Entry Level Personal Protection Specialists can gain experience working at Special Events: By Jerry Heying, CPP, PPS
As the owner of a mid size security agency located in New York City and as an Instructor at the Executive Protection Institute (EPI), I am often approached by recent EPI grads (and others who have graduated from other programs) who are looking to get their start into the personal protection field.
Generally for those without much experience and limited credentials, I usually suggest they try working at Special Events. Fortunately, my firm in New York City specializes in Special Event Security and every year we have numerous events with celebrities and dignitaries in attendance or performing, such as post Grammy parties, non-profit fund-raisers with as many as 100 celebrities, and many others. These assignments (although lower paid) offer a chance to accomplish many objectives. The first is to get your feet wet, and start getting some type of security and protection experience. When you lack experience and overall credentials, you have to start somewhere.
Working on Special Event Security is a proving ground that will allow the inexperienced yet well trained EP school graduate a chance to show everyone what they are made of. I equate this to an apprenticeship or like a farm system in baseball with A, AA, and AAA minor league teams supporting a major league team. To get to the “show”, you have to do well on a consistent level in the minors and rise through the ranks to make it to the majors.
Another similarity to baseball is that of acting students; an entry level acting student has to audition for bit parts first before they can expect a leading role, especially if they are just entering the profession. Even though your Special Event experience might only be simple “escorts” , being posted along a red carpet, or posted at a dressing room door, those experiences will be valuable in more ways than you can imagine.
Many Special Events have opportunities to escort a celebrity or other VIP from one point to another, for example, from a limousine at the curb to a dressing room backstage. This can be done as a highly visible “secret service” type escort with multiple agents or a low profile one person escort. In any case, to be well prepared it is essential to advance the route and to know every possible alternate route.
Even working in facilities that you have been in hundreds of times can prove difficult with the construction of complicated sets, lighting, and temporary stages often constructed overnight that changes everything. An experienced operator knows by experience to check and recheck and have a contingency plan and this is good training for an entry level operator.
So often with celebrities or other dignitaries, you won’t know if they want to be high profile and go through a crowd signing autographs, or be low profile and go a back way until they say so getting out of the limousine or a few minutes out, especially depending on the number of photographers or the size of the crowd and fans.
Sometimes celebrities will tell you absolutely no autographs but will change their minds midstream depending on their feeling. Even with the best plans, you always have to be prepared to handle unexpected situations. I will definitely be looking how someone with limited experience handles this kind of change and pressure.
The entry level operator may be waiting for a celebrity to arrive at the front door when they are told that the celebrity changed their mind (imagine that, they change their minds?) and will now be arriving at the stage door in 2 minutes. Watching how this person handles the situation will tell me whether I will be able to fast track them into full scale EP operations, or if they need more training and experience.
I have seen new operators completely crash and burn so bad that I have to let them go to operators doing so well I put them on immediate EP assignments. I’m sure other company owners or supervisors who have the same opportunity to observe entry level protection specialists will agree with what I’m sharing here.
And more important than impressing me, I highly recommend that the entry level specialist impress everyone they work with and are around (including doormen, housemen, elevator operators, etc), because I will ask everyone how they did, and if I get consistent feedback that they had an attitude, or were late, took long breaks, that information will certainly have an impact.
It’s easy to impress me if I happen to come by for a few minutes, but I want to know how you did all day long, from start to finish. How you were with support staff, co-workers, and supervision. And I will hear about you from everyone. It’s like when we were growing up, our mom’s knew everything. As a company owner, I tell entry level operators that the walls talk to me, the sidewalk tells me things, and I will know everything. And don’t think I won’t know.
Even a brief escort with a celebrity from their limousine through a crowd can be challenging for an experienced Protection Specialist, let alone a “rookie”. I will often put a new Protection Specialist posted at a critical control point or will sometimes have them be the advance point person to open the crowd and to lead the way.
As is often the case, the “new guy” is usually farthest from the principal. It’s been surprising to see the number of people new to protection work become “star-struck” the first time they see a celebrity. Or worst yet, stop them and ask for an autograph or to take a picture. Once I see that a new operator can hold their post and carry out their assignment, they usually quickly work themselves closer to the center of the action. The lookie-loo’s will have to spend more time in the minor leagues and I’ve had to fire some for taking photos with celebrities. How can I trust that type of operator?
As most everyone knows, there are a lot of mundane duties on an EP assignment, such as the overnight suite duty (“Halls and Walls” where you’re lucky to even to see the principal), as well as many other thankless and sometimes boring, yet important duties. I will usually see that a new EP rookie gets to experience these exciting duties at special events to fully experience what it’s really like on a regular detail.
Without fail, a certain number of highly inspired individuals will not pass the test because they could not hold their post, were telling EP war stories instead of paying attention, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, complained that they are away from all the action, or were handing out their business cards instead of being on point. Some will take themselves out of service because they realize that it’s not what they expected.
While every assignment is an excellent opportunity for exposure and to network, it is essential to establish your personal trust and integrity both as an individual and as a team player. It is critical to not be the type of person viewed as biting the hand that feeds you or seen as someone trying to steal an account. Choice assignments don’t come easy and those in charge of details will not take a chance with someone who hasn’t proven themselves, especially with trust.
I’ve been burned and it really hurts, so I don’t want to get burned again and am very cautious (as are other owners). Unfortunately, our industry is full of tales of owners being undermined by the very people they put on the assignment. A word of warning; this is a small industry and word will quickly spread if you are less than trustworthy.
I am looking for individuals with natural skills and those who are constantly polishing their abilities. I strongly consider those who take every assignment seriously regardless of the pay or the importance of the person being protected. The basics are equally important: being on time, properly dressed, and with the right attitude. I can learn a lot from observing someone on a short term special event security detail to consider if I will use them for a future major protection assignment.
When you do gain some experience, make sure you don’t overstate your experiences. Veteran Protection Specialists that have been around awhile can tell the difference from details of substance or those full of “BS”. There’s no shame in being young and having limited experiences but you will lose credibility glorifying simple short term special event escorts into full blown details. If you’re trying to impress someone, do it with your integrity and your honesty, not some razzle dazzle.
In conclusion, I believe that Special Event Security assignments can be a valuable experience for those looking for regular Personal Protection work but have limited experience. And I also believe that there is something to “being in the right place at the right time meeting the right person”; it can happen by chance, or you can know exactly who you need to meet, and when, and then put yourself there on purpose. That happens often working at Special Events. Something to think about.
Jerry Heying, CPP, PPS, CST, Executive Director, Executive Protection Institute, and President and CEO, International Protection Group, LLC located in New York City, (212) 268-4555, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.personalprotection.com