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Three Situations That Should Cause Protection Specialists to Transition to the Deliberate Search

Threat recognition is a game of speed. For executive protection specialists, delays or hesitations in decision-making upon recognizing a threat can be the difference between success and failure while working on protection detail. Because there are some behavioral observations that need to be made immediately upon entering an area and some assessments that can wait until an initial level of safety has been established before being turned to, it is important for a protector (especially one just entering the field) to know which assessment needs to be made and in what order. Improving the method for establishing a baseline in operational settings has been one of our greatest focuses over the last few years. The recent release of our flow charts for how to conduct a hasty search and a deliberate search represents the most current techniques that we use to ensure both speed and accuracy in establishing baselines and searching for anomalies, but what the diagrams don’t show is when a person should begin the deliberate search.

The primary reason why we divide the establishment of a baseline into two phases (hasty and deliberate) is because a full and complete baseline (the result of the deliberate search) is not always needed. There might be situations where you aren’t in the area long enough to even complete both searches. There might be times when you are walking or driving and to try and complete both searches would completely overwhelm you mentally. There might be times when your brain has to be focused on things besides your safety, so you might not be able to dedicate all of your cognitive resources to establishing baselines and looking for anomalies with 100% of your attention. The division between the hasty search and deliberate search exists so that you know the minimum you should be doing (the hasty search) and you know how to conduct the deliberate search when that level of depth in the baseline is needed. But that distinction also creates the question of when a protection specialist should make the transition from the hasty search and begin to conduct the deliberate search.

This question became apparent to me during a recent conversation with Chris Pendas. Chris is a security professional, the owner of the Staying Safe – Self Defense website and a graduate of our Tactical Analysis program. Chris recently recorded a video of himself conducting a hasty search while walking from his apartment building to the subway station, a task that many people can relate to as they commute to work each day. To set the stage for our discussion about transitioning from the hasty search into the deliberate search, start by watching the video he made and think about the steps that go into each search.

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As you watched the video, you may have noticed that he begins to make some assessments about the environment as he identifies habitual areas and anchor points (a deliberate search task), even though he is intentionally trying to limit himself to the hasty search. During our conversation, Chris asked about the times when he should make the transition into the deliberate search. Because answering questions in a way that implies you will “know it when you see it,” or that it is “situationally dependent” is a lazy form of instruction, I provided Chris with three situations when we advise our students and clients to make the transition from the hasty search and begin the deliberate search to heighten their level of situational awareness. Since Chris’ video is of him walking, each of these situations is focused on when to transition into the hasty search while on the move.

Three Situations to Transition into the Deliberate Search

1. When you stop moving

When you “go static” a few things start to happen. First, the world slows down around you because you are no longer moving while also trying to observe people who are also moving. As this happens, and as the physical elements of your environment stop changing with every step, you become capable of dedicating a higher degree of attention to the reason people are around you

Even though a full deliberate search is hard to do while walking, you are often afforded a greater degree of security when you are on the move than when you are stationary. Generally speaking, it is harder to hit a moving target than it is to attack something stationary, so by going into the deliberate search, you become capable of picking up on the more subtle indicators of a person that reveal their violent intent that simply can’t be picked up on in the hasty search.

2. If security is your mission

In the example from the video, if Chris is by himself and only moving from his apartment to the train station to get to work, his mission is not security. His mission is to get to work. That is why he is there and success will be defined by getting to work. A hasty search is often a good enough level of defense in that situation, because to spend all of your mental energy trying to conduct a hasty and deliberate search at all times, you wouldn’t be able to turn your brain to other things you have going on in your life, like the meeting you have that day, etc. You have to be able to do that, so the hasty search ensures there is some level of awareness about what is happening around you, so you stay in Condition Yellow, but are also free to shift your thoughts as well.

However, if your mission is to provide security to a client, you shouldn’t be thinking about too many things other than safety as you are “staying in the moment” and focused on your task. While you might not be able to complete all of the steps of the deliberate search, even beginning a portion of it further increases the number of indicators available to you while in Condition Yellow that could warrant your attention. With Chris’ video, he started looking at habitual areas and anchor points. You may start to think about the different reasons people are in the area and assigning them to one of the personas. You might think about some of the highest probability personas and begin thinking about and observing the behavior of those individuals.

The amount of information that you can take in and process is going to be determined by your level of comfort with the process, your depth of understanding of how the behavioral assessments present themselves, the number of people around you and the pace at which you are moving, but each additional element of awareness continually reduces the amount of uncertainty you face by increasing the number of pre-event indicators that may present themselves.

3. When you identify an anomaly in the hasty search

The third type of situation where I find myself transitioning from the hasty search and into the deliberate search while on the move is when I recognize an anomaly that requires further investigation. While we use the steps in the flow chart to conduct a deliberate search, the goal of that effort is to be able to identify why a person is in the area. The deliberate search steps are designed to help us answer the question, “What are their intentions for being here?” If you’ve recognized an anomaly in the hasty search and have decided to “continue to observe the person,” you don’t have to conduct a full deliberate search, but you do need to observe that particular person’s behaviors and actions until you are able to determine why they are here.

As you watch Chris’ video, you see that he stops it to talk about the woman on the phone whose behavior didn’t fit the baseline. She didn’t appear to be entering the subway station and was standing in the middle of the walkway. Because Chris had context for that area, he was able to reason that she was standing there because she was on the phone and as soon as she entered the station, the call would be dropped. It was her intentions for being in that specific area and why she behaving in the way that attracted his attention that he was investigating using a portion of the deliberate search. That is how he realized that the anomaly was a false positive, because her intentions were not violent or criminal.

Putting the Transition Into Practice

One of the reasons why we care so much about transitioning from the hasty search into the deliberate search is because, if there confusion about when to do it or a lack of confidence to make the decision to switch, we risk hesitating and wasting valuable time while we are still left of bang. As you think about these three situations that require the transition, it is also important to become comfortable with the mechanics of the transition itself through practice and repetition.

By practicing and going through your repetitions for it, the act of transitioning becomes something that requires less mental attention. By doing your preparation, there are simply fewer things that you have to figure out on the fly. By having the basics covered, you can adapt more quickly than your adversary because all of that other information is second nature to you.

Here are three ways to practice each of the three situations requiring a transition:

1. Practice the deliberate search in areas you visit frequently.

The goal for this exercise is to make the mechanics of the deliberate search more natural to you for when it is required. Additionally, by doing it in areas you visit frequently, you will have done the heavy mental lifting of the search already, so if you are conducting a hasty search and have to transition, much of the information from the deliberate search is already available to you because you know where the anchor points are, where the habitual areas are, and the personas and processes present. In turn, you have decreased the time needed to make a decision and take action.

2. Practice the transition itself.

Using a place like a street fair or a mall, walk through the area over and over and over again, each time expanding the number of factors you are observing. The first time you walk through it, conduct only the hasty search. The second time you walk through it, conduct a hasty search, go static for a few moments, and then make the transition from the hasty to the deliberate search. The third time you walk through the market, add in elements of the deliberate search you identified while stationary by searching for anchor points. The fourth time you walk through the area, find a person (doesn’t even have to be an anomaly), and think about how you would assess their behaviors and actions to identify their intention for being there.

While the first practice example is to improve your ability to conduct the deliberate search, this practice scenario is designed to help you make the switch from the hasty to the deliberate for each of the specified transitions and make that portion of the decision making process more natural to you.

3. While you are conducting an advance, complete a full hasty and deliberate search.

While conducting the advance, identify the areas where you are likely to be on foot with your protectee and find a spot to observe that area. Complete a hasty search of the area and then go through all of the steps in the deliberate search. Just like the repetitions in the street fair example above, walk the area repeatedly, and each time you do it, add in layers of information until assessments of people as being part of the baseline or an anomaly worth investigating become natural and fast.

This way, you will be more likely to make those recognitions when you are with your protectee than you would be if you are trying to do this on the fly for the first time in an area you are unfamiliar with. From this enhanced level of situational awareness, you can rehearse what you will do should an anomaly present itself and be ready to act. By putting in the work to establish the baseline before you are with your protectee, you will have the confidence to know that you are able to recognizing threats while you still have time and space on your side.

If you complete these three exercises to practice the transition from the hasty search to the deliberate search, your ability to quickly adapt when the situation demands it will be greatly improved. As you continue to develop your observation skills, your situational awareness will continue to rise and the opportunity to get, and stay, left of bang will present itself to you.

Recommended follow on reading:

To read more about the need for anticipating and preparing for transitions in an operation, I recommend this article by Army Officer Gary Klein that he wrote for the From the Green Notebook website, here. If you are a Weekly Profile subscriber, you may remember this as a recent inclusion.

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