According to a recent Educator’s School Safety Network report, 3,380 threats of violence were recorded during the 2017-2018 academic year — an increase of 62 percent. The network's director of programs and report co-author, Dr. Amy Klinger, stresses a need for proactive measures to combat this escalating challenge. “We’re waiting until things are so bad that we have a perpetrator with a gun before we do something. If they (teachers) do have training, it’s in active shooter response. It’s not in violence prevention, threat-assessment or being able to identify and intervene with individuals of concern.”

Many threats — 39.2 percent of them — originate on social media, making it the most commonly reported source of threats. But social media also opens opportunities to get ahead of threats and proactively deliver help. Educational institutions are embracing innovative systems known as social media threat alert solutions (SMTAS). Such solutions focus on prevention over punishment.

The most successful SMTAS systems scan public posts against a library of safety-related terms to assess and uncover potential threats made against specific communities, like schools and campuses. Their systems respect individual rights to privacy and assembly, limit scans to public posts and prevent the targeting of specific groups or individuals. They can’t be used to surveil, investigate or monitor.

“We’re waiting until things are so bad that we have a perpetrator with a gun before we do something."

Those tasked with protecting school safety assess the information they receive from the SMTAS to determine whether intervention and support are needed. This setup not only enhances physical and emotional safety in schools, but its efficiency saves money for administrators.

When a tragedy does impact students and staff, the effects linger, and additional outcry and copycat incidents often follow. Whether the incident happens locally or nationally, its impact frequently radiates on social media. This is why innovative approaches — like the implementation of an SMTAS — are so important. The prevention-based technology uniquely positions a school’s safety and security team to gain insights into threats that may otherwise hide in plain sight.