What is Threat Assessment?
Tragic events beginning in the late 1990s led to a heightened need for security. Law enforcement, as well as public and private officials were forced to seek answers to the vulnerabilities found in schools as well as public and private buildings. A field known as threat assessment grew as leaders looked for ways to provide security to children and adults in the United States.
Threat assessment is a growing field that involves the evaluation and security of buildings and their occupants. The objective is to determine the weaknesses of a structure and determine how to protect that structure and its occupants from criminal intent.
National events such as Columbine in 1999 rattled the country and the need for threat assessment developed, said Albert R. Mendoza, Sr., who works as an Investigator and Senior Compliance Examiner in California. And when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the country was shocked and vulnerable.
In the years since, the threat assessment field has continued to be in demand with each school and workplace shooting that occurs.
"You have a 9/11 incident and Columbine incident and the demand goes off the Richter scale," Mendoza said.
In talking about threat assessment one just needs to look at the days and months that followed the attack on Columbine High School, where two students shot and killed 12 other students and a teacher. It was then that the tactics in handling these situations changed and threat assessment grew, Mendoza said. First responders such as emergency personnel learned that they couldn’t wait for weapons and tactical officers to arrive when there is an active shooter. Through shooter scenarios it became clear that the person could be done killing people before specialized weapons and tactical officers arrived on the scene, he continued.
Schools began devoting more resources to developing security plans that would help them understand their weaknesses and determine how to secure the structure and protect the students.
Mendoza specializes in the evaluation of schools. He estimates the company he works for could see 1,500 projects come to them this year.
"A lot of schools are doing things to harden the school," he said.
For example, school administrators are working to better understand who is coming and going and how to funnel these people through a single point of entry, Mendoza said. This can be accomplished through fencing, as well as checking in at the front office.
For each case, Mendoza spends a day at the school where he takes photos, examines the alarm system, electrical center, phone center and equipment. He also interviews the principal and head custodian and compiles a report. He then submits his findings for the school to use, should the need arise.
Even in an economy where jobs are scarce, opportunities in threat assessment are popping up all the time, Mendoza said. The need for threat assessment can be found at schools, public buildings, companies and even casinos, which look to protect their money, as well as their structures. There is a demand for threat assessment inside and outside the United States.
Mendoza suggests those interested in a career in threat assessment first join a professional organization to network and learn more about the field. He recommends the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS) and the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP).
Students who are interested should earn a bachelor’s degree in a security or criminal justice program or receive certification in the field, Mendoza said. And make sure to network. Look for an opportunity and get experience in the field, which he said he expects to continue to grow.
"I don’t see this ever going away," Mendoza said.