Self-Protection: Assessing Threats and Vulnerabilities

7 MINS READMay 31, 2006 | 20:00 GMT
Editor's Note: This is the first analysis in a three-part series on self-protection. Personal security services are thriving in the post-Sept. 11 world as more and more top executives seek out expert protection. The fact remains, however, that many executives — including those whose work location or professional status would seem to warrant them protection — either prefer not to employ security details or are not afforded them by their employers. With some professional help and a fair amount of work, however, it is possible to create a self-protection system that will greatly enhance one's safety and that of one's family. Professional security details range from a trained, perhaps armed, driver to full-blown, Secret Service- or Diplomatic Security Service-style arrangements involving numbers of agents, armored cars, a communications system and perhaps other high-tech equipment. A few of the more sophisticated corporate executive protection teams operate "black," blending into the background and relying on keen observation and surprise, versus an overwhelming show of force. Many executives, however, tend to view some types of protective operations as potentially bad for business, fraught with potential liability exposure and not in keeping with the corporate image they wish to project to the world at large. Those whose only exposure to protective details is to have witnessed the antics of some details operating in the entertainment business also might find the idea of being surrounded by such protectors personally distasteful. Having a protective detail can have consequences for one's personal life as well. Privacy and spontaneity are inevitably lost when one is surrounded by people who legitimately need advance knowledge of one's every move. A well-known executive once told a host who asked him to stay on at a party: "I'd love to, but the truth is, if I stay late there are 10 people outside who have to stay late with me." Moreover, the decision to hire protection implies acceptance of the existence of danger, a tough psychological hurdle for many people to overcome — at least, until something sinister happens. For all these reasons, many key executives continue to say "no" to protection, regardless of advice and indications to the contrary. Equally bereft of professional protection are midlevel corporate employees, many of whom are serving lengthy tours as expatriate executives in foreign cities. The economic realities of globalization mean some of those cities are the most crime-ridden in the world, including such places as Mexico City, Bogotá, Sao Paulo and Moscow. As a result, employees who in the United States would spend their lives under the radar of professional criminals are now prime targets for kidnapping, home invasion, burglary and carjacking. Corporations take responsibility for keeping their people safe in such environments, but full-time professional protection for every employee and family member is expensive. Few expatriate executives, therefore, can be afforded it, absent a specific threat. In the United States and elsewhere, midlevel managers of banks and other cash repositories are also potential targets for extortion/robbery operations. The $43 million Securitas heist in the English county of Kent in February is a case in point. In that heist — only the latest of many, historically — a gang stopped a Securitas manager as he was driving and forced him to provide access to the money. The facts suggest the gang engaged in careful investigation and long-term surveillance of its target. Though the threat against such victims is high, they typically are afforded neither protection nor in-depth training. For all of these types of executives and for all of these reasons, a viable alternative is self-protection. An effective plan will include most of the same elements that a professional security manager would employ, with the exception that the necessary training and actual practice must be undertaken by the principal. The four elements of a self-protection plan are: assessment, analysis and planning, training, and practice and drilling. The first step on the road to devising a personal protection system is making a realistic baseline assessment of threats and vulnerabilities. Although one can do this on his or her own, it is best done by professionals, and it should be updated annually or when circumstances warrant. Regardless of who does the assessment, it should start with general research of crime history and current statistics for the area, concentrating especially on the areas around the home and workplace, and the travel corridors between them. The potential for natural disasters, for civil unrest and riots and, in some cases, the likelihood of war should all be considered. Following STRATFOR's philosophy of assessing from the outside in, the next step should be to determine the specifics by studying the environment and performing certain analyses and diagnostics. Professionals should be consulted for some of this work:
  • In-depth cyber-stalking report: Few people have done Internet database searches on themselves, and even fewer have the skills to do an adequate job of it. They might be surprised to find how much "private" information is available free — or for a few dollars — to criminals who might be targeting them for kidnapping, extortion or other crimes. The study should also include family members. Children, for example, are sometimes profiled through their participation in sports or other activities that expose them to the public.
  • Baseline surveillance diagnostics: Surveillance diagnostics, a sophisticated blend of several surveillance-detection techniques, is performed by a professional team to determine whether the principal or his/her family is under programmatic hostile surveillance or criminal casing. It concentrates on the home, the school (if applicable), the workplace, any regular venues the principal predictably visits, and the routes between them. This is a "snapshot" to establish a baseline from which to plan, going forward.
  • Route analysis: Route analysis looks for vulnerabilities, or choke points, on the principal's regular travel routes. Choke points have two main characteristics: First, they are places where rapid forward motion is difficult, such as sharp blind curves. Second, they are places where hostiles can wait with impunity for their victims. The "best" choke points also offer rapid escape routes for attackers. Choke points are used both by highly professional kidnap/assassination teams, and by criminal "ambush predators" who wait for targets of opportunity. Route analysis is usually done at the same time and by the same team that conducts surveillance diagnostics.
  • Physical security surveys: These surveys are performed for the home, work place or school for the principal and family members. Although principals can effectively survey their homes, a professional look is highly recommended. Professionals also should handle any security upgrades that might need to be installed. For surveys and upgrades at workplaces and schools, obviously principals must rely on security resources at those venues.
  • Assessment of response capabilities: Also critical is a realistic assessment of the capabilities and responsiveness of local police, other security assets, and fire and medical first responders in the area. It is not sufficient to make assumptions about this; personal security depends critically on knowing whether and under what circumstances help is available, and when it is not.
Armed with a realistic assessment, complete with recommendations, the principal can begin to formulate a personal- and family-protection plan.

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