School Safety

Report: Some Attacks Are Preventable with Community-Based Threat Intelligence Approach

Four in five mass shooting incidents were preventable "due to the presence of early warning threat indicators," the U.S. Secret Service stated in a 2018 report on "Mass Attacks in Public Spaces." More than three-quarters of perpetrators "made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks," that report noted. Overall, "those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not."

What does this have to do with school safety? LiveSafe, a company with a mobile safety communications platform, has made a study of threat assessment by interviewing numerous "campus law enforcement professionals, former school resource officers, survivors of school shootings, university researchers and education risk and insurance professionals" and suggested that the use of "community-sourced risk intelligence" — which their software addresses — can help prevent violent events. This approach involves people who are part of those communities detecting "deviations" from the norm — "when something appears dangerous, when a person is acting suspicious, or when a friend or colleague is in crisis."

As a LiveSafe report explained, in a special training session led by the Secret Service in November, school officials in attendance learned that:

  • Most school shooters showed "observable warning signs before their attacks" — eliciting "safety concerns" for those around them;

  • The security events occurred at schools that had already put in place physical security measures, including surveillance cameras, school resource officers and lock down procedures;

  • Bullying and mental health problems continue to be "major risk factors" for schools that are concerned about targeted acts of violence;

  • Schools need to develop and deploy threat assessment teams and anonymous reporting systems; and

  • Most attacks are preventable.

LiveSafe was founded by Kristina Anderson, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Her French course was invaded three times by the shooter, resulting in the death of 11 fellow students and the professor in that classroom alone — out of a total campus-wide of 32 people who were killed. According to the report, Anderson came to believe that the use of community engagement and community-sourced intelligence could reduce the number of attacks on campus and improve overall security and safety. The hard part is getting people to do reporting, which was more likely to happen when "the bar to participate is low."

LiveSafe's platform allows users to submit security and safety tips through a smartphone app, whether it's a noise complaint, a scent of drugs, a suspicious vehicle or something else. For example, North Carolina's High Point University receives about a dozen tips a day through its implementation, including "suspicious individuals" on campus that are then intercepted by security staff. The students "know that our dispatchers are there 24/7 and when that alert gets sent in, there is someone that will respond to it very quickly," said Gus Porter, the environmental health, safety and preparedness manager for the campus.

As the report concluded, an increasing number of schools and communities "are making the shift away from reactionary measures and putting more resources behind prevention efforts." That includes the use of community-based threat assessment and trained personnel who can respond effectively and "detect concerning behavior, to respond effectively to it, to assist persons that are either in crisis or struggling with those unresolved grievances, and help them have opportunities and pathways other than violence," as Gene Deisinger, a threat management consultant who previously served as deputy chief of police and director of threat management at Virginia Tech, put it.

The report is available with registration on the LiveSafe website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.