Threat analyses, risk management and personal protection are essential security components for CEOs, VIPs and world leaders. As acts of terror, random acts of violence and other factors such as political instability and wealth disparity increase, comprehensive security measures for executives, multinational corporations and high net worth individuals become even more critical.
Angela Hrdlicka is a former Secret Service agent who spent a significant portion of her distinguished 25-year law enforcement career providing high-stakes executive protection. Now founder and CEO of security and investigations consulting firm Island Green Associates, she advises private foundations, government agencies and corporate clients on best practices to prevent violence and fraud and protect people, assets and reputations. In this interview, she provides us with an inside look at the new demands of personal security.
The recent Kim Kardashian burglary in Paris was a wake-up call to a large sector of people who use personal security — or are considering it. How can readers learn from it?
That incident, as well as the recent violent knife attack on professional tennis player Petra Kvitova in her home, brings several points to mind. First, people often think of personal protection as a bodyguard. However, to be effective, the security of an individual or a facility needs be addressed from a 360-degree perspective. It requires advance work, technology and multi-layered physical security measures.
Ideally, these measures are invisible to the casual observer, rather than attracting attention to a potential target. Second, it is human nature to assume it won’t happen to us. Individuals and corporations often invest in managing financial risk without sufficiently addressing the security risks they face.
Mitigating potential loss of life should be of foremost concern, and violence to an individual or organization will inevitably also result in financial loss and damage to the brand. So implementing an effective security operation is essentially an insurance policy. Finally, those who already have established security operations should have them periodically assessed by an independent security professional. This is a best practice to prevent complacency, ensure sufficiency, enable continuous improvement and provide the chief executive with an informed external opinion of how well positioned the organization is to protect its assets.
What are the most common mistakes celebrities, high-profile business executives and high-net wealth families make regarding their security?
There is a tendency to compartmentalize the security function, rather than addressing it holistically. A collaborative approach is required to best identify and mitigate vulnerabilities and threats. If your security personnel are not working closely with those who handle the cash, answer the phones, read the mail, screen the guest list, manage the calendar and social media, terminate employees and provide legal counsel, then they should be. Security policies and procedures in all those realms are essential, as is external coordination with emergency responders and other key personnel.
How do bodyguards fit into this equation?
We often see celebrities accompanied by a hulking bodyguard or two. These operators are calling attention to themselves and the individual(s) under their protection. In my experience, a discreet and collaborative team approach is more elegant and effective. Under the presidential security umbrella, White House, military and media personnel are often mistaken for Secret Service agents and vice versa, because the agents blend in with the President’s entourage.
Outside the umbrella, agents are embedded who are indistinguishable from the crowd and always on-site well in advance of arrival. Protection is not as much about muscle as it is eyes, ears, expertise and logistics. It is not always possible to entirely avoid traffic and crowds, but an effective security plan will minimize bottlenecks, identify the safest and most efficient routes of travel, and contain plans for a variety of contingencies. The executive is freed up to focus on the task at hand, rather than being distracted by the noise outside, what time he or she needs to leave, how to get from point A to B, or what to do in case of an emergency.
Public figures often face threats from mentally ill people. What is your advice for anyone in that situation?
Those in the public eye are often targeted by unstable individuals who develop fixations and can exhibit stalking behaviors. Ignoring these individuals is a bad idea. During a security assessment I was conducting of a professional sports team recently, an individual traveled from a foreign country and showed up on the doorstep of a player’s home in the middle of the night. The subject was known to the player due to numerous bizarre communications he had received. This is not an uncommon occurrence. The best course of action is to obtain guidance from a threat assessment professional to assess dangerousness and develop mitigation strategies as soon as it is observed that someone is displaying interest that seems abnormal, unusual, excessive or bizarre. The consequences of doing otherwise can be frightening or fatal. My recent blog post provides a sobering look at how mental illness is often a key factor in violent acts against public and private figures. You can access it here: How to Prevent Violence: Threat Assessment Investigations.
When do female security guards pose an advantage?
Polished female security professionals are an asset in executive protection, as they are rarely assumed to be serving a security function and are therefore more inconspicuous. Family members often feel more comfortable confiding in a female regarding a personal relationship gone awry or an individual whom they suspect has on unusual interest or fixation on them, which is critical information to obtain. Qualified and experienced female security professionals are hard to find, though. Only about 5% of Secret Service agents were female during my tenure, although I believe that number has grown slightly in recent years to about 10%. The number of women in state and local law enforcement in the U.S. is only about 13% on average.
Is ISIS a risk to individuals?
There are now active ISIS investigations ongoing in all 50 states. These individuals are going after “soft targets”. Terrorist groups are believed to be increasingly considering tactics such as kidnapping, extortion and car bombs. Prominent and wealthy individuals and their families are at risk here and abroad, and can implement measures to prevent such occurrences and protect themselves, their families and their brand by doing so. They need to invest in personal protection insurance by implementing an effective security risk management program to mitigate risk and avoid being a soft target.
How do security breaches impact the reputations of organizations as well as individuals?
Even if no one is physically harmed, being the victim of an attack or an embarrassing event never presents a polished image. Ryan Lochte’s episode at the Olympics in Rio is a good example. That unfortunate event turned into an international incident, but the damage to his image and sponsors could have been avoided with some proactive security measures. Effective executive protection will not only minimize the risk of violence, but also enhance convenience and mobility, and safeguard brand reputation and the protected individual.
When personal and professional relationships are terminated, disgruntled former confidants and employees can sometimes be highly motivated to do damage, which can take a variety of forms and potentially inflict enormous harm. An experienced threat assessment professional should be consulted in advance of terminating such relationships, if possible, especially if there are concerns that the subject could react violently.
Universities and the workplace are often targets of on-site violence. How can they take more protective steps?
Active shooter incidents in the U.S. continue to rise. Several major universities have suffered significantly damaged reputations in recent years due to violent attacks and sexual assaults. Nearly two million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year. Workplace violence prevention programs are now mandated in the realms of health care and higher education. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a general duty clause that requires employers to maintain a place of employment that “is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” When the employer is found liable, settlements for workplace violence incidents, even those that are not fatal, are generally measured in millions. In 2015, a jury awarded over $46 million in damages to the families of two women who were shot and killed in 2010 by a disgruntled employee at the Kraft Foods plant in Philadelphia.
All large employers should conduct a needs assessment to determine whether developing a violence prevention and intervention program is advisable. At a minimum, in-house security and staff should be trained how to respond to an active shooter incident. Zero-tolerance workplace violence and harassment policies need to be promulgated, and managers should be trained to pay careful attention when an employee reports feeling alarmed or fearful regarding another person’s actions or communications. In fact, encouraging and setting a low threshold for the reporting of concerning behaviors is essential, and policies and procedures should be in place to respond to such concerns with appropriate action.
Angela Hrdlicka is an experienced law enforcement executive, investigator and security consultant with extensive expertise in proactive measures to prevent violence, fraud and other crimes. She has conducted foreign and domestic security assessments, threat analyses and risk management for U.S. Presidents and other principals, as well as for National Special Security Events and major professional sports venues. She is a licensed private investigator in the state of Georgia and holds a Top-Secret Security Clearance. Angela serves on Georgia Southern University’s Fraud and Forensic Accounting Advisory board and is a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, ASIS International and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
This is the twelfth in a series of interviews with experts whose work relates to online reputation management.