June 28, 2018


With the end of the school year and the beginning of summer upon us, school districts and colleges across the country are making their preparations and budget decisions for next year. Among those decisions will be whether or not to invest scarce resources in more security technologies (such as surveillance cameras, metal detectors and gunshot detectors) and improvements in physical security

As a security training professional, I know that all of these things are important to building a layered system of protections into the school environment. But working on major awareness and prevention programs during the last 10 years has taught me another important lesson that school administrators would be wise to acknowledge: Prevention is mostly about people and culture.

Empower the Observant Bystander

While taking a layered approach to deploying security technologies is an important part of improving school security, these systems are really not designed for prevention. And as Carolyn Reinach Wolf argues in a recent article in Psychology Today, “While these approaches likely save lives, schools would be wise to understand that when a student enters a school with a gun, and an intent to kill, it’s already too late.”

According to the FBI’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center (BTAC), community observers – students, teachers, parents, school administrators and staff – represent a threat management “force multiplier” that school districts, colleges and universities should learn to leverage. It is this community that is uniquely positioned to observe warning behaviors that may indicate a person is planning or considering an act of violence.

Observations are possible because targeted acts of violence are rarely, if ever, random. This is true for coordinated acts of terrorism and it is also true for targeted acts of violence that are taking place with greater and greater frequency at our nation’s schools.

“The offender may not actually reach or ultimately harm the chosen target for any number of reasons, but pre-event target selection of some kind has been made,” according to the FBI’s BTAC report, Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks. Just as we train professionals to be observant for these pre-operational indicators in terrorist attacks, we must train and equip our educational community to observe and report indicators of violent behavior.

“This targeting is, in a sense, one of the keys to prevention,” the BTAC report states. “It likely means the would-be offender has a personal grievance toward someone, a group of persons, or perhaps an organization. It may be openly expressed, along with the idea that violence is the only valid solution to the problem perceived by the grievant. Research, planning, and preparation are likely needed in order to ensure success. Other behaviors, as well as expressions and communications, may hint at or outright announce an intention to become violent. All of these mental and behavioral ‘waypoints’ along a pathway to violence may be observed by someone, who can in turn report to authorities.”

Too often, however, the organizational cultures in which we work and attend school do not sufficiently support or empower community members to report their concerns to people or authorities who can take action and prevent an incident. Community observers often avoid reporting their observations or suspicions out of fear of being labeled a snitch, being wrong or suffering reprisals from individuals or the institution.

Overcoming these fears, however, is absolutely critical to prevention. And that can only be done by fostering what the FBI BTAC report refers to as “a culture of shared responsibility,” as well as providing members of the community with a tool that empowers reporting, including the ability to do so anonymously.

And prevention works. According to researchers from the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education who worked on the Safe School Initiative, offenders in 81% of school shooting cases told at least one person about the attack beforehand. In 59% of cases at least two other individuals had some information about the event before it was carried out.

“This alone suggests that [community observers and bystanders] are invaluable resources who create opportunities for intervention and ultimately prevention,” the FBI BTAC report states. And while, “reporting is an essential part of prevention” the mechanisms put in place to support it must “be easy to understand and effective at getting information to someone empowered to act on it.”

LiveSafe: Prevention Is In Our DNA

Co-founded by Kristina Anderson, the most injured survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, LiveSafe enables business enterprises and college campuses to leverage the safety and security observations of their employees. It transforms employees and students into mobile human sensors capable of delivering actionable intelligence on emerging threats.

The heart of the LiveSafe Platform is an easy-to-use, intuitive mobile app that lives on the one thing that almost everybody has on their person at almost all times — the smartphone. The app can be configured to your organization’s particular needs. It allows an organization’s user base to send and receive important security and safety information.

But most important of all, it provides users the ability to remain anonymous. Maintaining anonymity has historically been one of the biggest obstacles to increasing engagement in anti-terrorism reporting programs. LiveSafe provides that option, removing a major barrier to increased engagement.

Having the LiveSafe App tied back to your local organization, company or university also ensures two-way communications between you and the local security officials tasked with maintaining your safety. As a LiveSafe user, you can receive broadcast notifications from your local security operations center and even engage in 1-to-1 communications during incidents or observations.

Self-service tools, like a safety map and clickable resources, enable users to take control of their personal safety in everyday situations and during high-risk scenarios. Heading out on your own this weekend? The SafeWalk feature allows LiveSafe users to invite friends to virtually accompany them to their destination, ensuring that you get to where you are going safely.

All of this grassroots risk reporting is intelligently routed to the appropriate security officials in your organization. From tips supported by photos, videos and location data, to broadcast alert messaging that can be filtered to specific organizational subgroups or even custom geofenced areas on the dashboard map, the LiveSafe Command and Control Dashboard enables two-way risk intelligence sharing in a way that moves organizations from a posture of reaction to one of prevention. And in the case of a natural disaster or an incident beyond your control, the Check-in feature provides the ability to quickly and easily ascertain the safety status of your LiveSafe-enabled employees.

Powering Prevention

Community-sourced intelligence that can shift an organization’s security posture from reaction to prevention is now a reality with LiveSafe. We all have a role to play in preventing acts of violence from happening. And now we all have a way to make a difference.

About Dan: Dan Verton is a Homeland Security Subject Matter Expert & Content Writer at LiveSafe. He is also an award-winning journalist, former military intelligence officer, and author of Left of Boom: The Citizen’s Guide to Detecting and Preventing Terrorist Attacks.


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