Establishing a threat assessment team to prevent workplace violence is a best practice recommended by agencies and organizations such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Agency, U.S. Department of Labor, ASIS and the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals to name a few.
We have found that many firms have established their teams in a methodical and sound manner, but have not memorialized processes or properly trained their teams. This is a critical gap because becoming a member of a threat assessment team carries with it a tremendous responsibility.
Identifying the Right Information at the Right Time to Take the Right Action
The actions that threat assessment teams take – or do not take – can have real and potentially tragic consequences. This is best illustrated by the Aurora, Colorado shooting in July 2012 in which a subject killed 12 people and injured 70 in a movie theater.
Before the incident, the shooter met with a mental health professional who was not only a threat assessment team member at the school where the shooter was a student, she actually helped write the policies and procedures. According to media accounts, she notified the other members of the threat assessment team, but the team never convened to discuss the case.
In response to the Columbine, Colorado school shooting, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education conducted a study that found in most school shootings, information was available before the incident that suggested the student planned an attack at school. The guide goes on to say, “It is the responsibility of the threat assessment team to gather this information from what may be multiple sources: teachers, parents, friends, guidance counselors, after-school program staff, part-time employers and others.”
Our experience has shown the actions of a multi-disciplinary behavioral threat assessment team composed of representatives from HR, security, legal and management, as well as external specialists in law enforcement, mental health and targeted violence can save lives.
However, merely establishing a team does not enhance a company or government entity’s ability to prevent targeted violence. It is critically important that these team members receive specific training in behavioral threat assessment, warning signs, interview skills and strategies, among other topics. We have found many companies and government agencies have established teams, but lack the training to interact and interview subjects of concern.
What Should Be Covered in Threat Assessment Team Training?
By their nature, threat assessment teams – comprised of both internal and external stakeholders and professionals – are designed to be interdisciplinary. Many of the team members may not work together on a regular basis. Because of this, it is best to bring the group together for the training sessions.
We recommend a thorough orientation and training program for our clients with the goals of:
- Teaching skills in the areas of identifying, investigating, assessing and managing threats.
- Enhancing and fine-tuning participants’ organizational strategies for managing threats and beginning to pinpoint and resolve possible obstacles to successfully deal with threats.
- Exploring real-world scenarios and responses in applying key principles and strategies.
The purpose of our training sessions is to inform participants about the principles, issues and guidelines that underlie the set of investigative and operational techniques central to identifying, assessing and managing the opportunities and risks associated with targeted violence and its potential perpetrators.
We include topics such as:
- The Roles and Responsibilities of Team Members
- What We Know About Attack-Related Behaviors
- Behavioral Threat Assessment
- Warning Behaviors
- Mitigating Factors
- Best Practices for Layoffs or Terminations
- Legal Implications
- The Impact of Domestic Violence in the Workplace
- Enhanced Interviewing Strategies
The Use of Psychodrama in Training
During our training sessions, participants have an opportunity to participate in interactive behavioral simulations drawn from real-world threatening events. The simulations give attendees a highly realistic environment where they can (1) practice the skills taught during the training and (2) implement policies and procedures that help protect their employees and facilities.
Interactive Behavioral Simulation is a unique and trademarked technique that has been used extensively to train thousands of people. This technique draws on the developmental learning theory of psychodrama that people learn new skills most effectively in environments that allow them to integrate the physical, cognitive, psychological and emotional challenges of human interaction. Psychodrama offers a holistic learning experience.
Subject-matter experts, cross-trained as actors, portray individuals who may have the intent to carry out an act of violence. They are proficient in the skills they are teaching. The role player, rather than merely portraying a social identity, incorporates the psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual history of the subject. Rather than focusing simply on their own performance, they simultaneously focus on the training needs of the students while adjusting the role spontaneously to incorporate emerging challenges and goals.
In this way, the simulation enhances the cognitive integration of all sensory information. A “coach,” who is both an expert in behavioral threat assessment and an experienced mental health professional, guides the process and stops the action at intervals to drive home key points.
The Importance of Multidisciplinary Training
Multidisciplinary training sessions provide opportunities for the threat assessment team members to come together to build relationships and consider how to address issues before a crisis arises. Training that uses practical exercises – “What should we do if…” – enhances threat assessment and management programs and processes and is more effective and operationally relevant.