Back to basics

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Back to basics

This editor recently met a young man, interested in becoming an executive protection agent, who asked what handgun he should buy. More recently still was a brief involvement in a case where essentially all overseas protective services were dropped as part of the cost-cutting of a company merger. While money was saved, short term, a senior executive was kidnapped by a group that apparently didn’t understand the new cost-cutting rules…. This reminded me that there are a lot of misconceptions about protective work, and that a review of some basic principles is in order.

It is critical to understand that in protective work we are NOT police officers. We do not pursue bad guys and arrest them. Rather, our job is to avoid incidents where possible, and escape them if unavoidable. Only if we have failed at our two primary goals would we need to deal with the incident. Unfortunately, if you reach this state it is generally too late to do anything effective.

Keep in mind also the difference between the private sector and the public sector. In the public sector there may be only one target for a particular group or individual to attack: There is one president, one governor, one secretary of state. If this individual cannot be kidnapped or assaulted then the alternative most acceptable to the criminal may be assassination. In the private sector, however, if one subject is inaccessible then another subject, more accessible, will generally be equally desirable. To a large extent, therefore, our job in the private sector is to make our client so unattractive through planning, actions, and lack of visibility that kidnappers and assailants will go after someone less well protected.

How likely are we to need a handgun to make our client an undesirable target? Well, as an indication, the US Secret Service has never fired back at anyone during a protective detail. As it works out, while guns are sometimes carried on protective details overseas in high-risk environments, they are rarely carried domestically. Often, both in the U.S .and overseas, it may not even be possible to carry weapons, because of country, state, or local laws. In these cases, if armed personnel are necessary, one has to hire local police officers or other locally licensed weapons carriers.

More to the point, many feel that carrying a gun on a protective detail is counterproductive: In the environment in which we work, both domestically and overseas, it is best to be the rabbit avoiding danger for the client, rather than the lion confronting danger and exposing the client to risk. What then is the job of the corporate or private protective agent? Who should be protected? And when should protective services be supplied?

In order to answer these questions we must be aware of three things:

First, protective services can be very intrusive, with the intrusiveness directly proportional to the level of risk faced.

Second, protective services are very expensive (figure on something in the neighborhood of $175,000 a year for a low risk subject), with the expense directly proportional to the level of risk faced.

Third, unless incidents happen on a regular basis to those being protected, or to associates of those being protected, those involved – the people being protected and the people paying for the protection – become less than sensitive to the risks, and eventually feel that the intrusion and cost outweigh the risks. This leads to a feeling in many organizations that it is better to trust to luck that nothing will happen, and to rely on the government, as well as kidnapping-and-ransom insurance policies, to deal with any problems and associated costs that might arise. Even in high-risk areas many organizations — including large and wealthy organizations that should know better — often decide not to provide needed protective services.

In the US, where risks are generally low, protective services cover the obvious of keeping the client safe and healthy. What does this mean specifically? The most obvious area of risk is driving. Automobile accidents remain a leading cause of death and injury in this country, and a well-trained driver can make the difference between a client arriving at work or being killed on the highway. (Be aware that the power of a driver is limited. As we saw with Princess Diana, a driver does not have the power to force a client to wear a seat belt. For most of us, getting even our parents, friends, or siblings to buckle-up can be difficult.)

In addition, having a trained driver can reduce the risk of kidnapping and attack, both of which, if they occur, are likely to happen in or near a car. The car is the danger zone because most people leave in a car from their home in the morning and drive to their office. And they routinely leave in the same car from the same office every afternoon and drive home. Kidnappers and other assailants generally spend weeks or even months observing these routines. While it can be difficult to induce clients to depart from their homes and offices at random times each day, or take random (and therefore longer) routes each day, a competent and well-trained driver can nonetheless be a factor in inducing criminals to target someone else.

A second area is health and safety. People in the corporate world who merit protection are generally not young, generally lead high-stress lives, and may not exercise enough or have healthy diets, which means that health risks are more likely than physical assaults. Because of this, a grasp of emergency medicine is important, even if the protective agent is not a paramedic or EMT. The agent should be aware of his charge’s medical history, the medicines they are taking, and the location of the nearest medical facilities to where they are at any given instant.

In this same category is the elimination of safety hazards. If the client slips on a bar of soap overlooked on the floor of the shower stall, or a badly placed lamp cord, there could be an injury, which, de facto, is the fault of the protective agent.

On a slightly different line, it is also the job of the protective agent to prevent embarrassment and PR gaffes.

In higher-risk areas the goals are the same, but the protection offered may be more continual, in greater depth, and may extend to the family of the client: If a wife or child is snatched it can be just as distracting as if the client were kidnapped. So who needs protection on an individual basis? Someone whose injury or loss would have a negative impact on an enterprise such that the sums involved in providing protection are deemed cost efficient when compared to the alternatives. Note that by this definition there need not be an exceptional threat involved.

Note also that this means that in a low-risk environment the protective services provided can be much less intrusive (and far less costly) than in a high-risk environment. Since it is unlikely that a team of armed men will burst into a client’s home in theU. S., round-the-clock protection may not be necessary. Instead, a trained driver to take the client to and from work, and to and from lunch, may be all that is needed. In some cases a weekend out of house driver may also be appropriate.

As always, each particular situation should be scrutinized by professionals to determine the appropriate kind and level of protection needed, and to plan for the contingency of an incident.

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