Review and Takeaways, ATAP’s Winter Conference 2023

In this week’s episode of our podcast, host Natasha Ryan sat down with The North Group’s CEO, Steve Hernandez talks about his time in Orlando at the ATAP (Association of Threat Assessment Professionals) Winter Conference. Steve had one word for the event, amazing. Enjoy the transcription below or check out the embedded video.

Natasha: So, my first question for those listening is kind of digging into what this conference looks like, right? Because we go to a lot of security conferences. The ATAP Winter Conference specifically centers around a certain segment within our security industry. So, can you explain that to people listening?

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. It was amazing. Thank you, Natasha. It was absolutely incredible to attend the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Winter Conference, phenomenal in Orlando, Florida. We loved every minute of it, learned a lot. So, I’m excited to discuss it here. It’s much more serious, cerebral. Cerebral, I guess is the best way to say that, right. If I can get that out. But it was informative, it was educational, it was aggressive in the knowledge being taught to help. You have an eclectic group of people. It’s not just security professionals, it’s law enforcement professionals, right? Judicial protection professionals, behavioral threat assessment professionals, psychologists. More psychologists in a room than I’ve ever seen at a security conference. So, the behavioral pathway to violence, studying that goes on, and some of the insights from people that have lived real violent incidences or mitigated violent acts or acts of aggressors towards corporations, schools, communities, it was just very informative. Learned a lot. Some of which isn’t able to be publicly shared, is a little sensitive. Some cases are still ongoing. But I will tell you that the biggest piece of takeaway for me was just validation in the protector’s existence. But the gap that’s being filled by new protectors coming in with intel backgrounds and intel centric skill sets, that is around understanding what those facts for increased threat ratios look like, what those behavioral indicators look like. And there was a whole week of talking about behavioral patterns, recognizing that, recognizing how violent things can get quickly.

Natasha: The North Group prides itself on driving everything through intelligence. So, it sounds like you were in the right room at the conference. My question is playing off of what you just said. So, as we evolve and we better understand what the protector’s role should look like now versus what it looked like 40 years ago, even ten years ago, what is specifically more? I mean, how important is it to evolve that protector role? And you mentioned, like, intelligence and analyzing data is all part of it now. Is that overwhelming to someone that’s been in the business and knows the old school way? I mean, how do you kind of merge the old into this morphing into the new role and what that looks like?

Steve: Yeah, great question. It is overwhelming, right? To somebody that just looks at protective security from a non-asymmetrical perspective, threats are ever evolving. And to do a great job at protecting principles and protecting corporate assets, corporate stakeholders, we have to understand, one, where are we assessing risk at and why and what are the threats, who are the threats, where those vulnerabilities exist? And this conference did a really good job at branding that and highlighting the issues around real-world scenarios where celebrities have been stalked or suspects, targeted organizations such as Fortune 100, Fortune 500. You look at organizations like Disney. I got to give my hat off to Disney every chance I can, though. They have a lot of issues in the limelight right now with public interfacing interactions and some of their PR. They do an amazing job at protecting the people that a tent isn’t a day in and day out. And they thrive themselves on behavioral and situational awareness, which is so important. I think that their business model for security is tremendous, and I think they embody the atap culture and what threat management truly looks like. To understand where threat management thrives and gets missed, you really have to go to the infrastructure of an organization or a vendor company such as the North Group or some of these other companies out there, that they’re not just staffing companies. They’re really looking at things from that asymmetrical perspective of how those threats are evolving. And that’s what the conference did. The other point I want to really hone in on here, is they didn’t just give data, they gave case studies. And each piece of data was backed up by an actual incident or case study around a threat matrix that developed over a period of time and was either mitigated by good police work, good investigative work, good corporate security threat management functions. But the integration of HR legal cyber security departments, security providers, law enforcement, everybody kind of coming together in this public private partnership mentality, which we’ve discussed to where there is no barrier between protecting people, protecting assets, protecting against liabilities. There’s no barrier within atap. When I was at that conference, right, there’s a full scope approach to understanding what threats look like and what behaviors look like, and in tandem, how the different areas of responsibility are supposed to attack this issue.

Natasha: It’s interesting you brought up case studies, and specifically, it sounds like that’s one of the things that really stood out to you about the effectiveness of the speakers at this particular conference. Because when we were at IPSB in Vegas, Bryan Flannery, who is a big part of ATAP on the West Coast, gave a case study. And you’re right, when you have an actual case that you can go through, you remember it. I mean, I remember his entire presentation because it was so interesting walking through the timeline of the case and getting a full encompassed look at what that threat was and how it all came out. So that’s great. That was a part of it. I do want to throw in here. You’re talking about Disney. We did do a podcast with Scott Nethero, who used to run part of Disney’s security program. So, if you want to hear more insights on exactly what Disney does, you can visit our and you can find that Disney episode because it is very intriguing. They have a system, they do it well, and half the time you don’t even recognize there is a threat because they mitigate it before it ever comes to fruition.

Steve: I’ll point out, Natasha, I had happened to stay right across from Disney Springs, and I’m going there to eat at night because it’s where all the restaurants were. And when you don’t know where you’re going, a Disney security officer and his Mickey Mouse Disney outfit, right, as people joke, walks up and says, hey, sir, how are you tonight? Can I help you? Because I look like the confused tourist walking by myself, trying to find somewhere to eat or go meet some person. But that approach was, they’re watching my behavior. They’re looking for a point of interdiction to say they’re aware, they’re situationally understanding. And the military has a great saying, right, every soldier is a sensor. Law enforcement, I think, follows that every officer is a sensor on the street. You have to be able to apply that in large public spaces, which atap did a great job at talking about how the progressive behaviors of a bad actor are detected through good, committed threat management programs. And really, it was just a lot of validation. I learned a lot, though, too, as somebody who’s been in this industry for almost 15 plus years, right, is trying to figure out where do we focus as a private risk management vendor? How do we focus, what is our niche to the consumer market as far as helping them understand what their risks are? I think that one of the things that’s really important with that is atap does a good job at highlighting, cutting through all the noise and highlighting what the actual issues in threat management and violent actions are, right? And part of it is when you detect it, address it. It was a major part of the conversation. There was a lady that did a presentation, and I tell you what, she sat with a student during a crisis, and for her to talk about this was just very rewarding to be able to hear her story. And she’s written a book on it. We’ll put those links in the name of the speaker in the attachment. Here but she really covered down on how they addressed the incident. In the middle of it, she had a student walk into her office that she sat down with as a social worker, and he said, you know, he told her he had a gun in his bag. And she spent the next hour with that student deconflicting the situation. And there were some funny parts of the story, but the human side of it, right? It didn’t turn into throwing the kid on the ground and a run hide fight scenario where some people would have some people would have and it may have escalated and exacerbated the situation. But she read the situation to where she could control it, and then made the determination to ultimately talk the student down and get possession of that firearm, lock it in a drawer, and then eventually, the school resource officer did show up. And it was very beneficial, the outcome. No one got hurt. So, it’s kind of one of those instances that never happened, right? Another parallel trajectory where this could have went, would have been catastrophic. And we’re living that, right? God bless the MSU family up here in Michigan and everybody that’s been affected by that tragedy. It’s one of those things where that shooter had no connections to MSU, but there were indicators. The family has even stated that there were indicators. He was a loner. He was reclusive. These things are things that every community member, every citizen, is a sensor to fact for increased threat ratio, right? And ATAP does a very good job at really getting into the meat and potatoes of what that looks like. And some of the speakers that they have, they’ve been there. They’ve dealt with it. Right? They’ve been in the middle of a crisis, which a lot of people can’t say. I mean, you have a number of people that have responded to a crisis, but being the one person in the room with a potential active shooter and hearing that story in the human side of how she dealt with that was just very impactful. I mean, it took your breath away to just sit there. It’s like watching a Liam Neeson movie, right? And you’re like, whoa. But this is real. This isn’t Hollywood. This is a real-life situation where she became a hero and she received, I believe, the Citizen’s Medal of Honor. But, you know, that incident could have been very, very bad. And that was just one of many presentations on kind of outcomes that never happened that were mitigated and prevented through good communication and behavioral understanding.

Natasha: You have a room full of intelligent people within the industry who get that and get the messaging and the value in it, specifically around schools, because there have been so many mass shootings. Was it addressed at the conference at all in thought process on how to get through to the schools and get in there to teach situational awareness?

Steve: No, not really. I think that it’s not a ding or a negative. Right. I think everybody in the room already understands that. I don’t think there were people in the room. I don’t think there was one person in that room that didn’t understand it. Everybody there professionally, whether they be law enforcement or corporate security, private high net worth, security schools. There were many school districts there and I think that there’s a lot of attention on this. I think the problem we run into when we start talking about keeping kids safe is we have political barriers that are set up with certain things. I do believe that gun free zones versus not gun free zones, right? I think when we talk about this from a behavioral threat analysis without politics in the middle of it or second amendment beliefs or any of that, predators don’t prey on armed people and typically when they do, they’re met with a violence of action that mitigates further threat to them or the community they’re around. So, I think when you start to have this conversation, it’s important to note that it’s the people that don’t know what their program is. It’s the school districts that don’t understand what they should be doing, not wrong or indifferent. Everybody needs to come together, community and government and districts and parents. And we need to make it a point that this conversation about what to do is extremely important. And if it doesn’t happen, shame on us. When we’re talking about schools, we’re talking about the next generation. We’re talking about the next generation of political leaders and members of our community. I think that it’s a travesty when we fail the youth in this way. I think that schools, is one big part of this topic. But you got health care, right? You’ve got nurses and doctors and administrators that go to work every day at a hospital. And I can tell you we’ve got a great client that they go above and beyond to make sure their patients and staff and community members are safe within their healthcare network. And I think it’s important, I think it’s important to think about that. I think it’s important to highlight failures. Failure is the breeding ground to success or achieve that right.

Natasha: You got to learn failures, teach, it’s a path towards growth. So, giving people an accurate portrayal of what this conference looked like, it sounds like you had some decision makers in the room, and you had people from different industries in the room, people that probably are responsible for keeping people safe in those segmented industries. Is that correct?

Steve: I would say that room had more decision makers in it than any other security conference I’ve ever been to. For sure.

Natasha: That’s interesting. Okay. And then as far as the goal here is just to recap your experience, but also people are always wondering, which conference should I attend? Which conference best fits our company’s needs, our company’s growth? What was the networking aspect like of the conference?

Steve: I mean, hands down, one of the best environments I’ve been in. Easy to relate because I were in that world and I knew a lot of people that were in attendance, but more importantly, the people that I didn’t know to sit down and have a conversation and compare notes, right? Compare experiences, compare client engagements, high level on I dealt with this and they’re like, oh, I dealt with this and this is how we handled it this way or we handle it the same way. I mean, there was just validations. Just if I had to pick one word, it was just validation, right? Validation on process, validation on understanding. The networking was very cerebral, as was the conference sessions, because you’re dealing with a lot of PHDs, doctors, heads of behavioral units from different agencies, and their focus was on having conversations around it. It wasn’t a big party. It was really educational and oriented towards making sure everybody walked away with a value add to their respective area of expertise or industry.

Natasha: Yeah, I like this, and this is kind of the way when I talk to people in the industry, especially in the podcast and just on a colleague level, the way that everyone wants to go is more of this collaboration. Leave your ego, talk about the failures, talk about what the misses were, and let’s learn from each other and share information, share knowledge. And we’re seeing more groups, industry networking groups that rely on this more so than the old school way of doing business. So it sounds like ATAP has a pretty good hold of moving the industry forward in the way that people are desiring it to be. Is that accurate?

Steve: Yes, tremendous insight, tremendous leadership. They’re not compartmentalized, but they’re very organized. There’s a togetherness. There’s different chapters, but there’s a togetherness, right? When you meet somebody from the Great Lakes chapter, they welcome you with open arms. I mean, hey, let’s compare notes. Hey, let’s talk after. It’s a great event. I won’t miss an ATAP conference. I can tell you that. It’s totally tremendous.

Natasha: Final takeaway on this. What’s something you know, every conference I go to, there’s one session right where I remember a quote. I’m like, oh, and it sticks with me. I mean, with you. You obviously enjoyed the social worker’s presentation. Was there something else or a quote that maybe you took with you as, like, the big thing you’ll remember?

Steve: I don’t know about a quote, but I can tell you this. On the validation side, the biggest piece was if you’re responsible for protecting life and stakeholder liability or communities. This conference highlights all of the issues around what could go wrong when it really does go wrong. And I think for us, with your law enforcement, you’re a risk manager, security director. That is really where the metal meets, the meet with what we do. And I think this conference highlighted that above any other conference I’ve been to in the industry. And I think it was all about validation. It was about process, it was about analysis and why we do what we do, and then definitely a lot of tools to support it. I think that there are more tools out there to support protecting people and stakeholder liability than there’s ever been. And they’re only getting better. They’re only getting more technical, and more AI driven and all these things. But the foundation of ATAP is teaching the protector, the collector, the analyst. This is what it looks like. We are never going to lose that human effect. We’re never going to lose that. And ATAP, it’s a big validation for that and how important it is that we educate ourselves on what’s going on in the world when it comes to threat management and behavioral threat management.

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