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Effective Strategic Planning For Your Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment Team (Part I)

Tara Shollenberger, Ed.D., High Point University

Imagine, if you will, that you have survived a horrific plane crash on top of a snowy mountain. Littered next to you are pieces of the plane, limited supplies, and one other survivor coming in and out of consciousness. Your mind takes inventory of what resources you have nearby. Can you build a fire? Should you leave your location and try to find help? Do you have drinkable water or food? At its core, this situation exemplifies the opportunity for strategic planning; you have resources, stakeholders, and a central goal – what will you do with them?

The case for behavioral intervention and threat assessment teams (BIT) in higher education has grown steadily since the massacre at Virginia Tech in April 2007. Many in the field view the Virginia Tech tragedy as the turning point in the building and creation of BITs.[1] Nationally, BITs continue to grow in scope and function across college and university campuses. Nearly twenty years later, university support teams are multi-disciplinary and trained to identify and evaluate behaviors, actions, or writings that may presage violent activity on campus.[2] These teams are no longer ad hoc groups that come together several times a semester to evaluate specific situations. Instead, these teams manage prevention work, constant caseloads, a spectrum of threats, classroom management needs, dismantling communication and intelligence silos, collaboration across campus with different departments, training, and building community awareness. Most team efforts are ongoing and multidisciplinary, with some institutions now having permanently staffed, full-time professional teams and offices.

BITs are now a staple at almost all colleges and universities and in many K-12 environments. As such, they are evolving from administration by groups of individuals with a part-time stake in this responsibility to full integration within the scope and vision of traditional departments or offices, which includes the requirement for strategic planning. Our introductory tale of the plane crash shows that we must always plan for survival. The questions from BITs are:

  • Do we have the appropriate tools, analysis identification, and evaluation?
  • What is the mission and vision?
  • What resources are available?
  • What training is available and to whom?
  • What is our value?

These questions should lead administrators and teams toward strategic planning.

Mission and vision statements are an excellent place to start. Ideally, mission statements should be about the team’s purpose, role, and function. Mission statements provide a structural framework for the team. Vision statements should be forward-focused statements describing how the team works. Vision statements provide a picture of the ideal outcome of the team’s work. It is essential to create mission and vision statements that align with those of the department and university. And although vision and mission statements are crucial, they are not the only piece of a team’s foundation. The vision, mission, and goals can take you from where you are to where you want to be, but the strategic plan and implementation are the vehicles from points A to B.[3] As teams become increasingly professionalized, these imperatives become ever more salient. Since 2007, colleges and universities have homegrown the capacity for threat assessment by training administrators whose background was largely not in threat assessment. This was sufficient, as there was no way to staff universities with a corps of threat assessment professionals in 2007. Today, colleges commonly have at least one administrator on the team who is a trained, experienced threat assessment expert. As noted above, some colleges have offices staffed entirely of such professionals. Aligning the vision and mission of these permanent teams has become as important as aligning the vision and mission of traditional departments and offices on college and university campuses.

As team staffing continues to evolve with the maturation of the threat assessment field, the next step in creating a strategic plan is identifying your stakeholders and which of those stakeholders have authority at your institution. Who are the champions of your cause? Who are the historians, knowledge holders, or data keepers? Moreover, who are the nay-sayers? Answers to these questions provide insight and value as we move our teams forward. Strategic planning is a multifaceted, multi-dimensional process involving many keyholders and is not accomplished individually or in a single meeting.[4]  Take the time to plan your meetings, your people, and your time. The pre-work involved in strategic planning is indispensable. It gives an organization a road map to stay on track and task.

Now that your team is ready to engage in strategic planning, many tools are available to start the process. An excellent place to start is conducting both SWOT/C and PESTEL analyses.[5] The SWOT/C and PESTEL tools are straightforward tools for teams to collect and showcase data that helps present a complete picture of the current organization. Part two of this strategic planning series will explain how to use these tools. Ultimately, your team should be asking, “How do we strategically think as a unit, how should we evolve, and how do we achieve our goal while still aligning with those of the college or university?”

Next week, we’ll explore – in part two of this strategic planning series – how the SWOT/C and PESTEL tools can guide and strengthen a strategic plan.

[1] Hemphill, B.O. & LaBanc, B.H. (2010). Enough is Enough: A Student Affairs Perspective on Preparedness and Response to a Campus Shooting. Stylus Publishing.

[2] LaBanc, Krepel, Johnson & Herrman, Managing the Whirlwind: Planning for and Responding to a Campus in Crisis, 2010.

[3] Bryson, J. M. (2018). Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement, 5th Edition.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.