3 Heads Are Better Than 1

Experience has shown that multidisciplinary assessment teams more accurately evaluate threats than individuals doing evaluations on their own. Creating this type of panel is one significant step your campus can take to avert disasters.

The Bibb County, Ga., Public School Police Department recently searched the home of a student where they found a partially constructed bomb in his bedroom. Why did they single out this particular student for a house search? Their decision wasn’t based on a whim or by reading tea leaves. Instead, it was based on intelligence provided by students that was effectively reviewed by the school’s multidisciplinary threat assessment team.

The group, which consisted of a school police officer, social worker and administrator, interviewed a student from one of the district’s middle schools who had made a joking comment to three other students at the lunch table. He told the students about a plan to detonate a bomb at the school on the last day of the school year.

Because of the joking manner in which the threat was conveyed, the students felt he was not serious. Despite this, all three students separately reported the statement as soon as the lunch period ended, thus prompting the home search and subsequent finding of bomb materials.

The multidisciplinary threat assessment approach is a standard practice for K-12 school threat cases and has averted dozens of planned school shootings and bombings around the nation. The technique has also been used to stop planned university shootings and can be an effective technique for hospital safety personnel as well.

The basic concept of a multidisciplinary threat assessment team is rather simple: When a student, employee or other individual makes a threatening statement, a group of individuals, rather than a sole human resources employee, administrator or law enforcement officer, makes a careful and measured assessment of the situation and determines an appropriate response.

Experience has shown that a combination of individuals from different disciplines working together can make a more accurate assessment of risk than a person working on his or her own. Personnel from a number of districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Clark County, Nev., School District, have begun using this technique with great success.

If your organization does not already use multidisciplinary threat assessment, I recommend you make the training and development of a team a top priority. It is truly tragic to see instances where multiple victims die because the organization responsible for their safety has not taken the time to implement this proven approach.

An internationally recognized authority on campus safety and the author of 19 books on the topic, Michael Dorn is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. Dorn, a member of the Campus Safety Advisory Council, works with a team of campus safety experts to make campuses safer around the globe through Jane’s offices in nine countries. He can be reached at schoolsafety@janes.com.

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the January/February 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine

About the Author

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Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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