Violent Threat Risk Assessment

Last updated: March 19, 2021

What Does Violent Threat Risk Assessment Mean?

A Violent Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) is a risk assessment methodology developed by the North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response (NACTATR, formerly known as the Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response), a Canadian threat-management and training consultancy with offices in the United States.

The VTRA was developed by Kevin J. Cameron as a response to a school shooting in Alberta, Canada in 1999, which occurred shortly after the Columbine Shooting in Colorado, USA. In 2001, Cameron founded NACTATR as a way to train people in how to use the VTRA method effectively.

The VTRA model is designed to be used to guide responses to advanced warning of dangers or threats, and not for threats of imminent violence (emergencies). Protocols used by the model rely on a system for reporting what’s referred to as “violence/threat-making behaviours”, which can include anything from violent incidents, to threats, to possession of weapons.

Safeopedia Explains Violent Threat Risk Assessment

As mentioned, the VTRA approach is concentrated on threats to schools, such as student shooters. The approach follows a multidisciplinary, team-based assessment approach in which assessments are conducted by multiple people from relevant backgrounds, such as HR workers, community mental health workers, and social workers. The VTRA provides a methodology for how these individual assessments should be conducted as well as a framework for combining these assessments into a single high-level assessment.

While the VTRA was developed with reference to education facilities, it is also used to assess threats to other institutions, and can be used to assess threats at the community level. The VTRA method may also be used to evaluate specific political risks, such as the potential for politically motivated actors to commit acts of violence.

Violent Threat Risk Assessments in Practice

The VTRA training program is broken into three levels. Level 1 training is focused on initial, data-driven risk assessments, Level 2 is concerned with facilitating multi-stakeholder collaboration, and Level 3 is focused on long-term treatment planning. According to NACTATR, over 50,000 persons have been trained in the VTRA methodology since 1999.

The VTRA model can be divided into three main sections:

  1. The VTRA training process, which is designed to teach professionals how to become competent in threat risk assessment and intervention.
  2. The development of threat response protocols. This process allows community stakeholders to decide how a threat will be responded to before the threat is detected. A typical protocol is designed to be flexible and multifaceted in order to avoid treating every situation with a “one size fits all approach.”
  3. The development of protocol activation thresholds—determining the thresholds that need to be met for a given aspect of the threat response protocol to be put into action.

The specific actions that are taken in response to threat-making behaviours depend on the perceived severity of the threat, as well as on the specific guidelines developed for the protocol in question. Actions typically include gathering more data on the threat (the “person of concern”, or POC) in order to gain a better understanding of it, alerting a predesignated, VTRA-trained police officer, and examining the data through the use of a semi-structured assessment questionnaire.

The VTRA is often used in occupational settings, especially schools, that are legally required to have a threat assessment methodology. For example, numerous school boards in Canada’s Ontario province use the VTRA to meet this requirement.

The Government of British Columbia has also published a Community Violence Risk Assessment Protocol (CVRAP) that is based on the VTRA and designed in-coordination with NACTATR. The CVRAP is still mostly focused on schools, but is also designed to mitigate risk at the wider community level. The city of Sudbury, Ontario, also has a community-focused VTRA protocol that relies on the use of a multi-institutional approach to recognize potential sources of violence and to mitigate them before they occur.

One of the key elements of the VTRA system is the “signing ceremony”, which is used to formalize the list of individuals responsible for implementing the VTRA protocols. Any individual signatory to the VTRA protocol document has the authority to unilaterally activate a Violent Threat Risk Assessment if they believe the threshold for doing so has been met. Once a VTRA is activated, a number of additional signatories to the protocol must assess the situation in order to determine if additional action is necessary.


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