Can Threat Assessment Prevent Tragedy?

Tragedy in Michigan — Could A Threat Assessment Team Have Prevented It?

On November 30, 2021, a mass shooting tragedy struck Oxford High School outside Detroit, Michigan. Four students were killed, and seven more people were wounded. The shooter, a 15-year-old sophomore, was arrested. In a rare decision, his parents were also arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to secure the firearm.

We should not rush to judgment before all facts are known, but there are several important takeaways from what we know so far on what might prevent similar tragedies.

Troubling Behavior

The shooter had shown troubling behaviors before the shooting. He was observed in class searching online for firearm-related webpages. He had created disturbing notes and drawings referencing firearms with bloody images. Both incidents were reported to the school administration. A guidance counselor met with the student and the parents about the behaviors. It was shortly after a second meeting with the guidance counselor that the shooting occurred.

This raises several questions. Presumably, the shooter had the weapon in his backpack or on his person while meeting with the guidance counselor. With this information, it would appear that there was no plan to search his bag or person for potential threats. We do not know if the school district had a student threat assessment team. We do not intend to second guess at the actions of the guidance counselor but rather highlight the need for widespread student threat assessment teams for similar situations.

What Prevents Tragedy? What Prevents Crime?

Schools around the country have invested in enhanced security systems and are conducting active shooter drills and training. Many of the Oxford High School students cited their active shooter training as a critical factor in their survival. This training undoubtedly helped to prevent an even greater tragedy.

The high school also had a video system that provided extensive coverage of the campus. However, although video surveillance systems are an integral part of an overall security strategy, they do not prevent crimes. Security systems collect evidence and, if actively monitored, could help guide first responders, but they cannot be relied on to deter high-profile crimes like an active shooting.

The Best Approach

We believe that a threat assessment team, paired with training and environmental security practices, is the best way to prevent tragedies and save lives. In certain jurisdictions, schools require threat assessment teams. For example, the state of Virginia mandated threat assessment teams at all educational institutions following the Virginia Tech tragedy.

In addition to saving lives, threat assessment teams can help protect schools and workplaces from potential litigation (many lawsuits have already been filed against the district) because it shows good-faith prevention efforts.

Workplaces of All Kinds Can Benefit From Threat Assessment Teams

The latest American National Standard Institute (ANSI) standards for workplace violence and active shooter response also cites the establishment of threat assessment and management teams in corporate settings as the best practice for prevention.

Next Steps

Our team can help. We can review your existing policies, procedures, and crisis response plans to ensure compliance with ANSI standards, applicable regulations, and industry standards. We can also guide selecting, training, and running a threat management team.

A Best Practice

While not an all-inclusive list, the following organizations all consider the establishment of threat assessment teams to be a best practice and an industry-standard:

A properly constituted and well-trained threat assessment team saves lives. Having a threat assessment team in place, supported by enterprise-level training on threat recognition and proper reporting procedures, makes your threat prevention plan strong and thorough.

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