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Essential Skills for Executive Protection Risk Assessments

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“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” - Sun Tzu

The success or failure of an Executive Protection mission starts well before the principle arrives and may rest on the quality of the risk assessment and an important part of your threat assessment team is a skilled investigator. Unfortunately, thorough investigative work is sometimes deficient when conducting a proper assessment. This is particularly true in organizations without a dedicated threat assessment or protective intelligence team. However, in today’s dangerous world we face new and evolving challenges that pose physical risks to celebrities, leaders, and corporate executives. We also face a 24-hour news cycle and social media that can spread inflammatory stories and even personal information worldwide within minutes. With these risks in mind, the limited scope of a cursory investigation leaves the final risk assessment and EP operational planning dangerously lacking in crucial information needed to ensure the safety of the principal and protect his or her brand and reputation. Experienced practitioners use their investigative and analytical skills to obtain needed information from multiple, corroborated sources during a risk assessment as well as the site advance work by leveraging key skillsets: background research, interviewing skills, mining Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), and surveillance.

Background Investigation and Research

In his book The Art of Executive Protection, Robert Oatman poses several questions important in evaluating risk to a principal and states, “The most important of these questions is ‘Who am I protecting’ It is vital for the EP specialist to know as much as possible about the principal so that intelligent, informed decisions can be made in the event of a question, problem, or crisis.” This is where research skills come in.

Frankly, many times the biggest risks to a principle is the principle. A thorough examination of the client’s, background, prior personal and business associations, previous legal problems, substance abuse history, etc. can help paint a picture of potential issues that could either cause harm or embarrassment to the client. Other things to consider is the principle’s lifestyle, hobbies and interests. Where your client socializes, volunteers, or pursues recreational activities and with whom they socialize need to be known and understood in order to identify and mitigate potential risks to the principle’s safety and security. Also, understanding any potential health issues the principle or the principle’s family may have is critical in weighing not only risk but in formulating your emergency plans.

Background research should not stop with the client but extend to the client’s travel and lodging choices and any events he or she is attending. For example, your principle is taking a private charter flight to deliver a speech at a trade conference at a Convention Center in the heart of a major city. Your research skills should be put to use immediately. What is the background of the air charter company? What is their safety record? Have there been any major safety or security incidents in the past? Also research the venue and the event your client is attending. What’s the crime rate in city, particularly in the immediate area of the convention center? What is the average response time for police, fire, and emergency medical services? Have there been negative press reports or threats made against the organization hosting the event? The same type of research should be done on the hotel your principle is staying in and the area surrounding it.


Excellent interview skills are also critical when conducting a risk assessment and any advance work for an EP event. An EP professional conducting a risk assessment investigation has to be approachable with good people skills and be able to develop sources and information and reliable contacts. This ability is also extremely valuable when talking to others who possess vital information such as law enforcement officers, external partners such as other security organizations or event staff, and internal resources like a company’s human resource specialists. Using the example mentioned earlier at the Convention Center, a skilled interviewer can uncover a treasure trove of valuable information about what unseen problems may be waiting for the principle. Have there been labor issues or negative media stories that may cause disruption of the event? What is the training and competency of the venue and event security staff? Most importantly, as an expert interviewer, the EP specialist can quickly establish a strong working relationship with event organizers, security staff, venue management, and even the parking lot attendant that is going to help stage vehicles.

Mining OSINT

According to a June 2017 blog post on, Facebook alone has two billion users. Along with Facebook, other social media outlets such as YouTube (1.5 billion users), Instagram (700 million), Twitter (328 million) and Snap Chat (255 Million) have accumulated a staggering amount of information; all of which is available to a PI adept at mining it.

An Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) investigation analyses social

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media, public records, blog posts, podcasts and media outlets. It can provide a wealth of information for an experienced investigator by quickly identifying individuals or groups that have expressed a desire to cause harm to or have otherwise shown an inappropriate or unusual interest in a principal, an event the principle is attending, and even the venue itself. Analyzing status updates, photos posted by both a person or group of interest as well as their friends, followers, and other social connections can help to determine if a legitimate threat exists. It can also identify the location of a person at a given time, track travel, identify upcoming events that may be of concern, and uncover a wealth of priceless information. As with everything else in risk assessments, OSINT analysis should not stop with the completion of the initial threat assessment. For example, continual, real-time monitoring of social media while the principal is traveling or attending an event is critical in identifying any developing risks or threats such as natural disasters or civil unrest.

As you are conducting the risk assessment and the advance work at the Big City Convention Center, wouldn’t it be good to know if there is talk on Twitter and Facebook about a group organizing a protest of the event? While your principle is in attendance, wouldn’t it be helpful to know ahead of time that protesters are gathering outside the Convention Center or that media and paparazzi are anxiously awaiting your departure? There are a number of social media monitoring platforms that can be leveraged for this purpose and they can be invaluable to your situational awareness.


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Surveillance skills can be helpful when a person who may be a threat to your principle is identified. Surveillance can help determine if that individual possesses the intent and capability to follow through on an expressed threat by evaluating financial means, associates, daily routines, erratic behavior, or even the ability to actually carry out a threat. Surveillance is also important to the overall risk assessment and site advance work. While conducting site advances, it is valuable to take the time to surveille the area just as a possible aggressor might. What are the security procedures at venue? How easy would it be for unauthorized individuals to gain access? What other safety concerns are observed? Is there easy, quick, and secure egress for the principle and vehicles? As you plan your travel route from the airport to the convention center or hotel, are you using those surveillance skills to identify potential road and traffic hazards, blind spots in cell phone coverage or critical choke points? Most importantly, can you detect others also conducting surveillance?

Obviously, these are just a few of the skills needed for effective risk assessment investigations and in conducting an EP assignment. Other soft skills such as excellent communication skills, common sense, flexibility, discretion, and the ability to work effectively with a team and other stakeholders are needed. Using the full extent of tools in the tool box leads to comprehensive risk assessments and effective protection strategies for your principle.


If you would like to learn more about principals of Executive Protection, contact Overwatch Risk Solutions at (850) 629-9677 or

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