Risk Insider: Zachary Gifford

The Role We Must Own

By: | November 24, 2015 • 2 min read

Zachary Gifford is Director, Systemwide Risk Management with the California State University – Office of the Chancellor. He also is active in risk management organizations such as PARMA, PRIMA and RIMS. He can be reached at [email protected]

Unfortunately, campus shootings are not a new issue and the recent (or seemingly continual) spate of incidents reinforces the need to take a holistic approach to the risk, i.e., it is not a law enforcement issue alone.

I’m not talking about the need to include a variety of campus personnel and stakeholders in the planning, response and recovery processes, this is self-evident and well-established.

Rather, in this case the term “holistic” is best applied to considering the place of mental health professionals, such as Behavior Intervention Teams (BITS) or campus counseling teams (mental first aid) in collaborating on emergency management (prep, response & recovery) and with stakeholders/administration and academics.  Everybody has a stake in trying to mitigate the risk.

Most people wouldn’t argue with the point that the root cause of the vast majority of campus violence incidents is one of acute mental illness and the aforementioned feelings of desperation.

Here are two definitions of “holistic”:

Philosophy – characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.

Medicine – characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.

Recently when speaking with mental health professionals about emergency preparation and response, I had an epiphany … this being that the mental health component of preparation, response and recovery had not been a focus or even present in the emergency planning conversation.

As such, I made a commitment that one of my big pushes going forward was to make sure I would be an advocate for having campus mental health professionals at the table when discussing campus risk mitigation and crisis response.

In the words of  Patrick Prince of Prince & Phelps Consultants“No one wakes up one morning and decides, ‘I think I’ll go shoot up a campus today’.”

Rather, it is generally a lengthy mental process as one devolves from feeling that they have a gripe to feeling totally disenfranchised, disrespected, desperate, lonely and angry.

There are points along the way wherein there is a chance for intervention to address the risk and perhaps even assist the person of interest.

Most people wouldn’t argue with the point that the root cause of the vast majority of campus violence incidents is one of acute mental illness and the aforementioned feelings of desperation. We must remember that the perpetrator was once someone’s baby, friend, schoolmate, etc. and likely was not born with homicidal ideations.

Herein lies the opportunity for mental health professionals to mitigate the risk by assisting in the identification of people at risk, collaborating on intervention techniques and perhaps even treatment.

Further, it is incumbent upon an organization to stress the values of empathy, respect, dignity and looking through a holistic and not personally prejudiced paradigm.

We all have a chance to mitigate the risk by being decent human beings and not being afraid to reach out to appropriate persons to address a concern when observing disturbing behavior. “It is not my problem,” or “ I do not want to get involved,” are not responsible alternatives.

Ask yourself this.

“Are you a potential solution or a potential victim?”

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]