There are many names for our profession: executive protection, protection of public officials, celebrity security, VIP protection, Protective Security, Close Protection, etc. For some, these are synonymous; for others, they indicate entirely different professions, which comes along with intense methodological confusion. The ancient Roman saying nomen est omen was used to express the belief that a name represents both destiny and essence. Therefore, the accurate definition of our profession’s name is crucial, as its methodology is derived from the name.
To begin with, it is essential to define whether they are one and the same profession or not; many insist that executive protection, public official protection, and celebrity protection are different professions. They insist that because the nuances of protecting a particular type of principle are so unique that it deserves a special nomenclature.
While it is true that there are considerable differences in the resources available, some specific threats, as well as the legal status of the agents, they share the same foundational objectives: to avoid intentional and unintentional harm, protect from reputational harm, provide protection and support in response to medical incidents and events, and protection of sensitive information.
In doing so, we are ostensibly facilitating the public and private lives of our clients in a way that avoids uncomfortable situations and ensures their protection, privacy, comfort, and safety. Regardless of which nomenclature you use to define the type of protection performed, the same measures:
- physical and electronic security,
- surveillance and counter-surveillance,
- route analysis,
- advance work and logistics,
- close protection, et cetera.
Clearly, it is one profession that shares the same objectives and methods, which has different sub-variants.
Historical Development – From Guards to CIIRM
Interestingly, the concept of bodyguards theoretically dates to early civilization in both Eastern and European history. Elite military guards found themselves tasked with protecting high-profile government or military leaders. Over time, the concept of protection has evolved, but the core competencies have not drastically changed.
Yet, in many ways, the industry acts like a trade and not a profession. From a technical standpoint, a trade or occupation is learned through practice, while a profession requires specialized training. Many would argue that the training received by protectors is specialized, and therefore it is a profession. However, for an occupation to be a profession, the term implies membership in a professional body, who are guided by a certain code of conduct, which is set up by or governed by a larger body.
We are protectors are not there yet.
Let’s compare a similar service career and its evolution. Evidence of nursing as a profession can be found as far back as 300 A.D. during the Roman Empire. Interestingly enough, almost 600 years after the early references to Alexander the Great and his specialized guards. Nursing, like protectors, evolved over time, but it wasn’t until the Crimean War that the formal professionalization of the nursing career was noted. Today we see strict training programs hosted at Universities around the globe that teach people to become professional nurses. Yet, similar professional studies that evolve the protector’s occupation into a profession don’t exist. YET.
To get to this next level, a few things likely need to happen. First, we need to come to a consensus on what we are. A means of clearly defining ourselves to the community. Second, clearly define how we do what we do. Through the efforts of many practitioners in the field, we are collectively driving towards standardized practices. This can then lead us to the last step of establishing a foundation for higher education to create a profession, a career. So, let’s first start with what we are.
CIIRM – EP Redefined
Is the definition of executive protection adequate to represent this profession? It is the opinion of the authors that it is not. To begin with, not everyone we protect is an executive. Furthermore, there are many executives at a company, and not all of them have protection, much less of the same type, so the name does not apply. The same applies to the concept of public-official protection.
The name VIP protection, coined many decades ago, which stands for “very important person” protection, is also inappropriate in our increasingly horizontal society. Today’s organizations promote diversity, equality, and inclusion, considering all people are important, they would hardly accept VIP distinctions, which belong to another era. The name bodyguard, as defined in the Cambridge Dictionary, is a “person or group of people whose job is to protect someone from attack”. By our own industry publications, we clearly note that we are focused on more than just physical harm.
Likewise, who decides who is very important and who is not, and under what criteria? The term “protection of persons” is inadequate also, as it is much vaguer than all the others and less descriptive of what we are doing. The concept of “close protection“, that by antonomasia identifies our job with close-range methods only. This represents an archaic and dangerous idea since it proposes that protector’s primary consideration is to repel aggressions immediately impacting the executive side, next to him/ her. By definition, this defeats the markers of good protection, relying upon layers of security for our protected person.
A frequently used term in English, Protective Security is redundant and brings more confusion and problems than solutions. This perhaps assumes there is a version of security that is not protective but unprotective.
Therefore, which name comes closest to our profession’s reality? If something happens to the individuals we protect, whether they are executives, public officials, celebrities, activists, or journalists, they will have a critical impact on the countries, organizations, and social and cultural groups to which they belong, which is easily definable and quantifiable. This way, elitism is not a factor when defining someone as a “critical impact individual” (CI) since the impact can be calculated relatively easily.
Furthering this concept, protectors often provide support for non-critical personnel, non-key personnel. Duty of Care and Duty to Act obligations may require support for travelers entering into higher risk locations. These travelers themselves may not represent critical or key personnel, but do represent a risk to the entity should they be harmed and adequate support was not offered.
Similarly, challenges with the term protection abound. The word “protection,” according to Oxford Languages Dictionary, implies: “the action protecting or preventing a person or thing from being harmed or from coming into contact with something harmful.” Protection implies preventing any harm, that is, committing to achieving zero risks. But the essential truth of security, in general, is that zero risk does not exist, which renders the word protection inadequate.
Our job is actually the handling and management of the risks incurred by individuals who have a critical impact (Critically Important Individuals Risk Management or CIIRM).
This new concept implies a change of approach, as it involves the protectee, the owner of the risk in the first place. We are no longer protection escorts whose sole function is to follow and kick or shoot if necessary, we are risk managers, seeking their mitigation through diverse management strategies in which the protectee and his/her environment participate actively.
Of course, the trade name of executive protection will endure for a long time; however, it is important that professionals know where our profession is heading, that we end the confusion over how we call ourselves and our professions, and that we identify ourselves as risk managers collaborating with the client and not as mere escorts. This is the evolution and integration of executive, celebrity, public official, and VIP protection into the single concept of CIIRM. The first step in defining ourselves more effectively so we can then move from a trade with some specialized training to a professional career that requires extensive specialized training.
We see the introduction of the concept CIIRM (Critical Impact Individuals Risk Management) as a more appropriate alternative to executive protection, protection of public officials, celebrity security, VIP protection, Protective Security, and Close Protection.
The logic behind the choice of words is founded on the need for methodological clarity, which stems from the correct use of terminology. The reasoning is as follows: there are crosscutting objectives and countermeasures applied in our industry, no matter the resources available, the threats, the legal status of protection agents, or who the protectee is. The objectives include avoidance of intentional and unintentional harm, protection from reputational harm, providing protection and support from medical incidents and events, and protection of sensitive information.
The measures used to mitigate risks to the protectee do not drastically change regardless of their role. The fundamental elements of protective intelligence, counterintelligence, physical and electronic security, surveillance detection and counter-surveillance, route analysis, advance work and logistics, close protection, etcetera apply. Furthermore, this correction in terminology grasps what makes this profession necessary, the risk management of an individual whose importance can be appreciated in terms of their critical impact.
The transition from protection to risk management implies the recognition that protection agents do not prevent harm; they manage risks incurred by critically important individuals. In practice, we see a transition from the revered movie protective escort, reactive in nature, to a strategic risk manager that looks at and manages the protected persons broader risks.