To move with the Principal from one safe location to another as safely as possible within the perceived level of threat.
The ability to offer close protection discretely to a Principal while on foot is a skill only developed with years of practice.
To the untrained eye, it is often difficult to spot a well trained close protection operative who is walking around with their Principal. An observer may know that the person on the news bulletin has a security team but cannot tell how many or who is a member of the security detail.
However, the trained eye can pinpoint the operatives by the way they behave or the way they dress and, most of all, their positioning. Or because their positioning is incorrect and they are failing to provide 360˚cover. Another telltale sign of an inexperienced operative is that, without reason, they are too close to the Principal. The newer CPO often appears nervous, edgy or uncomfortable if their Principal is more than a foot away.
The Gap between Close Protection Training and Reality
The amount of security offered to the Principal is relative to the known and perceived threat following the threat and risk assessment. However, the amount of protection provided is not always appropriate. Some Principals will tend to dumb down the threat against them and request less cover. Such Principals may have constrained budgets or may not like the fact that they require security because of their career choice or status. On the flip side, some Principals like to show off and have a considerable team of big bodyguards when they don’t require any more than one operative if any at all.
The core fundamentals of foot drills are:
The main goal of close protection is to secure and protect a Principal while allowing that Principal to carry on their daily routine whatever that may be, unhindered. The skills and knowledge to continue that protection while walking is vital. Being on foot exposes a Principal to many unknown variables, people, and risks.
All aspects of protection use layers of security known as concentric circles or simply termed as ‘rings of security’. Think of the layers of skin on an onion. The Principal is at the centre circle or the core of the onion, and close protection operatives make up the overlapping circles or layers of skin on the outside. So, remove a ring or layer of skin, and you will find yet more security.
Larger close protection teams use different formations to suit different environments or situations.
One standard foot drill formation is the ‘box formation’. The box formation consists of two CPOs in front of the Principal and two behind the Principal. So, the personal escort section (PES) is in the shape of a box. The Principal is inside the box – think of the number five on a dice. The box may not be a standard square shape. The lay of the land, the venue, or route being walked will dictate the shape of the box as the security team maintains a moving human cordon around the Principal. Within the box, is a fifth CPO, the bodyguard (BG), or personal protection operative (PPO). This CPO would be on the left or right shoulder of the Principal. Therefore, the four operatives around the Principal will be the outer circle, skin, or layer of security, and the fifth is the PPO positioned on the Principal’s shoulder as the inner circle, skin, or layer.
Each outer skin team member observes their respective arcs and provides the outer circle of security, moving in the direction of travel dictated by the Principal. The fifth operative maintains the inner circle of security. The PPO positioned close to the Principal is usually tasked with offering immediate body cover or the extraction of the Principal away from harm or attack should an incident occur.
Formations and protection fail because of inadequate training, teamwork, or communication. With the correct training and knowledge, it is possible to deploy unknown team members together. Still, it only works if each team member has the skills and experience to know when and where to position themselves or other team members if there is a gap in the concentric circle of security.
The box formation can be open or closed, other close protection team formations include the ‘V’ formation and ‘Diamond’ formation. Theses formations too can be open or closed depending on the ground, environment, Principal profile, the threat and risks posed.
The ability to communicate is a must to ensure that team members are positioned correctly and communicate potential threats or changes in the environment that the team must adapt too.
A well-trained team will be able to move seamlessly with very little communication. Years of experience allows the operative to be in the right position at the right time or to cover any vulnerable areas without being told or prompted.
Successful foot drills require excellent spatial awareness. A CPO must know how much space to have between the Principal, themself and other CP team members. Distances must be correct so as not to create a weak spot. Also, a CPO should not impose on the Principal. It is very embarrassing for a CPO to walk into the Principal because they were too close to them, not paying attention and not noticing that they had stopped!
Understanding spacing is also required when moving through different environments or ground. For example, if the Principal is walking through a quiet open park, then the team formation does not need to be as close to the Principal (relative to threat). The team can afford to ‘drop off’ and space themselves away from the Principal. In contrast, in a busy, crowded area, the team would close in as close as possible, thus tightening the concentric circle of security.
Each team member must be adaptable. Environments and schedules can change quickly, as can the direction of travel. So, each team member must be ready for change. There is no room for an operative who says that they cannot lead the formation because they do not like to be at the front or can only work on the left-hand side of a Principal.
All CPOs should be constantly performing a dynamic risk assessment while moving, looking for new and increased threats and risks and adjusting plans on the move.
CPOs must uphold the Principal’s image at all times. No Principal wants to be surrounded by a concentric circle of clowns who keep walking into them. The Principal must not leave half the team behind because the team did not see the Principal turn a corner. Also, the CP team must always dress appropriately for the day’s schedule.
Embarrassing mistakes can be made by the team or team members when reacting to an attack or the possibility of an attack. Experience, knowledge, skills, and a threat and risk assessment all combined will enable an operative to react correctly to the perceived level of threat and environment. Still, even the most seasoned operative can make mistakes, especially when working alone – it happens, we are all human.
There are many online videos of celebrity CPOs overreacting to the “threat” of an enthusiastic fan seeking an autograph or overzealous paparazzi. Knowing when to remove the Principal from a situation is critical obviously. Knowing when not to remove the Principal is equally essential! It is a skill learnt in the real world of close protection operations, not a skill that can be taught on a two-week CP course.
Of course, we will not always be aware of the briefing given to a particular CPO or team by their Principal. Still, CPOs should all be mindful of their reactions and keep them relative to the perceived threat and environment.
However well planned the operation is, there is always a danger of increased threat, risk, or even attack. So, CPOs need to train in extraction procedures as well as foot drills. Slick, planned extractions can limit a Principal’s exposure by quickly transiting to a preplanned safe-haven.
Reaction to attack or ‘actions on’ are taught by all close protection training companies. Actions on are one of the most critical aspects to close protection. However, planning reactions to attack is very often overlooked or not even considered on many assignments. Perhaps the lack of planning is down to lack of understanding. For instance, what threat is associated with the Principal or assignment? poor management, or ignorance on behalf of the close protection operative, team or company.
If due diligence is completed with the threat and risk assessment, then all required procedures and contingencies will be in place. Hopefully, planning reduces the risk, therefore, reducing the need to react to an attack or implement ‘actions on’ SOPs.
Close protection operatives should always be thinking about the ‘what if?’. Just because all SOP requirements are ticked off, and all bases are covered does not mean that the unthinkable will not happen. Every assignment, team and company will have different procedures for reacting to an attack or removing the Principal from a compromising situation. Don’t forget we are not just considering a violent attack. Aggression could simply be a verbal attack or potential altercation, and a CPO’s reactions may be more discreet.
How an attack is reacted to by the close protection team or operative is dictated by the team size, assets available and the threat associated with that Principal. Ultimately, when a principal comes under attack, they must be removed quickly and safely from danger to hardcover. A close protection operative offers body cover, i.e. puts themselves between the Principal and the threat while moving to a pre-arranged safe-haven within a building or vehicle for further extraction. With larger teams, more body cover is possible using more members of the protection team or PES (personal escort section).
There are many movie clips where a fictional President or Head of State is rushed away from an attack surrounded by their security team. The Principal is forced with their head down either to a safe location or their awaiting vehicles. For larger teams assigned to such a Principal, this is undoubtedly the basis of an extraction plan. Larger teams with larger budgets will repeatedly train for this type of scenario to ensure that every member of the security team exactly knows how to react should an attack occur. Every close protection team should have its own set of procedures for safe extraction of the Principal, irrespective of team size. However, the unfortunate reality is that a very large number of close protection operatives will never retrain or practice for an attack or even be prepared for an attack if or when it happens.
Westminster Security provides professional close protection security services in London, the UK, and worldwide.