Stony Brook Leads the Charge in School Safety

According to the Gun Violence Project, as of mid-April 2023 there were more mass shootings than days of the year. A total of 112 shootings occurred in K-12 schools while Virginia Tech, the University of Arizona and Michigan State were also plagued by gun violence. As the threats escalate, one thing should be top-of-mind for educational institutions around the globe: safety and security start with behavioral threat assessment and incident management.

To that end, Stony Brook University hosted the “School Safety Seminar” on May 11, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Region 2 and the United States Secret Service (USSS) New York Field Office.

Higher education administrators, K-12 educators, law enforcement professionals, first responders and other key members from a multitude of agencies gathered in the university’s Charles B. Wang Center Theater with one objective: school safety.

“It’s up to all of us to keep our schools safe from both the physical as well as cyber threats that are out there,” said CISA Region 2 Director John Durkin, who co-led the seminar’s welcome and opening remarks.

As America’s cyber defense agency and the national coordinator for critical infrastructure resiliency and security, CISA leads the national effort to understand, manage, and reduce risk to the cyber and physical infrastructure that Americans rely on. CISA’s School Safety Task Force is the agency’s dedicated program established to support K-12 schools across the country in their efforts to enhance safety and security. CISA resources and programs are designed to help schools prevent, protect against, and mitigate security threats, risks, and emergency situations.

“Seminars like today’s and the information, resources and planning tools they provide, are essential to our success in this joint effort,” Durkin said.

Presentations and panel topics also covered behavioral threat assessment research presented by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC).

“NTAC’s core mission to keep our communities safe is reflected in each of their essential partnerships nationwide,” said Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Freaney. “The critical research that NTAC constantly pursues and publishes, informs and empowers our community leaders at every level to assist in the development of threat assessment programs. We are privileged to partner with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Stony Brook University in the shared endeavor to keep students safe.”

Presenting findings from its latest study, “Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools,” the USSS National Threat Assessment Center’s message was clear: Don’t wait for the next threat. “Motives for attackers are multifaceted,” noted NTAC Supervisory Social Science Research Specialist Ashley Smolinksi. With proper investment in behavioral threat resources, educational institutions can assess, and hopefully prevent, attacks.

This mantra is supported and being modeled through the innovative approach taken by Stony Brook University’s Division of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). By investing in security infrastructure, leveraging technologies and building cross-functional teams, Stony Brook’s program serves as a mature example for other institutions and school districts.

“We have assembled an extremely experienced interdisciplinary team that works around the clock to identify, assess, respond to and mitigate risks associated with threatening and concerning behavior. I have the fullest confidence in our team and know that we are casting a broad net to protect the students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors at Stony Brook,” said Vice President for Enterprise Risk Management and Chief Security Officer Lawrence M. Zacarese. “I take the responsibility of ensuring the safety of our campus seriously. Partnering with our federal colleagues to host this seminar further highlights the importance of collaboration and information sharing of best practices.”

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