Why corporations are using more Critical Incident Response Teams

September 30, 2020 - By Brian Jantzen & Ryan Fresn & Aaron Mauldin


Corporate use of Critical Incident Response Teams (CIRTs) is increasing. Our own number of teams working at corporate clients has risen five-fold in the last six months alone. We’ve written before about CIRTs and how the integrate with corporate security and executive protection teams. In this blog, we try to understand what is driving this growth trend and answer the questions and issues that often come up with new and potential clients for CIRT services.

Why CIRTs are trending up

In a word, VUCA: that oft-cited acronym that stands for the mix of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that is increasingly used to describe the world in which we live. In a number, 2020, which many would nominate as the VUCA year of the decade. Or maybe just the beginning of a new decade of VUCA?

It’s been a fairly crazy year so far, and CIRTs are one way to respond to the craziness. We’re sure we don’t have to remind anyone how the COVID-19 pandemic has cranked up insecurity at personal and social levels the world over. Additionally, here in the U.S. and elsewhere, political polarization, lack of trust in institutions, growing protests, and sometimes violent civil unrest have been on the rise. CIRTs give corporate CSOs peace of mind in troubled times.

We believe, however, that growing awareness of CIRTs also plays a role in their expanded use.  More and more organizations are becoming aware of CIRTs, and not just for huge corporate campuses. Smaller corporations are also setting up teams. We’re receiving more inquiries than ever before about CIRTs, what they do, how they’re organized, and how they differ from traditional guarding services and executive protection.

What defines a CIRT and makes it different from guarding or executive protection?

First, let’s be clear that anyone can call themselves a CIRT, but not all CIRTs are created equal. As we have written previously about executive protection, there are no universally accepted standards or certifications that apply to CIRTs.

Also called Emergency Response Teams (ERTs), CIRTs play a vital security role in many environments beyond the corporate, including governmental, military, police and universities. Cyber security professionals also use CIRTs in their own way. In this blog, however, we’re talking only about CIRTs within the context of corporate physical security.

Unlike traditional guard forces, CIRT agents are specially trained to deal with high-criticality incidents. Such sudden threats occur all along the use of force spectrum, ranging from aggressive conduct to violent threatening behavior and active shooters. Unlike guards, CIRT agents don’t usually wear classical guard uniforms, either. Depending on the client culture, they might use informal clothing that identifies them as “Security” or plain clothes.

From our perspective, it’s clear that individuals working in CIRTs share many hard and soft skill sets with executive protection agents. However, executive protection teams typically focus on one principal at a time wherever he or she goes. CIRTs, on the other hand, are static, working in the same place throughout the workweek.

Relative to potential adversaries, CIRT agents have a huge advantage because they are guarding the castle. They are there every day, they know the layout, and they know the people. They have the ability to plan, prepare, fortify, equip, and try to develop a response to every contingency they can imagine. If they are not doing this, they certainly should be!

What makes CIRTs successful?

The best CIRT programs take a holistic, integrated approach that ensures close cooperation with physical security and executive protection teams. They are connected to the same GSOCs. They are typically under the same management structures as other physical and personal security players and report, ultimately, to the same CSO. But they play a very different niche role.

Successful CIRTs prepare for their unique responsibilities before, during and after any critical incidents:

  • Before: Here, the focus is on prevention. CIRT agents must recognize and deal with potential security situations as early and far away from vulnerable people and assets as possible. They assess risk dynamically from key points, such as guest entrances, and also as they move about the campus. And they train regularly to keep perishable skills fresh if and when needed. 
  • During: Response
  • After: CIRTs also play a role in helping the organization to recover after an incident and ensure business continuity.

Ideally, specially trained and recruited CIRT agents become an integrated part of the corporate context and culture. The continuity of CIRT personnel bolsters program strength. This is why off-duty police officers are not usually a good option for corporate CIRTs: even though LEO share much of the skillset and might be useful for short-term postings, they cannot work two full-time jobs simultaneously.

Why training and management are so crucial to successful CIRTs

In most security settings, nothing usually happens. Incidents are rare. Critical incidents are even more infrequent. Of course, that’s a good thing, and an ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure. But when something does happen, CIRTs need to go from 0-100 quickly, reliably, and effectively. To do that they need training – and sustainment training – that goes beyond the ordinary.

Training regimens for CIRT agents are a broad subject that deserves a blog of its own. We plan to give the topic the attention it deserves later. In this blog, we’ll limit ourselves to a brief overview of the hard skills and other attributes in which CIRT agents must excel – and highlight why these proficiencies matter to successful CIRT programs:

  • Use of force: CIRT agents must be prepared to use force appropriately, proportionately, and effectively. In addition to understanding all relevant use of force rules and regulations, they must train in realistic scenarios, i.e., high-stress and high-threat, to internalize best practices all along the use-of-force continuum.
  • Firearms: Armed CIRT agents must have a deep understanding of handgun fundamentals and be able to use their weapons precisely and discriminately under pressure. Real-life training that includes the many possible situations in which use of firearms might be required is a must to enable the high degree of firearm proficiency required.
  • Medical: CIRT agents don’t need to be paramedics, but they do need tactical emergency medical training to keep people alive until the paramedics arrive. Adeptness in “10-minute medicine” is a must, and the training to achieve this is substantial.
  • Mentally fit: CIRT agents with a high degree of emotional intelligence are most successful in the long term. They blend into the corporate culture and are helpful and personable when that is required. They use their empathy to resolve conflicts when that is possible. And they keep a cool head in hot situations.
  • Physically fit: CIRT agents need to be much more physically fit than the average guard. They must be able to sprint from one end of campus to another and up and down stairs – also carrying medical equipment. They may to carry or drag victims out of harm’s way. And will are counted on to fight and restrain adversaries.

Finally, let’s not forget the importance of good management for CIRT program success.

CIRT managers must recruit, organize, and motivate their team for optimal performance with available resources. And they must have the organizational and communication skills to coordinate CIRTs with other security efforts – guards, facility management, EP – as well as other corporate stakeholders. Explaining and winning recognition of the CIRT mission is critical to success. When managers can effectively communicate the features, benefits, and value-add of their CIRT program, they are much more likely to get the necessary resources and budgets for appropriate staffing levels, the right kind of people, and the sustainment training that all add up to program success.

What do you think? Any comments to this blog or experiences with CIRTs you want to share? Ping us on social media!

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Brian Jantzen

Head of AS Solution

After leaving the US Marine Corps as a captain in the early 1990s, Brian has pioneered corporate executive protection services internationally for Fortune 500 companies, high net worth families and NGOs.

Brian has provided protection at the highest levels of corporate and philanthropic environments in over 35 countries. With his demonstrated ability to align security operations with both the client’s organizational goals and personal preferences, Brian uses his strong relationship building, collaboration and project and vendor management expertise to create security solutions that deliver program efficiencies and customer satisfaction. Brian graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Sociology and is the subject matter expert chair for the ASIS Executive Protection Council.

Ryan Fresn

Director of Embedded Operations and Training

Ryan Fresn has been working in the security and training industry for over 25 years. He spent the last 10 years managing one of AS Solution’s flagship accounts. Recently, he has taken over the company’s Quality Assurance Program which is responsible for compliance, readiness and internal training.
Ryan grew up in Washington and joined the Marine Corps to become a Scout Sniper. After being honorably discharged as a SGT, Ryan attended school at Central Washington University where he received a degree in law and justice. While there, he also volunteered his time as a reserve sheriff’s deputy and worked part-time as a firearms instructor.

Ryan has been a team leader working for several security and training companies supporting the US Military and State Department. He joined AS Solution in 2008 to stand up their first domestic account, managing executive security, event risk management, and intelligence operations.

Ryan currently lives in Issaquah, Washington with his wife and two boys. He enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

Aaron Mauldin

Executive Protection Operations & Training Manager

Aaron Mauldin is one of the leading voices for the modernization and development of the executive protection industry, with over 14 years of international experience in close protection, surveillance detection, and training. Aaron’s has provided service for Fortune 500 corporations, celebrities, and ultra-high net worth families and individuals.

Aaron has created and implemented over 250 private-sector training programs worldwide. As manager of the AS Solution Global Training Academy, Aaron delivers advanced training in executive and residential protection, emergency response, travel logistics, and secure transportation for AS Solution teams, client organizations, and other individuals who wish to develop their careers in protective services.