Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment or BeRThA®
One must only watch the evening news to see how the world of school administrators and school board members has changed. Technology has changed the way everyone receives information. The evolution of social media continues to produce emerging threats.
School violence, sexual abuse, sexting, bullying and many other offenses are occurring with greater frequency and are displayed for everyone to see on a regular basis. Social media empowers more ‘verbal’ attacks and negative messages to wider audiences escalating impacts beyond all previous expectations. Parents expect schools to keep their children safe— notwithstanding the fact that schools are finding it difficult to keep pace with the ‘rate of change.’
Since the Columbine High School shootings, and the many subsequent shootings, suicides and acts of violence which have occurred, most schools have implemented emergency response plans that address protocols to use for an active shooter, e.g. lockdown. They have set up crisis teams to respond when a bad event has occurred. Although a robust emergency response plan requires these tactics, they do not address the real problem— ‘how do we end the madness?”
The answer to keeping our children and employees safe lies in prevention. It is the job of every school administrator and board member to try and prevent acts of violence. Firestorm® works with schools and organizations to implement a program that will prevent such acts in the first instance — a program that will identify at risk students and employees, long before they progress down a path of violence or ever want to cause harm to begin with. Such a program will foster an environment of enhanced safety, and give students and employees the ability to perform more optimally from an academic, social and emotional perspective.
Can this be done? It can be done through an organization’s implementation of a Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment Program – a program Firestorm calls BERTHA®. Its goal is to enable a school to intercede before an act of violence occurs.
Acts of violence in schools rarely come as a surprise, and are perpetrated by current and former students, employees, domestic partners of employees or, in rare cases, total strangers.
- Virtually all acts are committed by individuals with a relationship of some kind to the school.
- Virtually all individuals who commit acts of violence exhibit warning signs before doing so.
- Virtually all individuals who commit acts of violence tell at least one, and sometimes up to three people, before doing so.
It is critical that schools and organizations do all they can to identify those students and employees who need help, and intervene with trained resources that will provide the counseling and case management the individual needs. This raises the likelihood that the gun never comes to school, the sexual assault never occurs or the bullying is stopped before it becomes a problem.
Firestorm is a national leader in emergency response, crisis management, crisis communications and workplace violence. Firestorm® provides crisis management to schools nationally and has identified actionable solutions to address these threats before they escalate to acts of physical violence or result in death.
The BeRThA® program will assist schools and organizations in identifying, assessing, managing and responding to individuals or groups who may pose threats of violence. There are some guiding principles of the BeRThA® program:
- Threat assessment must be part of an overall strategy to reduce school violence. Threat assessment by itself, absent an environment of respect, positive role models, communication between adults and students, conflict management and mediation, peer education, teachers and administrators paying attention to students’ social and emotional needs, as well as their academic needs, is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the problem of targeted school violence.
- No single person has all the skills required to conduct a behavioral threat assessment and no single person should have the sole responsibility to assess the potential risk of a student or employee. The ‘BeRThA®’ program starts with the Board of Education and engages the whole school community. It is designed using best practices and input from hands-on crisis management experience obtained by Firestorm principals and Expert Council Members, as well as the US Secret Service, FBI, Department of Education and other thought leaders on the topic of school and workplace violence.
- BERTHA provides school personnel with a wealth of information about behavioral threats as well as the availability of responding resources. For example, a student who turns out to be expressing a low level of threat may still be one with a high level of need for intervention, supervision and mental health services. In the light of prevention, identifying a similar student and empower support services that may help address/resolve his or her problems, should be seen as a positive outcome for all involved.
Firestorm provides crisis management to organizations nationally and has identified actionable solutions to address threats before they escalate. Firestorm provided crisis management and crisis communications services to Virginia Tech after the shootings, Littleton, CO, Roswell, NM and Jefferson County School District in Colorado (Columbine, Arapahoe, Deer Creek and Platte Canyon schools). Firestorm was engaged by a high-school in Florida, after the headmaster was killed by a teacher, helping them to perform a security assessment and implement a workplace violence program.
Firestorm is currently engaged by many schools and summer camps (as well as other types of businesses) to do planning and implement prevention strategies, helping to keep hundreds of public and private schools (K-12 and higher education) and tens of thousands of students and campers more safe.
Firestorm has conducted hundreds of vulnerability assessments for schools (public and private, higher education & K-12), corporations (public and private), large and small businesses, non-profits and government agencies. The Firestorm vulnerability assessment process incorporates proven techniques and strategies developed through hands-on experience garnered in crisis environments.
Firestorm is also regularly engaged to perform behavioral risk/threat assessments of individuals who exhibit behaviors of concern. Firestorm principals have led threat assessment teams that include Forensic Psychologists and law enforcement professionals, in evaluating the risk an individual poses. Where necessary, Firestorm works with the organization to manage risk and secure the facility or facilities and most critically, to guide the organization in its crisis communications and messaging to all stakeholders.
Please call Firestorm at 770-643-1114 or reach out via our CONTACT form and let us answer any questions you may have to assure your school or organization is doing everything possible to keep students, employees and your community safe.