, Pepper Hamilton LLP, Kristin H. Jones, Partner, Pepper Hamilton LLP, Suzy Loughlin, EVP, Chief Administrative Officer, Firestorm, and Jim Satterfield, President and COO of Firestorm.
Violence in our nation’s schools is an ever-present threat. As methods for receiving news have become more and more rapid, society has become more aware of these happenings.
The media and Internet coverage of recent events have amplified the fear level of parents and the expectation that schools are responding appropriately. Starting with the intensive coverage of the Columbine school shootings in Colorado in 1999, everyone became more aware of the anatomy of a school shooting and the people who perpetrated such crimes.
The worst incidence of school violence in US history is one of which most people are unfamiliar. On May 18, 1927, a disgruntled school board member exploded a dynamite bomb in a school in Bath, Michigan. Thirty-eight children and six adults died in the bombing and at least fifty-six others were injured. A review of the incident shows that Andrew Kehoe, the bomber, exhibited significant behaviors of concern that in today’s world would have signaled a need for assistance.
From that time to the present day, there have been hundreds of incidents of school violence including major events such as the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. As with so many other incidents — including Virginia Tech — there were many warning signs exhibited by the shooter.
In today’s world, schools are fortunate to have technology as a tool to assist in the process of mitigating or eliminating violent threats. In the paper that follows, you will see the thoughts of many experts. These thoughts, when incorporated with appropriate planning, training and exercises, can significantly improve the safety and security of your entire school community.
By training everyone in the school community on how to recognize behaviors of concern, every school can identify those individuals within the school community that might be on a dangerous path.
We must remember, however, that schools are also workplaces. Violence in schools is not only perpetrated by students, but by employees, domestic partners of employees or students, and albeit rarely, by total strangers. We therefore must be thinking of risk more broadly.
The following risk identification strategies should be considered:
Risk Assessment – Addressing the dangers of workplace violence must start with a vulnerability and threat assessment process. Understanding the nature of risk will allow a school to take appropriate steps in its strategies to mitigate and manage violence. This comprehensive risk assessment should be done at least annually to ensure you identify threats that emerge as a result of students, employees, administrative processes, technology, or external environmental changes.
Monitor Trends – Establish a process for monitoring trends in violent incidents, inside and outside your school. Regularly review incidents that occur, and adjust strategies and plans accordingly.
Conduct Pre-Employment Screening of all employees to help protect against, and prevent the introduction of, potential issues that could impact your school environment. In addition, wherever lawful, the employee release should permit updated checks at the employer’s discretion, as an individual’s circumstances may have changed since the first background check, making the individual no longer suitable for employment or to have access to your facility.
Utilize Predictive Intelligence – The earlier a problem is detected, the less impact it will have on your school. While there is no guarantee that every threat will be captured, intelligence monitoring must be part of your school violence prevention program. There are threats and risks you can identify, before they become crises, if you listen and look. People know things – and when they know, they talk. Today, people talk on social media. Initial threats or risk behaviors are frequently shared or observed on social media. Most social media messages provide specific information about people, schools or events. Because they are targeted, they can and do convey useful intelligence that can be used to identify threats before they become crises.
Establishing triggers that align with appropriate monitoring techniques allows your school to identify and respond appropriately to early indicators of developing events. What happens tomorrow is already on social media today. Your school should focus on ensuring these monitoring procedures in place.