The importance of observation skills for Executive Protection Agents

Today, we would like to analyze a very important skill for EP agents that is not being addressed or taught in EP schools but is extremely important. Presently, as we have all seen, there is a lot of talk about prevention and proactive measures but less talk or none at all, regarding what it takes to actually prevent a situation and how one can train to improve these skills. For an agent to be able to prevent a situation, he/she will need to have sharp observation skills.

Observation is part of human nature and, as a protective measure, has been practiced by our ancestors for survival, but as we are living in big cities and in a world more dependent on technology, many have lost their observational skills and/or become desensitized.

In his book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker wrote in 1997 about the importance of educating security professionals on being more observant. Later, in 2007, Joe Navarro wrote in his book that whoever doesn’t have the skills to observe properly will not be able to ‘’read’’ the person he/she has in front of him.

Andreas Venetis, who had been studying the application of body language for decades, conducted his own research on how security professionals can highly benefit by applying body language techniques. He wrote regarding these techniques in his thesis,” The contribution of body language in dealing with terrorism and crime: A comparative analysis of international cases” which is also included in the National Library of Police in London. He uses many case studies and examples from which one can gain substantial knowledge.

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(A woman suicide bomber walks past soldiers, the trigger in her right hand (Al-Mawsleya TV)

Why is observation so important? First, we must clarify that observing is significantly different from seeing. Just because you see something or someone doesn’t mean you observe it or them. Observation is a cooperative mental blending of visual and thought processes. The difference between seeing and observing can be crucial for a security detail. Being able to observe properly, one will be capable of identifying any early risk exposures and thus take appropriate safety measures.

Having good observational skills means you know what to look for and the how, when, and where’s to look and then interpret properly what you see according to your position and client. No matter how much visual information you have, it means nothing if you don’t know what you are seeing. If you cannot make a judgment, a prediction based on what you have just observed and how that can affect the safety (and smooth operation) of your client and your team, then your observation skills are lacking. And quite often, many newer agents forget that an important aspect to always be mindful of is what you AREN’T seeing. What is missing from the scene they are observing, perhaps certain aspects of behavior missing, lack of street or local traffic, or cultural/customary expectations that are strangely absent. Another thought is to always be mindful of the day or date. Some events or behaviors you expect will not be present on certain days, whereas others that are restricted or observed only on certain days or times will be an awkward surprise if you are not properly prepared or informed.

Good observational skills can help you not only in identifying suspicious people and behaviors but also can help you in these examples:

Problem-Solving

Being the problem-solver or troubleshooter everyone appreciates, starts with identifying the source of the problem in the early stages and then taking the correct action to solve it.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment. And the ability to think critically often relies on observation skills to accurately realize and comprehend what is happening around us.

Interpersonal Intelligence

The ability to understand and interact effectively with others (public, team members, client) and, again, observation is the key component because of the need to monitor others’ behaviors.

Andrey Karlov, Russia's ambassador to Turkey, moments before his assassination

Andrey Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, moments before his assassination

But how can one learn how to observe properly? We can probably agree that society has taught us to pay attention and observe others in a wrong way or even, not at all. First of all, in everyday life, we are literally encouraged to look away from life and focus on a little screen in front of our faces. We should always be in a heads-up position and pay close attention to all that is occurring in real-time all around us. We, as humans, focus too much on facial characteristics rather than hands. If you are a security professional, hands should be the first thing you are observing. Is the person holding anything that can be used as a weapon? Is the person holding something that is unusual for the environment, or do the person’s hands look tight or tense? (Making a fist is the first sign of someone who is either under a lot of pressure and trying to maintain self-control or someone who is being ready to attack in some manner). Also, if you ask women and men to describe what they observe in someone else, women will focus on different characteristics than men. (And yes, sometimes they will give you more detailed descriptions than men!).

Observing properly means that you have a full understanding of your role, your environment, your client’s security needs, the risk factors and that you can read people and their behaviors based on these. And as all these factors have the potential to change quickly, you must also be able to ‘’reset’’ your observations and reactions just as quickly. This is the primary reason that these skill sets must be repeatedly and constantly challenged and refreshed because if one requires too much time to think, the critical moment may very well occur before any proactive security measures can be implemented properly and the client/team will then be in jeopardy.

In 2015 I found myself for the first time working in India, a totally different and new world for me. After my driver picked me up from the airport and we were on our way to my apartment, we stopped at a gas station. As the driver was fueling the car, I decided to get out and stretch (after all, I had been flying for many hours). I saw a young woman get off a scooter and stand next to me. What primarily made the ‘’red light’’ go off in my head was the fact she had a backpack (which looked heavy), and she had a full-face scarf. Now, what I didn’t know was that this was a very frequent image for the foggy area of Mumbai, but it wasn’t common for me, so I had to re-train my observation skills according to my new environment.

Observation, like any other skill, can be improved with practice. Start observing people and how they interact with each other. In your daily life, get in the habit of always asking the who, what, when, where and why’s as you move about, on your way to work on the transit bus/train, at the park, in a coffee shop, in an event, at a town square, etc. What stands out? Why? What DOESN’T stand out? Why not? What belongs? What is missing? The questions will certainly keep your mind busy, but they will definitely begin to sharpen your observation skills and adaptive reactions or solutions to events, people, and things that are happening all around you.

Tips for improving your observation skills:

1)     Know your client, your environment, and your safety risks.

2)     Establish your baseline.

3)     Self-observation (Are you focused on your job, or is your mind wandering?) You drastically lose your awareness as you become increasingly self-absorbed or self-focused. Stay in the moment!

4)     Watch hands, watch hands, WATCH HANDS! Then body core, face, and legs. Is anyone carrying anything that can be used as a weapon or beginning to gesture a violent movement in your client’s direction?

5)     Less cell phone time.

6)     Focus on the necessary task.

7)     Focus on body language. Body language can be an amazing asset in identifying pre-attack indicators.

8)     Improve your concentration.

9)     Identify and block any distractions.

10)  Less cell phone time.

11)  Pay attention to details or be aware of what might be missing.

12)  Observe how people interact with each other and try to make stories about what is happening among them.

13)  Less cell phone time

14)  Learn more about different environments, cultures etc.

15)  Keep notes of your observations.

16)  Maintain critical thinking during the observation process.

17)  Put information and people into categories as you notice them.

18)  LESS CELL PHONE TIME. Wait, did we mention that already? This has become the primary reason for the lack of observational skills and continues to numb and desensitize people to all that is occurring around them. You will always have down time later to look at your phone and wander off into Cyberland. But it is NOT the time when your senses need to be at their most sensitive and when the client needs you most.

Some examples or signs of unusual behavior or activity:

·        Inappropriate clothing for the season/time and place circumstances and consideration

·        Elegant / strikingly different clothing for the surrounding location

·        Jacket/coat during summertime

·        Long sleeves that conceal the palms of their hands

·        Protrusions in the sleeve, the back, or the chest

·        Excessive nervousness /shaking hands /touching the face

·        Sweating / flushed

·        Involuntary motions

·        Apathy/gazing

·        Adjusting items under clothing

Observation skills are something that you hone over time. Practicing, looking for things out of place, excessive, or even missing, will make you increasingly aware of what does and does not belong, what is normal or what is out of the ordinary. As you continue to practice these methods, you will find that very little escapes your observational skills, and in time, you will be able to quickly glance and make a lifesaving assessment when moments count.

The Grows

Denida & Chris 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

The necessity of training civilians dealing with a crisis situation

The Boston attack proved once again how vulnerable any city or country can be under a terrorist attack. In the aftermath, we were subjected to the news media clamoring for access to the opinions of the experts.

In almost every case the “experts” start popping off and saying what went wrong and what should have been done differently to prevent an incident from happening. After the incident, discussing what went wrong or who to blame is not always helpful. What is very important is the support of the victims and their families. Before the experts even answer their cell phones, attention to the incident and treatment of the victims is the priority.

U.S.A  is considered as having some of the best intelligence agencies in the world. The fact that the bombing occurred just confirms that those agencies can’t see or know everything. What most people are missing is that sometimes no matter how well secured a place can be, a well planned attack is hard to detect and harder to prevent. Terrorists (even domestic terrorists), nowadays have extremely powerful cells, funding, skill sets, manpower and most important determination! There have been reports of specific attacks that took 10-12 years to plan and act upon, so it’s not that easy identify their actions and prevent the attack.

One issue that has always concerned me is the need for specific education and awareness for civilians relative to a crisis incident. It is sad to say but we can’t ignore the need for teaching civilians how to react during a terrorist attack or even an earthquake. We teach response to a hurricane or an earthquake and we still have fatalities caused by ignorance. Terrorist or criminal attacks can’t always be foreseen but reacting to the immediate aftermath directly affects the mortality of the victims, arrest of the suspects, and safety of the greater community.

Personally I consider First Aid training mandatory for anyone, no matter his age or professional background. If you are not interested in possibly saving your neighbor’s life then what about being ready if any family member needs your help? Can anybody (no matter age, education and professional background) get trained in basic First Aid or how to deal with a hurricane or an earthquake? Yes they can. Can someone be trained and aware in simple security awareness tips? Yes they can!

After a crisis incident we see people who run around screaming, with most of them unable to evaluate the environment they are in. They feel lost and can’t control their thoughts or actions, they will probably hurt themselves due to panic and fear. It is the surprise of an attack and the disability to control their fear and adrenaline that turns them into a threat to themselves or others around them.

The wounded screaming for immediate help and the few people who can operate in stressful environments come together. The capable helping the incapable, and the “heroes” are not necessary law enforcement or medics. They are people who can put logic to work instead of giving in to their fear. They revert back to their training or previous life experience and offer basic first aid or other support.

There are many organizations out there that offer training. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), your local fire or police department, American Red Cross and even local community groups offer everything from basic first aid to advanced trauma and mass casualty care.

This kind of training requires dedication from your side and not many are willing to spend the time in a classroom. The result in selfish time management is an unprepared citizen.

 

According to the American Red Cross, relating to Terrorism: Some things experienced after a Terrorist attack are:

-Significant numbers of casualties and/or damage to buildings and the infrastructure.

-Heavy law enforcement involvement at local, state and federal levels follows a terrorist attack due to the event’s criminal nature and health and mental health resources in the affected communities can be strained to their limits or even overwhelmed.

-Extensive media coverage, strong public fear and international implications and consequences can continue for a prolonged period.

-Workplaces and schools may be closed, and there may be restrictions on domestic and international travel.

-You and your family or household may have to evacuate an area, avoiding road blocks or be forced to stay locked in your home….. or be ordered into “holding areas” or “treatment centers” “for our own safety”

-Clean-up may take many months.

Tips to have in mind while dealing with a terrorist or other incident:

  • Remain calm.
  • Be patient and follow directions from law enforcement, EMT’s or fire department personnel.
  • If you believe you can act calmly and offer help, check for injured persons.
  • Give first aid and get help for people in need.
  • If you can’t control your emotions or fear, stay out of the way.
  • If the event occurs near your home, check for damage.
  • Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards.
  • Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater.
  • If you smell gas, turn off the main valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly.
  • Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches. USE FLASHLIGHTS
  • Shut off any other damaged utilities.
  • Contact your family but do not use landline telephones.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled.
  • If you’re in a building and the attack occurs inside, head for the nearest exit.
  • Always use the stairs, NEVER elevators.
  • If you’re in a building and the attack occurs outdoors, don’t attempt to exit.
  • If you’re outside and the attack is outside, immediately enter a house or building.
  • If you can’t enter a structure, determine the direction of the wind and move cross-wind.
  • If you’re in your car stay inside and drive away from the cloud (again cross-wind if possible).
  • Shut and lock all doors and windows.
  • Turn off air-conditioners, heaters, ventilation systems, all electrical appliances.
  • Close all water and gas taps
  • Seal the doors and windows. If possible, place damp towels at the bottom of doors.
  • Stay put until you’re given the all clear by an official authority
  • Be prepared to evacuate if given the official order to do so.
  • If your family members are in different places, use your judgment on how to proceed.
  • If they are in a safe environment, leave them there until the situation is normalized.

Remember beeing aware and prepared to deal with a bad situation can save your life and others as well.

Denida Zinxhiria

Founder & Worldwide Director

Athena Academy 

Nannyguards

http://www.athenaacademy.com

http://www.nannyguards.com