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Before the crisis: Campus safety group offers education, support

A person is holding a smart phone with the web browser on the ASU emergecny page
October 10, 2011

Imagine looking through emails at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday when you are startled by a coworker a few cubicles away cursing and slamming desk drawers shut while ranting about a new departmental change he doesn’t believe is fair. As the volume of his voice rises, he makes threats to those nearby who attempt to calm him down.

You may be thinking to yourself, should I confront him? Should I call 911? Should I leave the area immediately? 

Support is available to deal with a violent or threatening circumstance or person at Arizona State University (ASU). The ASU Behavior Response Team (BRT) was designed to combat staff-related workplace issues and consists of employees from across the university who work together to quell and investigate violent or threatening individuals or situations. Professionals who comprise the BRT include department managers, staff from the ASU Police, Employee Assistance, the Office of General Counsel, and the Office of Human Resources.

“Threats that appear to be imminent should be reported to the ASU Police Department by calling 911 without delay,” said Kevin Salcido, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at ASU. “A person who overhears or witnesses a violent or threating dispute should trust their instincts during the moment and err on the side of caution.”

Since every volatile situation is different, the priority when deciding whether or not to confront the person who is acting erratically always is to first consider the safety of the campus community.

“The vast majority of workplace/campus violence incidents are perpetrated by someone who already has exhibited threatening behavior,” Salcido adds. “In other words, people are rarely surprised after the incident, and many people say that they ‘saw it coming’.”

According to Richard Wilson, ASU Police Assistant Chief, in the early 1990s when the BRT was just forming, there was a staff member who was escalating toward violence and was headed to campus with several firearms.

“Because the team had been monitoring the situation and developed relationships with people close to the individual, we had enough warning to intercept this person and diffuse the situation before anything bad occurred,” Wilson said.

To help stave off a potentially volatile circumstance, there are some common signs that vigilant observers can take notice of that may indicate when a person may be in need of support. According to Salcido, some traits to look for in others includes aggressiveness, irritability, a notable change in hygiene or personal appearance, the vocalization or written obsessions with guns or weaponry, or a marked change in work or classroom performance.

Understanding these characteristics can be helpful to ASU employees when they contact BRT members. People also can remain anonymous when making a report via email or telephone through the ASU hotline. While having situational facts such as date, time, and location on hand during an emergency beforehand can help, it is not necessary.

“The focus should not be what we are looking for – but rather – what are we looking at,” Wilson said. “We also must recognize that our goal is not singularly focused on managing an individual – what we are doing is looking at the individual in the context of a situation. That is why having a multi-discipline team is so important because we each bring different expertise to the table regarding safety, human behavior, policy and labor law that allows us to weigh our options and arrive at strategies that are fair, objective, reasonable and timely.”

If campus groups or individuals want to learn more about BRT operations and how to identify behavioral warning signs, a downloadable flier is accessible online. In-person and online training sessions also are options. For ASU employees, BRT professionals lead one to one-and-a-half hour training sessions. During the presentation, attendees learn about the team’s overview and goals as well as the signs, symptoms, and resources in addressing troubling circumstances on campus.

“I don’t think that people need to be experts in handling disruptive behavior on their own, they just need to be aware that if they find themselves confronted with a concern about someone’s wellbeing, they know who to call to help them through that process successfully,” says Jillian McManus, Director, Organizational Health and Development within the HR Employee Assistance Office.

Beyond courses and materials that the BRT offers, other emergency response resources accessible from the ASU home page include:

• The ASU emergency web page:

• The ASU Alert service sends notifications about campus-wide emergencies. ASU Alert also has a Twitter account: @asualert.

• The ASU Advisory system sends mid-level emergency announcements about building closures or small fires.

Each text-messaging service requires separate enrollment and may involve a cost depending on an individual’s cell phone plan. To access both systems, click on the ASU Alert icon on the ASU home page. Read more about each system on ASU News.