Threat Assessment and Management for Educators and Administrators

2.0 What is TAM? What is it NOT?

The first step in creating and implementing threat assessment management in your school is to have a clear idea of the purpose, capabilities, and limitations of threat assessment. In other words, what it IS, and what it IS NOT.

Threat assessment management is a fact-based, investigative approach to evaluate threats and determine how likely a person is to carry out a threat of violence. By investigating, gathering facts, and assessing threats, the threat assessment team is able to do three important tasks:

  1. Identify individuals at risk for violence against themselves or others. Who should we be concerned about? Keep in mind that these individuals may be any type of school stakeholder, a student, staff member, parent, or community member.
  2. Assess the level of concern. How concerned should we be about this individual? Where are they on the path to violence? Ideation? Engaging in specific planning or preparation activities? Ready for implementation or attack?
  3. Manage the individual. What are we going to do about it? How will the school and other agencies provide appropriate support and interventions to prevent the individual from engaging in violence?

Now that we’ve briefly examined what threat assessment is - let’s identify what it is not. Threat assessment is not a simple checklist of warning signs or red flags that an administrator or guidance counselor completes based on a single threat or incident. Threat assessment examines the whole picture, not just an isolated event. The use of threat assessment management principles is not a means to “kick kids out of school” or “label them” as troublemakers, but instead to craft a plan for effectively intervening and managing the individual.

Perhaps most importantly, threat assessment is not just about “finding the next school shooter”. It goes far beyond just that single purpose. Threat assessment assists schools in identifying and supporting individuals who may engage in a wide range of violence against themselves or others, from self-harm like cutting or suicide, to risk taking behaviors and substance abuse, to assaults and other forms of violence against others.

It is also important to understand the distinction between threat assessments and vulnerability assessments as these terms are often used interchangeably and incorrectly (See figure 2.2). A vulnerability assessment (sometimes called a site survey or security audit) deals with things, not people. It focuses on the facility, policies, and procedures, not individuals. A vulnerability assessment should be scheduled and conducted on a periodic basis to examine the security of the physical plant, the daily operational practices, and to detect potential vulnerabilities or risks.

In Texas, the education code states, “At least once every three years, each school district shall conduct a safety and security audit of the district’s facilities. To the extent possible, a district shall follow safety and security audit procedures developed by the Texas School Safety Center or a comparable public or private entity”. More information on safety and security audits can be found in the Texas School Safety Center’s K-12 School Safety and Security Audit Toolkit.

K-12 School Safety and Security Audit Toolkit

A threat assessment, on the other hand, is about people - individuals of concern. It cannot be scheduled, but rather must occur whenever a threat is received. It focuses on a specific individual, the threats they have made or pose, and the development of a plan for management. While vulnerability assessments and threat assessment management have different purposes and mechanisms, both are critical to ensure a safer school.