Preparing for Threats beyond COVID19

As K-12 and higher education institutions work to reopen schools, they must keep student health and safety top of mind, even as they confront myriad challenges. In classrooms across the nation, and the world, health screenings, social distancing protocols, hybrid classroom models and countless other measures will be in effect in an effort to combat COVID-19, but what is the overall effect on student and faculty mental health? What new challenges should schools prepare for as they welcome students back? What process can be put in place, if any, for observations of abuse in a remote operational environment?

Although maintaining student, faculty and community health during the pandemic is critical, it is important for school districts, universities and colleges to remember that as schools begin to reopen, the physical and mental welfare of their communities are also imperative.

School districts and universities should make it a priority to incorporate behavioral wellness and robust threat assessment into their school reopening plans. Doing so can not only preempt acts of violence and self-harm, it could save lives and foster a more supportive and nurturing learning environment for all.

A Critical Partner in Prevention

Threat assessment protocols are meant to foster partnership between school safety and resource teams, enabling mental health and counseling staff, as well as school administrators to collaborate.

Being on the lookout for student, faculty and even community warning signs of potential threats can be a challenge for school safety and counseling leadership, especially when they lack the tools to quickly and efficiently share information and reflections. Many of these leaders are also having to share records with districts when students switch schools, highlighting yet another example of the need for threat assessment solutions.

Helping school leaders efficiently analyze, investigate and assess behaviors of concern are critical to ensuring school communities are safe for everyone. By aggregating and securely storing data, threat assessment solutions help team members pinpoint pre-incident indicators that can help prevent acts of violence, suicide, bullying and depression before they manifest into crises. Better collaboration results in quicker referrals to instructional programs, counseling, meditation and other proactive interventions.

Identifying Early-warning Signs

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, incidents of targeted violence are rarely impulsive. On average, plans of violence are formulated and prepared at least two weeks in advance of the actual incident, whether it is an act of self-harm or larger scale, even potentially school-wide or community violence.

History has revealed that in incidents involving students or others in the school community, early warning signs are always present. Using the help of innovative technology counselors, school resources officers and even teachers can gain and share visibility to concerning behaviors and take appropriate action.

Students returning from uncertain family situations, economic hardships and other effects of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will bring with them a uniquely complex set of issues, it is vital for school leaders to keep the impact of these challenges on students. Breaking through the noise of the ever shifting pandemic news and tuning into the early warning signs of physical and emotional threats will ensure school leaders are responsive to issues unfolding in their student and staffpopulations.

Digitizing School Safety into a Single Pane of Glass

Today, threat assessment solutions can provide school leaders with single-point platforms that generate highly secure, real-time data in one place. At-risk students and adult threat actors may be securely monitored, and any pre-incident indicators consolidated into user friendly platforms that give school resource teams a holistic view of each potential threat.

Employing threat assessment solutions gives safety departments more time to implement appropriate interventions by navigating their time away from digging up files, scanning social media and trying to connect the dots.

The Unique Challenges of the 2020 School Year

The era of increased school violence, community unrest, coupled with the health safety concerns of a pandemic, leave school leadership in a state of heightened stress and anxiety, working to ensure school is a safe place for everyone.

Budget cuts due to the pandemic should not be the reason we don’t keep students, educators and communities safe from the threats of selfharm, suicide, bullying or wide-scale violence. Investing in thoughtful, proactive threat assessment solutions should be prioritized, enabling educators and professionals who are already doing this work to do it even better, and more efficiently than ever before.

This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.

About the Author

Fred Burton is the executive director, Center for Protective Intelligence at Ontic.


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