The 44th World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting takes place in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, from 22-25 January 2014.
Heads of state, corporate executives and thought leaders of all kinds gather by the thousands in this mountain town every year. They come to discuss themes such as this year’s, “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” in dozens of sessions spread across multiple venues. They come to network; after all, practically everyone you could hope to have an interesting conversation with is also here, so meeting calendars are bursting at the seams. And they come to take a break from their normal routines and enjoy the fresh alpine air and Swiss hospitality.
For executive protection professionals, however, this massive event poses a host of challenges that is anything but relaxing. For although the overall security level is in general exceptionally high in peaceful Switzerland and especially in and around Davos during the WEF meeting, the sheer number of so many VIPs in one place at one time creates a unique environment that tests the limits of preparedness and flexibility.
Overall security is high
As one would expect, Swiss authorities and WEF officials create a security infrastructure that leaves little to the imagination.
- Approximately 5,000 Swiss police and soldiers are on hand around the clock to establish a tight ring around the town and protect the 2,500 participants. Enforced no-fly zones? Check. Mobile radar? Check. Barbed wire around helicopter pads? Check. Practically anything else you can think of? Check.
- High-security zones are established around the main meeting venues. Traffic and pedestrian access here are drastically restricted: only a limited number of specially marked vehicles are allowed in. Only individuals with RFID passes can get through security checks. Police and military protection is high.
- The rest of Davos is classified as a security zone in which vehicular traffic is redirected and restricted. Basically, driving here is difficult, but anyone is allowed in on foot. Police and military protection are high here as well. For better and for worse (from an EP point of view) some of Davos’s late-night watering holes become places where anyone who walks in from the street can bump into some people with otherwise very limited public access.
So what keeps us on our toes?
For executive protection professionals, the main challenges of working in Davos are logistical: getting our clients from A to B as conveniently and securely as possible.
While this is also the case for many of our assignments all over the world, Davos is in a class of its own. There are a lot of VIPs in a very small place. Traffic is practically impossible. Signage can be confusing even if your German is excellent. Event venues and personal schedules change, and new meeting opportunities pop up unexpectedly.
Zurich, the closest international airport, is 154 km from Davos. The two-hour drive is mostly on good motorways, but even in Switzerland this much time on the road is something we like to consider very carefully.
Know your drivers
A number of limo services are approved for transfers from Zurich Airport to Davos. Even very good and reputable limo companies normally don’t do more than provide a car and a driver. We always follow our own guidelines and procedures to make sure that all drivers we choose for assignments meet the following criteria:
- They must be background screened and pass our security checks.
- They are professionally trained in security and snow driving procedures.
- They are regularly drug tested.
- They maintain our rules regarding driving time and rest periods.
Lots of Very Important People
Another challenge in Davos is related to what you could call the VIP pecking order. The best laid logistical plans that we create for our Fortune 500 assignments are routinely upset by some head of state who suddenly changes a meeting appointment or decides to stop into a Swiss boutique for a little shopping. All of a sudden, a road that should have been open is closed. Dozens of EP teams are jockeying for position. Traffic is already at a standstill. And our client still needs to get to his or her next appointment on time. Knowing the layout and having a strong network on the ground is the only way to quickly adjust and reroute as necessary.
Finally, unless you have a very good network it is almost impossible to find a place for EP staff and drivers to stay in or around Davos. There are simply too many people and not enough hotel rooms, and unless you know who to talk to, finding a room in an apartment or home is similarly out of the question. The upshot is that these personnel have to stay far away from Davos itself, thus adding hours of transportation before they even start to work on the assignment – and degrading their ability to protect.
Forward thinking and flexibility are key
We’ve been working at the WEF annual meeting in Davos for the last eight years. Our clients get as much out of their time here as they can – and so do we.
In addition to being a truly challenging assignment to work, it is also a great place to practice what we preach and sharpen our skills. Without forward thinking and planning that starts a year before the event we wouldn’t be able to do our job. And without a strong local network, we wouldn’t have the flexibility to roll with the unexpected twists and turns that make Davos what it is.