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Physical Security Principles for EP Specialists

In the broad sense, physical security protects people, data, equipment, facilities, and organizational assets through site design and layout, access control, intrusion detection, power and fire protection, and emergency response plans. Physical security is a discipline all its own among security professionals and many devote entire careers just to managing physical security programs. As an EP specialist, it is not necessary to be a subject matter expert in all facets of physical security. However, there are some very basic concepts that need to be taken into account when conducting an EP mission. The first line of defense for your principal is the building he or she is in. Poor physical security increases risk and there are certain aspects of physical security that an EP specialist needs to understand and evaluate within their own buildings or those places the principal will be visiting so risk can be avoided or mitigated. Key physical security considerations for an EP specialist are access control, intrusion detection, screening, personnel security, and emergency plans. These considerations will be important when conducting the overall risk assessment.

Basic Physical Security Considerations

Access control Example

Access control is controlling the access to premises or to internal spaces by authorized personnel only. It is the basis for all physical, personal, and informational security measures. This can be a fence, wall, locked door, turnstile or anything else that physically prevents unauthorized access. An access control point is an area in a physical barrier that will allow entry into a space such as a door, turnstile, parking gate, elevator, or other physical barrier such as a fence. Intrusion detection is linked directly to access control and is simply a system that alerts others when a secure barrier has been penetrated; for example, an alarm on a locked door.

Screening procedures go hand-in-hand with access control procedures and typically take place at access control points. They are designed to prevent unauthorized personnel and items such as weapons or contraband from entering a space. It can also be a procedure to ensure sensitive, proprietary, or confidential material is not taken from the premises.

Personnel security policies are important to an EP specialist. It is another type of screening process that usually includes some level of a background check or, at the very least, a reference check. The purpose of personnel security is to provide a level of assurance as to the honesty, trustworthiness, maturity, tolerance and loyalty of individuals to their respective organization and reduce the risk of loss, damage, or compromise of sensitive information. This is particularly important at any time where the principal and EP team are reliant on a third party such as maintenance or custodial staff, contract security officers, and venue staff. It is vitally important to understand what, if any, personnel security standards and procedures are in place so as to understand the level of potential risk.

Lastly, an evaluation of emergency procedures both within the principal’s organization as well as other places he or she will visit must be done to ensure the safety and security of the principal. For example, what are evacuation procedures during a fire or active shooter situation? Are they adequate to ensure the principal can get to safety quickly? Remember, the EP specialists’ primary and only concern is for the principal.

It is worth a brief mention of Criminal Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED should be incorporated into every physical security program. The basis of CPTED is that proper design and effective use of the built environment can reduce the incidence and fear of crime. Simply put, CPTED uses the four principles of Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, Territorial Reinforcement, Maintenance, and Management to design mitigation measures in such a way so as to blend in with the environment. Doing things such as strategically designing landscaping to assist in controlling vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow, improving lighting and visibility, etc. It can also incorporate concepts of how furniture is arranged in a room to limit movement without impeding workflow. Working with a physical security expert and ensuring CPTED is used in the design of facilities or the planning of events can greatly reduce the potential risks to the principal.

Event Security

Events pose special risks to the principal due to the number of people in attendance and the large traffic flow. The focus for the EP team should be in ensuring the event space follows the basic rule of having three layers of security: outer perimeter, middle perimeter, and inner perimeter. Each layer has progressively more stringent access and screening procedures. The layers of protection should be designed to detect, deny, delay, and defend the event space and, ultimately, the principal.

Detect: The outer perimeter’s security objective is to monitor large areas of space to accurately detect possible unauthorized intrusion in time to respond appropriately. Important objectives are the timely notification to security personnel and the EP team of a potential threat.

Deny: The primary objective at the access control point from the outer to the middle perimeter is to keep unauthorized persons out while allowing authorized persons to enter. To perform this function the middle perimeter typically has access control technology or a manned security gate at the points of entry.

Delay: The middle perimeter’s other objective is to delay an active intrusion enough to force the intruder to give up or allow the security team to respond. Often, interior locking doors or other physical barriers are also used to slow down the intrusion.

Defend: All three perimeters should allow for the last resort of being able to defend the space and the principal. It is typically a security personnel response that attempts to counter an aggressive act and often includes the involvement of law enforcement. It is important to understand that the EP specialists primary goal is to remove the protectee from the threat and not defend the space.



In summary, every EP specialist needs to have a strong working knowledge of basic physical security concepts to not only conduct a proper risk assessment but to better prepare for any emergency that may arise.

For more information on physical security and Executive Protection principles, reach out to the experts at Overwatch Risk Solutions at (850) 629-9677 or


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