GSX Education Session Shows the Importance of a Student’s Online Footprint to Assess School Security

As students continue to live more digitally, understanding what they’re posting should be an important part of any school security plan.

A Tuesday GSX education session, “School Safety in 2023: Three Proven Concepts That Save Lives with Realistic, Affordable, and Modern Applications,” emphasized how a digital footprint can be used to better assess the seriousness of any threats.

Dr. Greg Garber, director of training for Safer Schools Together, said that we must realize how different a child’s world is today from just 20 to 30 years ago because of technology.

“Today, our kids are connected to technology 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” he said “It has come a ubiquitous extension of what they do, and more importantly, how they interpret the world.”

And when a school violence incident occurs, some people might believe that person just “snapped.” But Garber said that is far from the case.

“No one just ‘snaps,” he said. “They weren’t just healthy yesterday and then decided to do this. That’s not how it works. They have been on a pathway to violence, and that takes a substantial amount of time.”

Starting with the Columbine shooting in 1999, Garber showed how the vast majority of major school shooters provided some clue of their intentions online. And each one had been on a pathway to violence.

“These individuals were thinking about this for a long time,” he said. “One of the common elements in every case was pre-event digital leakage available in every case.”

Garber said that you can’t engage in a proper threat assessment today without including the digital element.

During the session, Garber showed a number of realistic tools to further assess the online footprint of a student.

“Our top tool, and that might surprise you, is Google,” he said.

Some of the tools to better use Google include Boolean searches that allow you to better search for exactly what you are looking for.

And while Garber showed how the digital footprint is important in school security risk assessment, he said nothing replaces people.

“Where we have adults in any school where students feel connected to and safe with, once they recognize that they can report and can help their friends get out of trouble as opposed to into trouble, our students do report,” he said. “We need human detectors before security detectors. This a major way to get into that lane of intervention.”

About the Author

Brent Dirks is senior editor for Security Today and Campus Security Today magazines.

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