Some of the most common questions we get from new corporate executive protection clients concern staffing levels. What are our options? What have companies with similar needs done before us? How many people do we need to set up a program, and what kinds of people do they need to be?
This is a natural line of questioning. Those tasked with starting up new corporate EP projects often have little or no experience in the field or track record for reference. This can also be the case for those with protective backgrounds from the government: cultural norms can be completely different between the public and private sectors, as can budgetary considerations and organizational expectations.
This is also a crucial line of questioning with a lot riding on the answers. Program success depends directly on the quality and quantity of staffing levels. Programs that are understaffed lead to burn-out, invite favoritism, and generally perform poorly, defeating our purpose of keeping the principal safe, happy and productive. Ultimately, they fail to demonstrate their value, and will either be replaced or terminated – often along with those responsible for making the staffing decisions.
In addition to their performance and operational issues, under-dimensioned protection programs usually suffer a slow death for other reasons. When those tasked with managing and organizing the program get stuck in the tactical weeds of doing endless shifts, they neglect their strategic leadership roles. They simply don’t have, and should not be expected to have, the bandwidth to be both the on-the-ground EP agent and to establish and maintain the necessary relationships throughout the corporate ecosystem. Thus, there is no one to create and maintain transparency between the program and other stakeholders or work for a shared understanding of program value – the consequences of which can be as debilitating for sustainable program viability as poor operational performance.
So how do you staff a corporate executive protection program?
As we have pointed out many times before, there are no cookie-cutter protection solutions. Staffing levels for corporate executive protection depend on program goals, which in turn must be needs-based. And the only real way to determine a principal’s risk mitigation needs is to perform a risk, threat and vulnerability analysis (RTVA) which takes into account the principal’s prominence, known threats, work and travel routines, personal preferences, and a host of other factors. Only once this improved situational awareness has been established should staffing be considered.
What are the staffing variables?
Those responsible for introducing executive protection services to the corporation must present staffing needs in a way that is understandable to others who most often have no experience in the field. To do this, it’s helpful to break things down along the lines of the most important variables that must be considered.
The single most important staffing variable is coverage: when and in which situations does the principal require protection, and how much protection is necessary? As we will see in the explanatory scenarios below, coverage needs vary from occasional (for example, only when traveling to relatively high-risk locations) to 24/7/365. It’s important to remember here both the principal’s personal preferences and corporate culture – and that what a principal may want in terms of coverage (for example, as little and as unobtrusive as possible) may not be what a board-mandated program would prescribe (as comprehensive as possible).
In addition to coverage, or time spent protecting the principal, we also need to consider training, physical fitness and other professional development requirements: time spent preparing to take care of the principal. Some executive protection skills are rarely used but critical to have; others are perishable and need to be refreshed on a regular basis. Training needs must be addressed openly as part of staffing level discussions.
The other key staffing variable is the types of personnel needed. The most common choices here are the protective program manager and protective agents, but other roles such as security drivers, residential agents, intelligence analysts and more may also be relevant in more comprehensive programs.
The make/buy decision must also be considered. Although a needs-based staff headcount should, everything else being equal, remain the same whether or not all or parts of the program are outsourced, organizational relationships do make a difference. For example, hiring a specialist partner with enough bandwidth can allow the corporation to benefit from scale advantages more flexibly without ramping up headcount.
Finally, we also need to understand the availability of other corporate security resources upon which the executive protection program can draw. If the company already has its own intelligence analysts or global security operations center (GSOC), for example, this can impact the scoping of the executive protection program and headcount.
Scenario 1: Staffing a part-time executive protection program
Let’s start with the simplest program, one that provides protection only in very limited circumstances, part-time, for example when the principal occasionally travels to high-risk countries or has the rare speaking engagement at a high-profile event where controversy is expected. Here, both executive protection agents and security drivers will be needed on an ad hoc basis.
In this case, the question of full-time staffing has a simple answer: don’t bother. It is far more efficient to rely on a specialist partner to meet such executive protection needs as needed rather than contracting full-time employees.
Scenario 2: Staffing a viable full-time executive protection program
This is the scenario about which we get the most questions. If the corporation needs to protect its CEO while performing his or her job, what kind of staffing levels should we expect?
To answer this question, we need to make some assumptions. First, let’s assume that the CEO has a workweek similar to many of our principals, i.e., an average of 60 hours per week, with spikes up to 80 hours and slow weeks down to 40.
Then, let’s remember that an EP agent works even longer hours than the principal. The agent must arrive at the pickup point well before the designated time and leaves the final drop-off point only after the principal has been securely installed there and all reporting and prep tasks have been wrapped up, adding an average of two working hours per day to that of the principal. That gives us a weekly total of 10 hours in addition to the principal’s 60, or an average of 70 agent hours per week. That’s 1.75 full-time agents before we even start talking about training, professional development, time off due to vacations, illness, etc. So let’s call this two full-time staff.
Let’s also assume that the principal travels a week or two out of most months, as most do, both domestically and internationally, often with multiple destinations on each trip. Depending on risk profiles and itineraries this will require at least one additional agent, and typically two if one will be performing advance work while the other is providing close protection and traveling with the principal.
While the traveling duo is on the road, the at-home duo has time to engage in required training and for personal time off. And vice versa.
And let’s not forget that the program also needs a manager – both to organize, develop, provide guidance to and follow up on the four agents, but also to interface with other parts of the corporate organization to ensure program success. Placing someone in the double role of manager and working agent is not a sustainable option; we’ve never seen it work for long, but we have seen it create a lot of problems.
This brings us to a total of four to five full-time staff – one manager and four agents – as a minimally viable, full-time executive staff that provides protection during the principal’s working hours. This does not include security drivers or other resources – or the nonworking parts of the principal’s life. Even with a team of four to five persons, you will still need to engage a reliable specialist partner to fill in the gaps and be ready for any unexpected rise in demand for services on a global scale.
Scenario 3: Staffing a comprehensive, complex and multifaceted executive protection program
Our last scenario includes everything mentioned above in Scenario 2 and more.
Such complex scenarios typically provide coverage for the rest of the principal’s life: residential security for time spent at home, additional executive protection for non-work travel and leisure activities, protection for spouses and children.
These more comprehensive programs could also comprise protection for multiple corporate principals as well as additional security services including event risk mitigation, intelligence analysis programs, covert protection and surveillance detection, GSOC support, and technical surveillance counter measures (TSCM) and other tech solutions.
We won’t go through all the possible variants of such advanced programs – there are simply too many. Suffice it to say that staffing levels increase with additional protectees and services
Why corporations use a trusted specialist partner to help dimension programs
In our experience, few corporations have the experience or insight necessary to build their own executive protection programs – much less to accurately determine staffing needs. It’s a niche expertise.
Whether the corporation eventually starts and staffs its own program or outsources some or all services, we recommend that they work with a trusted specialist partner when scoping program design and staffing. They are much more likely to arrive at sustainable organizational structures – and far less likely to build in the kinds of preventable program risks involved with starting a new protection program or fixing one that has run into trouble.
What do you think about EP staffing? We would enjoy engaging with you in a constructive dialog.