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Quality in Protection – EP Wired Interview with James Hamilton

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In an exclusive conversation with GDBA’s very own James Hamilton, we delve deep into security assessments, quality in protection, the EP gap analysis, and many other enticing topics.

For years, it has been said that the EP industry needs to radically overhaul how it audits and improves protective programs for clients. In your role as GDBA’s Senior Vice President in charge of quality in protection, how do you ensure that protective strategies are in line with the client’s needs? Can you walk us through the most important steps?

The first step is to ask: What is the need, or in our world – What is the risk? Next, a risk assessment/threat assessment must be completed to understand the risk to the protectee but also the protectors. Then move to mitigate those risks with personnel, technology, physical security, investigations, monitoring, etc. Of course, this also must be done within the protectee’s budget and what they are comfortable with. It is a delicate balance, but the goal is to achieve quality in protection.

Many current EP professionals had a long-standing career in the public sector, including the military, secret service, and other fields. As a former supervisory special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and a criminal investigator and deputy sheriff, can you describe your journey from the public to the private sector and why you have decided to undergo it?

Like so many of you, I felt drawn to protection from the first time I did it. Though I enjoyed being a police officer and a street agent in the FBI, doing protective work was something that really resonated with me. Thus, I found myself very drawn to it. It is a calling.

As you pointed out, the FBI is where I learned it. However, the FBI is an investigative organization, not really an executive protection-focused agency. I was fortunate enough to meet Gavin de Becker and agreed to an offer of employment in the private sector, which I never regretted.

Protection in the private sector is so different than the government. That has been the most significant difference to me. In the government protective model, the taxpayers are paying the bill, and therefore resources, personnel, and assets are pretty limitless. In the private sector, the protectee is paying, and they certainly get a vote in things, which the taxpayers do not get.

This is a service, and folks leaving the military or federal law enforcement need to understand this.

quality in protection

During the past decade, security assessments and various risk analyses have become the nucleus of the executive protection industry. Can you give us an overview of the importance of an EP gap analysis, surveillance detection, route analysis, and residential security assessments? How do all of these ― individually and combined ― converge to render the best possible security outcomes?

Suppose you complete the risk assessment and make a decision for protective coverage. Then, after working with the protectee and their budget, you recommend strategies to mitigate the risk that you have identified.

Residential security is obviously the first area of focus, as any ill-intentioned individual can learn where a protectee lives and target them there. This has happened so many times in the past, and these incidents prove the veracity of the strategy.

In the era of “Defund the Police” and the lack of police response in some areas of the US, residential security, done correctly, has many other advantages for the protectee: dealing with a trespasser or intruder, processing vendors, handling medical emergencies, environmental emergency response, fire response, overall better quality in protection.

Once the residential program is in place – with personnel and technology supporting them – then work on in-transit security needs. The book Just 2 Seconds highlights the most dangerous place for a protected person is in and around a vehicle. In fact, 64% of attacks happen there, and 77% of those attacks are successful – fatal. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the security firm to recommend secure transportation strategies.

The preference is that a trained security driver/protector drives the protectee. Not a chauffeur or hired driver with no background in protective operations.

Depending on the risk level and area of operation, a protector will suggest an armored vehicle to the protectee. Indeed, there are areas in the world where an armored vehicle makes excellent sense and some places where a lower profile vehicle makes sense. But generally speaking, I would prefer to be in armor than not. The vehicle must be suitable for protective operations, and the security driver must master all aspects of the vehicle.

On a basic level, the security driver conducts a route analysis by looking for:

  • Choke points,
  • Safe havens,
  • Hostile surveillance points, etc.

The security driver and the residential team must perform Surveillance Detection every day. Not Counter-Surveillance, these terms are so frequently misused. You do Surveillance Detection to see if surveillance is present.

You conduct Counter-Surveillance once surveillance is identified. And you take offensive steps to counter their surveillance efforts. For example, suppose a full team of protectors is looking for surveillance at the home, the office, and during transit. In that case, you are more likely to be successful than if you have different teams or no teams covering these crucial areas.

I spend a bunch of time here, and I could go on and on, but everyone acknowledges that an adversary will conduct physical surveillance before an encounter. Yes, they can do a bunch of it from a laptop, but they still have to get out on the ground and observe the target. It is during these moments that security must be vigilant to identify and mitigate these activities. Thus, quality in protection improves.

You have led several teams on protective assignments over the years. What are your five biggest takeaways when it comes to managing teams and ensuring everyone works in sync?

Great question:

  1. Be humble and check your ego.
  2. Be flexible and adaptable, as the schedule will change.
  3. Communicate everything to those doing the mission.
  4. Delegate critical decision-making to the protector on shift.
  5. Kill the cancer. If someone is a bad fit for the team – get rid of them.

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and flows worldwide, how have you and your firm adapted to the fluctuating conditions surrounding the use of PPEs? What are the main approaches and measures to help provide quality in protection at this moment?

We have adapted just like other firms to the pandemic, and it has certainly not been easy. For instance, we study and adhere to the CDC guidelines, and we listen to protectee preferences in this area.

We have ramped up the use of PPE. We are disinfecting touchpoints, decontaminating the Command Center and vehicle after use. In addition, we have utilized COVID testing of protectors, and many of them choose vaccination.

When we have a positive test, we pull them from the schedule and then back-fill them. All of this causes a ripple effect, as you can imagine. But all of these steps are necessary as it speaks to our overall mission: keep the protectee safe from harm.

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