During the first half of the 2014-15 school year, violent threats against K-12 schools across the US increased 158 percent over the year before. A recent study of 812 threats by National School Safety and Security Services found that 73 percent involved bomb or shooting threats. Schools evacuated in almost 30 percent of the cases and closed in nearly 10 percent – often prematurely and unnecessarily. The FBI was involved in about five percent of the cases. In all, 46 of 50 states experienced some form of threat. In terms of total numbers the top five states, in order, were Ohio (64), California (60), Pennsylvania (55), New York (46) and Florida (43). Connecticut, the scene of the devastating Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in mid-December 2012, ranked 10th with 29 threats. Despite the fact that anonymous school threats like these are mostly annoying hoaxes, the spike in numbers across the country over the last two years is concerning, and anything but trivial in terms of the psychological, social and economic costs. Obviously mobile devices and social media apps are a key reason for the growth of these threats, which are most often posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In the period studied, 299 threats – 37 percent of the total — were sent electronically (social media, email, texting, etc.), with social media accounting for 231 of those. Making matters worse is the rapid proliferation of newer anonymous apps such as Yik Yak, After School and Whisper. Even as recently as five years ago, schools had a better handle on threats than they do today. Every school administrator and law enforcement professional we talk to makes the same two points: 1) we have lost ground as the threats move more into mobile delivery platforms; and 2) the problem is only going to get worse with the increasing proliferation of anonymous social media apps. There are a number of procedural and policy-related steps educators are taking to get a handle on the problem, but one area lagging is finding ways to help school administrators and law enforcement agencies more quickly and accurately assess the credibility of these threats. And Twitter, Facebook and the like are not even the biggest challenge; figuring out how to assess threats effectively with the new anonymous apps is. Haystax’s approach to this tough problem is to provide far more context to users of its School Safety Center™ cloud-based solution. We do this first by ingesting, processing, analyzing and filtering large volumes of digital media information so the more important ‘signals’ are separated from the routine ‘noise,’ and then by fusing that information into a visually familiar environment like a map, alongside other data like incident alerts, event data – even physical asset locations and details – to help make sense of what in some cases could be a major emerging threat. For more details on the study, visit: https://www.schoolsecurity.org/2015/02/study-finds-rapid-escalation-violent-school-threats/
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