Trumped-Up Threats: The Business of Knowing What’s Real

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

Threat assessments were once reserved for the politicians and the public figures who were being directly targeted. Those who were on TV. The rich and famous.

Those days are gone. Social media has changed the threat assessment landscape forever. As a result, any business or person perceived as being aligned with a dissenting opinion is at-risk of becoming a target for unsolicited viciousness and vitriol.

The past six months has seen a historic rise in the number of distasteful, threatening, and downright vulgar communications targeting business owners, media figures, and news journalists on both sides of the ideological isle.

So what’s a business owner to do when the uptick in inappropriate communications happens to you?

Threat assessment is about determining the likelihood of an expressed threat to escalate into a harmful act. It’s about distinguishing those who chose to alarm you from those who wish to harm you.

One of the biggest misconceptions about threat assessment is that it’s all about about that “one creepy communication.” It’s not. Threat assessment is about the “Totality of Circumstance” much more than it is about evaluating a singular communication within the framework of an isolated incident. All things must be considered: grievance; intent; complexity; insight; etc.

Today’s forward-thinking business leaders can reduce the hidden hazards of harm by starting with these three simple steps:

Take all inappropriate communications seriously. Make it a priority to document each unfavorable communication you receive.

Each and every submission should be tracked and monitored in a searchable matrix. Even if it’s just a spreadsheet. This will provide you with the ability to track trends and recognize escalation. It will also help to identify any specific grievances –– the first step on the “pathway to violence.”

Empower your staff with an ability to forward any concern to your designated “Concern Management Team.”

Establish a simple email address which can be used by all, e.g. “” is a great way to get started. I encourage the word “concern” more than “threat” because most inappropriate communications do not contain a direct threat, whereas every single one of them raises our level of concern. Our internal sense of defense is so finely tuned for ensuring our personal safety that it automatically acts as a clearing house for what is good and what is bad. Anything that falls into the “bad” category should be reported.

Identify a threat management expert you can call on for help.

Your HR team is often inundated with a myriad of priority tasking, and these aren’t the kinds of things you want falling through the cracks. Find someone who can help you identify and assess those communications most likely to impact staff safety.

Another consideration is this: employees are more likely to submit their concerns to an outside consultant who is independent of their personal and professional relationships. Someone they know is looking out for them, but with whom they don’t interact on a daily basis.

As the rise in hostile communications continues to escalate, an effective threat assessment program will not only distinguish the harmless barks from the pre-incident growls, but will help to ensure the certainty of safety for everyone involved.

As a business leader, there is no downside. At the front-end, you will be better able to mitigate the disruptions of productivity, while on the back-end you may very well save a life.




Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert | Washington, DC


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