Public Figures Are Most At-Risk When They Promote Participation In Public Events

Photo Cred:

Photo Cred:

Yesterday’s shooting at the Republican congressional baseball team's practice in Alexandria, Virginia has reignited a long-simmering debate on Capitol Hill about the threats against members and increasing security.

There is no such thing as “perfect security” but the heroic actions of the Capitol Police during yesterday's attack demonstrated their professionalism in providing “defense in depth” to those they protect. Their actions were nothing short of heroic in the way they were able to reduce risk and prevent further violence.

But new threats still emerge...

Members on both sides of the aisle reported a new series of threats yesterday after the shooting -- prompting renewed debate about whether members need additional security.

There is no debating that the past six months have seen a historic rise in the number of distasteful, threatening, and downright vulgar communications targeting business owners, politicians, public figures, and news journalists on both sides of the ideological isle. Electronic communication and social media have changed the threat assessment landscape forever. It has made expressing a grievance easier than ever before — sometimes in an anonymous fashion. As a result, any individual or organization perceived as being aligned with a dissenting opinion is at-risk of becoming a target for unsolicited viciousness, vitriol, and in some cases — violence.

But this does not mean they all need round-the-clock protection.

In fact, most congressional representatives, corporate executives and public figures are able to go about their daily lives without a protective detail following their every move. Unfortunately, their lives do become become inherently more complicated whenever they agree to a planned public appearance.

Public figures are most at-risk when they promote their participation in upcoming public events

Whenever the general public has a reasonable expectation of a time and place a public figure can be found, protective considerations should always be employed as preventative measure.

It is important to understand why these events have an increased level of risk. Unlike an off-the-record, or impromptu appearance (think President Obama making a pit-stop at Shake Shack) where the likelihood of an attack would be considered “Low” – events that are publicized in advance give a would-be-attacker critical information like dates and location, and most concerning, time to plan.

Bill Gates "attacked" with pie-in-face in Belgium circa 1999

Bill Gates "attacked" with pie-in-face in Belgium circa 1999

For the violent offender, the single most significant factor in targeting an individual for attack is likelihood of success. Without a high-likelihood of success, a would-be-attacker will transfer their efforts to someone who is more exposed and easier to approach.  Eliminating those small windows of exposure when approachability is most likely to occur by unknown persons is of critical importance.

Securing transportation, departing airports, checking into hotels, arriving/departing events, and partaking in public engagements all present variables of uncertainty that can be drastically minimized with effective planning and logistical coordination.

Reducing risk with practical protective intelligence 

One of the biggest misconceptions about threat assessment is that it’s all about about that “one creepy communication.” It’s not. Threat assessment is about the “totality of circumstance” much more than it is about evaluating a singular communication within the framework of an isolated incident. All things must be considered: grievance; intent; credibility, complexity; escalation, insight; etc.

Each and every inappropriate communication should be assessed, monitored and managed by your designated threat assessment manager — both from within and outside of your organization.

This includes those indirect communications which express a grievance regarding a third party. In the context of threat assessment, these communications are known as “leakage.” Leakage is a pre-incident indicator — a warning behavior — that infers a preoccupation with a target, and may signal the research and planning of a harmful act.

When these communications are received, a best practice is to identify a threat assessment expert you can call-on for help.

Your team is likely to be inundated with a myriad of priority tasking, and these expressions of grievance are not the concerns you want falling through the cracks.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety