Executive protection in times of COVID-19: We need forward thinking more than ever

March 19, 2020 - By Christian West

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The COVID-19 outbreak is turning things upside down for people all over the world. Life, as we know it, has changed and will likely continue to change over the coming weeks.

In this blog, I’d like to share some of what we’ve been up to as a company over the last few weeks, and some perspectives on what I’ve been thinking about last week on the road. It’s all about being prepared – also for the unexpected – and never forgetting that forward thinking is key to our profession.

What a difference a day (and a few weeks) makes

More than two weeks ago, on 29 February, I called our management group to our first COVID-19 situation meeting on MS Teams. It was a Saturday, and we don’t usually like to schedule people’s weekends across time zones, but this was different. Although we’d already been dealing with the effects of the outbreak in China and some places in Europe, it was clear that the world, and we, had reached a tipping point.

Things were escalating fast. The virus was spreading to more and more places outside of China. Things already looked bad in Iran and Italy but weren’t yet critical most other places. The first COVID-19-related death in the U.S. hadn’t (yet) been announced, although it would be in hours. Government responses worldwide, like public opinion, were all over the board. You didn’t need a crystal ball to know that the situation would change even more, but very few predicted just how fast so many things would change. We needed to do some forward thinking fast.

At that first meeting, we discussed what we needed to do to keep our clients, employees, vendors, and ourselves safe (and as happy and productive as possible) during the outbreak if things got worse. We ramped up hygiene standards for agents and for the vehicles and drivers our clients use. We updated contingency plans for client coverage. We already had emergency response plans for earthquakes, civil unrest, and all kinds of disasters, but to be honest, we did not (yet) have a pandemic contingency plan. We tasked our Center for Protective Intelligence to prepare a daily situational report to keep management up to date on developments worldwide, and to try to help us look around the next curve. We also initiated a new infographic on staying safe in the outbreak that we could send to clients, staff, and maybe share externally.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve continued to meet on MS Teams every day. We’ve been engaged with most of our clients. Our infographic on how to stay safe in the COVID-19 outbreak has had a lot of pages views. We started externally posting our daily COVID-19 situational report online, because it’s been helpful for us and we think it might be helpful for others. And we’ve written, implemented, re-written, and re-implemented travel and remote work policies for our staff.

Back on 6 March, I left Seattle for a nine-day trip of meetings in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. This will probably be my last trip like that for a while. Some of you won’t know how strange that is for me to say. I’ve spent the better part of the last 30 years on the road.

The trip had been planned for weeks. We had client meetings and also planned to meet up with some of our team members. We knew when we left that the travel situation was tightening up, but we couldn’t predict how quickly it would change.

When you’ve been working in executive protection for decades, forward thinking is more than a slogan. It’s a way of life. This goes for taking care of clients, of course, but also for taking care of our employees, their families, ourselves and our business – whether we’re at home or on the road.

Preparedness starts at home before you go anywhere. It’s what allows you to go. To paraphrase the old American Express card ad, “don’t leave home without it.” Although our thoughts were definitely on our families – and by default doing more forward thinking about them all the time – we weren’t worried about their wellbeing. We knew they had enough food and other supplies to hunker down for weeks if necessary, because that’s what we do. They live in homes that are as safe as they can be with available resources, and they have Plans B and C ready, because that’s what we do. And they know how to take care of themselves and each other even though we are far away, because that’s what they do – and we’re often far away.

As I do for all trips, whether for a few days or a few weeks, I had packed everything I like to have on the road in case things go south. The sat phone, water filter, and emergency beacon were in their usual places. I’m not even going to go into all the other gear and gadgets I bring along; check out a video I just did that shows some of the other things I brought. Maybe I’ll do another blog on that later, with input from the organizers of CES, Shot Show, the author of World War Z, and my therapist.

Soon after we got to Washington, we started making alternative plans for how to get back to the West Coast. We don’t usually do this, but last week was not a usual one. We booked alternative flights on different days with different airlines in case our original plans folded. We reserved a car we could drive across the country if all flights were canceled, and pinpointed folks we knew along the way in case we needed some backup. I won’t say we were prepared for anything, but we were ready for a lot. As it turns out, we got home as originally planned. That’s usually how things work out. And that’s no reason not to prepare for the unexpected next time, too.

What’s next for executive protection road warriors? Some speed bumps, yes, and more preparedness & forward thinking

I don’t think I need to remind anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock that the world looks very different this week than it did last week – or that it will probably look even more different next week. Things are moving fast.

My point with this blog is simple: Executive protection professionals have to prepare for the unexpected. That’s what we’ve always done to keep others and ourselves safe, happy and productive. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do. That’s what contingency planning is all about. That’s why we do advances. That’s why we care about gear and pack carefully, and why we do so many other things. And that’s why we will survive the COVID-19 outbreak as individuals, teams and companies.

Right now, clients are putting the brakes on all non-essential travel and canceling events. They’re also redefining what “essential” means. For us and other EP firms (not to mention plenty of other industries), this is already having significant consequences. No travel means no secure travel support, which is an important part of our business. No events means no event security, another significant line of work for us. We’re going to feel this on our top and bottom lines and everywhere else in between.

But we’ve weathered storms before, and we’ll handle this one, too. Things might never get back to the way they used to be, but this will also change. At some point, we’ll get the best of this coronavirus and we’ll move on. People will start traveling and meeting again. We’ll operate within a new normal, for as long as that lasts, then we’ll see more changes.

Until then, we still need to prepare for the unexpected. I hope these thoughts about preparedness make sense to at least some of you out there. Ping me on social media to let me know what kind of forward thinking you’re doing right now!

Christian West

Founder and CEO

Christian has been active in the executive protection industry since the late 1980s, when he worked for Danish musicians who relocated to Hollywood. Upon returning to Denmark, he founded his own EP company, which he quickly grew into Scandinavia’s largest, before it was acquired by Securitas.

Christian founded AS Solution in 2003, and again in 2009 followed his international clients to the US, where he is now based. An active member of ASIS and a leader in the corporate executive protection industry, Christian has personally planned and led high-profile engagements in over 76 countries for a wide variety of corporate and high net worth individual clients, including the international roadshow for the biggest IPO in history.