Threat Assessment Training: Identify and Defend Against Your Threat

Threats, threat assessment, and threat assessment training. There is a lot wrapped into these terms. Threats vary based on our mission or what we are trying to protect.

Active Threat Assessment Training

Threat assessment also means different things to different people. Security professionals, military personnel, psychologists, and school counselors all conduct threat assessments. As a law enforcement professional, the type of threat assessment you need may vary based on the type of problem you are trying to solve.

Based on what you need, getting threat assessment training to put it in action will vary. It may also not necessarily be something that you or your officers do; it may be that you hire a professional to conduct the assessment, who then provides you with the results.

Threat Assessment Approaches

Let’s take a moment and revisit the different threat assessment approaches. Threat assessment can include:

  • Security Threat Risk Assessment: Plan for and protect facilities and critical infrastructure in your community against terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other threats;

  • Cyber-Security Threat Risk Assessment: Protect your computer networks, systems, and servers from attacks by malicious actors;

  • Threat Assessment for Instrumental Violence: Identify, assess, and intervene with the person who may commit targeted or instrumental violence.

  • Violence-Threat Risk Assessment: Assess the likelihood of a specific individual for some form of violent behavior in the future; and

  • Active Threat Assessment: Help your officers to identify and react to threatening individuals such as active shooters, terrorists, or other threats.

 If you are not sure about what type of threat assessment you need, I encourage you to take a minute and review our Guide to Threat Assessment Approaches for Law Enforcement. This is a great resource that will help you to identify what of threat assessment you need for the problem you are trying to solve. Don’t worry, this guide is useful to security, executive protections or military personnel too; anyone who has to assess threats.

Active Threat Assessment Training

Active threat assessment is a methodology that involves identifying potential, immediate, or imminent threats. It requires a focused observation of behaviors & actions. As part of this threat assessment methodology, officers systematically observe their environment, identify potentially suspicious individuals (or a person of interest), and assess the extent that a person of interest (POI) is a threat. A POI as an individual whom by their suspicious activity, lack of an explainable objective or display of threatening behavior becomes a target for further investigation through observation or physical interdiction. Further inspection of the POI involves an assessment of threat indicators. Threat indicators are verbal or visual behaviors that imply an individual is deceptive, threatening, trying to hide in plain sight, or carrying contraband or weapons. These assessments, in combination, allow the identification of active threats.

You can get both online and instructor-led active threat assessment training from Second Sight. Check out our course offerings for more details.

Your Threat Problem and Threat Assessment Approaches

What exactly do I mean by applying threat assessment to a specific problem set? The kind of threat assessment you need should be tailored to the problem you are trying to solve, and the different threat assessment approaches will help you in different ways.

Let’s take active shooter threat assessment training. Active shooters are a significant problem in our society, one which is difficult to solve or prevent. Each threat assessment approach is important to preventing an active shooter incident, but in different ways.

Take a quick look at the figure below, it was developed to explore how threat assessment approaches apply to the prevention of active shooter incidents. This figure is more fully explained in our recent blog post titled Left of Boom: Active Shooter Threat Assessment & Training.

Let’s quickly focus on two of the threat assessment approaches and how they are relevant to preventing active shooter incidents. Security Risk Threat Assessment is environmental and involves identifying and protecting a location from threats (such as active shooters). It could include such recommendations as improving access control or establishing hardened positions to protect potential victims.

The individually-focused Violence Threat Risk Assessment is relevant to preventing an incident far from and near to an event. This approach involves assessing people who may commit some form of violence. It is not necessarily tied to the commission of a specific violent act.

Each of the four threat assessment approaches can be applied to preventing an active shooter incident. Perhaps thinking about these threat assessment approaches will help you to identify gaps in your community’s efforts to prevent active shooter incidents and help you identify resources which can keep your officers and communities safer.

Who Should Get Trained in Active Threat Assessment?

Active Threat Assessment Training for Law Enforcement

Any person in law enforcement, the military, or security who has a mission to observe or interact with the public could benefit from active threat assessment training. This includes patrol officers walking or driving through the communities they protect, security personnel watching surveillance cameras, and border patrol and transportation security officers who protect our borders and airports.

Let’s take one location, schools, and drill down into the benefit of active threat assessment training for school safety personnel. Violence has become a common occurrence on school property, ranging from the most horrific shooting events to schoolyard fights. These commonplace occurrences have prompted some school districts to put police officers in schools, but this is not the norm.  Some schools also also employ monitors and other security personnel.

Active Threat Assessment Training in Schools

Students and staff face two distinct threats – those from inside and outside the school. In 51.5% of school shooting incidents were committed by a student. In fewer cases, the act was committed by an external threat. School security personnel need the ability to be able to help identify students who may be a threat (to support intervention) AND protect against external threats. Active threat assessment training can help do both.

Read more about active threat assessment training and schools in our blog post: A Tool to Help Secure Schools.

Threat Assessment Training from Observation to Interdiction

Active Police Threat Assessment Training

In threat assessment training, and any form of training that involves interaction with people, it is important that the training incorporates the human interaction and safety component associated with an interdiction. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all forms of threat assessment, but is relevant in active threat assessment, defensive tactics, interdiction, verbal communication, use of force or any other training that your officers receive that involves interaction with people.    

In our threat assessment training, we use the Spectrum of Interactions as guide. There are five stages of interaction: unthreatened, present, watching, initial contact, interdiction. They refer to the extent a subject believes they are under surveillance by a threat (such as law enforcement).

We have two courses related to active threat assessment. Our 8-hour Threat Awareness and our longer Interdiction course. In the Threat Awareness Course, trainees learn active threat assessment techniques during observation, but not an interaction with a potential threat. This is what happens in our interdiction course. Interested in learning more about training and the spectrum of interactions? Check out our recent blog post: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.

Instructor-led, On-Line, and Blended Training

There are three general types training – instructor-led, online, and blended. You might be less familiar with blended learning; it involves a mix of online and instructor-led training. The method you use depends on the type of training you want to provide; you can’t learn to shoot online, but you can learn the parts of the firearm, steps for cleaning it, and be introduced to safety precautions and do’s and don’ts at the range.

You can read a more in-depth review of benefits and negatives of the different types of training in our recent blog post: Should All Training Be Online?

Instructional Design and Threat Assessment Training

Interestingly enough, a 2010 Department of Education study that online and instructor-led training was statistically equivalent in terms of learning outcomes, which means that as long as they are designed the right way, each is a valid approach.

Online training offers a number of benefits. It can save time and money. It can be used to target a geographically remote workforce who work on different shifts. It allows a consistent message and trainees can more easily be evaluated. Depending on the program, trainees may be able to refer back to the materials as needed when doing their job.

Instructor-led training also offers several benefits. It allows the trainees to quickly and easily ask questions. Also, if given the opportunity to work in groups and conduct role-playing exercises, trainees have the opportunity to learn from each other.

Blended learning is a potentially more effective method of training. As part of this approach, material that can be moved online is allowing the instructor more time to focus on skills development, practice, and role-playing to ensure that the students know what they are doing.

Whatever the method of training, know that if well designed it can help your personnel to get the skills they need.

A Formalized Instructional Design

Instructional design is a formalized process of course creation that allows for the development of rigorous and effective training. There are many different models associated with Instructional design, but the underlying tenants of these approaches have a focus on allowing the development of consistent, effective, and efficient and reliable training. Much of the literature stresses that these models are iterative and cyclical with constant data collection, updating, and revision. It makes me think about the intelligence cycle.

When you identify training that might be relevant to you or your officers, it might make sense to ask questions about the goals of the training, the process to meet those goals, and how the instructors determine if your training is successful. You can learn more about instructional design in active threat assessment training in our recent blog post: The Second Time Should Be Better.

Training, whether online or instructor-led is expensive. Sending your officers to train is time that they are not working. Your people might also be getting paid overtime, which increases the costs even more. Making sure you get value for your resources is paramount.

Training Evaluation & Threat Assessment Training

Through the instructional design process, instructors should have clear and discernable goals for the training and a real-world skill that the training is trying to impart. These benchmarks allow for an evaluation – to determine if the instruction did what it was supposed to do and if these new skills impact the performance of the trainee while doing their job.

Why evaluate?  Because they tell you if the resources (human and financial) you are spending on training are meeting your goals. Training costs money, and even if the instruction is provided “free” by a government entity, you still have to pay for your officer’s time to show up. That gets expensive. Training evaluation will help you determine if you are getting value for your money.

There are a variety of methods to evaluate the effectiveness of training. The Kirkpatrick (1998) model has been a highly-cited and widely-influential foundation for thinking about the evaluation of training since its inception several decades ago. There are four generally accepted levels of evaluation. They include:

Evaluation and Threat Assessment Training

Level 1: Reaction – what trainees say about their experience;

Level 2: Learning - what measurable changes can we attribute to success;

Level 3: Behavior - how well can trainees perform their job; and

Level 4: Results – to what extent has the program brought the sponsoring organization closer to its goal (Kirkpatrick, 1998).

Let’s use active threat assessment training to explore these different levels of evaluation. For level 1 (Reaction), the assessment would involve how the trainees perceived training they received. Level 2 (Learning), would be whether trainees have an improvement in their ability to systematically observe their environment and identify a potential threat. Level 3 (Behavior) would involve if and how the trainees utilize these active threat assessment skills while working (e.g. during foot patrol, responding to calls for service). Level 4 (Results) would be the extent that the change in behavior resulted in arrests, gun seizures, more proactive stops and if this, in turn, had an impact on crime.

It is important to note that collecting data and analyzing results gets more difficult as you move from Level 1 to Level 4. Reaction data is the easiest to get and analyze. You should start there. You can learn more about level 1 evaluation data in our recent blog post on evaluating reaction to training and about evaluating learning in our post on measuring threat assessment skills.

Stress Inoculation & Training

Ensuring that trainees know how to appropriately use tools in stressful situations is an important part of any training program. In medicine, vaccinations often involve exposing the participant to weaker forms of disease to develop resistance.  This exposure produces antibodies and physically prepares the body for future attacks. In social psychological research on stress, this “inoculation” may be improving people’s ability to work in stressful conditions by having them experience stress. People with more experience dealing with specific situations may react differently than people with less experience. Stress inoculation can impact threat assessment and active threat assessment training in two ways.

Stress Inoculation and Threat Assessment Training
  1. It can help prepare a first responder to deal with a stressful event; and

  2. It can result in an active threat who show less stress-related behaviors during an encounter with law enforcement. 

Research has shown that law enforcement officers who undergo marksmanship and tactical training while experiencing high levels of anxiety are less affected by fear when later tested under the same conditions (Honig and Lewinski, 2008; Oudejans, 2008; Nieuwenhuys, & Oudejans, 2011).

Training should involve exposing trainees to the use of these skills during stressful situations. This prepares them to successfully use them during a dangerous encounter.

Training Scars: An Ounce of Prevention

One of the goals of training is to leave a positive mark on the ways we do our job – to make us better and safer. Regretfully, sometimes training can have the opposite effect. It can teach us bad habits. Habits that can put us at risk. This is known as a training scar.

A training scar is a bad habit that a trainee picks up as part of their training. Training scars can occur with any training, but they are especially problematic when the training relates to high-risk situations.  In the law enforcement training community, the issue of training scars often comes up about police firearms training and other training that involves higher-risk interactions between police and the public.

An example of a training scar that is often talked about is officers who fire three rounds during a high risk encounter, then reholstering their weapon whether their target was down or not. These officers were trained on the range to reholster after firing three rounds. Their training left a scar that put their safety at risk.

There are a variety of methods that trainers use to work to overcome or keep training scars from occurring in the first place. This includes making sure trainees “train as they fight” – meaning that training is representative of how skills are used and scenarios are realistic. Just like in many cases prevention is better than a trying to fix these scars later. 

Benefits of Active Threat Assessment Training

Active threat assessment is the backbone of being an effective law enforcement professional. This is a proficiency that is not gained easily.  Training is a necessity for most and Second Sight can fill that gap.  We will teach your personnel to be better observers and to better identify threats in any type of environment. This will also better prepare them to craft an informed plan to interdict with potential threats.  

Do not just listen to us when we tell that our course is effective. Listen to our students.  97% of LEO and military personnel who completed this course felt they were better prepared to identify active threats after taking the course.  Whether it is keeping themselves or your constituents out of harm's way or articulating use of force, this course will not only keep them safe but help your personnel better explain why their choices and actions.

It will also save your organization money and reduce the logistical hassles of getting training. Check out this testimonial from Chief Eric Clifford of the Schenectady Police Department, who trained his entire 160 officer department in active threat assessment.

Interested in learning more about active threat assessment training?

Take our free 1-hour Introduction to Active Threat Assessment course or purchase our full 8-hour online course.


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Nathan Meehan Ph.D.