The Anatomy of Risk and the Role of Risk and Threat Assessment in Protective Operations

anatomy or risk for protective operations


The executive protection profession is probably one of the few fields that find it necessary and prudent for its practitioners to educate themselves in different domains, and one of the most important is Risk and Threat Assessments. These assessments play a critical role in protective operations by providing security professionals with the necessary information and insights needed to effectively protect individuals, assets, and organizations. Although risk and threat assessments are essential components of any protective operation, not many executive protection agents are trained in how to perform one, and not many security companies offer this service or provide them for their clients. You would be surprised to discover how much this powerful tool is neglected by our colleagues.


The Anatomy of Risk

Being able to identify and understand risk is the foundation of executive protection. At its core, risk in protective operations comprises the likelihood and impact of adverse events that could jeopardize the safety and well-being of protected individuals. These events may range from physical threats, such as assaults or kidnappings, to reputational risks like embarrassments, scandals, or cyberattacks. For executive protection agents, being able to anticipate and mitigate risks is not just an important fact, it is an integral part of their job! Whether protecting high-profile individuals or C-Suite executives, executive protection agents must be able to understand the complexities of different risks and create the needed framework to address potential vulnerabilities effectively and immediately.

In our industry, when we mention the “anatomy of risk”, we refer to the different components and characteristics that make up the concept of risk. Just as the human body has different organs and systems that function together, risk can be broken down into distinct elements that contribute to its overall nature.

Here are some basic key components of the anatomy of risk within the executive protection industry:

Threats: These can be potential events or circumstances that could cause harm, loss of life/assets/reputation, or disruption of daily operations. Threats can be natural (such as earthquakes or hurricanes) or of human origin (such as cyberattacks, activism, assaults, terrorism).

Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities represent weaknesses or gaps within an organization, an estate, or an operation, that could be exploited by threats. These vulnerabilities can exist in physical infrastructure, information systems, communication methods, operational procedures, or human behavior.

Likelihood: This refers to the probability or chance that a specific threat will materialize and cause harm. Assessing the likelihood of a threat helps determine its potential impact and helps to make better risk management decisions.

Impact: Impact measures the severity or consequences of an incident if it were to occur. Impact can involve a range of outcomes, including loss of life, physical harm, financial and asset losses, reputational damage, or operational disruptions. It is important to estimate the impact in order to assist those tasked with making critical decisions so they will be more aware of what they may face. Clients will be more likely to listen to your suggestions if they are aware of the severity of the impact.

Exposure: Exposure is the degree to which an individual, organization, or asset is susceptible to any particular risk. Factors such as the client’s profile, geographic location, industry sector, organizational activities, and geopolitical changes can affect exposure levels. For example, if you work for a highly public American client, and your client will be visiting a country that has anti-American beliefs, your client’s mere presence in that country/geographical area will change his exposure level to risk.

Risk Appetite: Risk appetite represents an individual, family, or organization’s willingness to accept risk pursuing their wants, or their refusal to change their habits, in exchange for a safer life. Some clients, although they are quite aware of the risks of living their lives a certain way, or doing things in a certain manner, will prefer to keep taking that risk instead of altering procedures. It is necessary for executive protection agents to understand these basic components of the anatomy of risk in order to be able to develop suitable strategies for managing and mitigating potential threats against their clients and their teams.


The non-questionable role of Risk and Threat Assessment in Protective Operations

The role of an executive protection team is to mitigate and/or manage risks. However, in order to do that effectively, they must be able to identify, analyze, and adapt their strategies to the different risks and threats. Identifying and analyzing risks and threats is the cornerstone upon which all effective protective operations are built and is the very foundation of the team’s ability to deal with those potential risks and threats. Within protective operations, the purpose of a risk and threat assessment is to identify the levels of a risk and/or threat, and then reduce these levels and assist with security planning and preparation. In simple words, identify what can pose a risk or a threat to your client and implement measures to prevent and/or mitigate.


A risk and threat assessment truly needs to be carried out as you are considering working for a specific client; however, you will not see many companies actually perform these. The majority would rather put concerted effort into “landing” a client and finding the agents to fill positions within the operation, instead of conducting a risk and threat assessment to better understand who the client is, what their needs are, and identify any risks and threats concerning this client. When it comes to the agents, the “BOGs” as we call them (Boots on Ground), if they happen to find themselves working for such a company, then the burden of conducting a risk and threat assessment falls onto them. And while one MUST seek education and training on how to conduct a thorough security assessment, here are some tips to have in mind:


The key components of crafting a Risk & Threat Assessment

Risk Identification: Begin by identifying potential risks, threats, and vulnerabilities specific to the protected individual or organization. This may include conducting comprehensive assessments of their profile, activities, and affiliations. You should take into consideration your client’s threat profile (7P’s) which are People, Places, Personality, Prejudices, Personal history, Political views, and Private lifestyle. Three important factors to consider for risk identification regarding your clients are: Visibility, Vulnerability, and Value. Also being aware of factors such as activities, geopolitical developments, and operational environment will give you a greater understanding of the risks and threats they may face.


Risk Analysis: Once potential risks have been identified, conduct a thorough analysis to evaluate their likelihood and potential impact. Consider factors such as the current security posture, historical threats, and rising trends in new security threats.

Threat Intelligence: Use a variety of sources, including open-source intelligence, security reports, and specialized threat intelligence services, to gather as much (relevant) information about potential threats.

Scenario Planning: Develop hypothetical scenarios based on identified risks to assess the effectiveness of existing security measures, the capabilities of your current manpower, and response protocols. This allows you to find areas of possible weakness and presents an opportunity for improvement and the ability to adapt your current security strategies to address specific threats more effectively.

Mitigation Strategies: Implement a range of proactive measures to mitigate the identified risks, including physical or cyber security enhancements or hiring more manpower. Keep in mind that these measures should be tailored to address the unique needs and circumstances of the protected individual, their families or organization, not just some “cookie-cutter” solution that everyone else utilizes. Quite often, these are NOT a “One-size-fits-all” situation.

Continual Assessment and Adaptation: Risk and Threat assessments should be carried out frequently, revised (If needed), and updated. As threats evolve and circumstances/environments change, executive protection teams must continually reassess their risk landscape and adjust their protective strategies accordingly.


Remember that your assessments must always be:

  • Clear (understandable)
  • Logical (based on facts)
  • Accurate (not based on rumor and up to date)
  • Relevant (has information relevant to the client)
  • Brief (simple and to the point)


Keep this simple thought in mind: If you know who your enemy is, what their capabilities are, and what your vulnerabilities are, you will be able to adjust your security strategies accordingly. In the world of executive protection operations, the EP agent’s ability to craft risk and threat assessment is essential for protecting the individuals and organizations entrusted to your care. Embracing a proactive and comprehensive approach to risk management not only enhances the safety and security of clientele, but also ensures the resilience and effectiveness of protective operations in an increasingly complex security environment where threats evolve rapidly.


For those interested in learning more about risk and threat assessments, please visit and stay tuned for our classes.


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