Teachout Security Solutions


Implementing a Threat Assessment Process in Schools

 “Prevention must start before there is a gunman at the school door.” ~ Professor Dewey Cornell

Liberty Mutual Insurance Company is widely known for its wacky television commercials featuring LiMu the Emu and his inept human cohort Doug, played by actor David Hoffman. What many people do not know is that Liberty Mutual is one of the leading providers of insurance solutions for public and private schools. One of those solutions is their 5-step framework for effective threat assessments for schools.

A team of researchers at the University of Virginia, led by Professor Dewey Cornell, developed the “Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG)” in 2002. Their research on school violence and effective threat prevention led to the development of a 5-point framework that is used in school systems across the country. When Teachout Security attended the 2022 School Security Summit in Columbus, Ohio, they learned about the CSTAG Framework and ways that they could implement it in the schools they serve.

Professor Cornell’s 5-Step Threat Assessment Framework

  1. Evaluate the threat.

The first step in Cornell’s model is evaluation — teachers are often the first line of defense against school violence when they hear a student say something or observe unusual behavior. Before bringing it to the attention of school administrators, they should have private, informal conversations with the student who made the threat, the intended victim, and any witnesses. If it is perceived that the threat is real, an evaluation needs to be conducted by a multidisciplinary team, including teachers, school resource officers, and school psychologists or guidance counselors. Using this information, officials should assess the student’s intentions; does their behavior constitute serious intent to harm someone in the future, or were they just angry in the moment?

  1. Attempt to resolve the threat as “transient.”

The second step is for administrators to consider whether they can resolve the threat as “transient,” meaning it was just a passing emotion or misunderstanding that doesn’t require further intervention. A student might apologize, for example, and explain that the threat was a joke or the result of anger or frustration. If the threat can be resolved in this instance, officials can then decide whether the student needs any additional support services. Often a student was merely expressing their frustrations in a dramatic fashion with no real intention of acting on their emotions.

  1. Respond to a substantive threat.

If the incident is determined to be a “substantive threat,” meaning that there is a real and legitimate concern for the safety of one or more other students, faculty members, or the facility, action must be taken. Cornell recommends informing the victim and parents about the potential threat, working with counselors to resolve the conflict, and considering disciplinary action against the student when applicable.

  1. Conduct a safety evaluation for a very serious substantive threat.

In rare cases, a threat might escalate to a “very serious substantive threat.” This means that a student may be at risk of committing deadly violence or sexual assault. If a threat escalates to this level, school officials must act immediately to keep intended victims and school property safe. Cornell recommends screening the student for mental health concerns, contacting law enforcement to investigate evidence of a potential incident, and developing a comprehensive safety plan to keep students safe if the student attempts to commit a violent act.

  1. Update, monitor, and implement the safety plan.

School officials should continually evaluate and update their safety plan as new threats arise and are countered. Faculty and parents need to be kept informed of any updates so that there is awareness of the need for everyone to be part of the school safety monitoring and reaction team. This spurs conversations so that students know that there is a dynamic safety plan in place and that there is no onus for being proactive against any perceived threat.

The good news is that studies show that the CSTAG has an overwhelmingly high success rate when implemented effectively: 99 percent of threats are not carried out, and only 1 percent of students are expelled or arrested. Most students who are evaluated after making a threat are able to continue their education at the same school.

Teachout Security is available to consult with your school regarding implementing this protocol. We are also available to conduct a full readiness assessment of your facility and advise you on the latest school security protocols.

If you are a school board member, an administrator, a teacher, or a parent with concerns about the safety and security of your school system, call Teachout Security at 800-747-0755 or email info@teachoutsecurity.com to schedule an analysis and recommendation from our highly trained security professionals.

Call 1-800-747-0755