Monday September 17, 2012
Bodyguards to keep you safe and sound
By N. RAMA LOHAN
The world can be a dangerous place, but there are experts who are equipped to keep us out of harm’s way.
THE getting up can be such a hassle. And the long hours are a real test on the body, Arick Cheok laments. Nope, it isn’t half as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. Don’t expect to see Kevin Costner cavorting with Whitney Houston. Neither are you going to chance upon a lucky Aussie named Shango climbing under the sheets with the most well-endowed Kardashian.
Bodyguarding, or as the industry recognises it, executive protection, is a seriously gruelling occupation. It’s not a walk in the park and only the fittest and bravest get called upon. Naturally, the astute and physically capable claw their way to the upper echelons of the trade because ultimately, in this profession, brain goes hand-in-hand with brawn.
Like Cheok, who works with the Tan Chong group with 17 men under him, there are individuals out there who risk life and limb on a daily basis to keep their clients out of harm’s way. And the job requirements can sometimes amount to superhuman demands – a potential candidate has to be physically fit (a minute’s tussle can leave an unfit individual gasping for air), have good vision and hearing, have the appropriate travel documents, passed the mandatory pre-employment screening, possess a certificate of clearance (Keputusan Tapisan Keselamatan) from the Home Ministry, and clear of criminal misdemeanours – just to make sure they do not have financial liabilities like default loan payments or have been declared bankrupt, or have prior convictions.
Security companies naturally reach out for ex-servicemen, for obvious reasons – they come with some degree of weapons training, hand-to-hand combat and a great sense of discipline.
“Of course, there are no hard and fast rules. Former servicemen have been put through the mill; their training in arms and combat apart, they have also been tuned to perform tasks under duress. Then again, we’ve had civilians work with us who’ve been great, too. At the end of the day, the job just goes to the right person,” reveals John Rajoo, regional consultant in technical surveillance counter-measures for JR & Associates.
He should know; he comes from a similar background, having served the Malaysian Armed Forces until 1990, after which he joined the security industry. Once in the trade, he worked for an American organisation based in Hong Kong and finally found himself as the country manager in Malaysia, but not before being shown the ropes by retired United States Embassy security personnel who served with him.
In the course of his job, he has provided cover for the likes of former British prime minister John Major, former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, Microsoft head honcho Bill Gates and former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad, among others.
Razlan Radzi, head of business development at SAS Security Force, concurs. The company exclusively taps into the ex-serviceman pool. In fact, all the directors were officers in the military; the main shareholder at SAS even served in the UN peacekeeping force in Africa before retiring. So the organisation has always enjoyed close links with the Defence Ministry. “We don’t have a problem if a client insists on having a bodyguard who is a former special services personnel,” Razlan says.
Skills of the trade
Recruiting from the military has its obvious advantages, since they come equipped with some of the fundamentals of the job.
“Some are experienced operators in all types of warfare, having served actively over the years prior to retiring and joining us. We supplement this with further training to enable them to take on their new roles as bodyguards effectively,” Razlan continues.
“Then there’s also the need to be able to work independently and as part of a team, recognise potentially dangerous situations, remain calm under pressure, have a strong sense of dedication and possess good interpersonal and communication skills,” says Rajoo.
Noell Kailas, executive director of Eagle Eye Security, concurs and feels that the job function is the perfect marriage of physical and mental conditions. “The job requires someone with an alert mind and active body. Martial arts and arms training are imperative, as is the ability to conduct surveillance work,” he insists.
Of course, fitness comes hand-in-hand with general health. “We have to go for a full health check-up. You can’t be protecting someone when you aren’t in good health, can you?” Cheok contends. He adds that endurance and stamina play a vital role, since work hours can sometimes stretch from 6am to midnight. “When the family of a client wants to go for a midnight movie, that’s going to be tough because work still starts the same time the next day.” Bodyguards do get the measly privilege of watching the movie for free, though. Perk of the job?
To the population at large, bodyguarding is about shielding a principal from any form of threat. But the job scope involves a lot more than that. “They also need to be educated in crowd control and even the right way to alight from the car. While sitting in a car, a bodyguard needs to keep an eye on the side mirrors, to observe what’s happening behind, and pay attention to any signals given by the outriders,” says Ram Bahador, Kailas’ father who has since retired after having served the director of a financial institution for 30 years.
When in a confrontation, bodyguards are required to, firstly, whisk the principal as far away from the danger zone as possible.
Rajoo feels we would do well to learn how emergencies are handled in war-torn countries. “The client’s safety and the security of day-to-day activities – that’s what the job is all about,” he adds.
Planning takes up the bulk of the job. Routes from secure locations to destinations and back need to be planned, with Plans B and C, as contingencies. “We do a trial run, say, a week before the arrival of the client, at the exact time of day to make sure we get conditions as similar as possible to those of the actual day,” Rajoo details the tedium.
Razlan agrees, and assures that assessing the safety of the client’s vehicle along with the routes to and from the places where the client may visit is priority. “If necessary, we also do an advance sweep of where the clients are going, to make sure there are no security breaches or hidden cameras or listening devices, which can compromise the clients in any way,” he echoes.
There is a cloak-and-dagger element to the trade, hence bodyguards are made to sign a non-disclosure agreement. “It’s like working for the Secret Service. Body-guards are not supposed to reveal what they see,” Rajoo explains.
Many business folk have also fallen prey to corporate espionage, so from time to time, a sweep of their offices and meeting rooms for listening devices is conducted.
More often than not, the most important part of a bodyguard’s job scope is protecting the client’s reputation.
Buffed and polished
No new bodyguard arrives as the finished article, obviously. Candi-dates are put through the paces to ascertain that they come out worthy of protecting lives.
“Their driving will be tested, and so will their running. I was once asked to run 3.5km and swim 2km by a potential employer. Basically, all the training is tailored to the demands of a principal. If he or she can’t swim, then you’d better make sure you can. If he or she jogs, then you need to be prepared to run,” Cheok shares.
Training brings out the cream of the crop, and the best usually come with basic CPR and fire training, too. “It’s a great advantage to have these potential life-saving skills. Being familiar with a client’s medical record is very helpful, especially knowing their allergies. I’ve come across cases of shell fish allergy, and in one very strange circumstance, allergy to garlic,” adds Rajoo.
Naturally, a bodyguard needs to have his general knowledge up to snuff. “I was once asked how many storeys made up the Petronas Twin Towers. Foreigners, especially, would want to know where is the nearest Starbucks or 7-Eleven, or the location of the toilets,” Rajoo reveals. Likewise, a bodyguard has to know where the closest medical facilities are, in case of emergency.
In the same vein, surveillance training is an essential part of the education process. Often, much of the job involves observing the movement of people and vehicles. It’s about recognising a potential threat before it strikes.
While the available training for potential bodyguards isn’t plentiful, there are highly credible facilities around which provide armed and unarmed training. SAS does its training in-house at its facility in Johor, where the head office and main armoury is located.
“Our bodyguards are given basic fire and first aid training. They are also drilled on their driving and etiquette so that they know how to dress and act properly, and how to observe protocol since our clients include royalty, the wealthy, and people in high positions in government and business,” shares Razlan.
As with anything in life, choosing the right training course or facility requires proper research.
“There are courses for defensive/offensive driving and close quarter battle (CQB),” Cheok informs, adding that there are also courses for firearms tactical training and handling.
To date, Cheok has attended seven courses, even going as far as the United States to equip himself. “In Malaysia, the courses tend to be very basic, but there are some decent courses offered in Thailand,” he asserts.
Who hires them
It’s a jungle out there and the world has become an increasingly scary place. Take the wrong turn, walk into the wrong lift, make your way to your car in an unlit parking lot, and that’s all it takes to be on the receiving end of the unscrupulous or the criminally minded.
Still, Malaysia is a much safer country than most, even though recent events have prompted the public to be more wary. The Nayati Shamelin abduction remains fresh in the minds of most Malaysians, especially parents. Likewise, the numerous robberies at shopping mall car parks. And who can forget the unfortunate circumstances that took the life of Canny Ong?
Petty crime continues to be a malaise in Malaysia, but cyber-crimes are the greatest threat in most parts of the world today.
Businessmen operating in the upper tiers of the financial strata are always potential targets. Cheok feels there has been a spike in the demand for personal security. “After the Nayati incident, you could see ads in the papers indicating security firms were on recruitment drives,” Cheok says.
While business tycoons and figures of authority are concerned for the welfare of their loved ones, it’s their own well-being that comes under the greatest threat.
“We are called in to take these people of power from their homes to social functions and public events, and that’s pretty much it. At home, chances are, they have their own security in place,” explains Kailas, whose Eagle Eye Security offers Gurkha security guard services as well.
SAS expects business to double by year’s end.
“Security seems to be an area of concern for most of the population, not just the rich,” Razlan opines. “Our clients include businessmen, politicians, members of royal families, as well as their spouses and children. We also protect their homes and business interests, such as office buildings, factories, plantations, shipyards and vessels. If it’s worth securing, we’ll help clients secure it,” he adds.
Before taking on an assignment, a threat assessment is carried out on a client. “This determines how many executive protection personnel will be required. It could be just one or a few. Every situation is unique; it really comes down to the needs of a client,” Rajoo reasons.
“There is no fixed type of client. We provide single bodyguards as well as teams for the heads of households and their families,” says Razlan. Sometimes the service required could only be for a specific duration, like during the visit of a multinational CEO or even a dignitary who would like to remain inconspicuous in public. “So we supply the security guards with the necessary clothing to blend in, ranging from golfing attire to batik shirts, or even casual wear, like jeans,” he says.
This is a serious occupation and mistakes could lead to loss of lives. Every aspiring executive protection personnel should be aware of the consequences. Cheok laments there is little by way of protection for practitioners of the trade. “It’s almost impossible to get insurance for a bodyguard, given the nature of the job. In other countries, bodyguards are given insurance and gratuity payments,” he informs.
When lives are on the line, no job can ever seem to pay enough, particularly when the worst happens. Malaysia is, thankfully, a relatively safe country, and rarely have bodyguards been known to be heavy casualties of their trade. “In fact, we read about static/security guards being victims in robberies, shootings, but not so much of bodyguards being victims of the same violence, and static guards are paid far less.”
According to Cheok, the job ought to pay more. “A junior with a security firm earns between RM2,500 and RM3,500 while one working with a commercial organisation could earn about RM2,000.” These are, of course, ballpark figures.
While bodyguards are not required to sign indemnification forms, contracts are usually drawn out between the firm and the bodyguard, outlining the terms and conditions of employment. The training that comes with the job is designed to ensure that bodyguards never infringe on any law. “We try to make sure they don’t step over any lines or commit acts that are illegal, or obstruct justice in any way,” reveals Razlan. For instance, the recent case of a bodyguard pointing his weapon at a group of people. Under the Firearms Act 1960, Section 4 (1), a firearm can only be drawn when there is a genuine threat of life. An owner of a firearm who violates this law will be remanded.
It’s hard to blame the layman for assuming that bodyguards are huge chaps who could withstand a full-force gale, but this is an inaccurate perception. “Some of the foreign bodyguards I know laugh at the fat bodyguards we have here ... it’s really an embarrassment. A bodyguard is not a bouncer with tattoos,” Cheok contends. When queried if it’s anything like in the movie The Bodyguard, Cheok laughs and scoffs, “Jangan harap la” (You wish).
Another common misconception of the occupation is that personnel come for cheap, given the ads that appear in the newspapers.
“The reality is that good security costs good money and increasingly, more and more corporate and household budgets are going towards security costs, be it security for gated communities, CCTVs or alarm systems,” Razlan explains.
Bodyguards are sometimes thought to be hired thugs or retired gangsters, but that is almost never representative of established security corporations.
Sure, bodyguards sometimes find themselves in situations where they help to carry the shopping, and in some extreme cases, even tasked with doing the gardening, but in the event of an emergency, a bodyguard must always be prepared, and that includes the necessity to reach for his weapon in a split second.
Keeping safe is about practising safe habits. But there is only so much those who are untrained in security protection can do. That’s when we call in the experts. And there are enough of them out there to keep us safe in almost any situation.