Six ways executive flight crews can improve their personal security – and the principal’s – wherever they travel

July 6, 2016 - By Mac Segal

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Passing through Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Enjoying a rock concert or an evening meal in Paris. Dancing at a nightclub in Orlando. Catching a movie in Frankfurt or doing some shopping in Nairobi.

All of these things might be a small part of an executive flight crew’s trip. And on the wrong day, these otherwise mundane activities might all turn fatal.

The unfortunate reality is that anywhere and anyone could be legitimate targets for hostile acts. But compared to the average tourist, executive air crews have even higher risks – as well as the potential to improve or reduce the principal’s security, too.

In this blog we will look at how to support and empower air crews to increase their own safety and security – and function as an additional ring of security for their clients.

Flight crews also need to stay safe, happy and productive

As the people entrusted with transporting C-class executives and high net worth clients across the country or the globe, it is essential that also executive flight crews are kept safe, happy and productive.

Because they travel extensively around the world – and in light of today’s threat level – this group of professionals would benefit from improved personal security skills, reliable and secure transportation, and a better general security awareness.

Executive flight crews are exposed to a broad spectrum of potential threats. As they move from country to country, hotel to hotel, and restaurant to restaurant, their personal risks can be anything from crime to sexual harassment and terror. Knowing how to detect hostile surveillance, improving situational awareness to spot potential developing threats, and knowing the basics of emergency response actions and physical self-defense can all increase the odds of positive results in bad situations.

Not all attacks are frontal

As the field of executive protection advances, more and more executives and high net worth individuals are travelling to more places with protective details. The hostiles are always looking for alternate methods to penetrate security rings and gain access to the principal.

One avenue that can be exploited is that of executive flight crews and their aircraft. By conducting hostile surveillance on the flight crew, hostiles can gain information regarding the principal’s scheduling, timing and routines.  Another tactic could be approaching a member of the flight crew in the hotel bar in order to gain information about the client and their planned movements.

Six must-have skills for executive flight crew security

Personal security is far more than carrying a can of mace or taking a self-defense class. Let’s examine six skills that executive flights crews should be trained in.

1. Understand the threats

The threats in today’s world are multiple and varied – especially when travelling.

Possible threats include theft of credit cards, passports and personal goods; petty street crimes and harassment, sexual abuse, violent crimes and even terrorist attacks are also possibilities. But before one can understand how to mitigate, contain and control such threats, it is essential to understand their probability and criticality.

By examining these risks and the circumstances of where and how they occur, crews learn how to assess them. A good assessment of potential threats lays the foundations of other skill sets that enable crews to not be a victim, and how to respond if faced with a hostile situation.

2. Detect hostile surveillance

Hostile intelligence gathering predicates any form of attack.

From a simple mugging all the way to complex, multipronged terror attacks, the hostiles employ rational choice theory to pick out the highest-value target with the easiest access. Hostile surveillance can take many forms and is made easy by the fact that most people are happily oblivious to its insidious existence.

Understanding surveillance indicators and learning how to detect them enables you to stop the threat as early and far away as possible. We train people to improve awareness of the earliest indicators that something is afoot. Whether it is someone following or taking pictures of you and your colleagues, a stranger approaching you at a night club, or a person sitting in the lobby of your hotel taking note of when you come and go, it is essential to know how to spot these indicators and know what to do when if you do see them.

Hostiles may be targeting you or hoping to get to your client through you. The stranger who starts a pleasant conversation in the lobby and asks what you do or who you fly for, when you’re leaving, etc., may just be a friendly person. Or not.

Knowing how to handle such a situation, what to say and what not to say are all part and parcel of hostile surveillance detection. Whether you or the principal is being targeted by a criminal, knowing how to notice that you are being observed is one of your primary tools to avoid trouble.

3. Spot pre-attack Indicators

Continuing along the lines of observation skills, there are usually, but not always, clear indicators that a human being is about to engage in an act of violence.

Whether it’s a robber, a mugger, an active shooter or a suicide bomber, there are most often behavior patterns or other indicators that something is about to happen.

Here again, most people are oblivious to these clues. With training, however, the indicators are quite apparent and will enable you to avoid or distance yourself and others from the incident, or maybe even alert the authorities and help prevent a tragedy.

4. Know travel security & safety best practices

Good travel security habits can help you prevent everything from stolen wallets to being the victim of a kidnapping.

Whether it be at an airport, coffee shop, leisure activity or night club, there are many best practices that should be second nature to frequent travelers. These habits can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to an unfortunate incident.

What are the essentials one should always carry? Do I trust the room as safe? How do I select secure transportation? What should I know before heading to a destination? What should I think about when participating in leisure activities?

While many of these questions seem easy to answer when it comes to personal security, there are considerations which are not obvious until pointed out. Most people who fall victim to crime when travelling could have avoided the unpleasant experience had they followed a set of basic personal security guidelines.

5. Think through emergency response procedures

The seconds after a hostile incident occurs are critical.

The faster you respond correctly to what is going on around you, the higher your chances of a positive outcome. When bullets are flying or the ground is shaking, hesitation and indecision are your worst enemies.

Faced with an extreme threat, most people tend to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. But that’s not necessarily the smart thing to do. Even though everyone is running in the same direction, hiding under tables or freezing in place, there is nothing to suggest that the wisdom of the crowd extends to the appropriate response that will optimize your chances of getting out of the situation without injury.

Slogans like, “Run, hide, fight” can get you into serious trouble. The first order of business is always “Think”, never “Run”. By understanding the thought processes behind responding to an emergency situation and what your considerations should be in order to make the right decision to protect yourself, you exponentially increase your chances of a positive outcome. This can save you and your loved ones from potentially life threatening situations.

6. Develop some basic physical protection skills

We do everything to avoid physical conflict. We don’t like to contemplate its reality and are uncomfortable talking about it. However, in today’s world, having physical response skills can stand you in good stead.

If you are ever in a situation where your choice is fight or be a victim, you fight. Clearly a short training course is not going to turn you into a seasoned commando. However, like so many other disciplines, if you establish a good foundation and understand the basics, a little knowhow can go a long way. Learning applicable and relevant techniques, and the combat strategy behind them, increases your chances of winning exponentially when faced with an extreme threat. As a colleague of mine says, “Avoid trouble at all costs. But if you can’t avoid it, win!”

You insure your house, don’t you?

These six personal security skills are essential for corporate air crews and anyone else who travels the globe. Like a good insurance policy, it is far better to have the skills and not need them than to need the skills and not have them.

Photo: Thanks to AlegriPhotos via Creative Commons

Mac Segal

Vice President, Business Development and Consulting, EMEA

With over 25 years of operational, training and consulting experience in the security industry, specializing in mitigating and responding to terror and criminal threats, Mac brings real-world knowledge and expertise to all facets of his job.

As a hospitality and fixed asset SME, Mac conducts security assessments, training and designs security master plans for hotels, business facilities, event & conference centers, and critical infrastructure the world over. Working extensively with owners and operators in the private and government sectors worldwide he possesses an in-depth understanding of the challenges facing businesses and infrastructure in today’s world. Mac has published many articles on hotel and general security and is a regular speaker at security conferences the world over as well as SME to major television and print news outlets.

Mac leads training programs in security awareness & suspicious indicator identification, event security, emergency response procedures, counter-terrorism, covert close protection, and surveillance detection. Mac has taught security professionals, hotel and event facility guards and employees, government units and C-suite executives, working together with them to customize the training to their specific requirements.

Merging his operational, training and consulting skills, and partnering with our clients, Mac carries out Operational Audits of government and private facilities and protective units to constructively identify, assess and rectify real-world vulnerabilities.

Born in South Africa, Mac has served in two militaries and government service, living in Europe and the Middle East whilst operating around the globe. This facilitates him with an excellent multi-cultural understanding which allows him to provide tailor-made, relevant and practical security and safety solutions.