August 6th, 2012

Guest: If only Threat Assessment had been done right in Colorado

On the heels of news in the Denver Post that the psychiatrist treating Holmes, the Aurora Colorado shooter, had warned the university Threat Assessment team that she had helped create about the danger Holmes posed.

Guest author: Felix P. Nater, Nater Associates, Security Management Consultants

Whenever I hear Threat Assessment a red flag goes up. I wonder whether those involved understand the gravity of their work. While I do not intend to be judgmental, I see my role as an advisor as helping companies prepare for negative outcomes by managing their situations.

If the news coverage in the James Holmes Aurora Movie Theater Multiple Shooting incident is true, I find the outcome most unfortunate and depending on the circumstances, preventable.

A key component of every violence prevention initiative is Threat Assessment and Incident Management. I can’t understand why companies that have a workplace violence prevention policy but no supporting violence prevention and violence response plan. What good is the policy without a trained Threat Assessment Methodology?

However, I can also understand why companies do not have a Threat Assessment Team Model simply because it requires ongoing commitment and training.

What makes the Aurora Movie Theater Multiple Shooting incident so horrible is that it might have been preventable, we don’t know all the details and probably never will.

Though I encourage the use of trained Threat Assessors, the operative word in the initiative is TRAINED. If we believe that my law enforcement experiences prepared me for assessing and evaluating the workplace perpetrator, I must say, NOT all the way. You see the skill set I acquired as a law enforcement officer is less clear than the skill set needed to perform Threat Assessments. Not being judgmental, just stating a reality addressed by folks smarter than I.

Threat Assessment requires ongoing attention to the perpetrator and potential victims. Postponing action until an actual threat has been made can detract from investigation of factors more relevant to the risk of violence.

Therein lies my concern. What alarmed Dr. Fenton sufficiently to report her observations to the campus threat assessment team? And, what did the threat assessment team do with Dr. Fenton’s report?

The role Threat Assessment in violence prevention is critical. It doesn’t call for volunteers. It requires people who understand the mission and their roles and are themselves committed. The questions that loom mightily need answers that impact the methodology of the threat assessment process. How was sensitive life-threatening information supposed to be processed?

If Dr. Lynne Fenton, Holmes’ psychiatrist was concerned with Mr.. Holmes’s alarming behavior in June, what did the the campus Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team do with the information? Even though it is proper to refer such incidents to the Threat Assessment team, Dr. Fenton can report her alarming observations under a “Duty to Warn” report to local law enforcement as well as the campus security police and threat assessment team, depending on the context of the observed behavior and the contents of any statements made by Holmes.

Threat Assessment as I stated earlier is an important part of the violence prevention and response efforts. If we don’t learn anything by not responding appropriately to potentially harmful yet sensitive information, we must know that withholding information or conducting an improper investigation will always come back to haunt you.

The Penn State independent Sexual Assault Investigation proved that thorough investigations are critically important in the proper disposition of the matter and averting disaster.


Felix Nater is a Workplace Violence Prevention Advisor who helps companies appreciate the value of a robust, agile and proactive workplace violence prevention and interdiction strategies. He can be reached at


<-- Read the complete WBI Blog

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, August 6th, 2012 at 8:42 am and is filed under Guest Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Having trouble? Click Here for Comments Guide

Facebook Comments


Disqus Comments

This site is best viewed with Firefox web browser. Click here to upgrade to Firefox for free. X