Search Procedures

Search Procedures

Anyone in any security role at any level, from a retail security guard to a government level close protection operative, will be required to search someone or something. There is a great divide between the threat levels at either end of the spectrum. Still, the same systematic approach must be applied to all types of searching, whether it is a room, person or vehicle search.

The result of the threat and risk assessment to a principal, venue or assignment dictates the level of search. A close protection operative (CPO) will undoubtedly search people, rooms, venues, and vehicles.

This article is by no means an instruction of how to search but only the fundamentals behind why CPOs search.

Reasons for Search

Searching is necessary to provide a safe and secure environment for the Principal. The CPO must identify illicit objects and ensure that the Principal’s location is sterile from cameras, listening devices and other espionage equipment. 

Use of Equipment

As well as using hands to search, an operative may use equipment to aid a search. Tools run from simple torches and mirrors, to search wands and specially trained scent detection dogs up to walk through X-ray, thermal and infrared (IR) scanners like those found at airports. TSCM equipment is also available for locating recording devices on a person. Other technology, trace explosive detection (TED) equipment is available for finding explosives.

Searching People

Don’t be a Job Snob

Close protection operatives often maintain access control at venues and private residences so must search visitors and guests. Some close protection operatives believe that this task is beneath them, thinking they are ‘bodyguards’, not security guards or searchers. Still, searching someone who could wish to cause harm to their Principal is a vital part of guarding. CPOs should not be job snobs if anything they should look at every role and try to be involved as much as possible. Practising every task acts as a refresher, honing skills, and enhancing experience.

Polite and Professional

A searcher should be polite and professional. They should inform the person about to be searched that, to gain entry, they must be searched for security reasons as requested by the Principal or as demanded by the venue entry rules. The CPO must remember that they represent their Principal and company. The Principal will want to hear that a member of their security team has been professional and polite, not rude, and aggressive to one of their guests on arrival.

Systematic Method

The search must be systematic; each company and operative will or should have a system and methods to ensure that the search is thorough. A methodical system helps to avoid searches becoming cursory. A cursory search may only deter amateurs or those that are nervous about carrying out their intentions to harm or cause disruptions.

Keep it Legal

A CPO can rely on different legislation to legitimise a search. Common law and The Criminal Law Act 1967 section 3 (Use of Force) can be cited as justification to search. However, CPOs must be careful not to cross the line and cause a breach of the peace or common assault.

Keep it Clean

The search should be carried out by the same sex, i.e. a male should search a male and female searches a female. In both instances, there should be a witness to avoid accusations. However, this is not always possible depending on resources and the location of searches.

Profiling Skills

Profiling skills help CPOs to spot someone nervous about being searched. The profiling of people and people’s habits is a skill that comes with time and the experience of watching people and how their body language changes in specific situations and environments. Learning how to profile people can give a CPO a considerable advantage, quickly helping them to decide how or if they should react to a situation.

Tech Surrender

A Principal may request that visitors and guests are asked to surrender their mobile phones and laptops before entering a residence, office, or venue.

Take your Time

CPOs should not rush a search. The operative should be calm and controlling. Even if the Principal’s demands make this difficult. It is all too common for a Principal who has previously requested that everyone is searched to then give the “hurry up” because the meeting is running late!

Searching Buildings and Rooms

Searching a building or room can take many hours or days if done correctly. Balance the time taken against the level of threat associated with the Principal or venue.

A systematic approach is needed. At least two operatives must perform the search, splitting the room between them so that each area covered is overlapped. The search could be in place to uncover hidden weapons, explosive devices or equipment placed for espionage such as listening devices. Use technical surveillance counter-measure (TSCM) equipment if available. Bring in a specialist TSCM company to search the room if budgets permit. Similarly, use explosives detection dogs depending on the level of threat.

Remember that, whatever the perceived threat is, once a room has been searched, it should be secured immediately. Achieve this by locking the room, using tamper tape or security seals, or manning it with an operative. This search, secure, guard (SSG) action ensures that no one reenters the place to deploy a device, weapon or explosive.

Deal with Unauthorised and Dangerous Items

Depending on the nature of discovered items, they may need to be confiscated or secured. The CPO must record and evidence illegal things and report to the relevant authority. A CPO may even be called upon to perform a citizen’s arrest. Of course, if there is a physical threat, then the priority is the evacuation of the Principal and the team. 

Explosive Devices

When searching for explosive devices, understand what could be suspicious using the Counter-Terrorism Security Advisor (CTSA) advice.

  • Think HOT!
    • H – has the item been HIDDEN?
    • O – is it OBVIOUSLY suspicious?
    • T – is it TYPICAL for location?
  • Ask people in the immediate area to identify their belongings.
  • Is the bag package theirs?
  • Does it belong to someone they know?
  • Did they see who left it?
  • Was there anything suspicious about the way it was left?

On locating or suspecting an explosive device, the strict protocol of the 5 C’s should be followed:

  • Confirm that you believe the item is suspicious.
  • Clear the area.
  • Cordon the area off.
  • Control the cordoned area.
  • Check for secondary devices. 

Measure the safe distance to cordon off from a suspect device by the size of the device. Guidelines state that this should be:

  • 100 meters for a briefcase-sized device;
  • 200 meters for larger devices up to the size of a motor vehicle;
  • 400 meters for vans and heavy goods vehicles.

Searching Vehicles

The same points as above apply when searching vehicles. Many operatives and companies will have different methods and systems, but all must be methodical and carried out in pairs. In an ideal world, the Principal’s vehicle will never be left unattended. Still, it may be that the vehicle has been to a garage for repairs or a routine service so it, therefore, must be searched.

An unattended vehicle is the easiest target for someone to plant a device. Whether a listening device, tracker, or an explosive device, the device can be quickly planted. The offender can then keep their distance to reduce the risk of getting caught or being detected.

Use Equipment

To physically search a car requires more equipment depending on how in-depth a search is required as there are so many more compartments where a device could be hidden. It is also beneficial to take images of the vehicle, especially the engine compartment and the underside of the vehicle. The images can then be used as a reference to see if something is different.

Deploy different types of technical search equipment if available. Some will take images and even map and record every inch, nut and bolt of a vehicle! Still, a close protection operative’s best tool is their mark 1 eyeball. Look before you touch a vehicle during a search.

Be Alert

Before commencing the vehicle search, attention must be given to the surrounding area of the vehicle as devices can be hidden and triggered around the vehicle.

Work as a Team

As with room searches, the vehicle must be searched in pairs and in sections working together, ensuring that every section is overlapped so that no area is missed. The operatives must communicate with each other during the search. Each must know what the other operative is doing at any given time.

Use Specialists

Where budget allows, deploy TSCM equipment or specialist companies to search vehicles. A thorough search will take many hours. Such investigations may include the removal of interior panelling and upholstery. Make sure that the company employed has a proven track record of putting everything back where it belongs in the Principal’s favourite luxury car!

Take Care

If in any doubt during a vehicle search then confirm that that vehicle is cleared before allowing its use.

Remember to secure the vehicle once it has been searched and cleared. No point spending hours in searching the vehicle and then walking off and leaving the vehicle unsecured so that someone could tamper with it.

Not Just Devices and Weapons

CPO search techniques are not just related to finding devices or weapons. For example, close protection operatives will search rooms immediately after a principal has left a room. Such searches are to ensure that no personal items or sensitive documents belonging to the Principal are left behind.

Similarly, search vehicles immediately after the Principal or passengers exit. Look for personal property such as jewellery, dropped mobile phones, or laptops. 


There are many reasons why close protection operatives need the skills to search people, property, and vehicles. It is not a duty reserved exclusively for security guards to conduct.

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Westminster Security Ltd are not close protection training providers. Content provided is for informational purposes only. Please do not take this content as an operational guide. Some sensitive details have been omitted or changed for confidentiality and security reasons.