One of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) missions is to raise standards and ensure that security operatives are properly trained and qualified to do their job. In a survey of 231 security operatives, 76% said they thought the SIA's stipulated 138 hours training time to become a close protection operator wasn't sufficient to train someone to a competent level to work in the UK.
This article will firstly examine whether 138 hours training time is sufficient to train someone for close protection work in the UK, with no pre-course requisites for attendance other than first aid certification. Secondly evaluate whether it is possible to retain and effectively use information being taught during 138 hours training time conducted over twelve to fourteen days. Then thirdly will identify the threats a close protection operator in the UK may face and establish where the GAPS are in the SIA's training curriculum in order to train operatives to mitigate these threats effectively.
To establish whether the SIA close protection curriculum is sufficient to train close operators to conduct their primary aim of protection, it is important to understand the threat in the UK. Readers of this article will be under no illusion about the threat currently faced when conducting the close protection role. The Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit (RMP CPU) would define close protection as 'The preventative and reactive measures taken by close protection trained personnel to protect a person who is specifically or generally under threat of assassination, kidnapping or other illegal acts'. So to be effective in role you must understand and be able to mitigate the threats associated with it.
Terrorism poses the greatest severity of threat with over forty terrorist attacks thwarted in the UK by the security services since 2007. Attacks on the London transport network in 2005 and most recently in 2013 outside of a British Army barracks in London show the nations vulnerability to such threats. MI5 currently defines the UK threat level at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.
Since the economic downturn in 2008, unemployment has risen, distrust against capitalism increased, and the government cut back social safety nets such as housing benefit at a time when people need it the most. Predictably violent protects have erupted throughout the UK, which has seen members of the public inadvertently injured after being unable to leave the areas of unrest.
The Office for National Statistics recorded between 2006 and 2012 in the UK, that cases of robbery and violent crime against a person have averaged around 80,000 and 225,000 respectively. Opportunist attacks like this, potentially conducted on the street by those impaired through alcohol or illegal substance misuse may be at the lower end of the general threat spectrum in terms of severity of attack but still cause concern due to the number of offences being committed.
In 2012 there were around 195,723 reported accidents on UK roads. Therefore the likelihood of being involved in some form of accident is high and potentially the greatest threat to someone that they will face in the UK in comparison to the other threats discussed in this article.
Serious organised crime in the form of tiger kidnap is on the increase, with figures from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) showing a yearly increase since 2003. Offenders generally take a long time to plan the crime with months of surveillance on victims common.
British businesses face ever increasing scrutiny in the way they conduct themselves and direct action and protest groups specifically target organisations in order to vent frustration and try to change the way in which they operate in order to achieve their aim.
In order to mitigate these threats it is important to have the right calibre of person attend an SIA close protection training course as this will ultimately influence the standard of persons successfully passing the course. On a commercial SIA close protection course the only pre-requisite for course attendance is a basic first aid certificate, so currently an eighteen year old straight out of education, with no driving license can attend the course, pass, be licensed and start conducting the role.
Richard Aitch, author of Close Protection, a closer observation of the protection equation states that 'with age comes life experience and is directly related to maturity in presentation, confidence and the ability to communicate at all levels'. To conduct the close protection role you must instil confidence and professionalism in your ability to conduct the role if you are to succeed. Your physical presence and maturity must compliment that of the person you are providing protection for, being overwhelmed, or overzealous would be a precursor for finding new employment.
In relation to the threats highlighted in this article, with age and life experience comes the ability to assess and react to incidents under pressure. This is where experience in roles where you have built situational awareness in order to identify and then manage threats are important. Being able to think without prompting, like being caught up in a terrorist incident and having the ability to successfully remove the principal from the situation due to your previous experience under pressure is key. Limited life experience or prior management of threats could lead to freezing at a time most critical time in conducting the role.
In order to be licensed through the SIA in close protection you need to successfully be instructed on two modules that set out the core competencies of the SIA close protection curriculum and pass an exam. The first module encompasses fourteen separate sessions. The roles and responsibilities of a close protection operator so you know what is expected of you, especially your primary aim of protecting the principal. Threat and risk assessments in order that you can identify and implement correct control measures to mitigate threats. Surveillance awareness, especially pertinent in mitigating the threats against crime. Operational planning to enable executed the role effectively. Law and legislation so that you are always legally compliant. Interpersonal skills, an essential trait for UK work. Close protection team work and briefing. Conducting reconnaissance which aids in operational planning and identifying potential vulnerable points of attack. Foot drills and the different formations that can be used. Route selection and journey management to safely plan road moves and help reduce the potentially high risk of traffic collision. Search procedures to enable a safe working environment. Incident management to give an overview on what to do in the event of an incident. An essential module for those with no experience in situational awareness. Finally venue security to secure areas from unwanted intrusion. The second module is based around conflict management, how to avoid it, defuse it, reduce the risk and learn from it. All of this would need to be completed within the SIA's stipulated 138 hours learning time.
The Marketing Director for The Security Advisor website which provides a platform for security courses to be reviewed by former students, states that:
" On most commercial close protection courses who keep only to the SIA's stipulated 138 hours learning time, courses take place over twelve to fourteen days. Therefore the standard teaching day must be a minimum of ten hours in length without breaks or time to reflect on what is being taught."
The SIA syllabus is similar to that taught on the RMP CPU course with the main difference being the amount of time available for learning. When interviewed for this article, a former senior instructor on the RMP CPU Course and now lead instructor on a commercial close protection course highlighted that:
"The SIA course duration means that it's more of an overview than a government course where you get to go over and reinforce drills and lessons learnt. In addition, the SIA course is too intense and there should be more time to teach the syllabus."
Authoritative research would argue that adults generally stop retaining information being taught to them after twenty minutes, listening and understanding may take place up to ninety minutes but realistically twenty minutes is the optimum time for effective retention of information. It also suggested that after every twenty minutes a learners attention starts to wane, and a ten minute break every hour is required to ensure your audience stays with you for the other fifty minutes. It would also be important that after every piece of content within the session, students were allowed time to reflect on what was being taught and for instructors to bring to life the course content.
Therefore throughout a minimum ten hour day to ensure an effective learning environment you would need to add around two hours for short breaks, lunch and time to revise, reflect and clarify the information being taught. The standard learning day on a course that keeps to the 138 hours training time over twelve to fourteen days would therefore be a minimum of twelve hours which is not an effective way to learn and retain information. This would be a difficult learning schedule to receive over one days instruction, but with this form of intense instruction over twelve to fourteen days, your ability to take the subject matter in, retain it and implement it effectively post course is negligible.
In addition to the core competencies highlighted in this article there are also what the SIA call specific skills for assignments for training providers to determine whether to instruct on or not. The specific skills left out of the SIA close protection curriculum are in stark contrast to government courses which takes those specific skills, namely close quarter combat, advanced driving and surveillance and drill them until they become instinctive. What is often referred to as muscle memory where you can react to a situation instantaneously.
With aim of close protection being to use preventative and reactive measures to protect someone under the threat, the omission of close quarter combat from the SIA syllabus means there is no way to ensure those licensed have the ability to carry out their primary aim of protection. When interviewed for this article, a Krav Maga expert and unarmed combat instructor for security professionals stated that:
"As a close protection operator you have a responsibility to protect your principal. If you can't defend yourself let alone those you are meant to be protecting then you are not effective in the role."
The role of the close protection driver is vitally important and one that most close protection operators will conduct frequently during their career. With the statistics for road accidents being so high, you are more likely to become victim of a traffic collision than you are a hostile threat. So without an opportunity for prospective close protection operators to be assessed on driving ability there is potential for those licensed to increase the threat to the principal due to their driving ability. When interviewed for this article, Managing Director of the only company in the world to provide a level three qualification in security chauffeuring, reaffirms the importance of driving in the close protection role:
" You need to understand the basics of car control in order to reduce the risk of traffic accidents, but then step that basic training up to evasive driving so you can mitigate any threats associated with conducting the CP driving role."
The art of surveillance cannot be taught in theoretical isolation. Which is how the SIA deem it appropriate to be taught. The module titled 'surveillance awareness', described by the SIA as a basic understanding allows students to describe surveillance but there is no onus on practical application of such an important core competency. Galahad Associates stress the importance of surveillance as a skill for close protection operators as quality surveillance is one of the best defences against hostile action. Any hostile act from street crime to kidnap will be proceeded by some form of surveillance activity. Therefore a module not taught to be instinctive to the point where close protection operators would be competent to identify threats through surveillance would again leave operators incompetent of conducting their primary aim of protection.
From the research conducted for this article there are a number of recommendations that could be implemented in order to improve the competency of close protection operators successfully completing SIA regulated courses before conducting UK work.
By establishing a minimum age limit of 25 as a prerequisite for course attendance it will ensure those attending have a level of maturity, confidence and professionalism in order to compliment the principal and not be overwhelmed by the situations they may encounter. More importantly it will ensure those attending have an amount of life experience and situational awareness to draw upon in countering difficult situations and thinking on the ground under pressure. Skills that they won't necessarily have gained from a 138 hour SIA close protection course due to its intensity and not having the ability to practically apply theories until they become instinctive.
By lengthening the course and the SIA regulating it to be conducted over a longer time frame thus reducing its intensity, it will enable training providers to ensure advised breaks are taken to increase the amount of information students retain and are able to effectively implement post course. Core competencies could be reflected upon and reinforced with practical application enabling them to be more instinctive skills, committed to muscle memory, instead of just being taught in theory. However lengthening the current stipulated training time must be done to an extent where courses are still commercially viable.
By lengthening the course you could also add close quarter combat, advanced driving and surveillance, currently unregulated skills for assignment, with them being so important to the primary aim of a close protection operator in providing protection to mitigate threats. Instead making them regulated core competencies through the SIA rather than leaving it to training providers to determine whether they should be taught or not. Or for close quarter combat and advanced driving have an assessment phase where you are assessed on your ability to defend yourself and level of driving competency which would ultimately determine whether you passed the course in conjunction with the end of course exam. You would therefore need personnel who were able to assess in those competencies, which would also have to be regulated by the SIA.
The aim of the SIA is to regulate the industry effectively, raise standards and ensure that private security operatives are 'fit for purpose' persons who are properly trained to do their job. The primary aim of a close protection operator is to protect a person who is specifically or generally under threat. So to be properly trained to do your job you must be able to protect someone who is under threat. Therefore for the SIA to regulate the industry effectively, the close protection training course has to be fit for purpose and include competencies that would allow close protection operators to conduct their primary aim of protecting the principal because without these skills operators are not effective in role.