Today, I want to highlight the second phase of behavioral threat assessment – making inquiries on the individuals identified in the first phase as possibly posing a threat and assessing the risks of violence posed by them at a given time. This may result in a more thorough investigation by reaching out to outside resources such as law enforcement and mental health practitioners. This involves a focus on two areas:

  1. Conducting an  internal inquiry of a particular subject and potential targets
  2. Evaluating this information for (a) evidence of conditions and behaviors consistent with an attack and (b) indications that the subject is either moving toward or away from an attack.

Just as insight and judgment are vital in the identification phase, they’re also crucial at this point in the process.  Again, consider a few traditional threat assessment tenets and their implications for school violence prevention.

  • Traditional Threat Assessment Tenet:  Pre-attack communications can be direct or indirect, and their meaning may only become apparent when tied in with other facts of the case.  Implications for School Violence Prevention:  Context matters.  Take posts on social media as one example.  The autonomy of the Internet allows individuals to assume different personas depending on the position or opinion they want to express.  This requires that threat assessors supporting internal school threat assessment teams proactively search and retrieve this open-source data, connect the dots across the various web domains, information silos, presumed identities and aliases and understand the inferences.
  • Traditional Threat Assessment Tenet:  Prior to an attack, many attackers display attack-related behaviors, which may include exhibiting an interest in mass murders; stalking or attempting to approach the target; making plans to conduct an attack; attempting to acquire a weapon; or practicing with a weapon.  Implications for School Violence Prevention:  The signs may not be obvious, but we know that in most incidents of targeted school violence other people knew about the attackers idea or plan to attack. [1] While some of this may be evident in online postings and communications, other signals of pre-attack behaviors will only be to a few friends, or a teacher, or a guidance counselor.  By themselves, snippets of insights don’t mean much.  Gathered together, however, they can offer threat assessors a more detailed picture of an individual who may or may not be on a path to violence.
  • Traditional Threat Assessment Tenet:  Many attackers feel bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack or have difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures.  Implications for School Violence Prevention:  Clearly, one of the most important goals for any effective security awareness program should be encouraging members of the academic community and student body to share information that is relevant – in a timely manner.

As our Act #23, we pledge to do our part to help ensure that the Assess phase of threat assessment undertaken on behalf of our schools is appropriately supported by experienced specialists in every state in our country.  Tomorrow, we’ll point out comparable complexity in the Manage phase of the process.


[1] Fein, R. Vosekuil B. et al, (2002) Threat Assessment in Schools: A guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates. United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education.