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360 Site Advance Planning for Executive Protection

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If you’re in this industry, your site advance game should be strong. Proper application of the advance model identifies you as a professional. Thus, knowledge of how to conduct an advance is often one of the top questions managers ask when considering you for employment. Of course, you can be a high-speed, low-drag teched-out operating animal, but if your advance game sucks, there is a good chance your visit will too.

Jumping out of an LAV with your personalized AR platform, Viktos gloves, and Merrell boots may look tacticool on a security company’s website and brochure. Still, it has almost zero to do with executive protection in the real world. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good training day, but training should focus heavily on reducing threats in addition to reacting to them.

In my public/private sector experience, I’ve learned that few things are predictable in protective services. Having a solid advance will significantly reduce those “Oh Shit” moments everyone has and should expect to have. In corporate EP, I have become accustomed to greatly reduced resources, logistical support, and, most importantly, the workforce.

When developing a trip or in-town protective advance, I now replace resources with creative solutions in mitigating risk factors rather than throwing bodies and equipment at it.

The Value Add

Corporate America operates on the principle of “value add.” Hence, few business managers see value in personal security until the enemy is at the gate.

Our zero-fail mission stresses our ability to provide the protective coverage we need with the never-ending reduction in resources we sometimes manage.

ALL protection is based on the threat. If nothing bad ever happens, the question always arises, “Why do we need protection?” When something bad does happen, there is always the armchair response, “Why did this happen?”

For everyone in the EP career field, we manage a delicate balance between overzealous coverage and ineffective coverage. We have all worked the dot formation at one point in our careers, and we all would prefer not to if given the resources and money.

Despite limited assets, there are some universal truths that EP agents can use in the development of adequate security planning for complete 360-degree coverage of your protectee.

First Things First

There is an upward career progression for most professional security services in the development of agents as they elevate in experience and eventually become supervisors. At the bottom of that mountain, and usually fresh out of training, is a firsthand experience conducting a small site advance.

You can use the fundamental principles of a site advance for almost every protective engagement you will find yourself in as an EP agent. Site advance principles and planning can be applied universally at:

  • Private residential spaces,
  • Hotels,
  • Offices,
  • Airports/FBOs, and
  • Temporary visit locations.

The skills to use in site planning are also directly relatable to other security segments, including counter-surveillance skills and physical personal protection.

Every site requires a fundamental knowledge of basic security steps and the application of tested solutions to close the loop on security shortcomings.

Correct, each location presents unique challenges. Yet, you can apply the primary site advance principles universally to identify security weaknesses in the plan you will develop for the protection of your protectee.

Incorporating a good site advance with a solid transportation advance will get you through many of the problems you can anticipate during a visit. Other advance work fills in the gaps, but that is for another time.

site advance

Planning and Preparation

So, you have an upcoming event with your high-net-worth client or CEO. Also, you have the opportunity to complete a protective advance for the visit or venue. Where do you start? The advance process begins as soon as you receive notification of the assignment from C-suite staff or, in some cases, the protectee themselves.

Hopefully, this notification isn’t on the day of the event, and you have at least a few days to complete the minimum necessary protective advance measures. Still, realistic expectations of your EP team’s capabilities should have already been communicated to avoid last-minute calls. While an off-the-record (OTR) movement has its advantages, this should not be the operational norm.

As stated earlier, ALL protection is threat-based. Prior to any protective visit, today’s EP agents have significant resources to assist them in developing a “threat picture” for both their protectee and the visit location.

Protective intelligence in the private sector has increased significantly in recent years. EP teams now utilize technology companies that integrate real-time social media posts and online data with artificial intelligence verification platforms to isolate negative intelligence issues and threats within seconds.

Added geo-synchronized personal cellular notification apps provide on-the-ground critical decision-making information that may make the difference between avoiding a problem and being surrounded by one.

Other free resources that all EP agents should review for threat intelligence information — in addition to contract services like Dataminr and SamDesk — include:

On-Site Advance Planning

Suppose you complete your protective intelligence information for a visit, personal trip logistics, and ground logistics/contracted transportation services are arranged. In this case, an EP agent will travel to the intended destination and begin the onsite advance planning.

The time needed for the advance depends greatly on the complexity and threat picture for the location. Still, your agency also has a fiscal piece for acceptable travel durations. I have done advances in my career that last ten days and operated on 4-5 hours of sleep to get them done, and advances that I knocked out in two days casually.

Once you’re in an EP position, you will better understand what is acceptable and your group’s expectations regarding the time needed for advances. Depending on your training and experience, most EP agents have a sequence they follow personally when completing their advance. However, there are two generally accepted theories for how to conduct site advances.

Inside–Out

You complete your advance working from the path of your protectee at the site and work outward to the furthermost realistic threat area. This model focuses initially on the movements of the protectee internally and then radiates outwards through the levels of security, and physical barriers that are currently in place or you will put in place after your advance.

Whether it’s bad luck or circumstance, I have grown accustomed to last-minute schedule changes that significantly alter the internal movements of my protectee at sites. For this reason, you cannot simply know the “path” of the protectee. Instead, you must know the entire area thoroughly.

Review the environment above, below, and 360 degrees around all movements by your protectee at all venues. There are numerous examples of why your advance should include the spaces above and below your protectee, but none better than the 1984 Brighton Hotel bombing targeting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Knowing site details entirely separates a professional EP agent from a bodyguard who simply follows their protectee wherever they go. Professional EP agents should never be surprised if last-minute changes take you off your planned movements.

If you know the site entirely, your protective advance will provide continuity and coverage during spurious changes. When an emergency occurs, a professional EP agent will remain calm and execute their plan regardless of changes. In fact, they are completely informed on the site and all security resources and features available.

Outside–In

I personally work off this model when planning site visits. If you are familiar with the concentric ring model for site advance or Defense in Depth, you would begin at the outermost ring — the first security feature and/or third ring built into your site advance model — and work inward.

The outermost ring on most site security models is typically staffed with a mixture of police and security postings with physical security features. It is only intended for Yes/No entry into a venue or event.

YES, you can enter this door, or NO, you can’t enter here with alternative instructions. At small sites with limited resources, the outermost ring often does not exist. However, beginning your advance at that point allows you to identify gaps in existing site security resources and the available time to place mitigating physical security measures in place to circumvent unauthorized access (time and distance).

To use the last example, if you don’t have an officer or security person on an exterior door to say “No,” have the ability to lock or secure the door. Working outside your site or venue and inward also places you in a position to observe your site as a potential attacker would.

Placing yourself in the viewpoint of a potential attacker prompts you to consider

  • What is the best ingress/egress,
  • What security measures are known/visible as a deterrent (cameras, bollards, fencing, turnstiles, posted security),
  • Is there an entry requirement for the building and the observable security measures an attacker would have to overcome to achieve their goal.

Every time you find a weak point in the security for a site, have a plan to reconcile it with an added security feature or a change in EP coverage of your protectee.

Outside–In: Elevated Safety

This becomes exceedingly difficult for small corporate details with limited resources and no outside support.

If you have the opportunity to bring your protectee to a larger event as a guest with outside managed security for the group, your advance process remains the same. Again, familiarize yourself with the planning that has been done for the event and if you discover gaps in security coverage, bring it to the attention of the security manager for the event you are attending.

Most managers in this industry welcome critical information that elevates the safety and security of their events. And especially if the professional presents it positively and helpfully. As you move through the concentric rings of security (outer, middle, and inner), develop security and access barriers and solutions to address each gap in security you observe.

When you’re working the “Dot” formation, building relationships with outside partners is critical in developing your overall security plan. You may not have 32 sworn officers and a fully staffed EP team for coverage. Still, the creative synergy of available workforce and resources may make the difference during an actual attack.

Next Steps

With your primary site advance complete, you will move on to other site advances at the airport, hotel (remain-over-night, RON), or other sites. Scheduling your site advance will always be a factor in your planning, and the sequence and order of your individual advances may change based on the availability of staff, building engineers, and outside security teams.

As stated earlier, each site will have unique characteristics, but applying a 360-degree advance model to each venue will ultimately benefit your security plan. Upon completion of your advance, communicate the plan to the working members of your EP Team and complete continual communications with your protectee’s staff to keep everyone current on schedule changes and updates.

In some EP environments, documentation of your plan may be required for teams and supervisors. The industry sometimes refers to this as Arts and Crafts.

  • If your plan must be sent or disseminated, ensure it is secure and controlled.
  • Limit physical documentation to only those that absolutely need it.
  • Stress the sensitivity of personal control and eventual destruction of all physical documentation of your advance planning.

In most organizations, electronic documentation for protective advances is kept in a shared electronic archive for access by all team members. In addition, the historical nature of an EP library supports continuity of operations between existing and future visits and assists planning by limiting the time needed in the research phase of an advance.

Future Development in New Standardization and Training

The personal security and EP career field will continue to evolve in response to increased threats and developing technology. Thus, having a foundation in the basic advance model principles will help you establish a keystone for yourself and your organization into the future.

Standards in Executive Protection currently in development under the governance of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) by the Board of Executive Protection Professionals (EP2) provide a positive outlook for the future of the EP industry in standardization, future training, and EP certification.

This new ANSI standard will promote advance planning in the overall protective planning you complete as an EP agent. Also, it will provide specific guidance on key aspects of the protective advance model.

Understanding the need for advance site planning is the first step in enhancing your EP operational security. It minimizes unknown threats through detailed planning.

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