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Q&A: Georgetown Launches Threat Assessment Website

University police chief Jay Gruber and threat assessment program director Marisa Randazzo, a national expert in the field, talk about the ways students, faculty, staff, parents and neighbors may share their concerns and utilize the resources on the new website to keep Georgetown campuses safe.      

WHY DO WE NEED A THREAT ASSESSMENT PROGRAM ON CAMPUS?

GRUBER: There’s been a need for a threat assessment on our campus, just like most campuses, for a long time. That was really acknowledged with the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, where the student in question slipped through the cracks.

RANDAZZO: In 2010, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) adopted a national standard for hazard planning for higher education institutions, and it says that every college and university should have a threat assessment program. It actually references a couple of books on how to set up and operate this program. The program we have developed at Georgetown follows this model of best practices for college and university threat assessment programs.

GRUBER: We implemented the threat assessment program in 2012. Before there wasn’t one overarching body that tracked students or individuals who could be a potential danger or who posed a threat to other students and individuals in our community. I think it made good sense that the university went from what was called Safety Net, which was a group of people who tried to monitor and track these students, to one centralized body with one person leading a group with overarching responsibility for working with people whose behavior has raised some concern and understanding what’s going on with them.

It’s great to have constituents from different groups help identify possible threats on campus. There’s the university’s department of public safety (DPS), student conduct, university counsel and student affairs – which includes Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS). A student affairs case manager can track cases well and take their expertise and bring it to the table and engage with students who may need help or pose some kind of threat.

RANDAZZO: When people engage in threatening behavior, when people are considering acting in way that is harmful, what’s helpful in preventing violence is getting that person connected with the right resources to help them address whatever the underlying problems are.

So it’s not primarily a punitive program. It’s not the same thing as student conduct or employee discipline. It is very much a program to look at the entirety of what’s going on for someone and how best to help them and maintain safety for everyone.

WHAT WOULD PROMPT YOU TO WATCH SOMEONE OR INTERVENE?

GRUBER: It could be a student report or faculty or staff report, an arrest by the Georgetown University Police Department, an anonymous tip or someone self-reporting. There are a lot of different avenues in which the information can get to us. It may come into the police department, and we notify Marisa [Randazzo], who will then coordinate. Or it could come in through student affairs.

Once a report comes in, Marisa, who literally wrote the book on this issue [The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams (Applied Risk Management, LLC, 2008)], helps coordinate our response. She brings relevant groups together. There are groups on Main Campus, at the Law Center, Medical Center, SCS Downtown and Qatar campuses. If it involves a faculty or staff member, then Human Resources is brought in.

But mainly, it’s about knowing the student or any other individual or threat on campus exists, what their issue is and how we can best protect them and the university community.

 

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THREAT ASSESSMENT?

RANDAZZO: One of the important components of any campus threat assessment program is to make sure that everyone in the college or university community is aware that they have a place that they can bring concerns.

Our website is designed to help generate and sustain awareness about the program and also to answer some questions that people may have about what happens when they pass along a concern about a student, friend or colleague that they’re worried about.

WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE?

RANDAZZO: We have frequently asked questions. We have contact information where people can share their concerns. That includes contact information for DPS if they think something might be an emergency, if there is imminent danger or if it’s after hours. There is also an e-mail address for users to contact members of the threat assessment program.

There’s information about why threat assessment is an important component of campus safety efforts overall.

WHO IS THREAT ASSESSMENT FOR?

RANDAZZO: Every single person in the Georgetown community can play a role in keeping the university safe. They may well be the first person to learn about a situation of concern.

Our website is meant for anyone in the Georgetown community, but it’s also built for parents and for people who live in the areas surrounding Georgetown’s campuses. If anyone has a question, that person can bring it to the program, and we can help them figure out if it’s a concern that we need to further look into or if it’s some place else that we need to direct the information. The website is designed to serve all audiences.