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Speaker at conference

During a break of a workshop on digital threat assessment, Kate De Soto reflected on the ever-changing landscape of the digital world.

“It can feel very disempowering when you have to think about things like, ‘How do I even begin to tackle knowing all the different apps and sources of data?’” she asked.

De Soto, a Hawaiʻi Community College mental health therapist, was one of approximately 200 participants who received training on identifying, assessing, intervening and managing threats in schools at the Hawaiʻi Threat Assessment Conference at the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu in July. She called the session “really empowering,” adding that “it makes it feel like, ‘Ok, we can do this. There are ways.’”

A mix of public and private, K–12 and higher education officials, local organizations, and state and federal threat prevention agencies were in attendance at the expanded follow-up to last year’s conference that featured Lina Alathari, chief of the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center.

About prevention

Threat conference

“Threat assessment (and management) is about prevention,” said event organizer Bev Baligad, the chair of Threat Team Hawaiʻi, a multi-disciplinary team dedicated to the prevention of targeted acts of violence, and UH West Oʻahu director of compliance. “It’s about caring for our community and recognizing that sometimes good people experience bad things. When members of our community express frustration or anger, or when they see others express frustration or anger, it’s important to understand that those ‘concerning behaviors’ may not always lead to criminal acts or targeted acts of violence.”

Baligad added, “While there may be a variety of different risk factors, warning behaviors or indicators for potential imminence presented with each situation; learning how to identify, assess and manage the behavior appropriately is important. In addition, ‘making’ a threat and ‘posing’ a threat are extremely different, and professionals and experts understand what those differences are.”

The conference featured presentations from the National Threat Assessment Center, Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, National Threat Evaluation and Reporting Office, Safer Schools Together and others. Session topics include Foundational Behavior Intervention and Threat Assessment Management, Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines, The Basic Threat Evaluation and Reporting Course, Safe TALK Suicide Prevention, Digital Threat Assessment and The Wide Evaluation of Safety and Threat Rubric.

The courses helped participants such as De Soto gain confidence moving forward. De Soto is part of the Hawaiʻi CC team working to build out their threat assessment team. Attending the conference allowed her to make the connections necessary to help with their growth and success.

“One thing I learned is that threat assessment doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said. “You have to know what your resources are and it’s really helpful to meet and see all the different players that are here in Hawaiʻi to try to make this better.”

Behavior intervention teams

Baligad oversees two U.S. Department of Homeland Security Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention grants awarded to UH West Oʻahu in 2021 and 2022, totalling more than $1.3 million to help build Hawaiʻi’s school threat assessment capacity. Part of the grant’s efforts include support for select Hawaiʻi schools to implement their own behavior intervention teams, which assess situations to assist individuals of concern and affected campus community members, address behavioral issues and concerns to mitigate risk, and recommend appropriate intervention strategies.

Baligad said that schools face a myriad of issues when considering or trying to implement their own threat assessment team, including little to no threat assessment training, a focus on “reacting” rather than “preventing,” and disengagement or lack of support by administration of the teams’ efforts. Lack of mental health professionals and safety/security resources officers in schools are also a challenge within the state.

One solution is for schools and organizations that encounter any of the above issues to become active in Threat Team Hawaiʻi. Through the cooperative sharing of information, resources and knowledge gained through training with leading experts in the field of threat assessment, the team endeavors to identify, assess and manage situations where the risk of violence is imminent and/or anticipated.

“I hope folks will begin to see that no matter the challenges they may face within their school/organization, there is a statewide push to build threat assessment capacity on all islands,” Baligad said. “There is support and assistance available to help professionals and communities; connecting with and becoming active in Threat Team Hawaiʻi is a great way to start.”

By Leila Wai Shimokawa

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