Webinar Focuses On Learning from Averted and Completed Attacks

By Becky Lewis Published January 2019

Although news about school shootings dominates the headlines when they occur, prevented attacks draw much less media attention. Fortunately, there are more of the latter than the former. A January 22 webinar presented by the National Center for Campus Public Safety focused on the importance of learning from both averted and completed attacks in order to help prevent future incidents.

“The Importance of Learning from Averted and Completed School Attacks” featured three speakers: Frank Straub, director of the Center for Mass Violence Response Studies at the National Police Foundation; Jeff Allison, special adviser to the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; and Kristina Anderson, survivor of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech and executive director and founder of the Koshka Foundation. Moderated by NCCPS webinar facilitator Steve Worona, the 90-minute event also allowed participants to ask questions of the presenters.

Allison and Straub “tag-teamed” on the Averted School Violence database, located at Funded by the Office for Community Oriented Policing Services and managed by the Police Foundation, the database has more than 50 entries that can be browsed by vetted and approved law enforcement professionals and school administrators. Key points from this part of the webinar included:

  • Entries in the database may include shootings, stabbings and bombings that did not result in injury or loss of life as well as thwarted plans. All reports are sanitized of identifying information prior to posting.
  • In more than 75 percent of the incidents, the would-be attacker(s) were current students.
  • Most often, information provided by another student(s) played a key role in stopping the attack.
  • Reading and studying the reports in the database can help schools and law enforcement learn from “what didn’t happen.”
  • Schools should develop well-trained threat assessment teams that include administrators, law enforcement, school counselors and others. These teams should reach out to who appear to need help.
  • Law enforcement should conduct routine walk-throughs and become familiar with schools’ security plans.
  • Many colleges and universities are mini-cities, which makes it more difficult to protect them.
  • At all educational levels, it is important to have a trusted anonymous reporting system. Students need to know that if they report a peer, the response will not be punitive, but rather an intervention with a goal of bringing the individual back into the community.

Anderson founded the Koshka Foundation after the Virginia Tech shooting with goals of preventing violence, responding to active shooters and recovering after crises. Key points from her presentation included:

  • An overview of Virginia Tech shooting from her perspective. She pointed out that during recovery, communities should give careful consideration on how to use the space in the future and be aware of survivors’ needs, particularly during the aftermath of other mass shootings and on anniversaries. Students may need extra consideration with deadlines and exams during these times.
  • There is no useful profile that fits every school shooter. Most perpetrators and would-be perpetrators don’t suddenly snap; they have demonstrated behaviors of concern in the past.
  • In more than 80 percent of incidents, someone knew about the attack beforehand. Active threat assessment that pays attention to warning signs and seeks to intervene with help can avert many potential attacks.
  • Institutions need to foster a culture of reaching out to individuals, such as learn which students don’t have friends or don’t have someone to sit with.
  • Sharing success stories and listening to survivors also can help prevent future attacks.
  • Koshka has pamphlets for parents and prospective students on what to ask institutions of higher learning about their safety efforts.
  • Unfortunately, Va. Tech is a great example of what happens when you don’t stop an attack. As a culture, we need to share more information on attacks, as well as focusing on survivors and communities that have to live with this long term.

Key points raised during the question-and-answer period included:

  • Preparation for self care and helping others in the immediate aftermath of a shooting is important. Stop the Bleed kits next to all AEDs and/or in every classroom could help save lives. Training in their proper use is important.
  • There are a number of good reporting systems already in existence. Schools should select one of those rather than expending time and effort on creating their own.  
  • Too often schools create plans and never test them. Active threat drills should receive the same attention as fire drills and severe weather drills.
  • Showing schools and communities that there have been some wins will help them realize the importance of being proactive. In one example from the database, a student reported that a fellow student brought a gun to school. That student was referred to resources and a year later, graduated.