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Personal Protection Specialists Always In Demand

You've probably seen them. They're the guys in the blue suits with radios in their ears. They scan the crowds at political rallies. They stay close to big stars. They are personal protection specialists.

It's their job to keep their clients safe from terrorists, angry ex-spouses, stalkers, kidnappers or political enemies. And their services are in demand.

Corporations are among the biggest users of protection services. They hire these specialists to protect their top executives and CEOs. That's because if something happens to the executive of a big company, the whole company is threatened and that could be worth millions of dollars.

Other clients are celebrities who need protection from overeager or crazed fans. Women escaping domestic abuse also need protection. So do super-rich people, who may be targets for kidnappers.

"It certainly is a growth field," says Doug Hill, a certified personal protection specialist.

"People have a sense, whether it's real or imagined, that our cities and countries are more dangerous places to be," says Bob Duggan. He is with a protection training program in Colorado.

Industry Maturing

No one, not even people in the industry, are sure how big this field really is. That's because there is no one single license these professionals must have. Rules vary widely. For example, those in California must have a bodyguard license. In some areas, they must have a security guard license. Many of those in this field have no license at all!

Another reason it's hard to get a number on these professionals is because of the debate over who really is a protection specialist. There's a split between the old-style knuckle-dragging bodyguards and new-style protection specialists. The first type relies on pure size.

"If you're a high-profile celebrity trying to get through a crowd at a rock concert, then size is an issue," says Duggan. The rest of the time, being big isn't enough to qualify you as a bodyguard.

Martial arts skills or a skill with guns aren't the keys to this career, either. "If you have to resort to firearms, then you've already lost it," says Duggan.

So what does make a great bodyguard? Karl Kindervater is president of a personal protection specialists company. "The best bodyguard is a smart bodyguard. When someone comes to me looking for a job, I don't care what kind of martial arts skills they have or how much they weigh. I want to know what's in their mind."

A protection specialist is someone who can plan ahead. Someone who can research all possible situations. And someone who can keep track of a million details.

More and more women are entering the field. In fact, some protection agencies are recruiting women protection specialists.

That's because they can provide better "cover" in certain situations. Most people think bodyguards will be big men, so women are less conspicuous. "If a CEO in his 60s is accompanied by a young man in perfect shape, people think 'bodyguard,'" says Duggan. "If he's accompanied by a young woman, they think 'executive secretary.'"

Women guards can also blend in during other situations. Kindervater says women who need protection can pass off their woman bodyguard as just a friend. This is easier than explaining a male escort, especially if the client is married.

For this reason, women who want to get into personal protection right now are at an advantage. "A good woman protection specialist could set her own pay scale and have unlimited work," says Kindervater. "I have two right now, and I'd give anything to have two more just like them."

Getting Started

The best way to become a protection specialist is to already be working in a related field. Members of the Secret Service or any of the various government intelligence agencies have a leg up in getting hired.

While a police or military background may be a help, it may be a mixed blessing. On the helping side, a military or police background gives you training in weapons, surveillance techniques and legal issues. On the not-so-helpful side is the whole focus of the job, says Duggan.

"The military and police are trained to solve problems," he says. This means reacting to danger -- disarming a criminal or shooting at the enemy.

Protection specialists react to danger in the opposite way. "Our job is to protect the client, which often means running away or total avoidance," says Duggan. "It's hard for people in the military or police to change that mindset."

The real key to getting work in this field is contacts. "It's a small community -- everyone knows everybody," says Hill. It's through networking that you'll get work. This is why it helps to have worked in a related field already.

Today's corporate executives prefer their bodyguards to blend in with the crowd. They also want "experts in logistical planning." (Logistical planning usually refers to planning around movements. In this case, it means detailed planning around any operation.)

For example, say an executive is traveling. An "advance team" of specialists travel to the destination first, scouting the area, meeting with police, and planning escape routes. Then there's a separate team that travels with the executive.

A professional protection specialist needs a range of skills. For example, they have to:

  • evaluate and plan home security systems
  • plan safe travel routes
  • be up to date on kidnapping and terrorist tactics
  • know evasive driving maneuvers
  • be able to "read" suspicious behavior in crowds
  • plan escape routes should danger occur
  • know self-defense and firearms
  • have basic emergency medical skills
  • recognize bomb threats and explosive devices
  • be able to coordinate teams of specialists
  • know the laws in the area they're working in
  • have "executive protocol" skills (like which fork to use in fancy restaurants)

There are private training schools available that teach these skills, but they're not cheap. A year-long course can run as high as $18,000.

Security specialists also need licenses or certification to carry firearms. Often, specialists are required to get these on their own.

The pay for bodyguards varies, depending on experience and the risk involved in each job. Hill says the range is from $550 to $1,000 a day. The higher the risk, the higher the price. Those working on an advance team or patrolling hallways outside a hotel room earn $250 to $300 a day.

Kindervater says the very best protection specialists can get as much as $1,000 an hour in the U.S.

Be Prepared to Work Hard

Executive protection is a difficult field to get into, says Kindervater. "You usually have to know someone in the field in order to break in." His advice is to get as much training as you can by working at a government agency that specializes in protection first.

Many people don't realize that much of the work involves staying alert for hours on end when absolutely nothing is happening, says Duggan. "It's filled with boredom and monotony, so anyone thinking about it as a career needs to think about it very, very carefully. It's not for everyone."

Of course, anyone interested in personal protection should remember that this can be a very dangerous job. This is one of the reasons pay can be so high -- you're not only getting paid for protecting someone's life, but for putting yourself in danger. Even the best specialist, with all the best planning, is at risk every day they go to work.


Executive Security International
Offers a degree in criminal justice or certification with a major in dignitary and executive protection

FBIG Investigations
This agency is a complete personal protection resource

International Association of Personal Protection Agents
Involved in standards, training, networking, marketing promotion and public education

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