• United States



by Senior Editor

4 Steps Security Can Take to Prevent Kidnapping

Apr 08, 20096 mins
Investigation and ForensicsIT LeadershipPhysical Security

Think kidnapping is not a risk for your organization? Think again. Kidnapping and hostage expert Chris Falkenberg tells us why the threat is real, and what you can do to minimize the risk

As the economic crisis continues to heat up, Chris Falkenberg believes the potential for kidnapping will, too.

“The biggest risk for kidnapping of adults is among people in the financial services business,” said Falkenberg, president of Insite Security, a New York-based consultancy that offers security services and analysis. “Particularly those who have a great deal of publicity about their wealth and their business success.” (Learn tips for what to do if you are abducted in ‘How to Act if You’re Kidnapped’)

Kidnappers are motivated by money, and potential victims are the people who make the most, said Falkenberg, who noted that executive compensation is easier than ever find thanks to SEC disclosure rules (Read ‘Six Things You Need to Know About Executive Protection’).

Assessing an organization’s risk for a potential executive or staff abduction involves several factors. While executives may be more at risk in the United States, in many other countries, all employees face danger, especially if the country is impoverished (Read ‘Employee Safety in Global Hotspots’).

Falkenberg, a former Special Agent in the U.S. Secret Service, outlines preventative measures companies can consider to minimize kidnapping risk.

Establish a counter-surveillance program

Every kidnapping is preceded by a planning stage, according to Falkenberg. An organization with an effective counter-surveillance program has good shot at intervening or detecting a threat, increasing security and motivating potential kidnappers to go elsewhere.

Counter surveillance, according to Falkenberg, basically takes the regular security guard position and “turns it inside out.” In addition to having personnel manning the gate, a counter-surveillance program has personnel who are watching to see who is watching others.

A good program could include a team that conducts surveillance at a facility, residence, or any given location, and keeps tabs on who is watching the target. This means looking for people who might be walking back in forth frequently in front of a location, taking video or photographs, counting footsteps to determine the measurements of a given location.

“Anything someone is doing from a public area to gain information which could be used in a crime and detecting who is doing that,” said Falkenberg to describe the kind of intelligence that should be gathered.

A counter-surveillance program might also use CCTV infrastructure in a proactive way, he said.

“CCTV is primarily utilized in the forensic capacity, once a crime has occurred,” said Falkenberg. “But a counter-surveillance team can use all of the intelligent video in a proactive means, particularly if you have the ability to identify cars and license plates to keep an eye out for who seems to be in your perimeter, collecting information about scheduling, comings and goings, and transportation routes.”

Utilize GPS

Falkenberg recommends companies put in place technology to be able to receive GPS transmissions from cell phones or emergency GPS transmitters. While this technology may only go so far because the device will likely be taken from the victim, in some scenarios, it could still aid in rescue. And as technology advances, GPS will become even more useful.

“There is some technology coming out in which you can program a cell phone to send out a distress signal,” said Falkner. “What we are using with some clients is a handheld GPS transmitter which you can essentially use as a portable panic button. It triangulates to where it transmits. That can be used for a security department to learn where a kidnapping has occurred.”

Train employees on how to behave

As Falkenberg pointed out before, kidnappings are planned events. Kidnappers don’t often consider what they will do if the victim takes some drastic action to thwart the abduction.

“It’s really infrequent, in the history of kidnapping, if victim runs away, or if they make a u-turn, that kidnappers will actually pursue a victim and kidnap in a static environment.”

When an event takes place, victims find themselves forced into vehicles with commands shouted at them like “Get in the car! We are going to kill you!” While this is terrifying, it is actually much easier to turn the situation to your advantage at that point than it is once you are incarcerated, said Falkenberg.

But this kind of reaction to threats is not second nature to people, said Falkenberg. It is something that has to be learned. He recommends talking with employees about what to do if threatened and rehearsing it. It is important, he said, for people to feel comfortable that if there is a kidnapping, they can react, have some muscle memory of how to react, and have some confidence that it is the correct step.

“It is a great challenge to train people to think effectively during emergencies,” said Falkenberg. “But it is very important because you have a real chance in the beginning to terminate the situation. If you can, you are much better off than getting in the car, or the van, where the realm of outcomes becomes worse.”

Falkenberg also recommends companies train employees about how to act as hostages in the event that they are abducted. Tips include touching everything in sight to leave lots of fingerprints and talking to the kidnappers so they see you as a human, not an object. Falkenberg recommends mentioning family, children, and other personal facts that may aid in getting them to see you as a person.

Consider families, too

“It’s one thing to kidnap the president of a company,” said Falkenberg. “Who knows what will happen? But if it involves the president’s kid? That situation has to be resolved immediately and the kidnappers know it. It is a far greater danger.”

Potential vulnerabilities don’t stop with the executive. Companies need to consider the family component of protection for executives, said Falkenberg. A crisis management and continuity plan for the family outside the office is key.

However, the family component can’t really be addressed with the same techniques used for employees because families are not going to tolerate the kind of protection that c-level executives tolerate at work. Also, it is just not cost effective. But Falkenberg believes there are several ways an organization can improve security for the executive and his/her family outside of work by leveraging existing resources. Training family about potential dangers and how to behave if someone attempts to abduct them is essential. But so is training of household staff members.

“Many executive have a household staff. They can be trained in the tools and skills of counter surveillance,” said Falkenberg. “They may have more information about the comings and goings than the family, particularly because some executives have multiple homes.”