Even the Pros get ambushed

Even the Pros get ambushed

By:  Joshua Gideon

In early 2007 I began getting involved in the private security industry in an attempt to add some diversity to my skills.  My background is in computer security and I wanted to be a bit well rounded in case I ever needed to pursue work outside the computer industry.  I pursued certifications and training in this field and spent some time working with private investigators on computer related cases.  After some freelance protective security work, I met up with the late Doug Runyon, owner of Dignitary Protection Group.  Doug provided law enforcement training on executive protection and dignitary protection and was very active in the industry.  After some chatting with Doug, I decided to go through the course and get certified.  After working in the industry for a couple years, including some time overseas, I was asked to assist Doug and his partners with their training program.

Now, the DPG training program was not really a beginner course.  Doug was very particular on who went through the training.  Students ranged from active duty military to active security detail members to law enforcement SWAT teams.  These were veteran security detail leaders and specialists in the very industry DPG was teaching.  It was a challenge to teach them something they hadn’t already experienced.  However, Doug had a way of doing just that.

What really separated the DPG course from the others was the Field Training Exercise (FX).  This was a grueling 18-hour real life detail that pushed the students to the limits.  We had the students protect one of the instructors for an entire day through the City of Indianapolis while the other instructors played the role of bad guys.  The students had Intel available on the bad guys and were notified that the bad guys would likely be following them and may even try to attack the principle.  Our job as bad guys was to try to do surveillance without getting caught and find vulnerabilities to penetrate the security detail.  Some of us enjoyed this role maybe a bit too much.

It was during this training that I got a reputation and a nickname for really messing with the security details.  I think some of my students had a few other names for me as well.  Lets just say I am good at finding ways to get inside the heads of detail leaders and detail members and making them have a very bad day.  It wasn’t long until I realized really how previous training the students had been through was contributing to my success as a “bad guy”.  There just wasn’t enough training being conducted in this industry that dealt with a situation where all your plans fail and your awareness isn’t enough to detect and prevent an attack.

In this industry, a great deal of time is spent gathering information (advances, route plans, evacuation plans, etc.) and putting plans in place to deal with issues as they come up.  Your security detail acts as highly sophisticated and highly trained sensors looking for threats and vulnerabilities and adjusting plans to mitigate the risks.  This works fine under normal circumstances.  Where this breaks down is when a series of events occurs too quickly for the brain to process or when an ambush situation occurs.  During an ambush situation, we are left with reacting down a trained process tree that we recognize.  If I see a gun, I surround the person I am protecting (principle) and evacuate to a pre-planned route.  It has to be Fisher Price simple or it won’t work.  I have told my students that developers of combat tools should be spending more time in the toy store toddler section if they want to make products that work in high stress situations.  The same is true with our processes and training.  Simple works.

Time after time, during the training classes, I was able to penetrate security details and attack the principle by overloading the security detail with too many things to process at one time.  Those of us playing the “bad guy” were not always successful.  Occasionally we would have a student who had trained enough to recognize the situation and flow down a process tree that they had developed through training and act quickly enough to stop the attack.  It wasn’t until I went through the Combat Focus Shooting course that this actually clicked with me.  If someone like me can do that to highly trained experts in their field, then it can happen to any of us.

So now lets take this to a normal day in our life.  No security details, just you and I going about our daily lives.  Normally I am very aware of my surroundings, head on a swivel, I am sure most of those reading this fall into the same category.  I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as low hanging fruit for a bad guy but I also wouldn’t say I am always on high alert for a jack in the box situation either.  The reality is I am somewhere in the middle of those two extremes with a little variation.  However, I am still just as vulnerable to an ambush attack as anyone.  If someone really wanted to attack me they could find a way to get through my planning and find a gap in my awareness to ambush me.  It might take them longer to find a way and they might rather go after someone less challenging, but it’s still possible.  The point is that we can talk ourselves into thinking that our awareness level is higher than reality.  When we get past the vision of ourselves as a Zen master of awareness, we can then begin to focus on reacting to an ambush situation.  Ego won’t save your life in a fight, having a trained process tree to follow when an ambush is recognized will increase your odds significantly.

I am a reluctant convert in the need for increased “counter ambush” training.  Not that many years ago I was a die-hard conditional color code believer.  Do I believe that people need to train to recognize cues of a pending dynamic critical incident?  You bet!  In fact, the C.U.E.S. class taught by Jim Floyd should be mandatory!  However, my experiences as a trainer and the dynamic critical incidents I have been involved in have changed my focus.  I now believe I need to focus more of my training on counter ambush and less on awareness.  Don’t get me wrong; awareness training is a foundational training piece.  I do believe, however, it is taken to extreme and unrealistic levels.  I encourage you to do your own research in this area and ask questions! If you hear advice from a trainer, find out where they gathered their information.  Never stop learning!  Good luck in your never-ending efforts to make yourself better.  Stay safe!