Skip to content

One-on-One Protection

IN FOOTBALL, often two players are responsible for covering the wide receiver. But organizations may not have the resources to double-team executives on the road, so protection professionals must be ready to go it alone. Delivering the best one-on-one protection involves constantly assessing risks, doing your homework, knowing the environment, and staying a step ahead. Executive protection specialists working solo also need to be accessible, available, and alert, and to avoid distractions.

Assess Risk

Risk assessment is a touchstone in every field of security, executive protection no less so than others. In considering risk to a principal, protective specialists must use good judgment, investigative resources, and other essential data, such as local contacts and media reports, to evaluate the potential threat to their client.

The art of effective protective intelligence is a challenging aspect of protective services. Since the U.S. Secret Service began its Exceptional Case Study Project more than a decade ago, it has been determined that there is no profile, background, or description that helps identify who will be an assassin.

Although some people who make threats may pose a real threat, usually they do not. But a key corollary, according to the Secret Service, is that those who actually pose a threat frequently do not issue formal threats. Thus, protection specialists must realize that attacks on principals are not typically preceded by threats. This fact makes continual risk assessment critical.

Risk assessment by the solo protection professional is the same as it is for multiple agents, except that lone professionals must always be cognizant of their individual capabilities and honestly assess their ability to be effective. The agent must simultaneously be dealing with the present threat environment and thinking several “moves” ahead, anticipating the opponent’s actions and evaluating the changing situation. The best agents role-play or visualize their route or assignment before going live with the principal so the environment doesn’t take them by surprise.

Do Your Homework

Dovetailing with risk assessment is the need to do as much work ahead of time as possible in terms of knowing the protectee’s agenda, and gathering information about locations, potential problems, available resources, and emergency response options.

The executive protection specialist must also know the protectee to properly assess risk and anticipate needs. Since every principal is unique, issues and events of their personal lives, personalities, businesses, professions, political persuasion, and financial standing all deserve thorough examination.

But where should the specialist draw the line between informed and intrusive? The answer is that, to provide effective service, the specialist needs to be able to show that the information sought is relevant and justifiable.

In my experience, most clients are amenable to providing all necessary information. Some may bristle or object, especially when the information relates to personal issues. Still, if those issues affect the risks to the protectee, the specialist should respectfully but firmly pursue that information.

Consider a case in which a male executive gets a phone call at home from a man who says, “You’ve ruined my life; I’m going to kill you.”

The specialist might start by looking at employees who have been recently fired, laid off, or otherwise hurt by company policies or actions. If that avenue and others don’t pan out, the specialist might pursue a more personal angle; in my experience, personal relationships are often at the root of such problems.

If the executive’s phone number is unlisted, the specialist might ask the principal how the person could have obtained the number.

Further probing could proceed like this: “I have to ask you a question, sir. Please don’t think of it as an accusation; we have to cover all the bases. We’re all human beings. Is there any reason you could think of why this person might have made this phone call? Even something that’s far-fetched, sir, like maybe a comment made toward someone that could have been considered untoward?” The specialist should encourage the principal to come clean so that the problem doesn’t fester.

In my experience, protectees usually understand the need to share information. But it helps to avoid being accusatory and to stress that you are getting the information for the protectee’s well-being.

Know the Environment

Of course, the physical, business, political and social environments in which protective services will be conducted will directly affect the protection specialist, and the specialist should attempt to ascertain ahead of time the types of environments that will be encountered and how to deal with them.

For instance, working for the chairman of a multinational corporation who travels exclusively on private aircraft with administrative personnel and members of the executive staff is far different than working for the president of a national corporation who travels on commercial aircraft and without staff. An assignment with a major political figure in the throes of a campaign poses entirely different risks.

Be it the chairman or the politician, either assignment poses challenges in coordinating and facilitating protective services during travel, at the hotel, on public streets, during leisure activities, and at business functions. In each of the vastly different environments different protection measures are emphasized.

For instance, in a leisure situation, protection measures typically focus on potential accidents. If the principal goes hunting with a group, the protection specialist should ask the person organizing the hunt about the experience of the shooters, control of the ammunition, the reputation for carelessness or safety of the hunters, the existence of first aid and medical transport, and so on. If one hunter has a reputation for occasional carelessness, the specialist would likely steer the principal away from that person, to keep him or her further from harm’s way.

In general, one-on-one protection works best in controlled environments such as private office buildings with limited access and parking. Shopping malls, public theaters, restaurants, and sporting venues, pose greater challenges. The lone protection specialist should try to maximize the use of controlled environments.

Of course, operating as a lone protection specialist in open environments among large groups of people is at times unavoidable. The specialist should seek to minimize threats in those cases. That can be done in some cases by handling as many of the arrangements as possible. Say a principal visiting New York wants to attend a Yankees game. The protection professional must secure tickets, a place to park, and security for the client’s vehicle. The professional should also scout the restrooms and concessions for the principal. Doing so will smooth the way for the protectee, while reducing the potential risk.

It’s advisable, of course, to avoid crowds, so it’s best to leave before the game ends or after the crowd clears. A good approach is to suggest the latter to the client who wants to see the whole game, but make staying at the event a pleasure rather than an imposition. For example, the protection professional might check whether the team owner or any other VIPs are present and can meet with the principal while he or she waits for the crowd to disperse.

Stay Ahead

The best way to keep up with changing tasks and itineraries is to try to stay ahead of them. For example, a good executive protection specialist filters pertinent information gained from the principal’s actions and conversations and plans accordingly.

A specialist might hear the principal on the phone trying to slip an out-of-town meeting into the daily itinerary. The proactive protection specialist will alert the principal’s travel planner to make tentative arrangements for flights, a car, accommodations, and anything else that might be necessary or helpful.

This may seem like secretarial work, but juggling arrangements is an integral part of protection. Planning and logistics—determining where the principal will be and when and how he or she will get there and back—serve the protective function at least as much as a specialist’s physical presence.

Be Accessible

Being accessible to a principal requires placement within arm’s reach at minimum and within eyeshot at a maximum. To be truly effective, close protection requires constant monitoring of the principal, except during private meetings and certain social or family functions.

Of course, a lone protection specialist cannot always be at the side of a principal—such as when the specialist is driving the principal and is asked to drop him or her off and park the car. But a clever protection specialist can minimize the time of separation. For example, when pulling up to a site, I discreetly suggest that the principal get some fresh air by accompanying me to the parking area and walking from there.

If the principal refuses, I will quickly assess the security risk. If necessary, I will pull the car out of traffic, lock it, and accompany the principal to his or her destination, telling the front entrance guard that I must accompany my protectee and promising to return quickly. Once the principal is in good company or otherwise safe, I can park the car.

The effective specialist will find a way to be accessible even in unaccommodating circumstances. One of my principals was once one of the guest speakers at a trade and banking symposium in the German state of Bavaria. The event was an invitation-only assembly, attended by wealthy business people and high-level government officials from around the world. It was held in a heavily secured auditorium in a private building.

My principal was one of a number of guests seated at the head table on stage along with other attendees. The press and other observers were situated in the filled-to-capacity gallery.

I had my principal sit at an end seat at the dais so that he could get away discreetly. As I escorted my principal to his seat, I advised him that I would be situated on his side of the auditorium, at his “two-o’clock” position, standing next to the wall and a clearly marked exit door.

The principal knew exactly where to look for me if needed—a critical component of accessibility. I could see him and he could easily see me and get my attention if needed.

From my vantage point, I had easy access to the stage if needed. In addition, I could monitor the audience, and I was one of a number of other people who were also standing, so I did not look out of place. This was a situation in which I could be effective and remain accessible without being right next to my principal, where I might have been viewed as distracting or disruptive.

As it turned out, placing the principal at the end of the dais was key in helping him keep his tight schedule. He was able to see me clearly and signal when he wanted to leave to get to his next meeting. And he was able to depart without disrupting others at the table or those trying to talk to them after the event.

Be Available

Accessibility means being physically able to get to the principal quickly. Availability means not being otherwise occupied. A protection specialist could be just a few feet away from the protectee but unavailable to help if he or she is otherwise occupied by, to use a previous example, a guard who refuses to let the specialist temporarily leave the car in front of the building.

During a political convention in San Jose, California, last year, I was providing one-on-one protection for a high-ranking elected official. The venue was a large convention center, and the security was a combination of private security and federal, state, and local police jurisdictions.

Parking was by permit only and limited to specific VIP areas behind the convention center. All entry to the facility from the VIP parking area came through a controlled-access pass gate, for which a credential was required. I had arrived at the venue with my principal, parked, entered the facility, and settled the principal in the hold room with other national, state, and local elected officials.

Within minutes of arriving at the convention center, I was advised that the VIP parking area was being cleared for a large motorcade to stage within. I, along with other protection specialists, was directed to move my car. Since none of us had command and control of the parking, we were subject to the directives of the agency managing the event.

To maintain some connection with our principals, all of the protection professionals decided to move our cars one at a time, leaving our principals in each other’s care; the other personnel would telephone us if our principal was moving to another location.

In situations like these, protection specialists must be flexible, creative, and capable of working with others in order to stay connected and available to the principal. In this case, I was able to stay available to my principal by using the other protection specialists as proxies. We traded cell phone numbers to inform each other of any problems or changes.

This cooperation might not have happened, however, had I not taken the measure of these other protection specialists when we first met and introduced myself. Often, protection specialists operate in isolated fiefdoms, which can amount to wasted opportunities to leverage protection.

Stay Alert

Staying alert to the principal’s surroundings, position, and reaction to encounters allows the specialist to assess the principal’s attitude and demeanor. Subtle changes in attitude and demeanor could be a trigger for the specialist to intervene. It is a fundamental obligation to constantly be alert in the presence of a principal and be capable of properly interpreting not only the responses and cues of the principal but also the responses and reactions of those around him or her.

During a dinner meeting at a crowded restaurant in Jerusalem a few years ago, my principal was involved in an intense discussion about religion and history with a new acquaintance. The conversation, although of reasonable volume, clearly involved opposing views. I knew my principal well enough to interpret his body language, inflections of voice, and expressions to determine that the situation was becoming untenable. Specifically, his voice grew soft, and his manner became short and direct, sure signs that he was getting agitated. I managed to make eye contact with my principal and imply that we should depart at once.

My principal gave me a prearranged signal—dropping a napkin on his plate—that he wanted to leave. Within moments I interrupted the conversation and advised my charge that he had an urgent phone call that demanded his immediate attention in private.

I handed him my cell phone and escorted him outside the restaurant. I then returned to the table and explained politely to his new acquaintance that, unfortunately, the dinner meeting would have to conclude then and there.

I left enough money on the table to pay for the bill and advised the dinner guest that the principal would call him in the remaining days before we left Jerusalem. I returned to my principal, and we left the area on foot.

Because I was in a position to observe and interpret the circumstances of my principal’s environment—his behavior, facial expressions, and voice inflections—I was able to intercede on his behalf and offer a reasonable way to close the meeting without offending the acquaintance. By being in tune and alert to the protectee and his overall attitude and environment, I was able to offer assistance that he was free to accept or turn down at his discretion.

Avoid Distractions

An ongoing challenge facing protection specialists working without assistance or backup is to avoid anything that can distract their attention from the principal. That can occur either because other unrelated tasks are imposed on the specialist or because of fatigue and other factors.

For example, protection specialists may be asked to perform ancillary functions that seem to detract from protection, such as leaving a meeting involving the principal to send a fax on his or her behalf. In most cases, such duties should be considered an essential part of the specialist’s job; any task that aids the principal without putting him or her in harm’s way advances the protection function. Sometimes, however, in an elevated-threat environment, the specialist will have to politely decline such a request, explaining why the specialist’s attention is better placed on security.

Another issue is the importance of attending to one’s own well-being. One-on-one assignments can severely tax even the best protection specialist. Absent personnel to provide backup, factors such as fatigue, attention deficit, bathroom breaks, meals, equipment malfunctions, challenging venues, and shifting itineraries all contribute to lapses in effective protective services.

All of these issues become even more exasperating in a foreign country, where the protection professional must contend with the additional complications of language barriers, time-zone changes, exotic food, limited medical resources, and unfamiliar transportation. The executive protection specialist who works alone in this environment cannot get injured, fall ill, oversleep, or even take a break, since there is no one else available to assume his or her responsibilities.

Experienced protection specialists learn the importance of taking care of their personal health and well-being by knowing specific foods to eat or avoid, drinking bottled water in certain locations, and maintaining good hygiene. That cannot avoid all problems, of course, but it can significantly reduce the likelihood of an incident that will take the protection specialist out of commission.

Staying healthy is ideal, but agents need a backup plan in case they fall sick. Agents should always keep their medical records with them in case of an emergency and carry the basic medicines that they might reasonably require.

A backup plan should include substitute protection in case the protection specialist becomes disabled, such as from a case of food poisoning. There should be a system in place whereby the specialist can call a colleague, or perhaps a local police officer or a hotel security professional, as a replacement. If there is no substitute available, the principal should be aware of that possibility in advance and be ready to limit his or her movements—such as by working all day in the hotel at which he or she is staying—for the period of time that the agent is unable to provide services.

In the arena of protective services, where service runs up against fiscal margins, limited human resources, politics, unrealistic expectations, and unforeseen circumstances, there are many factors that will remain unpredictable or out of the protection specialist’s control. But by engaging in good practices such as meticulous planning and good hygiene, the solo protection specialist can place the odds strongly in the client’s favor.

Robert D. Bond is a 25-year veteran of law enforcement who has been providing team and one-on-one protective services for more than 17 years in Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, Israel, and Germany. His company, Cameron James, Ltd., provides protective services consulting and training from offices in Sacramento, California. He is a member of ASIS International