THE MAGAZINE

Reducing Risk for Elected Officials

By Robert L. Oatman, CPP

Basic protection topics in which the security staffer should receive training are as follows:

Intelligence gathering and general risk assessment. This may require adjustments to a congressional office’s normal tracking of news, public opinion, letters, online comments, etc. The security staffer should learn the importance of collecting, tracking, and analyzing any threats or odd communications directed at the protectee. The communications should be retained, and items that seem threatening should be passed to the U.S. Capitol Police Dignitary Protection Division.

Resource coordination. Especially when security is a part-time responsibility, the security staff should learn about key resources that can provide information and logistical support. For example, local intelligence fusion centers are run by state and local authorities, are focused on state and local concerns, and deal not only with terrorism but with a wide range of criminal and public safety matters. Local police, too, can help if they are notified in advance, providing both intelligence and personnel at the speech site.

Site advances. An advance is a process for gauging risks, identifying resources, and developing familiarity with the site for security logistics purposes. An advance can be performed from a distance or with a site visit.

Site risk assessment. The security staffer should learn what to look for in a speech or meeting site—what elements lead to more or less control over a site, considerations for getting in and out safely, etc.

Ground transportation. The staffer should follow simple protocols for the safe arrival and departure of the protectee. For example, the protectee or his or her driver should call ahead to the site before arriving to make sure it is safe, and the vehicle should be positioned well for a quick departure if necessary.

Choreography of protection. This factor addresses where the security staffer should be positioned at the speech and what to do if an attack begins or seems imminent. A trained staffer may be able to grab the protectee and quickly remove him or her from the site. It is also important for the staffer and protectee to have a prearranged signal that means “let’s go.”

Site management, countersurveillance, and attack vector awareness. These are addressed below, but all have to do with controlling the site and keeping one’s eyes open for a potential attacker.

The staffer can gain knowledge about all of these steps through reading or by attending a briefing or short training course. Such minimal training cannot take the place of the knowledge, experience, and connections that a trained EP specialist can bring to the task. It is simply suggested as part of a proposed short-term solution that can be implemented quickly.

Support from the Protectee

The security staffer who has been given ownership of the security issue absolutely must have the support of the protectee. Such support is necessary if the staffer is to have sufficient time and resources to arrange for protection.

Although the protectee is likely the person who assigned the staffer that responsibility, the protectee may or may not genuinely embrace the idea of protection. Some protectees feel protection will be cumbersome, while others think protection makes them look fearful or weak.

Executives who face real problems and see how low-profile protection can be used to effectively deal with those problems are likely to change their minds. For example, at a major U.S. corporation served by the author, a trend was developing in which protesters would sneak into speech venues and, as an executive would step toward the microphone, would run up, grab the mic, and deliver a wild rant against the company. The risk was not just embarrassment but also attack, as the category of protester, animal rights extremists, had a history of violence.

A particular top executive did not want to have a security person inside the room where she was delivering a speech, but she agreed reluctantly. As she approached the dais to speak on one occasion, a protester raced toward her but was immediately stopped and escorted away by a security specialist. That particular executive is now a serious supporter of personal protection.

Risk Assessment and the Advance

The security staffer should conduct ongoing risk assessment focused on the protectee and the particular sites to be visited. The following are some steps he or she can take:

• Talk to the protectee about past incidents and any areas of concern.

• Examine the threat file—the record of odd or threatening letters, phone calls, e-mails, and incidents—if one exists.

• Obtain site risk information from local police contacts.

• Keep up-to-date on attacks against people similar to the protectee.

• Determine how easily an attacker can find out where the protectee will be on any particular date. (For a public figure it may be very easy to find out where that person will be, as many events are specifically geared to draw attendance from the public.)

In some cases, the risk assessment can guide site selection. For example, a higher level of risk may call for using a less open site.

The security staffer should also conduct a site advance, either in-person or long-distance (e.g., by telephone). An advance is the totality of the staffer’s efforts to learn about the protectee’s route and destination and all the details that affect the trip and the stay. It constitutes a preemptive strike against confusion and exposure. Through the advance the security staffer tries to discover possible risks at the site, primary and alternate transportation routes, and local resources (police, hospitals, etc.).

If the risk assessment or site advance reveals a high threat level or several red flags, the security staffer should waste no time in lining up security assistance from protection specialists, whether on- or off-duty local police or private EP specialists, who are available in every state. It is not difficult to find and contract with trained, experienced EP personnel who understand personal protection principles and can step up to assist at a higher-risk event.

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