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.