Personal Security

Introducing the Protective Circle 1024 1024 ESLNA

Introducing the Protective Circle

By Christian West

The executive protection industry continues to grow worldwide. However, despite the growth in quantity (e.g., the number of programs, providers, jobs, and training opportunities) providers and clients still have no shared understanding of what constitutes quality in executive protection.

The lack of agreed standards for everything from certifications and training to operational practices is something that many point to as the key reason for this state of affairs. In my opinion, that’s part of the problem but not all of it. Establishing minimum standards for things like agent qualifications could indeed be helpful, if done right, but would not necessarily lead to higher protective quality on its own.

After 30+ years of running my own companies, winning and losing RFPs, and working with a broad range of client stakeholders and protective agents and managers, I think the problem is much more fundamental. Talking about quality in executive protection is hard because many clients and providers (along with most of the general population) don’t share a common understanding of what executive protection is, let alone what good executive protection should be.

The Protective Circle is my attempt to explain what good executive protection can and should be. The ProtectiveCircle is a model that represents the comprehensive nature of quality executive protection programs. Each ring represents a different program dimension, and the various ring segments represent different categories of that dimension.

Personal Security Needs: WHY principals need protection

At the heart of the Protective Circle are our principals and their four basic security needs – all of which are important and should be considered in program design and implementation.

  1. Physical security: At its core, this is about survival—the fundamental need to remain unharmed. Our principals seek protection to preserve their well-being as they pursue their professional and personal endeavors.
  2. Productive security: Our principals aim to optimize their time and attention for maximum value. They require protection that enables them to focus on high-value activities, rather than basic survival, thus enhancing their productivity.
  3. Reputational security: As leaders, our principals’ personal brands are intertwined with their organizations’. Safeguarding their reputation is crucial, as it can impact business performance and public perception.
  4. Lifestyle security: Despite their prominence, our principals are also individuals with personal lives and preferences. They seek protection that respects and supports their chosen lifestyles, rather than imposing restrictions.

Security Contexts: WHERE and WHEN principals need protection

  • Fixed sites, including residences, workplaces, and temporary venues such as hotels, conference centers, etc.
  • Mobile/walking concerns the principals comings and goings outside of vehicles
  • Driving in vehicles, a context with risks of its own in which principals spend much time
  • Travel – despite the fact that principals spend most of their time traveling in fixed sites, driving, or mobile/walking, we include this as a key context because the unpredictability of new places adds new risks

Threats and Vulnerabilities: WHAT principals need protection against

Rather than enumerate the endless potential things that could go wrong, we keep our list of the threats and vulnerabilities that comprise risk intentionally short, and limited to the nine categories below. Nonetheless, for the purpose of introducing the importance of comprehensive executive protection, we believe this overview suffices.

  • Physical attacks
  • Property invasions
  • Privacy invasions
  • Accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Health emergencies
  • Cyber-attacks
  • Delivery attacks
  • Distractions

Protective Capabilities: HOW principals receive protection

Mitigation of the risks that may emerge from the threats and vulnerabilities outlined above is the heart of executive protection. Thus, the protective agents that make up the team must master a range of competencies to prevent these risks from reaching principals in the first place – and deal with them directly if prevention fails.

  • Conflict management/Close quarter battle (CQB)
  • Security driving
  • Medical/hygiene
  • Cyber/digital
  • Protective intelligence
  • Advances & secure travel
  • Protective detail management
  • Security sweeps, including TSCM
  • Security escorts
  • Fixed site protection


The Protective Circle Can Be Used in Many Ways

In our experience, the Protective Circle is a model with many useful applications. Three, in particular stand out:

  1. Establishing a shared understanding of executive protection: First, we’ve found the Protective Circle extremely helpful in explaining to stakeholders new to the field, not least those in client organizations, what good executive protection is all about. Yes, it is in fact a lot more than placing a few beefy guys in black suits near the principal. If clients don’t want the comprehensive benefits of the full Protective Circle, that is their choice. But they must at least understand what they are choosing to include in the protective programs they ultimately select and rely on. Importantly, the Protective Circle also makes clear what clients choose not to include.
  2. Focusing on the comprehensiveness of good protective programs: Second, protection providers can use the Protective Circle as a rough template for designing and planning comprehensive protection programs. This encourages us to consider the interconnectedness between protective tasks, organization, capabilities, training, and more. Even though some programs are bigger and more complex than others, at some level, every agent and every team lead need to think through every aspect of the Protective Circle every day.
  3. Benchmarking and diagnostics: Third, both providers and client organizations alike can use the Protective Circle as a powerful diagnostic tool to evaluate or troubleshoot existing programs. By asking the right questions about each element in the Protective Circle, we can quickly pinpoint what is working and what is not and gain a better understanding of overall program health.


A map is not the territory – but it’s still helpful

The Protective Circle is a framework that helps explain why executive protection programs exist, what agents do to mitigate personal security risks, and the skills they must possess to function effectively. But the Protective Circle is an explanatory model, not an instruction manual.

Some protection professionals might organize things differently; others will want to quibble with our categories. That’s all fine with us as long as they reflect the comprehensive nature of solid protective programs and the many protective capabilities required to make them work effectively.

Why Nannies Should Be Treated as Members of the Protective Team and Get Appropriate Training 1024 1024 ESLNA

Why Nannies Should Be Treated as Members of the Protective Team and Get Appropriate Training

By Christian West and Joe LaSorsa

Protective security for family offices and UHNW families is a team effort. While executive protection professionals have primary responsibility for the principals’ security, family employees tasked with other responsibilities should also be considered part of the overall security infrastructure and treated accordingly.

As we’ll see below, proactively including nannies and other UHNW family staff as participants in the protective effort has clear risk mitigation advantages, and neglecting to do so unnecessarily adds to risk for the principal’s family members and for the staff themselves.

Treating all household staff as equals goes a long way in creating harmony and security

In our experience, one reason personal security programs for family offices and UHNW families are successful is that truly professional executive protection agents build bridges with other family staff, not walls. Conversely, executive protection agents who fail to treat other family employees well do not last long.

Some agents are so convinced of their importance that they believe what they do is more significant than the tasks other staff perform. We’ve seen this happen more than once. Inexperienced (or, let’s say it more clearly: unsuitably vetted, trained, and managed) agents get short with other staff or otherwise fail to treat them with respect. Because they believe the physical security of the principals trumps all other interests – including the emotional well-being of family employees – these agents might think their roles justify such behavior. We think they are wrong. While such attitudes might be tolerated in other security contexts, they rarely lead to anything good in family office and UHNW executive protection. What these agents fail to understand is that while physical security is important, it is not the only thing that is important.

For one thing, principals have other security needs beyond simply avoiding bodily harm. They are also motivated by their needs for reputational, productivity, and lifestyle security. And most principals, like most other people, prefer a lifestyle that includes respect and empathy for those who help them and their loved ones get on with their lives. Those gardeners and housekeepers that protective agents get huffy with might have worked for the family for years. Nannies who care for young children achieve a level trust that goes far beyond that given to EP agents. Treating any household or family staff poorly creates disharmony, and harmony is most easily restored by getting rid of the agent – or company – responsible for the trouble, not by firing a trusted nanny or housekeeper.

However, protective agents that create friction between themselves and other family staff also fail to mitigate risk as effectively and efficiently as they could. Instead of including others in the protective effort, even in modest ways, such agents exclude them. Thus, rather than winning allies that improve protection, they alienate these potential force multipliers and make protection worse. Who do you think improves security more – a gardener who keeps his eyes and ears open for signs of potential threats and reports them, or one who has learned to stay out of the way of the security guys because they are unpleasant? You can repeat this thought experiment for almost everyone else on the household staff – including nannies.

The special role of nannies and the importance of good communication with them

Nannies play a pivotal role for busy UHNW families with preschool and school-aged children. Sometimes also known as “governesses”, nannies are indeed often women, but not always. Depending on the needs of the child or children and those of the parents, nannies can have a broad spectrum of responsibilities that range from post-natal childcare to managing children’s schedules and more. Nanny tasks might also include tutoring or hiring tutors, driving children to and from school, escorting them to playdates and extracurricular activities, and planning and hosting birthday parties and other visits to the family’s homes.

Given the nature of the task – taking care of children for long stretches of time and being “on” for sometimes far longer than eight hours per day – and a lifestyle that often includes travel, it’s no wonder that many UHNW families hire two or more “rota nannies”. Short for “rotational nannies”, rota nannies typically work 24/7 for two weeks at a time, then get two weeks off. But work schedules vary.

Protective agents and nannies often interact and overlap within the protective bubble. In larger, more complex executive protection programs, for example, the nanny might drive a child or children to school in one vehicle, with one or two protective agents driving in another as an escort. Of course, in such cases it makes good sense for agents and nannies to coordinate routes and other aspects of driving to ensure they stay close to each other in traffic.

Many times, however, nannies and the principals’ children are not within sight of protective agents. In smaller protective programs, the nanny might drive children to school and pick them up on her own without any agents involved. In most programs, nannies accompany their young charges to birthday parties and playdates while protective agents wait outside in a car.

In any case, effective communication between agents and nannies is essential to keep logistics smooth and people safe. As we pointed out in a previous blog, the most critical consequence of poor communication in executive protection is, clearly, its impact on the quality of the risk mitigation. Thus, it is up to protective agents to make sure that communication with nannies is effective and smooth. But that’s not the only way that executive protection professionals can help nannies.

Nannies can benefit from some of the same training that protective agents receive

Training is an important way to help nannies become more effective members of the protective team. While they don’t need to be as proficient as agents in most of these skills, some training in at least five skillsets is a big advantage.

Security driving: As we’ve pointed out more than once, traffic accidents are one of the main risks facing many people (regardless of their wealth), and secure driving skills are an effective way to mitigate this risk. Within a few days of theoretical and practical secure driving training, most people can significantly improve their driving skills and literally save lives. Depending on the family’s circumstances, training in winter driving, use of car seats, and other specialized courses might also be appropriate. Unfortunately, far too few nannies receive security driving training. As Christian notes, “I’ve been involved in far more Faraday cage projects than I have in secure driving courses for nannies.” This should change.

First aid: Most nanny agencies either suggest or require applicants to have some kind of first aid and CPR certification, which is great. Let’s just remember that like security driving, first aid skills are “perishable” and should be renewed regularly. Additional recommended medical training might include pediatric first aid and, depending on the context, specialized skills such as use of EpiPens, Naloxone, or other procedures.

Situational awareness: We believe training to improve nannies’ situational security awareness should be mandatory. Developing and maintaining good situational awareness habits can go a long way in mitigating risk for everyone. For nannies taking care of the children of prominent UHNW parents, such training is particularly important – both for the children and for the nannies themselves. For starters, we’d like all nannies to read and digest Gavin De Becker’s excellent book, The Gift of Fear, and understand the basics of social engineering. Still, we would add many other topics to the curriculum.

Personal/family cyber security: Like family members and executive protection agents, nannies should also receive some basic training in personal cyber security. This would, at minimum, include getting smarter about using public wi-fi and Bluetooth connections, how to avoid phishing and other attacks, and using social media without increasing time and place predictability or otherwise exposing the children or themselves to avoidable risk.

Protective program-specific SOPs: Executive protection professionals should be sure to train nannies in SOPs specific to their particular programs. For families with young children, many of these relevant SOPs will have to do with the interfaces between nannies and agents that occur around the children’s transportation and visits outside the home. As children grow, and extracurricular activities become more common, the range of relevant SOPs will likely also change and grow.

Nannies don’t have to be ninjas, but even some security training is better than none

In an ideal world, nannies would acquire more of the protective skills common to EP agents, and EP agents would become more proficient in the pedagogical and psychological skills that make good nannies great. But we’re not suggesting that these very different roles are interchangeable. Of course, things work best for the families we serve when everyone “stays in their lanes” and can rely on each other to do the same, doing their best job in the roles they were hired for.

However, we believe executive protection is a team effort. Risk mitigation improves (i.e., becomes more effective, efficient, seamless, comprehensive, and easy to live with) when everyone working for the family collaborates, not competes, to better understand the possible threats and vulnerabilities that impact the family’s security – and their own.

So, what will it be, another Faraday cage or a few training courses for the nannies? We vote for the latter.

6 Executive Protection Dysfunctions 1024 768 ESLNA
executive protection dysfunctions

6 Executive Protection Dysfunctions

In the blog the focus is to highlight the factors that lead to the failure of executive protection (EP) programs.

We will now delve into why some of these programs fail.

Initially, we will concentrate on the six main dysfunctions responsible for creating problems in corporate and high-net-worth protection programs.

These 6 dysfunctions are:

  1. Dissimilar framing of what executive protection entails.
  2. Poor scoping of EP programs.
  3. Inappropriate control span in the EP program.
  4. Weak EP program leadership.
  5. Fostering a fear-based environment.
  6. Excessive ego in an EP program.

These traits are interlinked, and one problem can give rise to another. Even a single dysfunction can create significant issues and jeopardize an otherwise stable EP program.

If two or more dysfunctions appear simultaneously, the situation can become even more dire. If these preventable problems are left unchecked, they can cause an EP program to become a disaster.

We will examine each of these dysfunctions individually. Beginning with a fundamental issue, which is that clients and providers often have different interpretations of executive protection when they engage in conversations.

The dissimilar framing of executive protection leads to program dysfunction. Similar to how a frame sets the boundaries for what’s inside and outside a painting or photo, sociologists use framing to describe how we use stereotypes and stories to comprehend and communicate about reality and the categories we use to discuss it.

Framing enables us to simplify complex, messy things into clear-cut categories, making communication easier.

However, using dissimilar frames to describe the same things leads to confusion and dysfunction.

New clients often define executive protection based on what they see in the media, which is quite different from the frame of reference of experienced providers who have worked with corporations and high net worth individuals for several decades.

Moreover, not all providers in the executive protection industry frame their services the same way, highlighting the need for industry standardization.

Agreed-upon standards would contribute to shared frames of reference for good and bad executive protection services.

Different providers have different frames of reference, making it difficult to manage client expectations.

For example, big shops can differ significantly from single-man operations, and some teams rely more on protective intelligence and advances than others.

Additionally, North American and European perspectives on executive protection can differ.

Those accustomed to the Secret Service’s resources may face challenges in even the most ambitious corporate programs with budget constraints.

From the provider’s perspective, corporate and high net worth executive protection should go beyond keeping the principal safe. It should also enhance productivity, respect the client’s personal preferences and lifestyle, and offer comprehensive support.

Providers need to communicate the value proposition of a well-run executive protection program, including both hard and soft skills.

Failure to establish clear expectations and understanding of what executive protection entails can lead to program dysfunctions and other issues.

To address the problem of dissimilar framing, we must calibrate our frames through communication and education.

Since most clients are not familiar with executive protection practices, it falls upon providers to explicitly articulate their framing of key issues.

For example, in our frame of reference, we know that sustainment training is critical to any good program. Without it, skills deteriorate, and team readiness suffers. However, this may come as a surprise to new clients who are unfamiliar with the concept.

It is our responsibility to communicate the benefits and drawbacks of sustainment training and educate clients on why it is a necessary component of any personal protection service. By doing so, we can help clients calibrate their framing and establish clear expectations for the program.

Just because certain practices are common does not mean they are the best or even good practices in the executive protection industry.

Unfortunately, new clients often look to other companies’ practices to establish a frame of reference, and this can be problematic. If these common practices have fallen afoul of the dysfunction-causing issues we have mentioned, they do more harm than good.

To establish a shared frame of reference, it is our responsibility as providers to clearly describe our view on executive protection best practices. As a specialized service that many new clients have little experience with, we must take the lead in calibrating this frame of reference.

This process involves discussing issues such as leadership, scoping, span of control, SOPs, training, quality control, and other factors that can impact program success.

By consistently communicating and educating about best practices over time, we can establish ourselves as trusted advisors rather than just commodity vendors.

Such framing calibration happens increasingly in well-run RFP processes where: 

  1. The starting point is an agreed frame of reference of best-in-class personal protection that encompasses all aspects of a 3.0 EP program. Through benchmarking against similar situations, clients gain an understanding of the dimensions and operations of a solid EP program.
  2. Clients are then empowered to make informed decisions regarding the components they want to include or exclude from the program based on their personal preferences and budget. This choice should be made from a full range of tried and tested risk mitigation methods.
  3. The scope of work (SOW) clearly outlines what falls within the agreed frame of reference. From our experience, the more detailed and specific the SOW, the more successful the EP program will be.

Defining program success in clear terms is crucial for establishing shared framing, both during and after RFP processes.

Consensus must be reached on what success looks like, and documented with metrics and key performance indicators that highlight any gaps between current and ideal states. Regular meetings with relevant stakeholders must then be held to agree on corrective actions and protect this consensus. These efforts are essential for driving shared understanding of the EP program’s purpose and ensuring that everyone is aligned on program quality.

This concludes our discussion of the most critical causes of dysfunctional EP teams.

Stand by for Part 2 “Poor scoping of EP Programs”