Q: What are the most rewarding elements of working within the education risk management space?
A: Threat assessment is considered to be the current best practice for handling threatening situations and preventing targeted violence at colleges and universities, in K-12 schools, in workplaces, and in the military. When we conduct a threat assessment, we gather and analyze information to determine if someone is planning something violent – and if so, to figure out what underlying problems are leading them to consider violence or resort to violence. We then come up with a plane to solve those underlying problems through non-violence means – and that usually involves getting the person some form of help or assistance. Threat assessment is rewarding because it is about keeping people safe and at the same time finding ways to help someone who needs assistance or support. Those of us who work in this field know that threat assessment has averted or prevented planned school shootings, campus shootings, workplace shootings, and shootings within the military workplace – and has also stopped stalking and harassment.
Q: Out of all of your experiences, what is the single worst case that you have been presented with?
A: Each case presents its own challenges, so it is hard to identify a single worst case. But the cases that are most frustrating are those where we identify clear ways to help someone who is struggling – a student, for example – but the student’s family refuses to get the student the help that we and the school strongly recommend.
Q: What are the three main characteristics required of a threat assessment team?
A: When a school, college or university sets up a threat assessment team, it is important that the team has at least the following elements or characteristics:
- It should be multi-disciplinary and include school/college administrators, counselors, and law enforcement – as well as representatives from other offices that can be helpful in gathering information – such as Human Resources and Student Conduct. In addition to having multiple disciplines represented on a threat assessment team, it is just as important to look for the right people to represent those areas. We recommend looking for people who can work well in a group, who want to help, who are not biased, and who have time to serve on the team.
- The team members should all get trained in threat assessment procedures. Campus and school safety have become big business – so teams should make sure that the trainers they hire actually know what they are doing. There are companies out there that claim to provide training on best-practice threat assessment procedures but they do not – or their instructors have never actually handled any threat cases. For more information on how to vet a threat assessment trainer or consultant, you can click on the following link: http://threatmanagement.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-to-find-good-threat-assessment.html
- Finally, the team should have some operating guidelines or standard procedures to guide how they handle all of their cases. There are times when a threat assessment team has to handle a situation that evolves rapidly or looks like violence is imminent. In a situation like this, it is important that teams follow all the steps – and having guidelines or standard operating procedures can help ensure that they do.
Q: What advice would you give to an educational institution that wants to implement a threat management program?
A: There are some key publications that recommend threat assessment for K-12 schools and for colleges and universities. We recommend that educational institutions look to those publications for guidance. They include the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans, and the Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutions of Higher Education. Both of these guides were published by several federal agencies after the school shooting in Newtown CT in December 2012. They provide guidance on a whole array of school and campus safety measures, including best practices in threat assessment for educational institutions. Other resources that we recommend are The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams, and Implementing Behavioral Threat Assessment on Campus: A Virginia Tech Demonstration Project. Both of these resources are cited in National Standard for colleges and universities as providing guidance for how to set up and run threat assessment teams. Finally, we have more information on our website, www.SigmaTMA.com.
Dr. Randazzo is a Managing Partner of SIGMA Threat Management Associates and an international expert on threat assessment, targetedviolence, and violence prevention. In addition to her work at SIGMA, she currently serves as Director of Threat Assessment for Georgetown University. Previously, Dr. Randazzo served for ten years with the U.S. Secret Service, most recently as the agency’s Chief Research Psychologist. Among her various responsibilities, she co-directed the Safe School Initiative, the landmark federal study of school shootings that was conducted jointly by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Randazzo is an accomplished presenter and instructor on threat assessment investigations, having trained over 10,000 professionals in law enforcement, management, administration, mental health, and the intelligence community throughout the United States, Canada, and the European Union.
Her research is used in the federal, state, and local law enforcement communities and has been credited in the media with preventing planned attacks. She is co-author of The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment and Management Teams (2008) and lead author of Implementing Behavioral Threat Assessment on Campus: A Virginia Tech Demonstration Project (2009). Dr. Randazzo has testified before Congress and has been interviewed by major television, radio, and print news outlets, including 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, Nightline, the Today Show, the Early Show, 48 Hours, Dateline NBC, MSNBC, the New York Times, and National Public Radio. She has published numerous articles on threat assessment and violence prevention and has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Threat Assessment. She has also published under her maiden name, Marisa Reddy.
Dr. Randazzo received her Ph.D. and Master’s degree from Princeton University in Social Psychology, and a B.A. in Psychology and Religion from Williams College. In 2005, Dr. Randazzo was awarded the Williams College Bicentennial Medal for her work in preventing violence. She is listed in several Who’s Who publications for her threat assessment research and training contributions.