Solo Practitioner; the Who, What, Where & When of Providing One-On-One Protection


solo-practitionerNow before everyone gets caught up in the age old debate over the efficacy of one-on-one vs. team protection models, it’s important to keep in mind some facts (and to note that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts). The first being that one-on-one protection is being performed effectively , i.e. the Principal’s of those providing protection in this manner aren’t being kidnapped, killed, subject to serious psychological or physical harm, every day of the week in those environments and circumstances where it is appropriate. The second is that the history of attacks against Principal’s, both recent and distant past, shows that a large protection team does not necessarily translate into effective protection. Now, all of this doesn’t mean that the Solo Practitioner model is the optimum, or the most appropriate, in every environment or circumstance. However, the reality is that when properly implemented, the Solo Practitioner model of protection has proven over time –we’re talking decades, not years – to be as effective as any other approach, bar none.

As for the lessons that we have learned, or which have been reinforced, during the past two months in which we designed, developed and delivered 4 different, client-specific Solo Practitioner courses which were attended by 39 experienced protection professionals, they fall into four categories – Who, What , Where and When.

Who Utilizes the Solo Practitioner Model?

While conventional wisdom may hold that one-on-one protection is the domain of those who are not easily recognized or are not subject to persistent risk, that is simply not the reality. Using our most recent experience as an example, the clients that reached out for us to design, develop and deliver those highly customized programs are all Global Fortune 500 companies (one of whom has lost a Senior Executive in one of the highest profile a security-related incident’s in modern history). To a one, these companies have a robust risk assessment, protective intelligence, and contingency management capabilities. Their executives are prominent and, for the most part, recognizable; particularly in the internet age. The one other thing they have in common is that on a day-to-day basis, each and every one of them relies on a highly refined Solo Practitioner model for protecting their executives.

What is the “Solo Practitioner” Model?

The term Solo Practitioner was coined by VDI approximately eight years ago while designing a custom program for a client who, like those we trained over the last eight weeks is a perennial member of Global Fortune 500, and coincidentally, also has firsthand experience with the loss of a Senior Executive due to a security-related incident. Just as it is today, the term was used at that time to describe the approach they utilize to protect its executives; one executive, one trained protection practitioner.
Not unlike those companies we developed training for most recently, on any given day the Solo Practitioner’s employed by that particular client may find themselves in the purist of Solo Practitioner roles in which they are responsible for planning, managing AND providing both ground transportation (i.e. security driving) and close protection as required. At other times they may find themselves coordinating with another Solo Practitioner in an approach that they refer to as “pitch and catch”, whereby the security driver is operating one-on-one with the Principal while he or she is in the car, then the other practitioner, who has arrived in advance of the Principal, takes responsibility for close protection curbside at the destination. Utilizing this approach, while the responsibilities for driving and protection are split between two different practitioners, there is never more than one practitioner with the Principal. While this is both an approach and term that those who have attended either our open enrollment or one of the numerous custom courses we have provided are quite familiar with, the practice of effectively providing one-on-one protection is as old as the protection profession itself.

The third, and currently least common, approach to Solo Practitioner among our corporate clients (it appears, however, to be more common in celebrity protection, though Elijah Shaw is the one to ask when it comes to all things celebrity protection related) is to have two practitioners with the Principal – typically in the same vehicle –with one being directly responsible for secure transportation and the other responsible for the protection function when the Principal is outside of the vehicle. There are a number of reasons why this is less common in some segments of the market rather than others, and it should be noted that this approach comes with its own set of challenges, particularly if the driver is not properly or adequately trained.

Where and When is the Solo Practitioner Model Commonly Utilized?

Here again, the conventional wisdom does not necessarily reflect the reality. During this most recent surge in training delivery, we trained students in the particulars of three approaches to the Solo Practitioner Model of protection from four U.S. States, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Kenya and Brazil. So while the misconception is that this model is only applicable in very low-to-low risk environments, the reality is that the Solo Practitioner model is being effectively implemented day in and day out, around the world, even in environments where the Principal is subject to heightened security risks.

Does that mean that it is applicable to every environment and situation? Absolutely not, and to suggest otherwise would be as naive as suggesting that every situation and environment is best managed with a large detail. In fact, during a recent, far ranging discussion which touched on this very topic, Thomas Williams, Executive Vice President of Amyntor Group, observed that one of the most critical components of any protection operation is having the means and mechanisms in place to identify when it is that a the approach to protection that is in place is being overcome by events, thus placing the Principal at risk and, of course, requiring a different approach. His point is certainly not lost on those we have developed customized Solo Practitioner training solutions for – to a one they require training which emphasizes the value and integration of protective intelligence into pre-planning and coordination activities as well advance work, in conjunction with surveillance detection activities being incorporated throughout the implementation process. In this regard, the reality is that it doesn’t matter where you are, or what approach to protection is being utilized, if you don’t have the capability to identify emerging or evolving risks, assess their impact on the protection paradigm and act both accordingly and decisively, the adversary has a decided advantage.

First and foremost, a considerable segment of the protection market relies on the Solo Practitioner model. In turn, the successful practitioner must be knowledgeable and adept at providing protection on a one-on-one basis. Secondly, most of the practitioners we have trained, both recently and in years past, don’t necessarily know from one day to the next – or certainly from one assignment to the next – which of the three approaches to Solo Practitioner protection they will be working with, so it is not only essential that they understand how to effectively implement all three, they must also understand which may be most appropriate for the environment and circumstances. Ultimately, the successful practitioner must have the ability to understand when risk levels are reaching a point that they can no longer be effectively mitigated or managed by a Solo Practitioner and how to articulate this understanding to the Principal. Last, but certainly not least, while there are certain core skill sets that every Solo Practitioner must have, they must also remain flexible and adaptable in both their approach and their thinking in order to effectively address the nuances and variations on the central theme of protection that exist with every client.

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