I recently had the opportunity to attend the International Protective Security Board (IPSB), 2018 Close Protection Conference, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I will be honest, I was not certain what to expect as I had never been before. But since I wanted to have the best and most recent information for my clients, as well as improve my own capabilities; I thought I would take a chance. I am so glad I did, as it was by far one of the best development opportunities I’ve had in a long time, and here’s why.

Content of Presentations

Every single presentation at the conference added value to my professional capability. The information was current and applicable to so many different aspects of the Close Protection industry. Yes some of it might not have been directly related to an individuals specialty, but indirectly you would have picked up little pieces of quality content, regardless of whether you worked in the Private Sector, Public Sector or both.

Experience of Presenters

Every single presenter was of the highest caliber and had so much knowledge, training and experience in their related field. This was so nice to see since so much of the Close Protection development industry is flooded with inexperienced profiteers or people that took a course and now consider themselves an expert. This was not the case here and all these folks were so great to talk to about their subject matter, or anything really.

click here for speaker bios

Diversity of Presentations

One of the things that struck me as amazing, was the diversity of the presentations and the presenters. From Jared Maples, the Director of Homeland Security and Preparedness in New Jersey, to a former CIA field agent who gave a global intelligence briefing. Also discussions on solo practitioners and developing new practitioners, to celebrity protection and international operations. The diversity in the material and the individuals presenting it was outstanding.

click here for the 2018 agenda

Engaging & Interactive Content

Something I really liked was how the organizers took some seemingly dry or difficult to present topics and set forth to make them a little more casual by putting a bunch of experts on a panel. I’ve seen this many times at other conferences and it seems to be making a bit of a resurgence. These panel type discussions created an informative yet casual tone, allowing for a greater diversity in perspective. Also, for a room of almost 400 people, they  gave conference attendees the opportunity to ask questions after every presentation and took the time to answer them thoroughly. Heck, even this funny sounding Canuck got a chance to ask a couple questions.

Networking Opportunities

I could not believe the amount of focused and professional networking going on. This is not a bad thing, in fact this was a fantastic opportunity for everyone in attendance. Everyone in there understood the value of connections and working together. Being one of only a few Canadians, I honestly didn’t think I would have a lot to offer but was I ever wrong. Every person I talked to wanted to get to know me, my background and how we could help each other. It seemed the more I talked about what I’m trying to do for the industry and communities, the more people wanted to listen and potentially work together down the road. Regardless, I was just quite happy to meet a lot of great people and hopefully help them where I can.

One thing you need to know about especially the Private sector, is there are a lot of small teams and individuals out there working Close Protection around the world. They rely on a close network of trusted allies to support each other when they operate outside their regional zone of familiarity. This is were the real networking comes into play. No one will google “close protection” and dial up (dating myself here) some “random” off the internet for assistance. It just doesn’t work that way. So if you want to develop a network of people you can call when you need help in a certain region (or country), and vice versa; then you need to be at this conference.

Balance, Culture and Fun

One of the best things about the conference was the balanced approach the organizers took to the schedule. There was the right mix of content at the rights times, while still working in things like networking and social time. This was a tall order, considering the conference took place in Vegas, with lots of distractions and “fun” things to do. Despite the many other lifestyle enriching things to do  around “Sin City” and the Westgate hotel, I found myself gravitating towards the conference and disappointed when it was over. A lot of that also had to do with the culture of the audience and the inviting crowd. Remember, I went there by myself, with the potential of not knowing anyone (as none of my network confirmed attendance). Regardless of those facts, everyone from the President of the IPSB and its board members, through the panelists, vendors and conference attendees were nothing but welcoming. They all made me feel like I had been coming there for years. In fact, on more than one occasion, people had heard I was from Canada and sought me out for my perspective on the industry or to simply introduce themselves and welcome me to the conference. This was not just my experience, but also that of folks that are brand new to the industry of Close Protection. The conference put a great focus on welcoming and helping folks at every stage of their career, which was so nice to see in an industry that often gets such a bad reputation for  ego and lets cal them “strong personalities”. If there were any serious egos in the room, I certainly did not experience them.

The Location

I don’t think anyone would have a problem going to Las Vegas, Nevada for a conference. I mean it’s Vegas, C’Mon. However, I was not certain what to expect regarding the venue as I had never been to the Westgate Resort before. Let’s just say I was pretty impressed from beginning to end. The staff, the rooms, the on site amenities and the setup for the Conference were all excellent. Some may say it’s less desirable because it’s not right on “the strip”, but in reality it was only a 5 minute Monorail ride to the center of the strip and you pay a little less for being off the strip. Except the food, as it was a little pricey in the hotel so I’m glad the conference included breakfast and lunch.

Making a Difference

Another aspect of this conference that I was not expecting was the way conference attendees were able to make a direct difference in the lives of children forced into slavery. One of the presentations was by folks from an organization called the Children’s Rescue Imitative. These dedicated volunteers use their guardian skills as well as the power of negotiation in military style operations, to save children and families all over the world that have been forced into slavery through human trafficking.

At the conference the Founder and Director of CRI, Bruce Ladebu gave a very informative and disturbing presentation into the global problem of Human trafficking and showed everyone what CRI is doing to help. These aren’t just people taking donations and then sending celebrities overseas to make commercials. These are wonderful, caring and skilled people using their talents to deploy on rescue missions all over the world. Many conference attendees I talked to had already signed up for the CRI training and soon will hopefully be deploying in an effort to rescue some of the most vulnerable people around the world.

During the conference, Bruce had mentioned that their most recent mission was short about $4000 and they may not be able to deploy. Well the Close Protection community was having none of that and together with the help of some excellent vendors including a substantial donation from the Patriot Group Global, they raised over $14,000 for this and subsequent missions. We all know in Close Protection, that we never truly know the impact of our efforts. Well when you see pictures of young children rescued from slavery based on the combined efforts of small donation’s, you can immediately see the lives you changed.

click here for more information on the Children’s Rescue Initiative

Areas for Improvement

It wouldn’t be right for me to point out all these great things and not make any suggestions for improvement. Let me be clear, these are little nit picky things that could simply add some sprinkles on an already iced and wonderful cake.

  • Social media sharing was a bit of a challenge. – I know in our industry many people shy away from using it, but for business it is a must. I found it very difficult to tag the IPSB due to the length of it’s Facebook Page name. I also couldn’t find an Instagram account for the IPSB. Having a dedicated conference hasthtag would also help.
  • Presenter Bios for all the presenters and panelists displayed. – A few of the presenters had operational commitments and had to cancel attendance. Not a big deal as anyone in the industry would understand that. Every presenter was introduced, as were all the panelists. However,  I like to write folks names down to check out their other work and I missed a lot of them. My recommendation would be to post their names and affiliations on the big screen while they are speaking. This can be done to accommodate last minute changes and avoid the expense of printing full length booklets.
  • More international exposure. – Let’s be clear on this one, as it’s not a criticism of the IPSB or the conference. The IPSB had presenters and panelists from all over the world including, mostly the United States but also Honk Kong, the United Kingdom, Israel,  and probably a few others I didn’t write down. They also talked extensively about the desire to draw a more international audience, despite having representation from at least 11 different countries. So, in my opinion they are doing their part and now I will do mine. I challenge you, if you have read this far then you must be serious about your career and should consider attending future conferences. The only way for us to make improvements in our industry is to have diversity in representation from all over the world. As an industry we can work together and solve a lot of problems, but it starts with getting together in the same place for a few days.
  • The chairs. – Super minor point here, but I think the Westgate should invest in some new chairs for their conference center. Mine was OK, but it was a little soft and started to get a little uncomfortable towards the end. Or, it might just be that I need to loose a little weight or maybe all the “halls and walls” has ruined sitting down for me. (Full credit: I stole that one from Chuck Randolph – love it)

Who Should Attend and Why:

Private Sector Close Protection: This is by far the largest group represented at this conference and therefore it is critical for you to stay connected to the most current information and network with people that have mutual supporting interests. If you’re a private sector CP practitioner and are looking for more, here is where you will find it.

Public Sector Close Protection: Despite (in my opinion) the majority of the audience being from the Private sector, there was still a significant number of Public Sector Close Protection Professionals in attendance at all ranks levels. So you will have the ability to network with colleagues and build strong relationships that can support your mission. Even if you talk to no one, you will still directly benefit from the presentations as the information is not focused on any particular sector. If you do not go, you may be jeopardizing your mission by potentially only relaying on the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. Our enemies and operating environment are constantly evolving, so must we.

Security Managers: Surprisingly I met quite a few non close protection security managers at the conference. They were there to learn about an aspect of their responsibilities that isn’t necessarily their primary focus, yet an important requirement for a variety of different reasons. Bottom line, if you’re in security and not learning about Close Protection and the nuances of VIP Protective Operations, then you are missing a big piece of your portfolio. Also, there are so many cross over benefits from Close Protection to general Security (or even general duty Law Enforcement) that you should not be missing out on this part of the industry if you work in that field.

Vendors: A big part of every conference is the trade show and marketplace of vendors selling or promoting their products and services. If you have even the remotest nexus to Security, Law Enforcement and of course Close Protection then you need to be at this conference. You also need to take it one step further. Don’t just try and push your wares on the attendees, but use it as an opportunity to listen to your market and expand your growth potential. You will have hundreds of dedicated people walking by your booth with their own unique set of circumstances and challenges. Listen to what they have to say and you may take your business to an unimaginable level based on inspiration from one conversation. If you don’t believe me, keep an eye on SpecVIP Protection Group Inc. and see where we are in 5 to 10 years.

Industry Beginners or those Transitioning: If you want to start out in Close Protection or are looking at making a career change to this specialized area, then you need to be at this conference. For starters the new people were welcomed with open arms and given tons of great advice. There was also an opportunity to attend a career fair with professional photos, resume reviews and on site interviews for current positions. Bottom line, if you are new, you will not find a better place to sky rocket your career.

Conclusion

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m pretty impressed with the International Protective Security Board and their Close Protection Conference. For an organization that is only a few years old and managed exclusively by volunteers, these folks have really done an outstanding job with this. So if you are in Close Protection in any form, from the new trainee, to the seasoned professional or someone looking to transition into this specialized field; then you need to be at the next IPSB conference. If you’re from outside the U.S, don’t be shy and rise to the challenge. You have lots to learn from this audience and likely lots to offer as well. And for all of you out there that have talked about improving the industry, this is a good place to listen to other ideas and continue the conversation. Hopefully I can see you all there next year. Cheers and stay safe folks.

Click here to find out more about the International Protective Security Board (IPSB) and for updates on the next conference.