Why Families Need to Participate in Their Own Protection

Date: Jun 05 2019

Tony Gebely, Chief Technology and Integration Officer, Family Office Exchange

Below is an excerpt from my article, Approaching Personal and Physical Security With a Risk-Based Perspective, from the 2019 FOX ForesightTM publication.

With serious new challenges to the safety and security of prominent families arising each day, it’s no wonder that family security is one of the top concerns of families and is becoming more of a priority each year. Cybersecurity gets a lot of coverage, but it is also important to focus on two other areas: personal and physical security. Personal security relates to the safety of human beings and physical security relates to the safeguarding of access to physical assets such as homes and business facilities.

Family security programs tend to function somewhere along a security spectrum. At one extreme is a minimalist approach, where families and family offices eschew a formal security system in favor of maximum flexibility, trusting in common-sense precautions and consumer-grade tools to keep them from harm. At the other end is the Fort Knox approach, where every possible threat is considered imminent, and family members and their property are guarded with Air-Force-One-level seriousness.

As families in the first group become aware of their vulnerabilities, there’s often a temptation to lurch all the way to the other end of the spectrum—an instinct that’s encouraged by overzealous security professionals.

Many private security professionals “preach doom and gloom, that everything’s on fire and everything is an emergency,” says Rob Gray, Senior Director of Executive Security Programs and Operations at Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises. Gray says that even though a smart security program is a must for ultra-affluent families, these aggressive recommendations often go overboard.

The key to striking the proper balance is to begin with a risk assessment. A thorough, objective, professional risk assessment will identify real and relevant physical, personal, and cyber risks based on each family’s mix of assets, lifestyle choices, and other factors such as public profile. The various risk factors are then graded—some are more urgent or likely than others—and mitigation strategies are crafted and put into place accordingly.

“Once we get a good, unbiased, fair assessment of what a family’s lifestyle looks like, then we can understand better what they actually will need in order to mitigate these risks at a significant level,” says Eric Powell, Chief Security Officer at Bayshore Global Management in Silicon Valley. “But we need to see that picture. And then we have to go to the principal and find out what it is they actually want.”

That last point is key—an effective, durable security program needs to have buy-in from the people it’s designed to keep safe. The principals are the client, and the client is always right. “They may say, ‘I don’t want to have this level of security,’ when we say you probably need it,” says Powell. “I have also seen cases where principals want security cars and drivers and a bodyguard, and there’s zero real risk. Either way, our role is to call out what’s needed compared to what they want, and then to find that nice balance between what we want and what they allow us to do.”

Staying abreast of emerging global threats is one example of the need to continually revisit risk assessments. Powell and Gray stress that the assessments are ephemeral, intended to provide a snapshot of risks, rather than an all-encompassing catalog. That means they need to be updated based on changes in emerging technology and world events, and even to reflect the impact of prior security measures. Perhaps the most important dynamic to revisit is changes in the lifestyles of the principals themselves.

“We find that probably the biggest challenge in maintaining a successful program is that over time the family’s expectations and their desires for privacy or openness change considerably—as their children get older or after marriages, divorces, things like that,” says Powell. “We have to continually go back and review what we’re trying to do, and what their pain points are. It requires continuous conversation.”

Indeed, it’s crucial to share the conclusions of assessments (and reassessments) with the principals. The idea is to build consensus and support for the direction of the security program.

“It has to be a conversation,” says Gray. “Don’t make assumptions, and don’t just say, ‘We did this.’ They have to be part of an ongoing process.”

Train Your Principals to Participate in Their Own Protection

The people best equipped to keep your family members safe are the family members themselves. However, families need to be trained to participate in their own protection. Gray and Powell believe that some training in situational awareness and threat mitigation can prove immensely valuable.

In working with families to improve their skills, Powell uses a framework called Cooper’s Colors, in which levels of awareness are categorized below by four layers:

  White means you’re oblivious—asleep, zoned out on the couch, or wearing earbuds with the music blasting.   Relaxed & Unaware
  A central tenet of Cooper’s Colors is that yellow is better than white. If your awareness is at yellow, then when you visit a restaurant, for example, you might sit facing the doorway and take note of the people seated behind you. You’ll mark the locations of the exits in case of an incident. Gray calls this practice “mental scripting,” and it continues with each new color.   Relaxed & Aware
  The third color is orange, and is marked by the presence of a specific, potential threat, such as someone walking beside you and acting in a strange way that makes you feel uncomfortable, or you notice a car that you believe may be following you. At this level, you’re not certain that the risk is real, but it’s compelling enough to investigate.   Aware of Potential
  Finally, at the red level, you’ve identified a genuine threat, such as someone approaching you aggressively. At this stage, your mental scripting is focused on what you might do and say to escape the situation unharmed. You may even develop several contingencies here, so that you’re prepared for different turns that the scenario may take.  
Confirmed Threat & Ready to Act


Closing Thoughts

There’s a limit to the number of threats that security personnel can anticipate, particularly in an age characterized by random, mass violence. “Sometimes it just comes down to whether your principal was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Gray.

By instituting some best practices, conducting a risk assessment, and getting your family members to participate in the job, you’ll achieve a marked improvement in the level of personal security your family enjoys.


Free Download: Approaching Personal and Physical Security with a Risk-Based Perspective