The most recent Columbine style attack on a school was prevented by an amazingly effective, easily implemented, low cost detection process. It is simple — a woman noted something she considered suspicious and contacted the authorities.
The process worked in Waseca, Minnesota when a concerned citizen made a phone call and a young man allegedly planning an attack was foiled in his attempt. The same happened in Utah in 2012 at Roy High School when a concerned citizen saw or heard something then said something. Potential tragedy was averted.
This approach is so powerful that the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) co-opted the program from its creator, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority to help combat terrorism. If it works for DHS, it should work for your local school community.
In the recently completed Idaho School Threat and Vulnerability Assessment (ISTVA), an Idaho state wide school safety study, one of the universal recommendations to the schools involved reads: “Developing a 'See something, Say something' program across your school community should be given top priority, in conjunction with a readily accessible, highly publicized online anonymous reporting system for students and patrons.”
School safety and security practitioners offer a matrix to assess current and plan future security efforts, known as the five D’s. Campus Safety Magazine published a statement that read:
“The first 'D' stands for Deter: in simple terms encourages the threat to go elsewhere. Second, 'Detect:' identify the threat as far out, in both time and space, as possible. Next, 'Delay:' slow the threat down as much as possible. Fourth, 'Deny:' simply prevent the threat from gaining access to the school. And last, 'Defend:' prepare so that if the worst possible event occurs, there will be action to defend the school community.”
Using this rubric, the See something, Say something program addresses the first two 'D’s — Deter and Detect. Developing a correctly implemented “See something, Say something” school community can have much the same deterrence effect that a successful Neighborhood Watch program has. Deterrence is always difficult to measure, but the more well publicized your program the larger the deterrence effect will be.
Deterrence is an important benefit, but not the primary value of the program. Detection is the real benefit of the “See Something, Say Something” school community. Detection as described above is any process that helps to identify a potential threat as far out in time and space as possible. It works as evidenced by a large number of reported cases like the ones in Minnesota and Utah.
In the post incident reports of most school shootings, it is often noted that somebody and sometimes many people knew or suspected something, but they simply failed to report it to anyone.
There are two keys to a truly successful “See Something, Say Something” program in schools. First, involve all the members of the school community. Schools are not islands and a school community is more than the student body and staff. Include the neighborhood, delivery people and vendors, everyone with a connection to the school in the effort. Be sure to include your local law enforcement agency. Remember the more eyes, the better the detection.
The second factor is to provide multiple avenues for reporting. An open door policy and approachable staff is the first step. A tip line and a readily accessible, highly publicized online anonymous reporting system for students and patrons is very helpful, as noted in the Idaho recommendations. Monitoring of the reporting will be critical, a tip received before an incident but not listened to or reviewed until afterward, has little benefit for your school.
While requiring time and effort on the school's part, a “See Something, Say Something” program can be implemented using current resources with little or no capital expenditure. This makes “See Something, Say Something” the logical first step in improving the security profile in your local school.
Remember if something looks suspicious it likely is — if you see something, say something.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He was school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guy has been married for 26 years and has three children.