Anyone who has seen the movie, The Hitman's Bodyguard, might remember the moment when Ryan Reynolds character loses his "Triple A" rating due to a botched protection detail where he was the lead agent. Throughout the movie he keeps going back to how he lost his rating and how it affected and..... pretty much destroyed his career.
The truth is that the protective security industry does not currently have a rating system, or even an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, although one is supposedly under development....(fingers crossed Security and resilience -- Protective security ISO/CD 22341). Regardless, the protective security industry is fraught with wanna be's, unqualified agents and outright fraudulent individuals, all trying to milk as much money as they can from unknowing and often fear driven clients. The amount of overzealous "operators", all hellbent on experiencing their own 13 Hours is astounding and frightening.
Protective security is a small niche within the security industry. For many years the demand for protective security services has been limited to high profile executives, politicians and diplomats, wealthy families and celebrities......until recently. The effect globalization has had on industry growth is amazing and now, protective security providers are having a hard time keeping up. "Off limit countries" no longer exist and many organizations, especially humanitarian and nonprofit, require security training or some kind of protective service before they allow employees to go.
Qualified protective security professionals are hard to come by. Recruitment and training of professionals has proven to be difficult, as the job entails a very specific type of discipline, education and experience. So how does one know if they are working with an organization that is legitimate? How can clients tell if their contracted security personnel are qualified? What certifications do they have? What certifications should they have? Is the contracted vendor truly evaluating every member on their staff? Can they provide proof of qualifications and what is acceptable proof?
Typically, most security organizations swear they have a vetting process and, that they do extensive background checks on each agent they hire or contract. So, what should that vetting process look like? How deep does a "background check" go?
How to vet your vendors vetting process
Vendors should be able to provide proof of the following information if they are vetting their personnel correctly;
Identity verification check (social security number, national identification number).
Criminal record check at city, state/province and federal levels. Record checks need to be conducted for all locations the agent lives and operates in.
Civil litigation records checks.
Motor vehicle records check (at all locations).
Employment records check.
Personal reference check from past clients (if allowed) and colleagues. This may be a difficult task as many protective security agents sign non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. Most satisfied customers do not mind giving a reference upon request and if the requesting company also signs a confidentiality agreement.
Periodic drug screening.
Regular physical fitness assessments.
Periodic financial portfolio checks/credit checks.
Weapons certification and carry permits (if applicable and for all locations of operations).
Ongoing Key Performance Indicator (KPI) evaluations.
All of the information above should be verified by the vendor through external and internal resources to include, face to face interviews with former employers, references and colleagues. Potential clients should also verify the information provided by the vendor before moving forward. As the relationship and trust between the vendor and client develops, the client may eventually leave all of the vetting to the vendor.
"Dude, I was special ops"...... well then........your hired!
What is considered qualifying training and experience? Just because an individual claims to be "special ops", does not mean they are qualified to do protective services in the corporate world. Although training and experience in special operations may be beneficial to an agent’s qualifications, it does not mean they are qualified. Special operations cover a broad variety of support and direct-action assets, to include the cooks that feed operational personnel. Special operations also mean something different for almost all military and law enforcement agencies around the world.
The skillset required to provide protection for executives, celebrities or regular employees, really depends on the objective that the client is trying to reach. There are numerous types of services that protective agents provide. Being able to physically protect a client is just one tool in the toolbox. Protection starts with the ability to assess information, analyze intelligence, plan operations and respond (if necessary) at the individual and organizational levels. Rather than hiring an agent based on their title, it is important to look at their overall work and life experience, as well as their operational support network.
Questions to ask;
Do they know how to plan and manage an operation?Can they spot a situation as it is unfolding and before it becomes catastrophic?
Do they play well with others? Teamwork will always be required to run successful operations. If an agent claims to work alone.........move on to another.
Can they work with the client for twenty hours a day without driving the client crazy? Regardless of how "special" they are, if the client does not like them......they are done.
Do they understand their specific objectives and the mitigating factors necessary to ensure mission success?
Can they offer something that adds to the client’s efficiency and ability to perform, rather than block the client's ability to complete their objectives successfully?
What value do they add that is measurable? Keeping someone safe is difficult to measure. What other metrics can they provide to ensure a long-term relationship?
An agent should be evaluated based on their experience and clients should verify military and law enforcement service with the agent’s former chain of command if possible. It is often difficult to determine an individual's experience and training from a service record alone. Military and law enforcement jargon and acronyms can be confusing to someone not familiar with that particular organization. One more thing........if the agent/candidate say their work experience is classified and offer no explanation or a summary of their non classified experience.......they might be fibbing.
It is also important to not discount agents that never participated in government service. They can bring a new and fresh perspective that might be exactly what they client needs.
I protected "name drop" and "name drop"........
Be wary of agents that begin talking about their experience with a name drop. This is an indicator that the individual is not a professional, regardless of who they worked for. Confidentiality is one of the most important values of any protective security company. Regardless of how much it might cost in advertising capability, confidentiality should be paramount over all else. Agents boasting about who they worked with in the past, without requiring a nondisclosure or direct conversation with that previous client, will likely do the same to their current and future clients.
Protective security companies will typically require an agent to maintain confidentiality, even after their employment contract is up. If they were protecting a high value celebrity or executive, they are privy to information that could be used against that client. Not only does it put the client in danger, the agent could also be exposed to extortion or worse.
Clients should also be wary of agents who post pictures of themselves with their past clients. Clients will typically be polite enough to allow a photo to be taken, especially if they have worked with that agent for a time. A photo, as a personal memento, is not a bad thing. Posting the photo on social media, or using it as an advertisement is taboo in the protective security industry. Agents who willingly use photos to boast about prior clientele are not acting in a professional manner or in the client’s best interest. It draws attention to the agent and could be the piece of information used to target current and future clients.
Are you really getting what you are paying for
Insider tip. Unless a client is contracting their protective services directly with a local security vendor.... specific to the area the client is operating in....they are working with a service brokerage. Brokerages are typically global or regional security companies that almost always subcontract to local vendors. It is necessary for these companies to use local security because many countries do not allow outside agents to operate legally in their country, without a work visa or security certification. If weapons are necessary for the detail, it's almost guaranteed that local assets will be the only ones carrying (if they are even allowed). There is no such thing as an international permit to carry weapons.
Compliance is a dark grey area when it comes to protective services. Even large security companies have a hard time following the rules for every country they operate in. Using local protective security assets is necessary in almost every country around the world. The question clients should be asking is how much the local supplier is getting paid, compared to how much the broker is charging.
If the local vendor is offering a service like secure transportation for 150.00 USD per day, and the brokerage is charging the client 1900.00 USD per day, that might cause a few different problems. Aside from the fact that the client is getting ripped off, there may be legal and corporate responsibility issues with the disparity of pay. There is also the likelihood that the local vendor knows what the broker is charging the client, compared to what they are getting paid. Imagine being a local protection agent and finding out that the broker is making a seventy percent profit off of your life. Protection agents risk their lives for the client and should be paid a fair (or even higher) wage for doing so.
The client should request documents that identify the brokers profit margin and how much they are paying the local vendors. Of course, the local vendors should sign a non-compete clause so that they are not tempted to go directly to the client instead of using the broker (after having agreed to work with that broker). That is called poaching a client and is bad form in the industry.
Finding qualified protective security agents is not a simple process, nor should it be. The candidate is going to be protecting the most valuable assets the client has.......their life or the lives of their employees and families. It is a good idea to be thorough and take some time to do it right.
Morton Security has always assessed each client and mission separately, ensuring that they are providing the right agent for the mission. Most of their clients are extremely busy professionals that require someone that can not only protect them, but schedule appointments, make reservations and yes.......get them a bottle of water if they need it. They boast that their agents are like Alfred was for Batman. Not only could he be an executive assistant, butler, mentor and confidant to Bruce Wayne, but he was also an operations manager, investigator and intelligence collector for Batman.