Istanbul, 28 July 2008: Unbeknownst to the 50,000 fans screaming for the mega-famous heavy metal band that is rocking the stadium, the band has received a death threat from the Warriors of Mohammed: “We will get one of you,” the note warned, “and send you to the fires of hell.” Shortly after midnight there is an announcement that 17 people have been killed and 150 injured in terrorist explosions just 12 miles away. The security team must get the four band members back to their private jet immediately. In just minutes, following one of several contingency options in a carefully drawn escape plan, three ready-and-waiting mini-vans quickly summoned by the Security Team Leader raced up to a backstage loading area where, under the well-rehearsed direction of a team of five local security guards, the band members scrambled into the vehicles and within minutes were at the airport and boarding their jet.
Settling into their seats, the band members noticed that their security consultants had not forgotten to re-stock the plane with their favorite “comfort” items, among them the band leader’s beloved green jelly beans and the drummer’s Evian water and Shirley Temples. Was such a quick getaway a lucky break, a rare moment when everything fell into place? Hardly. In the 21st Century, the Modern Age of Terror, no major band travels without a crack team of professional security advisors who leave nothing to chance. The same is true of famous actors, world- athletes, and company CEOs. In today’s world, the need for professional protection is paramount. (But when taking care of high-profile celebrities and/or sports or business luminaries, the protection provided must also be pampered protection.)
The key to successful security protection is preparedness, and preparedness depends on three essential factors: knowing the jurisdiction; knowing the chain of command; and knowing the local culture
Today, stars of the NBA and the NFL are frequent targets, not only of robbery but also of kidnapping, and Forbes Magazine has reported that two-thirds of the corporations on the Fortune 500 list carry “K&R” insurance – the innocent-sounding K&R stands for “kidnapping and ransom.” In the worlds of big-time entertainment and professional sports, the dangers are multiplying rapidly.
The Variables of Preparedness: Knowledge Times Three
As the best security professionals know from experience and training, there is no substitute for thorough preparation that takes into account all possible variables. For example, the security team in Istanbul knew that the band’s private jet was safe because the team leader had directed one of his best trained and most capable security personnel to remain with the plane ever since it touched down ten hours earlier. In a world so fraught with danger, the key to successful security protection is preparedness, and preparedness depends on three essential factors: knowing the jurisdiction; knowing the chain of command; and knowing the local culture. A truly professional security provider is one who works both ends of the event – before and after.
Prior to the concert or conference, he (or sometimes she): assesses the venue and makes recommendations; carries out background screenings, if necessary; recommends and hires expert “event” security specialists; and develops an all-contingency (and very closely held) crisis-management plan that includes an evacuation annex. When the event is over, the security provider: analyzes what (and who) worked and, often of greater importance, what and who did not; gathers a massive amount of information from all members of the security team; uses it to develop meaningful and substantive recommendations; and then provides an after-action report. All of which is not to suggest that a top-flight security advisor neglects the clients’ creature comforts or ignores their special requests. If they want a Gulfstream V, then they are provided a Gulfstream V. Tropicana orange juice in the Green Room? No problem. SKYY Vodka the only one the client will drink? Then SKYY it is. But first make sure that consuming alcoholic beverages in the Green Room is allowed. In some countries the consumption of alcoholic beverages is against the law. (The solution to that aspect of the problem is to find a nearby alternative site that is not quite as rigid about such matters.)
There are always, of course, some personal requests, even seemingly acceptable requests, that simply cannot be honored – not because the request is unreasonable (or, in some instances, outrageous), but because a “yes” answer would or could create an unsafe environment. If, for example, the VIPs being protected want blackout paper on the windows of their aircraft (or limousine) so they can sleep while enroute, they have to be told that blacking out the windows would be an obvious tip-off to paparazzi, thieves, and terrorists. Personal-security experts often find it necessary to walk a rather narrow tightrope between protecting their celebrity clients and pampering them. Most of these clients work tremendously hard to satisfy their fans and their boards of directors, and when it is time for them to travel and/or simply relax they understandably want the best of amenities. And they usually are (and should be) given what they want – but their security needs must still be kept uppermost, and that requires thinking at least one step ahead. Is there a Plan B for evacuating a city or a venue? And is there a back-up plan for escaping the paparazzi? (Here it should be noted that, although the paparazzi can sometimes be outsmarted, they cannot be outrun, as Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed learned so tragically.)
Protection & Preparedness: Trump Party Favors
Although most of today’s celebrities are becoming increasingly aware of these threats, that does not mean that they will always take the advice of their security team and do the right (and sensible) thing. Some stars want the ego boost of the stretch limo, the room filled with flowers and Fiji water, and on occasion some “party favors” as well (these are normally provided by the celebrities’ own inner circle of independent contractors and distributors). In regard to the previously cited “danger area” – out-of-line requests – security providers must make it absolutely clear to their clients, no matter how big or important they may be, that there are certain lines the security providers will not cross. It is never the job of security personnel, to cite the most obvious example, to provide goods or services (i.e., the party favors mentioned above) that are inappropriate or illegal – or both.
Granted, that can become a real dilemma, but only if the security providers let it. In any case, the time to make sure the lines are clear is up-front, not after a problem arises. As also mentioned above, there are three key areas of information that first responders must keep in mind at all times. The first is Jurisdiction – or who’s in charge? Is it the customs officials, the hotel’s own security, or the local police? Not knowing the answer to that question can lead to chaos – or worse. The second area is Chain of Command – who is the right person to call when something (big or small) goes wrong? The person who can fix a flat is not the person to call in a medical emergency. And in Mumbai, calling 911 will not help. Key area of information number three is Culture – i.e., what crucial differences are there in a new venue?
A smart security provider has someone on the team who can speak not just the national language of the country being visited, but the local dialect as well – and who also knows that in many countries the use of foul language can trigger a crisis. Many law-enforcement professionals and other first responders have been, are, or in the future may be directly involved in personal-security details, so must be fully aware of what might well happen if the dangers discussed above suddenly change from threat to reality. At those moments, protection always trumps pampering. But up to and until those moments occur, security providers often have to deal with some very large egos making equally large (and/or sometimes impossible) demands. The truly professional first responder is one who can accept a difficult assignment with full knowledge of what is involved – which usually means keeping the clients happy, and always, first and foremost, keeping them safe.
Derrick Mayes, CEO and Director of ExecutiveAction Sports and Entertainment, is a nationally known TV host and commentator, a former NFL football player, and a highly successful businessman. He holds a bachelor’s degree in film and television from the University of Notre Dame, where he broke several of the school’s all-time receiving records.
Cynthia Ekberg Tsai
Cynthia Ekberg Tsai is executive vice president for business development of Executive Action LLC, a former vice president of Merrill Lynch and Kidder Peabody, and the founder and CEO of HealthExpo, the largest consumer healthcare event in the United States. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Missouri and has served on numerous boards and committees of internationally known U.S. financial and economic organizations.