The core components of a Threat Assessment Team should stay mostly the same, with HR, Security, Legal, and the CEO’s office representing the most critical departments. Certain industries and organizations can benefit from staffing their teams with specific participants that bring a necessary subject matter expertise.
The use of Threat Assessment Teams (TATs) has largely emerged in the timespan following the post-Columbine era (April 1999) and the post-9/11 era (September 2001), with a specific focus on school shootings, workplace violence incidents, and terroristic events aimed at our nation’s malls, churches, transportation modalities, and critical infrastructure. Before these events, companies may have called their teams (if they had such a designation at all it was a loose one) by these names: Critical Incident Team or Crisis Management Team. The goals of these groups were often to address internally-created issues related to bad or dangerous products (and the resulting public relations nightmares they caused), like the Tylenol poisonings, the Jack in the Box e-coli hamburger deaths, or even the public relations disaster that was new Coke. Some of the team’s work could also be devoted to crisis public relations after a plane crash, a weather-related incident that caught them flatfooted, or an employee-created event that made the local news first and went national after that.
With the creation of the Internet and accompanying social media outlets in the years forward, what were called crisis teams has now evolved into threat assessment and management teams, who are now asked to come up with rapid and effective responses to acts of violence, terrorism, or events related to their employees, products, or services that may have created a huge public uproar. Staffing these teams—and properly defining the roles and duties of each member—is critically important now. The public, the media, and the plaintiff’s attorneys are looking at what companies did, and when they did it, in response to crisis events.
Besides the core team members, TATs have found effective use from getting as-needed consulting help and advice from these types of internal and external experts: crisis communication and crisis public relations experts; IT cybercrime and hacking prevention specialists; facilities engineers; union representatives; attorneys who specialize in a certain crisis response (like handling the media after the announcement of a class action suit); physical security experts; threat management professionals (as may be found in a group like ATAP—The Association of Threat Assessment Professionals—at www.atapworldwide.org); psychiatrists, psychologists, and other licensed clinicians from employment assistance program (EAP) providers; social service agency experts in substance abuse; domestic violence response specialists; terrorism specialists; and experts in hazardous materials or biological hazards, who have skills beyond the local fire department.
Hospital TATs may have a different set of threat problems that calls for a unique brand of healthcare-related expertise. TATs for factories and warehouses will need a different physical security and business continuity approach than a school district or a major shopping mall. Public sector TATs have different responsibilities and stakeholders than privately held or publicly held corporations.
If we view the creation, staffing, and on-going training of a TAT as a new requirement in the post-9/11 world, those teams will have to be on the lookout for members or on-scene specialists who can bring their expertise on a permanent or an as-needed basis. Some of these participants may be on the team for the duration of their employment with the organization or may only need to be brought in from the outside just once, to provide wise and immediate counsel for a unique situation outside the TAT’s usual scope of involvement.