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Just Say No! The Princess Di Tragedy
By: Dr. Richard W. Kobetz Director, Executive Protection Institute

Now that we have had time for our sadness, sympathy, or empathy concerning the tragedy of the accident which claimed three lives, we must ponder the lessons and meaning of this event to professional personal protection specialists. On August 31, 1997, this automobile accident resulted in the deaths of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul, and represented to those of us in the field of protection of personalities the possible epitome of the issue of just who should be in charge when it comes to safety and security.

The sole survivor of this crash, which continues to echo throughout the world, was Trevor Rees-Jones, who sat in the right front seat of the ill-fated Mercedes and has publicly stated, "I was there to look after these people…" From all evidence presented thus far, and there have been millions of words written, he was in this seat as a team leader, agent in charge, or security director. Choose your title. Henri Paul was the chauffeur, driver, or operator of the principal's vehicle, and as such also served as a member of the personal protection team.

Here are two gentlemen in very important positions of trust with respect to the protection and safety of their employers/principals. As of this writing we know that Henri Paul was in the French Air Force as a paratrooper captain and was at the time of the incident employed as the assistant director of security at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Trevor Rees-Jones has been referred to as a one-time army paratrooper. Standing alone, high qualifications indeed, which tend to reinforce the notion that "anyone can protect anyone else." But really, "Can Anyone protect anyone else?" On what type of a measurement scale of protection performance? Would not one acknowledge there might be more than a slight difference between someone hired as a "bodyguard" from a day labor office, and a fully trained, certified and qualified executive/personal protection specialist? With, of course, a wide variety along the way on our scale with respect to levels of training, qualifications and experience.

Professional personal protection men and women have a wide range of experience in protecting their clients from a variety of dangers, annoyances and embarrassments. High profile personalities draw the attention of the public, and their photographs doing what they do in their lives are in great demand. Competition for these photos increases with the popularity of the personality and what they are engaged in doing. As such, anyone not accustomed to dealing with curious tourists with cameras or professional paparazzi, faces an unusual challenge in dealing with the problem, particularly as the problem escalates. It will not go away and it must be dealt with. More often than not this is on a routine daily basis for most personalities, who in many instances, are flattered by the photos and even appreciate the attention. But for the most part, a controlled, agreed upon or allowed pre-arranged photo opportunity or press conference is preferred. Specialized techniques, negotiations, agreements and prior planning go a long way in dealing with what is often viewed as a problem when it pushes to the extreme edge of annoyance. Professional protectors have successfully dealt with these problems, among others, for many years. That is why they have taken the inconvenience of training, personal development and on the job experience training. They learn how to solve problems and annoyances that specifically plague their principals.

It is incredible that those in our societies that need and can afford the very best of services limit themselves in utilizing their personal knowledge or vast resources in making their selections. Not so with their choice of doctors, accountants, personal assistants, clothing designers, hairdressers, or business agents. But definitely so as many can attest to in their choice of having quality security to avoid unwanted confrontations or intrusions and attempts to keep them out of harm's way; Perhaps the fault very clearly lies within the security industry and the "low end of the scale image" it has projected to many clients over the decades. A low-end image in the sense of poor quality physical security with "smoke and mirrors" and untrained, unqualified personnel for security assignments.

Has the security industry as a whole in all previous endeavors to provide guards, private investigators, alarm systems and protective personnel continuously succumbed to the "bottom dollar" or lowest bid syndrome? Have unqualified personnel and companies continued to underbid the qualified performers and not set a bottom line based upon ability, performance level and standards? If so, then the uneducated, bargain-hunting consumer realizes that they can always get a bargain or a cheaper price by not being concerned with either quality or qualifications. And as such, lumps the need into a package that anyone can bid on and provide any level of service.

In some instances today, hourly rates are 50 percent lower to provide security services than a decade ago. Does the buyer believe that they are really getting a bargain? Or, are the providers of security services taking short cuts which result in obtaining a contract for the lowest bid, which results in not being able to afford to provide trained, certified, qualified, bonded, or insured personnel? One might wish to examine the tremendous increase in the volume of successful civil suits over the past several years as a result of inadequate security by untrained or poorly trained security officers.

One would believe that the most precious possession we have is our lives. If we are to entrust our safety and security in the hands of others, might one not want to be a little concerned about how qualified the person is to do the work and provide the proper level of service? With respect to the personal protection of recognized, beloved and well-known personalities, one would assume if they were not interested in or able, for whatever reason, to make the appropriate choice of a protector, then someone so empowered on their behalf would take the time, interest and concern to examine background, experience and qualifications of someone entrusted to such an important assignment.

I acknowledge that in choosing professionals to do their professional duties we are not always happy with their advice or their demands upon us for our own good. Our doctors, like our accountants, tell us things that make us unhappy with their pronouncements. But we recognize and respect their advice because we consider them to be the very best. Based no doubt on our awareness of their training, experience, and reputations. With regard to the choice of someone to look after us, should we not have the same considerations and make that same kind of decision?

However, there is, as many events have shown and daily occurrences validate, a big difference in eating what you should not be eating or spending what you should not be spending and listening to sound and valid advice from a professional protection specialist. For example, the issue of advice in protective matters is often overridden by the personality being protected. They do not want to go in or out the way their protective personnel suggest. They do not wish to cease and desist in pursuing dangerous practices in their recreation and travels. And at times they may well demand that someone driving their vehicle or in charge of their safety exceed or ignore traffic or speed regulations.

If and when the oppositions to their safe escort and travel occur, who is in charge? Obviously people fear for their jobs if they go against the wishes of their employers. But are they professionals if they modify their expert judgements and opinions and change them when they are opposed by the boss? Is it a problem of respect, or lack of same with regard to the qualifications of the professional by the boss? Have they not established their ability and credentials sufficiently to be believed and obeyed? Was there ever a discussion about who is in charge in a crisis situation? Or is it a problem of a principal acting out in an improper manner of response to oppose and override the valid decision of the protector? Override because they do not have confidence in the decision to work, or because they have no confidence in the protector to have a satisfactory solution? At times of emotionally-charged events and crisis situations, a professionally qualified protector must be in charge. If that personal protection specialist is indeed a professional in the performance of his or her duties and their judgement is being recklessly challenged, denied, disregarded, or overruled by their employer, then this is the moment of truth and adherence to professional responsibilities and obligations apply, and one must just say NO! To fail to do so violates the integrity of the protector and places their charge in harm's way. Courage of one's convictions and commitment to professional ethics and behavior is not for everyone, only a true personal protection professional.

Principals and employers seeking professional assistance must make their informed choices with some concern and specific information. A decision must be made based upon a choice of a "bodyguard," of which there are numerous "former everythings" and current "wannabes". This is a basic protective function with brawn as the focus as opposed to intellect, or they must make a decision to choose a qualified, trained, experienced personal protector at an appropriate level.

Level of experience needs will vary according to the threat analysis or assessment of exactly what the principal does, who they are and what expectations of protection might be. A trained personal protection specialist with little or no experience would obviously not be a lead protective person. They would be expected to perform in a back-up position as a team member or under the supervision of a senior, more experienced personal protection specialist. In the important role of protecting another person it may well be that "anyone can hire anyone to protect them". However, should a principal be satisfied or content with having just anyone look after them, or should they demand a professional?

Dr. Richard W. Kobetz is the director of the Executive Protection Institute, Berryville, Virginia. He directs a network of professional Personal Protection Specialists involved in emergency response and on-going protective assignments for corporations, celebrities and entertainers.

Copyright © 2003, Executive Protection Institute