A Peer Review of Mr. Christian West’s Article “It’s Time to Rethink Executive Protection Training”

A Look Back: June 26th, 2018

 I read with great interest your June 20, 2018 article It’s time to rethink executive protection training and I wanted to reply with my thoughts as a current EP trainer.

 First I completely agree the EP industry has changed, from both the perspective of the client and the agent. We are “doing more things for more clients in more places than ever before”  but I don’t know if I fully agree “both corporate and HNW clients are getting smarter about EP”. I see a disturbing and continuing trend for clients to use cheaper and less trained security guards as opposed to EP agents. These “premium” guards in blazers and slacks are no better trained or prepared than a uniformed guard but in general cost $15.00-$25.00 less an hour.

 You said you feel “agents need to be well rounded” and I agree, in my opinion, agents need to embrace both formal education as well as training. Doing things the same old way won’t work in today’s technology and budget-driven world. Thankfully there are colleges and universities that offer security management degree programs with a focus on executive protection, and they also offer courses in program management and human relations or phycology.

 I also think agents need to better understand current and world events and how they apply to them and the client. Agents also need to place more focus on understanding computers/technology and add to their management and communication skills. It seems the ability to understand and communicate with staff, the client and other agents has been negatively affected by the inability to hold a conversation without texting or email. Unfortunately, younger candidates are often directed to “hard skill” training programs by their network or mentors who followed the same path.

Hard skills Vs. Soft

 As you pointed out “There’s no way you can master all the hard EP skills within the span of the typical five or 10-day EP course”. And I agree. We recommend and offer targeted and specific training on many of those skills. But students have limited time, money and often patience, and don’t see the value in attending specialized courses when they can get everything is a ‘buffet” type program. Our complete program is 32 days long and we have partners like VDI we recommend to students before they attend classes with us. But as long as tuition money is the driving force behind some school curriculums I don’t see the training industry-changing. And I blame the mentors and school admissions staff that tell these young agents to attend these “all-encompassing” programs as if they can get everything they need in a few days.

Skillsets

Threat Assessments and Planning: We believe it’s better to educate and train students on the critical “hard skills” of threat assessments, intelligence gathering, and operational planning. It’s not as sexy as driving fast or shooting but everything we do as agents is based on the threat assessment.

Intel/Research: for us open and closed source intelligence gathering and research is covered extensively during threat assessments and pre-site surveys and advance preparations. We often have SMEs who demonstrate how to use search engines across the internet and the dark web to gather information, prepare threat assessments and assist with operational planning. We see this as a critical hard skill.

Medical: I disagree students need to be certified as an Emergency Response Technician before attending EP training. The legal and liability issues involved with providing medical care are too often overlooked until the first lawsuits arrive. We stress triage and response to our students and preach all agents need to be CPR, AED and basic first aid certified. But we also train students your threat assessment should identify health issues you may need to address with additional medical training for the agents, having specialized medical equipment on hand or staffing considerations like adding a licensed EMT to your team. This does not apply in a high threat environment such as the middle east.

Escort: Sexy and time-consuming, formations are a staple in most EP training programs. But as you point out “most details will never use anything near the diamond formation – we simply don’t have enough agents on shift to do this” I would add this, while we do a familiarization on the basic formations, and stress the escort techniques of the single or double agent concept. We don’t spend a lot of time on either, because your students will return to their organization or company, and they will learn the standard procedures they need to follow with the agents they will work with every day.

CQB/Fitness: I disagree a student needs to take and pass a PT test to attend training. You first need an established standard of fitness to evaluate and grade a student. And that doesn’t exist; do you use the US Army PT test standards or the US Secret Service? If they fail do you send them home? Can they complete a PT test at home and bring a copy of the scorecard, and who grades them?

 We talk about agent fitness in great detail in class, and we do evaluate a student’s fitness during training, and if we feel they should reconsider their career choice we will tell them, but to attend we only recommend a student have a complete physical and that all students be in acceptable physical condition for training. ISA requires students to sign a medial statement or release that affirms they can stand and walk unassisted, are able to enter and exit a vehicle without assistance, are able to climb and descend stairs without assistance, have correctable vision to drive IAW state law or regulations and have no neurological or other physical conditions that cause uncontrolled sleep, fatigue or disorientation.

Self Defense: I agree an agent needs to be able to defend himself, that is a given. But in our use of force training program, we preach the agent’s method of self-defense whether wrestling, boxing; kickboxing or traditional martial arts should be based on your physical abilities, personality, and your ability to apply the use of force continuum effectively. I also stress continued training and practice is an absolute requirement and recommend formal training with a Dojo or certified instructor for legal and liability reasons.

Shooting: I agree that is a required skill but we stress all students exceed the state-mandated qualification standards (if any), and use those of the Federal Air Marshalls or FBI pistol qualification test for example. During our use of force training program, all of our weapons training is done in suit and tie, and not tactical clothing.

Search: I agree students need to be familiar with basic TSCM and bomb detection skills, but we stress if the threat assessment has a significant or high level for TSCM or explosive devices you bring in a specialist with the most current detection equipment. We also have SME’s from the TSCM, Cyber intrusion and Drone industries give presentations and briefings on the use of the latest technology.

Surveillance Detection /Counter Surveillance: We have SMEs introduce students to the newest technology in CCTV, FLIRs, movement detection, GPS tracking and the use of drones. Pete Moret from CTL SystemWare pmoret@sysware.com is our go-to SME and vendor for all things TSCM or electronic warfare. They have done numerous presentations for our programs in Maryland and the DC region.

 But we stress both human and electronic surveillance detection methods and integrate that into our capstone events and exercises. I agree this is a specialized skill set best suited for a dedicated course over multiple days and we recommend Rik Kirchner if he is available for that training. I believe we introduced you to him when you visited as a guest speaker. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rikkirchner/ 

Drones: The use of drones for surveillance detection, physical security, advance work, and route clearing is expanding across the industry. But the “bad guys” are using them as well and they have armed drones for direct action. We urge our colleges in the EP industry to embrace drones and understand their use and the threat they pose. We have partnered with the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy located on Montgomery Community College to train agents on the use and danger of drones, and these ISA custom programs are open to anyone who would like to attend. https://www.montgomery.edu/team-home/951-public-safety-drone-academy

Driving: I agree students should attend protective and evasive drivers training and do recommend they complete a course prior to attending our courses. We work with Joe Autera and the Vehicle Dynamics Institute https://www.linkedin.com/in/joseph-autera-82a12b2/ and recommend their 3-day course as well as some of their advanced drivers programs. We also recommend you attend VDI before you take our program as we stress scenario-based exercises over basic skills training. Itinerary planning and travel logistics are covered in our advance work class.

Communication: Agree this is a critical skill and we introduce our students to FM radios, smartphone apps, satellite radio systems, tablet-based VOIP systems and other means of establishing and maintaining constant communications. But we recommend this training be specific and at least two days in length outside our EP course. We also recommend a communications specialist be available for an agent to contact or retain if needed.

Soft Skills:

 Sir, you mention “Identifying candidates with the right soft skills” and you feel EP schools do “little to help” as they “don’t filter applicants based on them”. That is a valid point, but we have asked numerous EP companies for the soft skills you look for and how you evaluate them. If you tell me what you’re looking for we will screen for them and recommend only those students that meet those requirements.

 Now here at ISA, we do train in soft skills and we do evaluate them after training. We also have a grading and evaluation process for our graduates’ performance and each student has a transcript with their grades, instructor evaluations and observations.

But to “understand what makes our candidates tick” we have three different processes.

  1. We assign leadership roles and place them under stress; then we constantly change schedules, reduce reaction times and change conditions or standards. We look for and evaluate leadership traits, reactions to stress and communication skills.
  1. We place students in teams with mixed race, gender, and backgrounds to evaluate “how their personalities work” in a team environment, and then add stress to fracture the team. And this is every day, all day under all conditions. Indoors, outdoors, during exercises and during the capstone.
  1. Each student does a 1 minute and 30-second introduction of themselves that is evaluated. Not for speech patterns or public speaking, but for personality and physiological profiling. We often have students break down during the 1:30 process.

 We do the best we can in 70 hours of training to evaluate their psychological suitability to work successfully in the industry and we break down where they would best be suited. Logistics, close protection, or in a specialized role such as TSCM tech or driver. This process is helped when a student returns for one of our other modules. The more time we have the better the profile.

 I can’t evaluate how a student will fit into the organizational culture of a specific company unless I know that company, but show me the mismatch in what you’re looking for what we teach and we will update training procedures or methods. To stay relevant in this industry we on the teaching side must work with those operational, so we are always looking for new and better ways to do that.

Please consider us an ally in this effort.

Mr. Wests article can be viewed here: https://assolution.com/blog/time-rethink-executive-protection-training/ 

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