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Threat Assessment

Threat assessment for schools is a fact-based process developed by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education that helps schools evaluate and assess potentially threatening students or situations. Based on the 2002 Safe School Initiative, the threat assessment process attempts to prevent school violence by encouraging schools to increase awareness and examine potentially threatening behaviors using an integrated team approach.
 
School threat assessment is not intended to profile or seek out students who exhibit certain traits, but rather to assist schools in evaluating student behaviors or reports of threatened violence. When conducting a threat assessment, the central question to keep in mind is whether a student’s behavior poses a threat—not simply whether a student makes a threat.
 

Breaking the code of silence

According to the Safe School Initiative, 81% of the time at least one person had information about a student’s plans prior to a school attack. In almost every case that individual was a fellow student, sibling or peer. Students must feel comfortable reporting information to a trusted adult and know that breaking the “code of silence” is essential to keeping the school safe. Students and teachers must also be trained to look for behaviors or activities that appear suspicious and know what to do when they observe or have information about potential violence.
 

Designate a central point of contact

When threatening behavior is observed or discovered, students, staff and parents need to know immediately how to report the information. A central point of contact must be designated as the person responsible for receiving reports of potential violence. Upon receiving the information, the central point of contact will evaluate and determine whether to initiate a threat assessment inquiry.
 

Conducting a threat assessment inquiry

If the central point of contact deems a threat is credible and concerning, he or she will gather the threat assessment team and initiate a threat assessment inquiry. While the process should be initiated immediately, the primary consideration must be the safety of the school. If time does not allow, and suspected violence is imminent, law enforcement should be contacted immediately.
 
Time permitting, the threat assessment team should assemble within hours of receiving a reported threat and initiate the inquiry process. Ideally the threat assessment team is comprised of school or district administrators, social workers, school psychologists or counselors, the school resource officer or law enforcement and teachers or members of community organizations who have a relationship with the student. Each individual’s diverse perspective is critical to establishing a more complete picture of the student and assessing the likelihood of violent behavior.
 
The threat assessment analysis worksheet will guide the team through the threat assessment process.