I recently attended the 28th Annual Threat Management Conference in Anaheim, California. The conference, which is presented by the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department Threat Management Unit (TMU), attracted a record number of attendees from a diverse mix of corporate, law enforcement, education and other related specialties.

Having been one of a small group of experts who attended the very first conferences, it has been exciting to witness the field evolve and expand over time. This year, among many insightful and valuable lessons, we expanded our knowledge of the STOP School Violence Act, Eagles Act of 2018 and other legislation recently proposed or signed into law to provide funding for violence prevention efforts. We also developed a greater understanding of the ATAP Certified Threat Manager designation and cross-referenced our existing strategies with other open-intelligence programs.

However, one initiative stood out the most —not only because it demonstrated an innovative approach to threat violence and risk management — but also because it sought to address a tragedy by involving the people who lived it.

After Sandy Hook, Moving Forward

I am referring to Nicole Hockley’s exceptional presentation on the Sandy Hook Promise (SHP). Hockley lost her six-year-old son Dylan in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, when an assailant killed 20 young children. It was the deadliest school shooting since Virginia Tech in 2007 and launched a global search for answers: “How could this have happened?,” “What can we do to stop it from happening again?

While school shootings have not ceased in the United States, many parents who suffered tragic loss at Sandy Hook have since fought for ways to prevent violence in an institution where children should never have to worry about their safety.

A New Approach to Safety in Schools

At the SHP presentation, Hockley spoke eloquently and passionately about the organization she and other victim’s family members launched to educate students and adults. Its content and delivery eloquently introduced a new and innovative approach to violence prevention in schools. The SHP programs are designed to identify, intervene and get help for individuals who might be at risk of hurting themselves or others. Their program is original in that it seeks to address the problem at the core: attempting to interrupt early behaviors and circumstances that could lead to violence.

The Ways the Sandy Hook Promise is Different

  • Sandy Hook Promise initiatives are “delivered in schools at no cost and with multiple platforms to meet the time constraints of students and educators.” They are a non-profit, supported solely through donations.
  • SHP fashions their message and materials to purposefully avoid political pitfalls.
  • The scope of their programs is broad and includes a range of violent and harmful behaviors.
  • They promote “mental wellness,” such as coping skills, anger management, empathy, social development and problem-solving versus the stigmatization of mental illness.
  • Their use of technology and messaging is bold and refreshing. You can watch their impactful videos Evan and Tomorrow’s News. Additionally, they developed an app for an anonymous reporting system, “SaySomething,” that is available 24/7 and free.
  • SHP devised a way to sustain their programs “through SHP in-district support and empowerment of youth by supporting and embedding [their] youth programs in existing or newly formed student clubs/in-school awareness materials.”
  • They are unique in that they are developing analytics to measure the impact of their programs in order to more effectively use their resources.
  • The primary objective of the SHP program is to “help the 6-8% that may become violent while also helping the 92-94% who will never become violent but may struggle with addiction, social, emotional and cognitive impairment and other physical ailments.”

This is a program that appears well positioned to prevent violence in schools and later in workplaces as the involved children transition to adulthood. I encourage corporations and my colleagues to use this model to create innovative programs in organizations to similarly identify and address troubled employees and early warning signs of violence before they become disruptive or dangerous situations. We are certainly exemplifying that pursuit at our own practice at Hillard Heintze.

It shouldn’t take something like what happened in 2012 in Connecticut to keep innovating in the threat and violence risk management field.