On April 20th, 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and carried out an elaborate plan to terrorize their school. This wasn’t the first school shooting in United States schools but it was by definition the “worst”. Canadians, like our American counterparts, were shocked at the depth of violence in North American schools. Eight days later a Canadian student entered a Canadian school with hundreds of rounds of ammunition and opened fire.
During the April 28th, 1999 school shooting incident in Taber, Alberta, Canada, Kevin Cameron led the Taber Crisis Response Team in the school-based crisis response as well as the community and school-division response to the initial impact of high profile violent trauma. Two weeks later, the Alberta Government seconded Mr. Cameron from the school division to the newly created Alberta Government Taber Response Project (TRP) with the sole purpose of taking a regional lead in understanding and recovering from the traumatic aftermath of the shooting. All stakeholders initially viewed the TRP as a three-month project to ensure adequate supports were in place such as additional counseling services and specialized training to deal with the individual responses to trauma. It quickly became clear that the combined impact of the Taber and Littleton shootings was more far reaching than anything we had considered previously and the TRP was extended to a thirteen-month initiative.
As part of Mr. Cameron’s approach to understanding the impact of trauma, he began to develop international contacts with experts, researchers and practitioners beginning with the majority of U.S. sites that had experienced school shootings within the five years prior to Taber. What he found were striking similarities between sites around issues of initial response while longer-term recovery was less predictable. The majority of research emphasis had been on the impact of trauma on individuals. As a systems therapist, Mr. Cameron was equally interested in the impact of trauma on systems (families, schools, communities, provinces, states, etc.) and why some tragedies result in a traumatic response being confined to a single system such as a school or community while others result in a traumatic response that affects multiple systems (schools and communities) hundreds and thousands of miles away from where the initial trauma occurred.
The ongoing consultations of the TRP led Mr. Cameron to begin the development of a model of traumatic aftermath called the Traumatic Event Systems (TES) Model ©. This model is descriptive, explanatory, and has predictive elements. One key area addressed in the TES model is the identification of critical periods (predictable time frames common across the country) for increased student threats to duplicate the crimes of Taber in Canada and Littleton in the United States and other high profile incidents. These critical periods occur as part of traumatic aftermath and may influence high-risk student behavior for years to come.
The realization of these critical periods led Mr. Cameron to broaden his consultations to include members of the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, RCMP Behavioral Sciences and other researchers and practitioners in the new field of student threat assessment. Most international work being done in the field of risk or threat assessment had been focusing on the school shooters and the process they went through from initial homicidal ideation to the carrying out of the homicide(s). Mr. Cameron’s work built upon this approach by also focusing on the thousands of threat makers in the aftermath and what we understand about the relationship between traumatic events and the activation of violent acting-out symptoms in these high-risk students.
In response to this increase in threat making behaviour, Mr. Cameron and Deborah Sawyer, Threat Assessment Team Leader, Horizon School Division developed an Interim Protocol for Dealing with High-Risk Student Behaviors. That protocol was published in the Alberta Government’s 2000 Premier’s Task Force Report on Children at Risk, (of which Mr. Cameron was a working committee member), to assist professionals in the Province of Alberta schools to organize threat assessment teams and protocols. A final Protocol for Dealing with High-Risk Student Behaviors had been completed for national training in student threat assessment entitled, Assessing Violence Potential: Protocol for Dealing with High Risk Student Behavior. This protocol is now in its’ 9th Edition and is referred to as “Community Protocol for Violence Threat Risk Assessment and Intervention” as the early work has evolved into a broader multi-agency model.
Since that time the Canadian Threat Assessment Training Board had been organized in collaboration with Lethbridge Community College where Canadian Federal Justice Department funding was received for a collaborative project developed by Mr. Cameron and Superintendent Glenn Woods, (OIC Behavioral Sciences and lead criminal profiler for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) that has significantly expanded the work of dealing with high-risk student behaviors and the impact of violent trauma on systems (schools, communities) by developing the framework for student threat assessment training. Mr. Cameron and Superintendent Glenn Woods piloted the threat assessment team protocols and two day training during the 2001-2002 school year in the Province of Alberta. Modeling multidisciplinary collaboration, Mr. Cameron and the criminal profilers then trained school-based multidisciplinary threat assessment teams across the country for the next five years.
Further training has been developed for crisis response teams utilizing the TES Model of Trauma Response©. The model replaces the term “crisis response” with “trauma response” to denote what is now understood as the longer-term effects of crises and traumatic events. Many school and community systems have assumed that suicides, car accidents, and even serious acts of violence like school shootings have only temporary effects on their members but research and clinical experience across North America suggests that multiple factors can influence how quickly recovery occurs or does not occur. Training in the TES Model of Trauma Response focuses on initial trauma response with students, as well as the broader response that includes adult systems (e.g. school staff system and parent system). It includes the process of community intervention and criteria for when these interventions are warranted. The more complex issue of the longer-term impact of trauma on human systems is addressed along with training in how to modify crisis (trauma) response protocols based on the systems’ pre-trauma functioning.
In March 2001, members of the United States Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education invited Mr. Cameron to Washington, D.C., where he opened international collaborative relations for the development of threat assessment protocols and related training. In October 2001 Mr. Cameron was invited by Dr. Marleen Wong, one of the lead trauma experts in the U.S. Government response to the recent terrorist attacks in New York, to draft and present an academic paper (“Trauma in Human Systems: A Brief Introduction”) in Los Angeles to the Los Angeles Unified School District (second largest school district in North America).
In 2002 Mr. Cameron was invited to Washington, D.C. by the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. State Department, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to participate in an International Meeting on Helping Schools Prepare for and Respond to Terrorist Attacks. This ten-country meeting was a first step in addressing the broad issues of domestic and international terrorism. Participants included the United States, Canada, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Britain, Northern Ireland, and Turkey. U.S. Attorney General, John Ashcroft and U.S. Secretary of Education, Roderick Paige addressed this meeting and commented on its significance in beginning the process of better understanding how to keep our schools safe from traumatic events like the terrorist attacks of September 11th and how to better respond to a broad range of crises and traumatic events.
In conjunction with the above meeting Mr. Cameron was requested by Special Assistant to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to provide consultation in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., especially around the concept of “entitlement”. The concept was first introduced by Mr. Cameron and is a key factor in understanding aftermath recovery when reviewing how pre-trauma functioning of human systems influences response and recovery to traumatic events.
Mr. Cameron and his associates have also collaborated with professionals from Omagh, Northern Ireland. In August 1998, Omagh became the victim of one of Northern Ireland’s worst terrorist attacks as a car bomb set off by the “Real IRA” killed 30 people in the busy market area of Omagh on a Sunday morning. A series of videoconferences have been held to further learning in the areas of: a) dealing with trauma in human systems b) school crisis response, and c) threat assessment. This collaborative effort included participation from Alberta Mental Health (Ponoka Hospital), Loma Linda University, Graduate School (Marital and Family Therapy Program) Canadian Campus, and Horizon School Division (Taber, AB), and others.
Mr. Cameron was one of only two international members of the school safety review panel organized by the Jane’s Information Group to assist in the development of three handbooks for school, mental health, police, and other related professionals who participate in dealing with crisis response and threat assessment cases in the United States. These handbooks are a follow-up to the highly successful first edition of the “Jane’s School Safety Handbook” that was developed for school and related professionals in the United States last year.
In 2004 Mr. Cameron was appointed as the President of the Canadian Council for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response. The “council” was a federal “not-for-profit” corporation established as a non-regulatory body taking a national lead in providing “recommended” standards and practices for professionals involved in the fields of threat assessment and trauma response. The “council” was initially built on the current emphasis by school systems, school personnel and related professionals to develop threat assessment and trauma response standards and practices.
In the spring of 2005 and 2006 Mr. Cameron met with leaders from across Canada as a participant in the RCMP National Youth Strategy initiative meeting to assist with more clearly defining the role of police officers in schools.
In May 2005, Mr. Cameron, Dena Roberts (lead researcher: RCMP Behavioral Sciences Branch), Dr. Sybille Artz (University of Victoria) and Dr. William Pollack (Harvard University) met as the primary research team for a National Youth Homicide Research Project to be conducted in Canada: “The Evolutionary Pathway to Violence: A Study of Youth Homicide”.
The study rejected the snap theory of violence. It is theorized that youth do not “just snap”, but instead follow one of four evolutionary pathways to violence. These four typologies have been developed to distinguish the different evolutionary pathways to violence and related markers that youth follow. Some of the variables include pre-incident behavior intensity and frequency, accomplices, target selection, site selection, violence type (instrumental vs. affective), justification process, dehumanization process, perpetrator peer structure and dynamics, victim peer structure and dynamics, family structure and function, fluidity (presence of homicidal and suicidal ideation), and religiosity.
As well, Mr. Cameron does regular television, radio, and newspaper interviews across North America concerning high profile traumas, violence, and threat assessment cases. This includes the most recent tragedies at Virginia Tech and Dawson College, Montreal. He appears regularly as an expert panelist on the television series “The Criminal Mind.”
In August of 2006 and April of 2007 Mr. Cameron returned to the United States and trained over five hundred professionals from the Los Angeles Unified School District and other professionals in the Multidisciplinary Violence/Threat Risk Assessment model as part of an ongoing training process with LAUSD.
In 2008 Mr. Cameron, in conjunction with Lethbridge College, expanded the highly successful school and community based Violence Threat/Risk Assessment (VTRA) Training Program to encompass protocols for colleges and universities. As of September 2008 the first edition of the Level I Violence Threat/Risk Assessment Training Manual: College and University Edition was published. As well, the third edition of the school-based Level I manual was published.
In June 2008, Mr. Cameron was invited to participated as an expert panelist in the international media release of the widely anticipated “Bystander Study” along with Dr. William Pollack of Harvard University, lead author of the study titled “Prior Knowledge of Potential School-Based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent a Targeted Attack” which was a joint research initiative with the United States Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education.
Mr. Cameron has also partnered in a comprehensive Youth Gang Prevention and Research Initiative with school leaders and a number of international experts in the field of violence prevention and youth gangs and accepted the invitation to serve as the lead External Clinician in the highly successful Surrey WRAP Program; an Anti-Youth Gang Project funded through the Government of Canada’s Youth Gang Prevention Fund. In March 2011 the Prime Minister of Canada announced from Surrey, B.C. a five year extension of the funding to the Surrey WRAP which provides “longer-term services and support for gang-associated youth and their families, as well as resources for the education of the broader community”.
In May 2011 Mr. Cameron was appointed as the President of the newly organized International Center for Threat Assessment (ICTA) which will assist in training Multidisciplinary Violence Threat/Risk Assessment Teams (VTRA) outside of Canada including training of select American School Jurisdictions with children of the U.S. Military through a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) grant funded initiative in collaboration with the University of Southern California (USC). As part of this initiative, Mr. Cameron is lead author with Dr. Marleen Wong, of the newly developed “Military Connected Schools (MCS) Model of Threat Assessment”.
At the request of the editors for the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy former lead researcher for the United States Secret Service Dr. Marisa Reddy Randazzo as well as
Managing Partner SIGMA Threat Management Associates and J. Kevin Cameron wrote for 2012 publication “From Presidential Protection to Campus Security: A Brief History of Threat Assessment in North American Schools and Colleges”. This scholarly article “provides a brief history of the development of behavioral threat assessment within schools, colleges, and universities in the United States and Canada, from the original Secret Service model used to evaluate threats against the U.S. president, to its adaptation for use in workplace settings, to later adaptations for U.S. and Canadian secondary schools (following the school shootings in Colorado and Alberta in April 1999), and to its current configuration in US and Canadian colleges and universities”.
In June 2012 Mr. Cameron and Theresa Campbell were introduced to the public by the Premier of British Columbia and the Minister of Education as the lead crises/trauma response and violence threat risk assessment consultants for the Province of British Columbia’s ERASE initiative which includes multi-ministry training in VTRA as well as consultation on high-profile cases. This included providing direction to all B.C. school jurisdictions in the aftermath of the Amanda Todd suicide with an emphasis on response, recovery and the effects of high profile trauma on symptom development throughout the province and beyond.
As the gun debate has intensified in the aftermath of the 2012 Connecticut School Shooting, Mr. Cameron was invited to sit on an expert panel in New York City at a national media symposium hosted by the prestigious John Jay College. The May 2013 Center on Media, Crime and Justice Roundtable for Senior Editors “UNDER THE GUN: Gun Violence, Gun Laws and the Media.” was specifically hosted to educate the American media on a number of fronts including the Canadian movement to more multidisciplinary collaboration including the Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) Model and the reality that high profile media coverage intensifies already existing symptoms in troubled individuals especially when the perpetrator details outweigh the realities of the loss of life and the victim’s stories. Numerous media outlets were represented including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, Miami Herald, Denver Post, and several others.
“To support agencies and professionals in every community to develop collaborative multidisciplinary teams focusing on early intervention, prevention, and aftermath strategies for crises, trauma, violence, and conflict.”
On April 20th, 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and carried out an elaborate plan to terrorize their school. This wasn’t the first school shooting in United States schools but it was by definition the “worst”. Canadians, like our American counterparts, were shocked at the depth of violence in American schools. It wasn’t until eight days later when a Canadian student entered a Canadian school with hundreds of rounds of ammunition and opened fire that an American tragedy was about to become a Canadian experience.
Serious crises and traumatic events have impacted many schools and communities across North America. Some are well prepared to deal with the initial trauma response while others are not. Most have little or no training in the impact of trauma on systems and key aspects of longer term recovery. Cameron/Otto, therefore, consults with systems impacted by trauma by assisting in the initial trauma response and/or the recovery process. This includes dealing with systems that have experienced multiple crises (suicides, accidental deaths, etc.) and are concerned that high-risk behaviors continue to occur and recovery may be stalled or impaired. Services may include small group consultation with professionals, large group consultation, formal or informal neetings with parents, students or all of the above.