I know that title is a mouthful. But that’s one way of explaining what I do – and what our expert family security advisors do – when we help private clients make important decisions about how to protect their residences and their loved ones. No private client is alike. Not when you consider all the factors that contribute to protecting what matters. I’m no exception. Don’t hand me a template-based approach to security protocols that worked for someone else. Help me decide what works for me – and my family. That’s what we do with our clients. Because decisions about how to protect a home are inextricably linked with how to protect a lifestyle – and if you don’t understand that, you can make the wrong decision, one with consequences.

Example 1: A Well-Intentioned “Security Modification” Nearly Backfires

Like what? Here’s an example. Recently, I led a team that conducted a residential security assessment of a prominent executive’s primary home in a major U.S. city. As part of this engagement, we evaluated where a safe room might best be located, given a range of factors. The apartment was on a higher floor in a private building located in an affluent neighborhood. We identified a number of egress doors to fire escapes, including one that had been sealed shut. I asked the principal about this and he told me they were concerned someone could climb the fire escape and enter the home and, because additional exit points were available, they chose to seal this exit point in the name of security.

A better solution to sealing a door might be to enhance it so it could only be opened from the inside, essentially creating an exit-only door. Building codes and fire codes are in place for a reason and should always be consulted. If you are in a position where multiple exits exist, you have to weigh security and emergency egress. However, being able to get out of a dangerous situation is usually an optimal response in most emergency management plans.

Example 2: Some Houses Have Special Design Requirements

That particular scenario reminded me of an incident at the White House in 2007 while I worked with the U.S. Secret Service. A large fire broke out near the Vice President’s ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located next to the White House. Fire department personnel tried using sledgehammers break the windows – only to have the sledgehammers bounce off the blast-proof glass. Later, I met one of the firefighters who responded to the blaze and he told me they had a heck of the time breaching the windows. Thank goodness no one was trapped or seriously injured. I’m confident new protocols for responding to White House fires were developed as a result of this incident. But the example – while extreme – is relevant for everyone, not just our U.S. government leaders.

5 Tips for Private Client and Family Office Residential Security

Both of the examples above demonstrate aspects of residential security that can either save a life – or cost one. While every private client has a different set of goals and priorities – and constraints, for that matter – here are some of the points I find myself and our broader team of private client security experts sharing with our clients every day.

  1. Start by developing a comprehensive Family Emergency Plan to deal with all emergencies. At a minimum, ensure the plan includes guidance on preparing to prevent or respond to fire, environmental and weather-related events, and home intrusions.
  2. Have an independent expert review your plan. Select a professional who can evaluate at your plan based on how other individuals and families have addressed comparable challenges. Ideally, this should be a trusted service provider knowledgeable of the latest trends in technology and crime and their implications for your particular combinations of family priorities and practices, as well as the risk, threat and vulnerability environment you confront.
  3. Always, always, always have contingency plans. If plan A does not work, make sure you and your advisory team have a Plan B at your fingertips.
  4. Communication will be the first things that falls apart – trust me. Don’t count on having accurate information at the beginning of an incident or crisis and don’t count on being able to easily pass and receive information quickly.
  5. Practice your plan. It’s amazing when you see a written plan practiced the first time – it never goes the way people thought it would. Practice identifies the most critical changes and improvements you need to make to your plan and allows all your family members to know what to do in a crisis and understand what another are likely to do when the unexpected occurs.

No one knows when or if they will be confronted with a crisis or an emergency. Become informed. Get prepared. Be safe. Protect what matters.