Being safe, not merely feeling safe, is essential to an effective learning setting for students and school staff. Washington state recently made significant progress in providing safe schools with the passage of Second Substitute House Bill No. 1216 which addresses non-firearm measures to enhance school safety. On May 9, 2019, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the legislation into law. The Act bolsters the safety and well-being of students in Washington state through the comprehensive application of safety and security measures. These measures include establishing a statewide network of regional school safety centers, establishing threat assessment programs, and completing a study on building mapping. The regional safety centers serve as clearinghouses for information, resources, and training. The law requires school districts to adopt (in the coming school year) policies and procedures toward establishment of school-based threat assessment programs that among other things are multidisciplinary and multiagency. The new law also tasks the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee with completing a study on the first responder building mapping information system, an online tool that enables school officials, law enforcement, and other emergency responders to share critical information during school emergencies. These efforts build on previous legislation; however the establishment of school-based threat assessment is new. In commenting on the importance of this work Senator Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and sponsor of the Senate companion bill said, “We’ve heard from students, parents, teachers and administrators that school safety is a growing and ongoing concern. Each and every student should feel safe and secure as they go to class, and every parent should know that their child will return home at the end of the day. This bill is a great step toward ensuring that reality.”
The inclusion of threat assessment in the Washington state bill signals the growing understanding of the significant role that behavior-based threat assessment (a methodology based on investigation and what somebody does, not who they are) plays in a comprehensive safety plan. The effort recognizes behavior-based threat assessment as an important ingredient in keeping our communities safe from targeted violence. The value threat assessment plays in helping prevent targeted violence is gaining national exposure as well. Just a few days after the Washington legislation was signed, on May 15, 2019, Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX) was joined on the steps of the Capital in Washington, DC by bipartisan colleagues for a press conference to talk about the importance of the Threat Assessment, Prevention and Safety (TAPS) Act. The TAPS Act is an effort to promote the use of behavior-based threat assessment to States and local entities as an effective approach to preventing targeted violence in our communities. For more information about the TAPS Act, I invite you to read my blogs “The TAPS Act: Encouraging Prevention Over Reaction” and “The TAPS Act: In Support of our National Interest”.