Listen to Lina Alathari discuss her work:
The U.S. Secret Service, known for protecting the president and other high-ranking government officials, is now helping protect students and the public from the growing threat of mass shootings in schools and workplaces.
As head of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, Lina Alathari has expanded the agency’s traditional role by supporting state and local governments, law enforcement and school districts nationwide in the fight against targeted violence.
“Lina and her team have provided advice on interventions in more than 40 threat cases, which helped local authorities prevent or reduce the potential for targeted violence directed at schools, workplaces and public spaces,” said James Murray, the director of the Secret Service.
“She is a game changer in this domain,” he said.
Colleagues said Alathari recognized that the Secret Service could share with the broader community how the agency trains agents to conduct threat assessment investigations.
Since then, Alathari and her team have delivered more than 1,200 training sessions to more than 83,000 law enforcement officers, educators, mental health providers, government officials, faith-based leaders and other private organizations across 50 states. Hundreds of schools and communities have adopted Alathari’s behavior-based threat prevention protocols.
“Her ability to communicate on a national scale is really unique,” said George Mulligan, the chief operating officer of the Secret Service. “Through her work, there have been hundreds of lives saved and untold numbers of incidents avoided. It’s hard to put a quantifying number on her impact.”
In 2019, for example, Alathari consulted with a police department regarding an investigation into vandalism at a house of worship. Detectives learned the perpetrator was a male who demonstrated interest in school shootings. After matching his behavior to the warning signs in her threat assessment guide, Alathari recommended immediate intervention, resulting in the individual being committed to a psychiatric facility for intensive treatment and care.
Since the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and 17 wounded, Alathari said her office has seen a 162% increase in requests for consultations on possible threat cases from law enforcement, government agencies, schools and the private sector.
“We are consulting with police departments, teachers, corporations and mental health professionals, and helping establish threat-assessment programs,” Alathari said. “We help them think of ways to identify, assess and manage threatening or concerning behavior so that they can prevent violence and have successful outcomes.”
Alathari applied her educational background in cognitive neuropsychology, and her clinical experience in behavior management to expand the scope of how the threat assessment center operates to emphasize using a social science and behavior analysis approach to try to prevent targeted violence.
Alathari has emphasized the importance of identifying the motives, triggers and behaviors of individuals who pose a risk of violence, not only to prevent a potential attack, but to get help to those individuals, according to Fred Sellers, an assistant director with the Secret Service.
Under Alathari’s leadership, the threat assessment center in 2018 published an operational guide for preventing targeted school violence, and in 2019 released a research report on protecting the nation’s schools. The guide and report were distributed to thousands of school districts across the country. Alathari also contributed to a separate report for the White House produced by the Federal Commission on School Safety.
“The 2019 Secret Service research report analyzed 41 attacks and found that many could have been prevented by using Alathari’s threat assessment model,” Murray said. “There are people doing active shooter response research, but no one is doing prevention intervention research like her.”
After the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Alathari consoled devastated community members and invited parents to help build a coalition that would fight to end school attacks. She also worked with the state to mitigate future tragedies by providing threat assessment recommendations.
“The compassion and empathy she displayed helped bring people together and move forward,” Murray said.
In addition, Alathari helped launch the Protect America’s Schools campaign, working with educators in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C., to prevent school shootings.
Initially, Alathari’s challenge was obtaining the necessary resources to meet the increasing demands for the center’s research, training and consultation services. She overcame that by effectively communicating how the new activities could not only benefit the public, but also the Secret Service.
“Dr. Alathari is driven by passion and commitment to keep people safe, and she inspires others to join the fight,” Sellers said. “She exemplifies excellence in public service.”