Gear Down!

Gear Down! Staying Below the RADAR in Protective Operations

By: R. E. Rick Colliver

Let’s face it; we all like gear! More importantly, we like the kind of gear that the high-speed operators endorse. Whether we intend to use it every day in a demanding environment, or throw it in the trunk of our car “for that day”, we want to know that we are using what the experts recommend.  We are proud of our gear, and we want our peers to know that we wear, carry or shoot, only the finest. Many of us have seen (or owned) the T-shirt that says “If you die first, we’re splitting up…”; enough said.

However, when working in the often-misunderstood field of protective operations, calling attention to our gear is usually a mistake. It lets others know who we are, and it often alienates or worries the very people we are assigned to protect.  If we think back to the principal focus of a protective mission, it is not only to prevent the intentional or unintentional injury to the protectee, but also to prevent embarrassment. And, protection can only be successful if the protectee and their organization are cooperative and engaged.

In combat theatres or high-profile presidential events, the public expects to see guns and gear. However, the vast majority of protective details are carried out by one or two agents (protection specialists) and are successful due to the invisibility of the security advance work.  Often the protectee’s chief concern is to not to appear to be “protected”, and they are therefore reluctant to have you stand too close or in any way impede their ability to look strong and independent in front of their constituents or friends.

When temporary protective details are deployed for workplace violence incidents, the number-one concern of human resources professionals is “we don’t want to see any guns…guns will alarm the employees!” But, what if the nature of the threat overwhelmingly indicates the necessity for firearms or other “hard” equipment, such as a recent case:

“An employee was discharged for making specific threats to the management and other employees of their facility, which included the use of a high-powered rifle to eliminate members of the workforce systematically. A quick background check revealed that the suspect employee did, in fact possess a firearms ownership permit for his state.  It also revealed that he had completed annual rifle marksmanship qualifications on a previous job.   These facts combined with our consulting psychologists’ opinion that the suspect may not have been “joking around”, as he had put it, but may in fact harbor some deep resentment that, under the right circumstances could be acted upon, heightened the threat profile even further”.

When an assessment indicates that the defined or design basis threat is a scoped rifle in the hands of a qualified operator, it would be foolish to prepare for this by stationing an armed private security guard at the front gate.  Even the best SWAT operators have difficulty delivering accurate fire with a handgun past 75 feet in low-light conditions; especially if their target is concealed, moving, or already shooting back.  Add to this scenario the fact that the referenced manufacturing facility was a well-lit island of light, surrounded on three sides by wooded tree-lines. When you factor in the 200 to 500 yard stand-off range or worry zone created by a seasoned rifleman, you quickly determine that you have opened hunting season on the uniformed security guards and the employees who take smoke-breaks under the designated light poles.

This is but one situation where a legitimate need for long-arms has been established by the threat assessment, but because of the prevailing politically correct environment, has been shunned by non-protection decision makers.  In other words, the protectees want or need protection, but they don’t want anyone to know how you’re protecting them. And, Heaven forbid, that you would dare to bring a firearm in to their “No Guns” site; despite the fact that the only constant in every workplace mass shooting in the last twenty years is that ubiquitous-but-impotent sign on the door.

Therefore, the security teams we use in the field often “gear-down” to mimic the environment in which they are operating.  When protection teams check-in to hotels, they are dressed similarly to other guests and carry only baggage that is similar to what the other guests carry.  If the hotel is a resort property, tennis and golf bags can effectively conceal long arms.  In an academic or social venue, we find that musical instrument cases often fill the need.  With very little retro-fitting, guitar cases and golf bags will hold most M-4’s and tactical shotguns. A padded trombone bag can hold two M-4’s or similar sized rifles.  And, depending on the make of the bag, padded tenor and baritone sax bags will comfortably accommodate most .308 assault rifles with folding stocks and optics. Tennis bags work fine for pistol grip shotguns, Beretta Storm carbines and the FN P90/PS90. However; be safe and measure before you buy.

In the workplace violence scenario described above, tool boxes, paint cans, plastic tubs or other maintenance-related containers concealed the team’s hardware, without drawing unnecessary attention to the mission.  Containers to avoid would obviously include specialized gear bags and equipment in black, OD or coyote tan, clip knives or black tactical boots that signal everyone “I’m on the job”.  Other parts of your wardrobe to leave at home might be those flight jackets with tell-tale unit patches and insignia.

When your attire and mannerisms reflect the local demographic, you find yourself “flying beneath the RADAR”. This enables your team to provide discreet, but effective protection; a measured response to a perceived or anticipated threat, without alarming others or calling attention to your presence.

— Photos follow —

Rick Colliver is the program developer and lead instructor in the Principal Protection program at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and is an adjunct instructor in protective operations in several police, military and academic organizations. He is also the global security director for a multi-national corporation with operations in 24 time zones, and has managed protection details in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.


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