Q&A with Joe Ruffini, Specialist in Counterterrorism and Homeland Security
CriminalJusticePrograms.com interviews Joe Ruffini, expert in counter-terror, school safety and government and corporate security. Joe got his start in the army and is trained in military deception and psychological operations. Joe is also a nationally recognized speaker who has appeared on numerous news programs and channels, including CNN. He is the author of When Terror Comes to Main Street: A Citizens Guide to Terror Awareness, Preparedness, and Prevention. Joe talks about how to prepare for a career in homeland security and what to expect.
Q: What is your current position?
I'm founder and principal consultant for JPR and Associates, LLC in Colorado Springs.
Q: How did you get started in the counter-terror field?
My involvement with counter-terror, safety, and security really goes back to my early days in the army, starting in 1974 when I was serving in Mannheim, Germany. My interest and study of terror goes back several decades.
Q: What kind of preparation is needed for a career in homeland security?
The field is very, very vast. Some people want to be intelligence analysts; others want to be TSA screeners at the airport. So, the preparation really depends on an individual's interests, qualifications, experience and education, and also on the available openings.
Right now within the Department of Homeland Security and within federal and state law enforcement and intelligence organizations, there are literally thousands of jobs available. They range from jobs that require a high school diploma to jobs that probably require advanced degrees.
Q: What does homeland security entail?
Homeland Security is literally tens of thousands of men and women working from the local level all the way up to the federal level.
Most of your big cities have police, fire, and emergency medical reps. Every state has its own department of homeland security complete with various law enforcement and intelligence analyst positions.
At the federal level, you have jobs with the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others. It's a very wide spectrum of positions requiring many different skill sets.
Q: How important is an education in advancing someone's career in this field?
An education is very important. Continuing education is also extremely important. There's so much information out there, and the world is changing so quickly, as we witnessed recently with Egypt, Bahrain, and what's going on in Libya.
Whether you pursue additional college courses or advanced degrees, continuing education is vital if you're going to remain on the cutting edge and competitive in this field.
Q: What is the reality vs. perception of homeland security?
In the homeland security and counter-terror business, a lot of the time, perception becomes reality. I think for most Americans the only time they really interface with homeland security is at the airport when they go through the TSA screening procedures.
I really don't think most Americans understand how many men and women from local to state and federal positions share intelligence information, analyses, arrest reports and more.
Q: What do you need to succeed in this career?
I think anybody who's interested in a homeland security career, needs to have a couple important traits. First, you have to understand that this is a very big country and between all of the federal, state, and local agencies, the bureaucracy is huge. Within a bureaucracy, ideas and innovation have a hard time of working their way up and getting approved quickly. If you want to be in homeland security, you have to be patient.
You can't get discouraged easily.
In this immediate information environment, good ideas just like information have a shelf life. Sometimes, by the time an idea gets through all the levels of approval required, it may be 30 or 90 days after the original idea was submitted and because the world has changed, the idea may no longer be viable. That tends to get discouraging, so you have to have what I call "stick-to-it-ness," the ability to keep your morale up and just keep working.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you about this field?
I think the only thing that really surprised me was when the Department of Homeland Security was created. We already had an intelligence community, border, customs, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI. I don't think we needed another bureaucracy to complicate matters. I think we just needed to put the money, toward hiring more people and giving them better education and the best technology. But I don't control that, and you work with what you have.
Q: What can you expect when you first start in homeland security?
The first few months in any job is on-the-job training. No matter how much you study, the important thing is to get experience, keep your eyes and ears open and know that you have a lot to learn. Say to people you're working with, "I want to learn. Whatever you're willing to teach me, I'm willing to learn."
It's important to not start the job with a know-it-all attitude. Go in wanting to learn and absorb information.
Q: How is technology impacting the field?
Technology is having a huge impact. Since 9/11, we've come a long way with everything from body scanners to our ability to x-ray and scan containers that come off of ships, for example.
Technology is advancing every day.
But we have to remember that as good as technology is, it's the grey matter that really has to put it all together. All too often, people have a tendency to rely on the technology, sometimes without putting the thought process behind it. So again, it's important to remember that though technology is good, the brain is better.
Q: What do you see for the future of careers in homeland security?
The future of homeland security really depends on several things. It depends on advances in technology, federal, state and local funding, and the threat level. The nature of the terrorist threat changes all the time, and I think what the future of Homeland Security needs to be, is that we as a nation need to be more proactive.
We are very reactive.
Something happens, and we change our policies, procedures, or techniques.
I think it's time to be a little bit more proactive and predict where the [threat will be].
Q: Any other advice for aspiring homeland security professionals?
If you're going to go into the homeland security business, go in to it with the mindset that every man and woman in homeland security is important in this asymmetric war against terrorism.
One man or woman with the right analysis, thought or idea can put a process into motion that thwarts a plot and saves lives.
So to anyone going into homeland security, if you're not going to be serious about it every day, then you should probably do something else.