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Bad economy drives boom in executive protection services

Demand for executive protection (EP) services in Canada is unfortunately on the rise.


March 31, 2010
By Rosie Lombardi

While the boom in business is good news for security firms that offer
EP services, this growth is a reflection of the larger, troubled economy.

“The whole business is growing ”“ we’re getting calls from everywhere,”
says Sunil Ram, director of operations at Executive Security Services
International
, based in Huntsville, Ont. “There are a lot of plant
closings and layoffs, and people’s buttons are being pushed by
executive bonuses. We’re getting about 25 cold calls annually from
clients, beyond the ongoing retainers we already have in place with
bigger companies.”

While recessions have come and gone many times during his 25-year
tenure, Ram says, technology makes the current one far more challenging.
“With the advent of the Internet, Twitter, Google Earth and GPS
technology, information about people is more readily available. If
someone wants to attack you, they typically gather intelligence about
you first. In the past, this meant physical surveillance, but all this
technology has provided the bad guys with a convenient way of doing
this without leaving their homes.”

Once the domain of larger firms, requests for sweeps to sniff out
electronic surveillance gizmos are now coming from smaller firms too,
adds Ram. “We’re seeing more SMBs coming to us for help about this. You
don’t need to be an electronics genius anymore ”“ anyone can buy and use
spy software and other gadgets nowadays.”

Canadian EP services aren’t just growing on the domestic front, they’re
also growing internationally, says Dean Walker, president of The
Ronin Security Group
, a crisis management firm based in Barrie, Ont., and which has offices
in the U.K. and Israel.

“We’re seeing a significant increase in Canadian firms outsourcing
their operations to Mexico and India,” says Walker. “These companies
don’t just need EP services for senior management and their families.
They want travel security plans, physical security assessments of their
residences and commercial facilities, and geopolitical analyses of
criminal elements in their operating environment.”


Unlike their American counterparts, Canadian companies have been complacent about the need
for EP for their top people, but this is changing now, says Scot Filer,
managing partner at Vancouver-based Lions Gate Investigations Group.
“These companies are waking up to the fact that EP has to be a regular
part of the way they do business.”

Brainy services
Many people are under the misapprehension that EP services just means
providing a big, beefy bodyguard. But EP requires more brains than
brawn, as highly specialized skill sets are needed to conduct the risk
analysis, planning, mitigation and footwork needed to provide clients
with the kind of discreet but thorough protection they want.

“The bodyguard aspect is a small part of the job,” says Jim Kijewski,
director of client relations at Toronto-based Reilly Security. “For
President Clinton’s recent speaking engagement, for example, they
didn’t just hire someone for the three hours he was at the
presentation. There were at least 25 hours of prior planning by security
people to visit and secure the venue and find the safest routes to and
from the airport.”

Providing safe drivers and hardened vehicles is a major component of EP
services, says Ram. “About 80 per cent of attacks take place while
clients are in their vehicles. Our people are trained in offensive
driving, so they can get out of situations if roads are blocked. And
they also know how to deal with ambushes and kidnappings and have the
observational skills to detect potential threats to prevent these
situations from happening in the first place.”

The sort of tasks that used to be handled by brawn alone have since morphed into more sophisticated services. “Thirty years ago,
protecting senior management during labour disputes meant getting a
bunch of big guys, putting a beam in front of the truck and battling
your way through the picket lines,” says Bill Simpson, managing
director at Pinkerton Canada.

Today, Pinkerton offers training seminars that prepare senior
management so that they know what to expect and learn ways to prevent
situations from flaring beyond control when layoffs and other
potentially explosive moves are planned, says Simpson.  

“We train them to know how to handle themselves and react to workers
and also train them in behavioural analysis so they know how to spot potential trouble.
Sometimes, the angry people are actually the good ones, because they’re
able to vent. The quiet ones who bottle emotions are a greater concern.”


Psychology and behavioural analysis also play a key role in
counter-surveillance, especially when EP providers are "stalking the
stalkers" for celebrity or other clients, says Ram. “In over half of
our stalking cases, the perpetrators have been clinically diagnosed as
mentally ill. It’s easier to deal with bad guys who are professional ”“
stalkers are far more dangerous, although they’re less skilled, because
they’re irrational and it’s harder to anticipate their moves.”

EP providers assigned to protect senior executives who have relocated
to foreign countries need sophisticated negotiation skills, as
kidnapping foreigners is big business in Latin America and other Third World countries, says Walker. “Executives fear being kidnapped for
ransom, but sometimes it’s for political or religious reasons, not
monetary gain.”

These kidnappings happen more frequently than people imagine, he adds. “We don’t draw media attention when we facilitate the safe release of
an executive because we don’t want to encourage it. Many companies have
kidnap and ransom insurance policies in place but sometimes aren’t
aware that they shouldn’t disclose that fact, as it voids the policy.”

The Ronin Security Group also has a network of operators who have relationships
with local authorities in many global hot spots. “So if executives are
arrested on trumped-up charges or even if they’re lawfully detained, we
can negotiate with those authorities.”

Training boom
In a parallel trend, demand for qualified EP staff and training for
them is also on the rise in Canada. “Attendance at our EP training
courses has doubled over the last couple of years," says Robert Oatman,
a former U.S. Secret Service agent and partner with the Vancouver-based
Lions Gate Investigations Group. “Not only has the frequency of our
training increased, but we’ve also had to increase the range and
sophistication of our services.”

EP operatives are culled from the ranks of government security staff
who’ve worked on diplomatic details, in military special forces,
in counter-terrorism units and in law enforcement. “We also have some
security guards from the private sector, but they’re exceptional people,
who just have a knack for EP ”“ they’re maybe one in 10,000,” says Ram.

For special assignments, he says, he also has on-call staff, who have no
background in security. “Doctors and people with advanced medical
training are a great asset. Many of the executives sitting on the
thrones of corporations are not in good health. Bullets aren’t the only
issue, as they may have heart attacks. EP services look at everything.”

This medical aspect is sometimes overlooked in overseas operations,
says Walker. “We have medical response and evacuation plans, all our
teams include a tactical medic and every team member is trained in
advanced trauma care skills.”

Behavioural analysis and developing observational skills to detect
threats are major components of EP training, says Walker. “One of our
key staff comes from the Israeli military, who’ve developed advanced
assessments to read the body language that identifies potential suicide
bombers. But these principles can also be applied in EP services to
identify any potentially dangerous person in a crowd. And we also have
a forensic psychologist on staff to develop profiles of stalkers.”

Although specialized James Bond-type technology that’s not available to
potential criminals is sometimes used by EP operatives, Ram says he
doesn’t like relying on it. “We have technology gadgets but they can
break down, and the question we focus on in our training is ”˜How would
you react if that happened?’ Bad guys often get to the victim because
of the user, not the equipment.”