In my first career as a New York State Trooper I was designated a “hostage negotiator” and given vital, hands-on training. This training recently came to my mind when I read about the tragic event that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina on August 24, 2017 in which a disgruntled employee killed the chef of a popular restaurant and took another person hostage.
It got me thinking…how many of us in the protection field have given serious thought to safeguarding our clients against a hostage situation? How many of us are trained to survive such a potentially violent incident? Can we prepare to prevent an aggressor from holding us and the principle captive?
In today’s environment, there is an even greater need for personal protection specialists to have an unmatched level of skill and knowledge that are essential in everyday situations with corporate executives, dignitaries, celebrities and other at-risk individuals. This skill-set should include a level of understanding about hostage circumstances and the importance of the executive protection specialist in coordinating the appropriate level of protection to mitigate such a risk. Should you find yourself in a hostage situation with your client, consider these best practices that I learned throughout my 20 years as a New York State Trooper.
Myths in Hostage Scenarios
- Frequency – contrary to what you read in fictional books and see on television or the movie theatre, hostage situations are not a usual event. Granted, they do in fact happen and could result in a life-threatening environment, most of us will never be directly involved in such a setting.
- Length – most of these hostage conditions can last several hours if not longer. The aggressor is in a desperate state of mind and must be taken seriously. A quick resolution is just not likely.
- Manageable demands – in most cases, the assailant wants something. Typically, his or her demands do not include a roof top escape via helicopter.
How Can the EP Team Survive the Situation?
- Communication – speaking in a calm but confident voice will help you de-escalate the aggressor.
- Rapport – establish a common bond to divert his/her attention away from his original intentions. Sports, hobbies, academics, a book are all possible topics to form a union between you and the assailant.
- Honesty – do your very best not to deceive or lie to the person. That will certainly ruin any progress you may have made with your communication skills.
- Trust – remember never to trust the individual. You can always portray that he/she is your new best friend and you plan to keep in touch after the situation is resolved but never let your guard down.
- Facilitator – you are the broker. You are there to act as the go-between with the aggressor and whatever he/she wants on the “outside”. Convey that you can get it done.
- Trader – you’ve heard the cliché “nothing is for free”? The same is true here. If he/she wants something, and it is a reasonable request (food, cigarettes, etc.), make sure you get something in return. Trade a weapon, ammunition, a hostage, a promise (i.e. they will not harm anyone). Don’t dismiss it, it works.
- Time – time is your friend. The longer the situation lasts the more likely the outcome will have a positive, injury free result. Patience, patience, patience…
- Highlight the positives – no matter what he/she has done always find something positive to highlight. He/she may have broken several serious laws but at least they didn’t hurt anyone yet. Or, if they did, at least they didn’t kill anyone yet. Or if they did, they didn’t kill everyone. Get the pattern/idea?
How Can the EP Team Prepare for a Hostage Situation?
- Practice, practice, practice – during your company’s monthly or quarterly in-service training you can role-play and go over various situations and take turns being the primary negotiator. The more you practice it, the more comfortable you become.
- Insulate your principle – I know it is a basic skill in the protection field, but always be mindful of protecting your client and preventing an unwanted person from coming between you and your principle, especially in a confined setting.
- Escape routes – another basic tool is to always be cognizant of your primary, secondary, and tertiary escape routes. Do your best to prevent being cornered and caught in a potentially hazardous situation. Know how to get out so you don’t have to use the basic concepts described above.
The most important thing to remember is that if you are ever confronted with a hostage situation remain calm, establish your communication (which includes being a good listener), and talk your way through to a peaceful outcome.
Arthur Boyko is an Operations Manager at AT-RISK International where he supervises day-to-day investigations and protection engagements. He has over 25 years of combined law enforcement and private security experience and has received over 75 commendations for his exceptional professionalism, significant arrests, and acts of bravery during his time as a New York State Trooper.