Implementing An Executive Protection Program

by Edward Limoges,Director of Operations, Protection Resources International

Those who are responsible for the safety and security of elected officials or corporate executives are facing new challenges. These challenges are created by a shift in how senior corporate leaders and elected officials are viewed by society at large.  In the age of Social Media, leaders face criticism and scorn for what some may deem a controversial position, and in hours that criticism can reach hundreds of thousands of people.  With a negative message getting into cyberspace they are confronted with a serious risk from fringe groups and lone activists who are determined to use extreme means to make an example of corporations or the political system beliefs which they  perceived in a negative light.

To negate this risk security departments are implementing executive protection programs.  The role of Executive Protection (EP) is not just the physical safety of their charges, but the company’s or an official’s reputation as a whole, in doing so they face challenges that can be surmounted with proper planning and preparation.
The first step in the planning and preparation process is to develop a realistic understanding of the scope of threats, risks, and vulnerabilities faced by senior decision makers in the organization, and that the findings are clearly communicated to them.
Threats, risks, and vulnerabilities are separate concepts:
  • A threat is a declaration or indication of imminent danger or harm.
  • A risk is a possible injury or loss.
  • Vulnerability is an injury or loss that is possible but not necessarily probable or improbable.
All of these sound similar, the easiest way to differentiate them is to remember that a threat is something that will happen unless action is taken, a risk is something that probably could happen, and vulnerability is something that can happen even though it might be highly unlikely.
An assessment process should be undertaken to gauge the Threat/Risk/Vulnerability issues. Factors such as type of industry that the organization is in, the notoriety of the corporate or elected official, and the opposition groups they may encounter. This is a time intensive and in depth process that should be managed by a professional with experience in doing it.  Very often, an outside consultant is the best option for managing this process.  They will give you an objective assessment of the most pertinent issues that the EP program will need to focus on.
Once the assessment phase is complete a program outline will need to be developed based on the threats, risks, and vulnerabilities that were identified.  The program outline will try to address the identified issues through a spectrum of mitigation strategies that will be cost effective. Although every situation is unique, there are mitigation strategies that are common to most of them such as the use of trained security drivers, protective intelligence gathering and analysis, special procedures and plans for public and private events, surveillance detection programs, and close protection. These mitigation strategies require an understanding of tax implications that come with them.
Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 11.00.58 AMThere is a common misconception that close protection, the use of executive protection specialists or “bodyguards”, is the first and only answer. In fact, in terms of effectiveness of mitigation, for both corporate leaders and elected officials, they are almost the last answer. Protective intelligence and surveillance detection are proactive in nature and supply the first line of defense. These methods focus on detecting people who are intent on causing problems before they make their move and attempt to do harm to the organization or its personnel.  In fact history indicates that advance notice of potential problems is the best, and often the only, chance to deal with them effectively.  Programs that rely primarily on protective intelligence gathering and surveillance detection have the added benefit of being low profile and unobtrusive protective strategies which are more easily accepted by protectees desiring minimal disruption of their normal routine.
Loose, close protection works well for principals visiting unfamiliar venues and specific events.  It helps to smooth out their experience and daily activities, an EP specialist gives them information about the logistics, facilitates easy movement, and provides guidance at the venue.
While the basic framework of the program is being assembled the next step of the process is to work with the key stakeholders in the nascent executive protection program to help garner their support to insure success. For the corporate community, the goal is to help them realize the value that the program will add to the function of the business as a whole by bolstering business continuity and supplying a significant return on their financial investment.  Prior to implementing the protection program an effort must be made to dispel the myths or preconceptions concerning executive protection.
If there is an objection to the program ,it is usually due to a misconception as to what the EP Program consists of – basically the objecting party has not been educated on the realities of the services that will be provided, nor do they personally identify with a need for the program. They tend not to realize that it has more to do with personal safety and logistics than it does with handling assassination attempts or shoot-outs.  The executive protection program exists more for preserving the medical health and safety of executives. It’s hard to make a vice president of a US based corporation relate to a kidnapping or assassination threat, however, they certainly know people who have had heart attacks or other medical issues while at work, maybe even they’ve had their own personal experience with that.  Educate them on the benefits that will be provided as far as ease of travel, and the opportunity for additional productivity at work so they can have more family time at home.  Emphasize the focus of the program to support business functions. Make your case to them using the language of business, explain the benefits in terms of productivity increases and the ROI (return on investment) they will realize.
The period when the phase-in process of the EP program begins is a delicate time for building a lasting buy-in with the stakeholders we have previously identified.  Obviously, making sudden, radical changes to the daily routines of the principles is to be avoided unless the threat or risk assessments indicate exigent circumstances exist that can be clearly articulated.  The simplest way to do this is to phase in the protective effort during special events and travel.  These times allow the EP team to highlight their role in providing logistical support to the principles as they are already outside of their normal routine and will be in need of information about where to go and what the itinerary is.  After they have been familiarized with the functions of the team incorporate those functions into daily business in the manner outlined in the EP program plan outlined earlier in the process.  The low profile, surveillance detection based philosophy discussed earlier will keep obvious changes to routine to a minimum while accomplishing the goals of the program.
The progress of the program will develop expectations on the part of principles and stakeholders. The on-going challenge shall be meeting the expectations that the program sets with how service is delivered. This is always an aspect of EP that needs consistent attention.  The best advice is to make it a point of having deliberate conversations between EP team members, and especially with additional EP staff members that are brought on-board on an interim or subcontract basis, about how the principles are serviced.  The goal of this conversation is to maintain a single philosophy about how the job is performed and what standards exist.
The twenty first century is providing new challenges to security professionals of all disciplines. Using executive protection to address the challenges faced by those who are responsible for the safety of high profile personalities is a strong option if it is executed correctly.  Developing a realistic plan with the help of experienced professionals is the best bet for long term success.  It is worth noting that specific legal issues and tax advantages were intentionally not discussed as they merit discussion with an attorney who focuses on “executive protection law”.  That being said, with planning and professional execution, successful executive protection can yield the level of threat and risk mitigation that is needed without disenfranchising other members of your organization.
About the Author:
Edward Limoges is the Director of Operations for Protection Resources International, an Illinois based provider of security consulting and security services to high net worth individuals, families and multi-national corporations. He is a former police officer with extensive experience in planning, managing and providing security for high net worth individuals and families. He is well versed in developing and implementing well balanced, proactive security programs for those who value their privacy.