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Learning from the Mass Casualty Attacks That Didn’t Happen

Everyone in campus law enforcement and public safety is intimately familiar with the details of what happened at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. But how many of us are even aware of the two thwarted attacks at the University of Central Florida, or the vigilant gun dealer in Ohio who, according to county law enforcement officials, likely prevented a mass casualty attack on Ohio University?

According to the US Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center, there were 28 incidents of mass casualty attacks in 2017, during which three or more persons were harmed in public places. Four of those attacks were carried out at educational institutions, either K–12 or institutions of higher education (IHEs). Seven of the 50 active shooter incidents the Federal Bureau of Investigation studied in 2016 and 2017 occurred in educational environments.  But how many were stopped?

To understand the full scope of the threats of mass violence against students, staff, and faculty at our nation’s schools and IHEs, it is not enough to count and study the attacks that occur. We must also track and study the attacks that are thwarted.

By studying prevented attacks we can identify the actions taken by law enforcement, public safety, school officials, and others to prevent potentially catastrophic harm.

In turn, this knowledge can inform decisionmakers’ choices regarding policies and procedures, training, and procurement.

In the immediate aftermath of the mass casualty attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Congress created the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) to provide necessary resources to study and learn from school attacks with the goal of preventing future attacks. The US Department of Justice CSSI Working Group advocated for also learning from thwarted attacks. With funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), the National Police Foundation developed the National Averted School Violence (ASV) Database. Until recently, the ASV Database focused solely on K–12 schools.

In September, the COPS Office awarded IACLEA funds to expand the ASV Database to include thwarted attacks at colleges and universities. Executive Director Sue Riseling said, “With support from the COPS Office and working in tandem with the National Police Foundation, IACLEA will identify and analyze mass casualty attacks targeting colleges and universities that were prevented. We will study these cases and share lessons learned about what works to stop mass casualty violence directed at our communities.”

For this important endeavor to succeed, it is essential that campus law enforcement and public safety agencies enter their thwarted attacks in the ASV Database, an easy-to-use, anonymous reporting system. Submitting a case takes only minutes following the system prompts. Once you input the facts surrounding your case, a team of subject matter experts reviews the information and then enters it into the ASV Database. At that point, the identity of the IHE and the submitter are removed.

To report a case, please go to www.asvnearmiss.org or contact Jeff Allison at jallison@iaclea.org.



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