Operational Communication for Close Protection

In the world of security operations, one of the most critical areas is communication, which involves constant cooperation and vital information sharing between top-level executives, their respective EA/P/A, the GSOC team, company employees, vendors, and agents working on the ground. Now, if you have been working for any reasonable amount of time in our industry, we are sure that the majority of you have experienced situations where the operation and security of everyone involved has been negatively affected by poor communication, inconsistent communication, or even the complete lack of communication. How information is being shared, what kind of information is being shared, and how/when it is documented is a skill one will quite often learn more readily outside the traditional ‘’EP Schools’’. Considering the fact that many security operations involve a huge number of people and different companies/vendors creating a hierarchy level, coupled with the fact that many companies have a tendency to be highly secretive with the information regarding the operation, you begin to understand how failing to communicate properly will not only create more risks but also will create day to day complications that don’t allow for a smooth operation. This is something that will not only be experienced by anyone secondarily involved, but also by the very protectees themselves. Keep in mind that your clients need peace of mind as well, and they shouldn’t be bothered or have their daily schedule negatively affected by your lack of communication skills or the resulting issues that ensue.

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Communication tools

There is a common misbelief (Hollywood and action entertainment are all too often to blame for this) that all EP operations have agents using radios and other high-tech gadgets. In all actuality, the majority of EP agents are required to appear either low profile or not given a radio based on client proximity so they must rely upon and use their cellphones for a majority of their detail communication needs. Using your cellphone may seem like an easy tool and really quite convenient, but there is a downside, and it should also come with specific warnings regarding the pitfalls that come with it’s use.

Currently, for your operational needs, in order to communicate, you will need some form of a publicly available chat app. Some of the most utilized and popular platforms are Signal, Telegram, Wickr Pro and Threema, to name a few. The majority of our colleagues have used and are still using WhatsApp, even though the app has been reported for multiple data breaches and leaks, as well as ‘’system shutdowns’’, leaving many colleagues panicked and scrambling to rapidly find an alternative communication system. But no matter how serious the issues that it presents, WhatsApp seems to be yet another example of the phenomenon where people get so accustomed to a product and do not want to change because change means you have to learn to use something new from the ground up and start again. We have had serious resistance from other companies we provided services to, as well as our clients themselves, when we asked to use a different and more secure platform. In the end, we and our agents agreed to use WhatsApp as per our clients’ request for them; however, we were utilizing other platforms privately between our own agents. When you are using a third-party App such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, etc., keep in mind that you will never be in control of the safety of the information you are sharing. Never. None of these apps are or ever will be entirely safe. So, when you are deciding, choose carefully based on who has fewer privacy issues, who is the creator (country), who your client is in relation to the creator (can the creators of this app be targeting your client?), what are your operational needs and always make sure you stay on top of the latest changes (social-political, geopolitical as well as company changes) that may affect the risk to your client. There are also paid work chat apps or business apps created for the workplace and personal messaging that promise a safer environment but again, one must take into consideration the fees and accessibility. (Who is paying when there is /more than one company involved and who IS involved, i.e. contractors, employees, 2nd parties, etc.).

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And the available functions and capabilities of each platform need to be vetted thoroughly as well. What are your needs or requirements? Will you be using large group chats? Will you and any size group be able to utilize voice texting? Will you be able to send small packets of information through the groups that you set up? (Pics of critical POIs, BOLO vehicles, onsite venue pics for inbound teams or advances, etc.) These are just a few of the features that operational teams use all the time and finding the right platform for your team’s needs and unique requirements is very important. No one operational has any desire to have any more apps or sites open at once on their personal devices than is absolutely necessary in an effort to try to manage a detail. Less “moving parts” is always better, if possible.

Information flow

During a protective operation, there is information that is crucial and must be passed among the parties involved (as per their responsibilities) and the agents on the ground. For numerous reasons, some individuals who are assigned as an operation manager or contract manager seem to be apprehensive about asking the necessary questions of the client or the people assigned to act on behalf of the client. This apprehension, quite often, is caused by their own insecurity in what they want to ask, fear of a negative response to their request, or the simple fact that they do not know what to ask. Insecurity in what to ask is a skill acquired by time in grade. As we spend time in our Craft, it’s almost impossible not to learn what the correct questions or inquiries would be. Fear of a negative response can be associated with the desire for acceptance or to have the client like them. We all know that what is best for the client’s safety and family security may not exactly be what THEY want…Be prepared to patiently and thoroughly explain the reasoning behind the questions and the resulting decisions. And for those who don’t know what to ask, stay tuned we will share a template one can use as one sees fit for his/her own needs.

When you receive a request to provide protective services, you must ensure that any/all specific information that is necessary for that detail’s success is obtained from the client right away and is passed along immediately to the agents on the ground. How many of us have found ourselves working on short gigs and know nothing or very little about the client? Sometimes even the very basic information that pertains to the gig itself? While we all know that clients can change their minds about what they want from second to second, there is specific information that still must be passed to the agents. This is an inherent need to set your team up for success. Period. Being able to plan ahead, run successful advances, and lower the risk levels, or even eliminate them altogether, means you must have as much information as you can and communicate it properly.

Now, the information flow definitely has two sides. Because the agents on the ground are reacting in real-time during any situation, they are actively aware of new information that must be passed on to the GSOC or the assigned person in charge. It must be done on a consistent basis. This is critical for operational effectiveness. But we all know “that” agent who will put every, little, minute bit of information that he/she may think it is relevant to the task. Always keep this in the back of your mind…While you are communicating with your fellow team members or passing vital information to your GSOC, keep it brief. Short and to the point. Only the facts. K.I.S.S. is the acronym that suits this best…

Briefings and De-briefings

I don’t believe that we can accurately highlight enough how important briefings and de-briefings are in our line of work. It seems that more and more, only a handful of companies or team leaders are utilizing them properly or using them at all. This lack comes from a basic laziness in people who want to merely save time (Even though you can keep them short if you keep them on point and factual) and/or the absence of needed information. If you have nothing to pass on to your agents, why have one, right? Wrong. You, as a team lead, are not the only one who may have information that needs to be brought to the group. Allow team members to speak and ask questions so that later issues are avoided.

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Communication Briefings are designed to provide necessary information about a client, the detail, events or occurrences and how they all interact, in a quick and effective way. They can also inform your agents about the SOPs, how to carry on specific instructions or corrections/encouragements to how they are performing or changes required to perform their duties. Everyone involved will hear about current risks and key threats in the areas they will be operating and will all be on the same page.

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De-briefings are equally important as it gives the team the opportunity to again share any information they gained through the day, identify any issue, discuss risks, possible POIs, improve communication between the team members and provide any additional support or guidance depending on the situation. It may also include discussions about changing tactics for the next day of operations as required due to new informational input gathered. And if there is truly nothing to report at the end of any time period, take the opportunity to boost morale and congratulate the team on a job well done. Remember, while we work very hard to stay out of sight and not draw attention to ourselves, this in no way means that we don’t need encouragement from time to time.

Documentation

After being in this industry for a combined 54 years, we can both tell you how important documentation is (And it will save your position [And your posterior] one day!). If you are an EP agent and part of the team, it doesn’t matter if you have been sending your information and communicating with your fellow team members, your TL, or GSOC during the day. At the end of each shift, or the end of the operational day, you MUST keep a daily report. Your own daily report. In simple words, your own ‘’diary’’. As much as we have been discussing communication during this article, this is the most important form of communication that you can possibly use. It literally is your communication with the future. We know, that sounds a bit “out there”, but hear us out. At any one point in the future, you may be called upon to recount a day, event or occurrence that is critical and it could very well be the difference between safety or an unsafe condition…contract or no contract….Employment or unemployment…Some little detail that will be the deciding factor between simplicity and severity.  And the very fact that you kept an intricate record of your daily operations will be the one factor that makes all the difference in the world. The reason is, the information you (or that has been circulated by others during the shift) may or may not have reported or documented, or the incidents or special client’s requests of that day that may or may not have been registered will be absolutely dependent on the accurate reporting and documentation that you and your team kept. As part of our job is preparing and preventing the worst, keeping your own diary/documentation means you are protecting yourself and the decisions you or your team made at work if you ever are questioned or called in for explanations. It will help you to tell your side of what happened and why you made the decisions you made, what were client’s requests or TL requests, and how you responded. The easiest way to do this is by sending yourself an email at the end of your shift. Besides the information you would obviously include, you will have (because of the e-mail) the time and date also registered.

Ever since there was ever more than one of us in proximity to one another, there is one undeniable fact…To survive, we MUST communicate. Every deciding moment in history has been built around communication. Banners, signs, signal fires, telegraph messages, the Pony Express, Morse code, Enigma, emails, burst satellite…All based on the need for and the understanding of communication. In our Craft, we must be the true professionals and with this requirement comes the critical need to convey what we know, what we’ve seen, where we’ve been…The list goes on. Now, we know that this article only covers the basics when it comes to the subject of communication, and we realize that. But for those of us in our Craft, these points that we have made in this article are several of the “little things” that come up all too often in any detail AND they are the most frequently abused, ignored, and neglected aspects of what we consider to be a crucial part of any successful operation in close protection. How we communicate. For once we can smoothly, eloquently, accurately, safely, and quickly disseminate information properly, all the other aspects of our task will fall into place.

The Grows

Denida & Chris Grow bring a combined 54 years of international experience in the Protective and Intelligence services. They are based in Seattle, WA, and run their companies LeMareschal, Athena Worldwide and Nannyguards