The WAVR Explained

The WAVR-21 – Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk – is a 21-item coded instrument for the structured assessment of workplace and campus targeted violence risk.

First published in 2007 by its co-developers, Drs. Stephen White and Reid Meloy, the WAVR-21 reflects the authors’ extensive case and forensic experience and a thorough review of the research and clinical literature.  The WAVR is now in its third edition, published in 2016.

The revised V3 Worksheet and Grid coding forms are appropriate for use by both clinical and non-clinical professionals, typically involved in the threat assessment and management endeavor. The manual is written in an accessible style, that any threat assessment and management practitioner may gain a fundamental understanding of violence risk in workplace and campus contexts.

  • Who may use the WAVR-21? The WAVR-21 may be used by the members of multi-disciplinary threat assessment and management (TAM) teams who typically work in organizations, as well as by risk assessment mental health professionals who consult or conduct formal assessments in work or campus settings. Workplace violence security consultants will also find the WAVR helpful, as will law enforcement professionals who assist the organizations in their communities.
  • What does the WAVR consist of?
    • Manual: The extensive WAVR manual (see Table of Contents on this site) consists of a description of each of the WAVR-21 items and their coding criteria, and a succinct explanation of how each item relates to workplace or campus violence risk. Included also are program development and general prevention principles, a user’s guide, the psychodynamics of targeted violence, interviewing strategies, bias issues, case examples and case studies. The V3 manual has been greatly expanded in content.
    • Worksheet: The 21-item Worksheet consists of the risk indicator definitions and inquiry questions for coding the WAVR factors, with sections for note taking. Items are coded as either absent, present, or prominent, and for recent change. The Worksheet includes a format for structuring assessment reports and operational definitions for four “Levels of Concern”: low, moderate, high, and imminent.
    • Grid: The Grid is a one-page summary of the Worksheet, providing a quick reference for viewing the coding and risk status of a case. The Grid can be very useful as a graphic for team discussions, and for providing senior management with an evidence-based “executive summary” of a current case scenario – helping to keep conversations and decision-making focused on objective criteria.
    • Intake and Documentation Questionnaire: This form, greatly expanded from the V2 Intake form, documents identifying information and raw case data – the “who, what, when, where, and how” of incidents – chronologies of threat scenarios, and actions taken. The inquiry questions on the form relate directly to the data needed to complete the coding for the risk and protective factors on the Worksheet. The form may also serve as a document of an organization’s due diligence in response to threat cases.
    • Note on replacing the Short Forms: The Short Form, “Violence Risk”, is no longer included in the revised manual. The Short Form “Protect” has been incorporated within the Worksheet and manual. The authors do not consider the Short Forms obsolete, but have redesigned the Worksheet to be appropriate for all users. Users at all levels of screening, assessment, and decision making must remain mindful of the limits of their qualifications when engaging in threat management practice.
  • The primary focus of the WAVR-21 is to assess the risk of workplace or campus homicidal targeted violence.  A term originally coined by the behavioral scientists of the US Secret Service, targeted violence refers to situations in which an individual intentionally commits an act of violence against an identified or symbolic target, whether people or places.  Also referred to as intended violence, these acts are potentially foreseeable, as they are the result of an understandable, evolving and often discernable process of thinking, behavior, and preparation.  Several of the WAVR-21 factors incorporate this “pathway to violence” escalation dynamic.
  • The secondary purpose of the WAVR-21 is to capture other forms of problematic aggression. The WAVR may be used to identify and assess the risk, frequency, and severity of non-homicidal aggression such as stalking, disruptive anger problems, menacing behavior and bullying.  These manifestations of aggression are common and problematic in organizational settings in themselves, and could also figure into the ultimate formulation of a subject who may pose a risk of targeted homicide.  This view is consistent with contemporary theories that targeted violence is continuous, contextual, and dynamic.
  • The item domains of the WAVR include both static and dynamic factors. The WAVR items include psychological, behavioral, historical, and situational factors associated with targeted violence, including intimate partner violence posing a threat to a workplace or campus.  In practice, threat assessment and threat management are intertwined.  Dynamic risk factors (e.g., acute psychosis, access to weapons or targets) become the focus of interventions intended to reduce risk.  Assessment and monitoring are ongoing, and an individual’s response to various interventions (e.g., escalation, de-escalation, or no apparent change) become part of the changing opinion of risk level.
  • The WAVR-21 is among the growing number of “structured professional judgement guides (“SPJs”). The WAVR-21 is not a psychological test or scale, and does not generate a quantitative “score.” However, the WAVR-21 exemplifies the growing trend in risk assessment technology toward the use of SPJs.  In this organized but non-quantitative format, responders refer to a list of factors, each of which has some form of coding criteria with a demonstrated relationship to violence.  Such guidelines improve the consistency and transparency of assessment decision-making.  Other structured guides exist to assess the violence risk associated with psychopathy, spousal abuse, stalking, released violent offenders, sex offenders, youth offenders, and discharged mental patients. SPJs are also generally prescriptive: they identify interventions and actions to manage and mitigate a subject’s possible violence risk.
  • An evidence-based tool. By incorporating scientific findings in its definition of violence risk factors, the WAVR-21 attempts to bridge the gap between research and the case management needs of practicing professionals. An extensive literature search and resulting reference list (posted here) underpins the WAVR-21, translating into a rational and defensible approach to assessing and responding to threat scenarios.  Clinical judgment is still a necessity, and always will be, in reaching opinions of risk and viable, wise responses
  • Intervention guidelines. Although not a comprehensive response guide per se, the manual includes a section on the basic principles of prevention and risk mitigation. The third edition includes new material on “risk scenario planning” – identifying intervention strategies that would be appropriate for various case scenarios.  Case examples in the appendix include management steps and strategies.  Case studies in the appendix of actual workplace and campus homicides include analyses of how violence may have been prevented. Certain intervention strategies, “do’s and don’ts”, are also posed in the discussion of the individual risk factor items in chapter 5. Necessary for the continuing development of competence are training, experience, and access to consultation resources.
  • Flexibility. The WAVR-21 tools are ideally used from the beginning and throughout a workplace or campus threat management case.  Their use is intended to be consistent with the dynamic flow of workplace threat management, the differing degrees of urgency which cases present, and the need for flexibility by threat management teams.  In practice, threat assessment and threat management are intertwined. Dynamic risk factors become the focus of ongoing interventions intended to reduce risk.  Assessment and monitoring are ongoing, and an individual’s response to various interventions (e.g., escalation, de-escalation, or no apparent change) become part of the evolving opinion of risk level.
  • The eWAVR: Go to WAVR Digital Options
  • The benefits of the WAVR-21 – scientifically-grounded assessment technology, an educational resource, and improved communication among the multi-disciplinary members of the incident management process – are intended to improve the quality of threat assessment and case management decision-making.