Why are you Waiting for the Weapon to Arrive? Jim Satterfield on Preventing Violence
The following is taken from an interview conducted with Firestorm CEO, Jim Satterfield. In discussions about recent mass violence events, we revisited some basic principles and more innovative programs to prevent the “waiting period.” For Firestorm, that means the time frame of waiting for a deadly weapon to arrive at your workplace or on your campus. Why are we waiting for the weapon to arrive? Let’s instead prevent; identify behaviors of concern, and intervene before that weapon ever comes on to our property.
Q: How do we identify behaviors of concern before they escalate to violence?
A: First and foremost, in any school or business, there needs to be one central team – a Behavioral or Threat Management Team. This Team is charged with recognizing and responding to behaviors of concern. Behaviors must be categorized, screened for, and a plan must be in place to respond at every level.
Q: Where does this approach originate?
A: Let me give you some background: Firestorm was founded in 2005 and we came out of the insurance industry. In insurance, the focus is “How do we make you whole after something bad has happened?” Well, in our experience, there are some things that you can’t make whole again. The loss of a child is one of the most tragic events that anyone can experience or see. There is no amount of insurance that will make that okay.
Early on in the Firestorm experience we were called to Virginia Tech. It occurred on April 16, 2007 and it was the worst episode of workplace violence in the United States at that time; 32 people were dead. When we saw the impact of that and when we saw the pressure it placed upon everyone involved, we started to investigate and understand. We started to see that in the beginning, there were behaviors of concern before April 16th. There were opportunities to intervene at the University, at the high school, at the elementary school. There was clearly a pattern of behavior that led to the day that shook that campus, the communities and the families of those lost.
We continued to do more research while receiving phone calls where violence had come to work or school. We thought: “Why are we waiting until the weapon arrives? We need to stop this earlier. We need to keep our phone from ringing.”
Q: In addition to Firestorm expertise, what other expert sources did you include?
A: First, we looked at the available literature in the market. We understood what the FBI and the Secret Service had put into place because they are identifying behaviors of concern and have spent years in building that. We next aggregated best practices from many sources in the mental health, threat assessment, law enforcement and education sectors. Extensive resources include guidance from the United States Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Education, Association of Threat Management Professionals, American Psychological Association, Department of Labor, OSHA, Department of Defense, Colorado School Safety Resource Center and other thought leaders on the topic of school violence. Over a period of six years, we created a program called Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment or BeRThA®. We are now collaborating with a major University in creating both live and computer-based learning to bring this program to as broad an audience as possible.
Q: Aren’t most people concerned with an actual violence event and how to survive that?
A: Our goal here is violence prevention. Will we respond if the violence is there? Yes, of course; we clearly have emergency plans. We clearly have procedures on what to do during an Active Shooter or Deadly Weapons event. We have the crisis management expertise to deal with the consequences of a violence event. But, in the beginning and at the core of everything we do is our methodology: Predict.Plan.Perform.®.
Statistics tell us that we can predict the behavior of someone that is on the path to violence. There are indicators, there are warning signs upon which we can act and intervene. If we see those, if we observe and document and collaborate as a Team, then we can take an action before the violence actually occurs. You must have a structure however, a program. You need the framework and an elegant approach.
When it comes to violence, we must ask: how do you recognize it? To whom do we communicate? Do we trust they will take appropriate, documented and practiced action? What do they do next? How do they reach a decision?
Too many approaches tell you what to do but not “how” – we want to change that.
Q: Final thoughts Jim?
A: As we continue to respond to requests for assistance in this area, and as we observe more real life examples, we see that there are training approaches in place in schools and businesses. Human resource departments, counselors in schools, resource and security officers; all have been dealing with these issues, but, they are dealing with the issues as a “one-off”.
Our goal is to approach this in a holistic manner; by looking at the entire approach. We don’t want to answer the phone anymore for this issue, but we will. We don’t want to be talking about the next event, but we know we will. There are 2 million episodes of bullying annually in the United States. There are 2 million episodes of workplace violence annually in the United States. There are too many. Not 2 million too many, one too many.
Please look at our programs, ask us questions and let’s solve this problem together.