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Threat analyses, risk management and personal protection are essential security components for CEOs, VIPs and world leaders. As acts of terror, random acts of violence and other factors such as political instability and wealth disparity increase, comprehensive security measures for executives, multinational corporations and high net worth individuals become even more critical.

ASIS International Women in Security Council member Angela Hrdlicka is a former Secret Service agent who spent a significant portion of her distinguished 25-year law enforcement career providing high-stakes executive protection. Now founder and CEO of security and investigations consulting firm Island Green Associates, she advises private foundations, government agencies and corporate clients on best practices to prevent violence and fraud and protect people, assets and reputations. In this interview, she provides us with an inside look at the new demands of personal security.

Lately it seems that places like restaurants, flights and other usually more private settings have become open season for protests and verbal abuse. How does this impact the safety and reputation of public figures, whether they have personal protection or are considering it?

Even if no one is physically harmed, being the victim of an attack or an embarrassing event never presents a polished image. Effective executive protection will not only minimize the risk of violence, but also enhance convenience and mobility, and safeguard brand reputation and the protected individual. To be effective, the security of an individual or a facility needs be addressed from a 360-degree perspective. It requires advance work, technology and multi-layered physical security measures. Protection is not as much about muscle as it is eyes, ears, expertise and logistics. It is not always possible to entirely avoid traffic and crowds, but an effective security plan will minimize bottlenecks, identify the safest and most efficient routes of travel, and contain plans for emergency evacuation and a variety of other contingencies.

What are the most common mistakes celebrities, high-profile business executives and high-net wealth families make regarding their security?

Individuals and corporations often invest in managing financial risk without sufficiently addressing the security risks they face. It is human nature to assume it won’t happen to us. Mitigating potential loss of life should be of foremost concern, and violence to an individual or organization will inevitably also result in financial loss and damage to the brand. Prominent and wealthy individuals and their families are at risk here and abroad. By implementing an effective security risk management program, essentially an insurance policy, they can avoid being a soft target and protect themselves, their families and their brand.

We often see celebrities accompanied by a hulking bodyguard or two, which can actually serve to call attention to those under their protection. In my experience, a discreet and collaborative team approach is more elegant and effective. Under the presidential security umbrella, White House, military and media personnel are often mistaken for Secret Service agents and vice versa, because the agents blend in with the President’s entourage. Outside the umbrella, agents are embedded who are indistinguishable from the crowd and always on-site well in advance of arrival.

There is a tendency to compartmentalize the security function, rather than addressing it holistically. A collaborative approach is required to best identify and mitigate vulnerabilities and threats. If your security personnel are not working closely with those who handle the cash, answer the phones, read the mail, screen the guest list, manage the calendar and social media, terminate employees and provide legal counsel, then they should be. Security policies and procedures in all those realms are essential, as is external coordination with emergency responders and other key personnel.

Finally, those who already have established security operations should have them periodically assessed by an independent security professional. This is a best practice to prevent complacency, ensure sufficiency, enable continuous improvement and provide the chief executive with an informed external opinion of how well positioned the organization is to protect its assets.

Public figures often face threats from mentally ill people. What is your advice for anyone in that situation?

Those in the public eye are often targeted by unstable individuals who develop fixations and can exhibit stalking behaviors. Ignoring these individuals is a bad idea. During a security assessment I conducted of a professional sports team recently, an individual traveled from a foreign country and showed up on the doorstep of a player’s home in the middle of the night. The subject was known to the player due to numerous bizarre communications he had received. Those bizarre communications were warning signs that should not have been ignored. The best course of action is to obtain guidance from a threat assessment professional to assess dangerousness and develop mitigation strategies as soon as it is observed that someone is displaying interest that seems abnormal, unusual, excessive or bizarre. The consequences of doing otherwise can be frightening or fatal. I blogged about observable warning signs and concerning behaviors exhibited by individuals who are on a pathway toward violence. You can access it here: How to Prevent Violence: Threat Assessment Investigations.

When personal and professional relationships are terminated, disgruntled former confidants and employees can sometimes be highly motivated to do damage, which can take a variety of forms and potentially inflict enormous harm. An experienced threat assessment professional should be consulted in advance of terminating such relationships, if possible, especially if there are concerns that the subject could react violently.

What unique attributes do women bring to the security industry? 

I am a member of the Women in Security Council at ASIS International, an association for global security professionals, and the purpose of the Council is to support, inspire and promote women in the security industry. Only about 5% of Secret Service agents were female during my tenure, although I believe that number has grown slightly in recent years to about 10%. The number of women in state and local law enforcement in the U.S. is only about 13% on average. Although we are not many, we are mighty, and women bring a unique perspective to every workplace. In executive protection, for example, women are an asset, as they are rarely assumed to be serving a security function and are therefore more inconspicuous. Family members often feel more comfortable confiding in a female regarding a personal relationship gone awry or an individual whom they suspect has on unusual interest or fixation on them, which is critical information to obtain.

Universities and the workplace are often targets of on-site violence. How can they take more protective steps?

A female student at UCLA was stabbed by her lab partner, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was known to the university due to a series of reported incidents that involved his auditory hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. The victim sued the university for negligence and in March 2018, the California Supreme Court ruled that postsecondary schools have a duty to protect students from foreseeable criminal assaults that occur while they are engaged in school activities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a general duty clause that requires employers to maintain a place of employment that “is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” Nearly two million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year.

Workplace violence prevention programs are now mandated in the realms of health care and higher education. When the employer is found liable, settlements for workplace violence incidents, even those that are not fatal, are generally measured in millions. Proactive measures are essential to preventing incidents of workplace violence. Risk assessments should be conducted to determine the best and most cost-effective measures to enhance physical security. All large employers and educational institutions should establish and train multi-disciplinary threat assessment teams. Zero-tolerance workplace violence and harassment policies need to be promulgated, and managers should be trained to pay careful attention when an employee reports feeling alarmed or fearful regarding another person’s actions or communications. Encouraging and setting a low threshold for the reporting of concerning behaviors is essential, and policies and procedures should be in place to respond to such concerns with appropriate action. Training is critical for all personnel to ensure they know what, how and to whom they should report issues of concern and how to respond in a crisis situation.