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On January 7, 2015, Louisville area school administrators were presented with an especially challenging situation: an unspecified threat was made against an unspecified area school.

Administrators had to quickly assess the credibility of the threat and decide the best course of action for the safety of students and staff.

Complicating matters is this: according to the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), those who verbalize threats often don’t act upon those threats, and those who do commit targeted acts of violence often give no warning.

They decided to keep schools open, but with increased security measures.

Fewer than half of all students in Jefferson County Public Schools reported to school on January 8. The high absentee rate, coupled with the looming threat, significantly disrupted area schools for the day.

This time, the threat proved to be false. But how can administrators assess the next threat? More insights from the National Threat Assessment Center:

  • Motivation. Does the individual have a motive for making the threat?
  • Communication. Has the individual communicated his or her intentions?
  • Interest. Has the person making the threat demonstrated interested in violence, weapons or extremist groups?
  • Behavior. Has the person making the threat menaced, harassed or stalked others?
  • Mental health. Does the person making the threat have a history of mental illness?
  • Organization. Is the person making the threat organized enough to carry out the threat?
  • Despair. Has the person making the threat recently experienced the loss of a loved one or status that has caused them to feel hopeless?
  • Corroboration. Are the words, actions consistent?
  • Concern. Do people that know the person making the threats feel concerned that he or she might carry them out?
  • Environment. What other factors might make it more or less likely that person making the threat might carry it out?