If you’ve spent enough time around executive protection professionals, you’re no doubt familiar with the concept of creating a bubble around a protectee. It seems simple enough, right? Create the protocols, vet those with which the protectee interacts, and stringently direct the protectee’s activities without deviation.
In reality, of course, creating a safe environment for those elected officials, business leaders and celebrities who require protection by statute, board decree, or simply because they attract unwanted attention is an enormously challenging task that requires tremendous flexibility and innovation from those responsible. Let’s be honest — while many people who require such protection for their own safety understand and appreciate the necessity, they, including some past and current U.S. Presidents, are not always cooperative when faced with security limitations.
My own experiences with providing such protection stem from my 20-year career in federal law enforcement and coordinating with executive protection professionals since I joined the private sector in 2015. One of my last responsibilities involving executive protection in the federal sector came in 2014 when I was appointed the Deputy Coordinator for the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The leaders of almost every country in the world descended on New York City for parts of several weeks in late summer, one of the busiest, most congested times of the year. The safety and security of those world leaders became the responsibility of our team, which was headed by my counterpart at the U.S. Secret Service. Thankfully, we also had the necessary support from the New York City Police Department. Let’s just say that those two weeks were quite the immersion in the challenges of securing diverse personalities.
Whether you have a cooperative protectee or someone who likes to “live a little,” there are some basic concepts that will guide you to success as part of a protection mission. Everything starts with a risk assessment; every area where the protectee regularly spends time should be treated as a distinct environment, and protection should be designed accordingly. The office is different than the home, and varied office locations require their own assessment as well. Once static risk has been assessed, plans for managing each risk factor identified can be developed. The risk assessments, as well as the resulting security protocols, should be written and updated as new information becomes available or as needs evolve.
Most people receiving protection will travel regularly, if not constantly. Thus, each travel location should be the subject of a risk assessment. Various U.S. government agencies and directorates publish information about crime and associated risks domestically and internationally and can be a substantial aid in developing a risk profile for travel destinations. It’s always helpful, of course, to have a local security or law enforcement member interpret the situation in these locations as well, recognizing that the risks of corruption internationally vary. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) reports on foreign country conditions including crime and corruption and is a valuable, and free, resource.
Technological advances both aid and detract from the executive protection mission. Sure, cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring and automated electric lock systems are just a few things that can greatly aid in security. But each of these systems must be continuously assessed for intrusion. In fact, every facet of the executive protection protocol should be audited regularly.
Selection of team personnel – logistics agents, executive drivers, and administrative staff – is critical. These team members will usually be comprised of lifelong security and law enforcement professionals with training and background appropriate for the unique assignment. And these are unique assignments as once protection has been deemed a necessity it is a continuing requirement with no vacations or holiday breaks. Finding the right team and the right personalities is most important.
In today’s world, no protection plan is complete without some level of social media monitoring to identify people, or groups, who may present threats or express negative sentiments about the protectee that may lead to physical action. This is a responsibility that is sometimes outsourced to a security technology consultant that collaborates with the protection leader and can prepare adjustments to routines and travel based on such emerging threats.
The entire protection protocol should be monitored for compliance and audited to ensure the safety of the protectee, the protection team, and those who come in regular contact with them. The extensiveness of the protection plan, and the fact that it usually impacts every aspect of the protectee’s professional and personal life, requires regular change management.
Devising and managing an executive protection plan is obviously a challenge under any circumstances. But four key tenets – assess risk, identify risk factors, devise strategies to mitigate the risk factors, audit for compliance – can help simplify the process and build a blueprint for repeatable performance and success.
Creating a Safe Environment – What is a ‘Protective Bubble?’
By: James T. Hayes, Jr., Vice President, Sports and Entertainment, Guidepost Solutions
James T. Hayes, Jr. is a 20-year veteran of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and since his retirement, has provided his security expertise and guidance in the private sector. He is currently Vice President of Sports and Entertainment with Guidepost Solutions, the global, security, investigations and compliance firm.