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March 17, 2015

GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking of individuals is best incorporated within a comprehensive security strategy which includes standard protective elements. An intelligence unit can generate a threat brief for the area of operation, monitor news, social media and other indicators, compile all information and data into a dashboard, and couple this with a GPS indicator. As a result, operations will know where threats AND people are. This is the information age and information is extremely powerful, having the ability to quickly disrupt social, cultural, and political states. The level of ability to harness this information makes you either more effective or more vulnerable. For personnel tracking, there are security services that offer protective info based on projected destinations following initially generated travel itineraries and other identifiers, but adding GPS takes out the ‘guess work’, and provides definitive knowledge and targeted alerts based on where the person actually is at any given moment.


Global Positioning Technology

Different GPS systems provide unique capabilities. The two prevailing technology categories are currently:

  • Mobile phone application based global positioning, based on relays in the carrier network.
  • Satellite triangulation, based on a constellation of satellites matching the earth’s rotation.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and the most desirable option depends on an analysis of the particular need, and specifics of the implementation and application of the devices. The layperson’s perception might be that a satellite system would be most accurate. When a multi-satellite triangulation is available, it certainly provides high accuracy in determining a position. There are, however, some limitations. Triangulation works best in wide-open spaces; the ocean or desert are two good examples. Urban environments can be extremely challenging because very often tall buildings compromise the tracking ability of low horizon satellites to draw a position. This effect is generally called “terrain shadow.” Accordingly, in more urban environments, a mobile device GPS application, using the dense network of a city’s cellular system, may be the best option. A current detailed and comprehensive overview of a country’s terrain and infrastructure is necessary to advise on the choice of cellular vs satellite tracking.


Situational Awareness While Tracking Movement and Destinations

The GPS real time tracking information can be enhanced with correlative incidents. The transponder can signal location, but that location accuracy is best confirmed by the input of other data like recent corporate credit card usage. A density of location data is cross-referenced to achieve higher degrees of certainty that the GPS device has remained on the person of interest, and their itinerary plans are proceeding with no surprises. Any unexpected movement is immediately identified and evaluated. The evaluation encompasses the current threat overview within the individual’s vicinity and the prevailing or emergent situational risk and vulnerability factors.


Duress Buttons, Geo Fences, and IFF Transponders

Here is an elaboration on some elements of the GPS and tracking related ‘lingo’ as used in the protection industry. Most GPS devices include some facet of duress button functionality. The majority of the hardware uses a cellular network, and the ‘panic’ signal is sent to the monitoring facility via a SMS text, an automated data feed or email. An additional number of previously designated alert recipients can be implemented when a larger contingent is preferred, or deemed necessary, to be notified. A variety of responses can be set in motion accordingly to, and depending on, the needs and responsibilities of security team personnel. Geo Fences are an almost essential aspect of tracking transported goods. GPS can provide alerts for unexpected stops and off-route excursions from predetermined routes, excess speeds and other unusual behavior. Related to the supply chain management system, speed and fuel consumption can be accurately monitored. In addition, more general data related to cargo diversion is acquired. Common elements that create favorable conditions for cargo diversion are identified and analyzed to gain insight and knowledge for future improvements in the travel process. IFF transponders take over during air travel when the functionality of a GPS device is compromised. Each airline flight has an IFF transponder and as the plane or helicopter passes through air traffic control zones, it interrogates the aircraft automatically. This information is sometimes available to security experts, as well as the general public.


Appropriate Monitoring and Response to GPS Signals

As with any security device – whether it be video surveillance systems, alarms, or high tech laser sensors – the triggering device is just the initial warning component. The device is a tool that has to be used extremely well; the effectiveness of all protective measures is contingent on what happens next. The quality and professionalism of the monitoring detail and facility are a primary consideration, but capable responders are essential to effective protection. A dynamic, sound situationally responsive loop of communication has to be established and solidified for all protective elements to work in concert to best effect. Diligent analysts look for threat indicators that can be relayed to the team leaders and those who maintain a physical presence on the ground. Security details need to be ready and in place to immediately intervene before a serious issue has time to develop. The individuals being tracked should be up to speed with both the advantages and limitations of the technology being employed, well trained in its usage, and aware of not doing anything that would compromise the functionality – like accidently turning location services off. The separation of personal safety and personal privacy should be previously discussed with the person or people in potentially dangerous travel areas. Buy-in is crucial for the system to work. Imparting knowledge of safe zones and providing situation updates to these individuals is part of the desired and recommended communication flow. The planning process is crucial, knowing where people are vulnerable, and where the specific evacuation routes are, along with what alternatives are available, and knowledge of appropriate contingency plans. The ability for operational elements to seamlessly work with informational elements is a vital part of successful security.


Holistic Threat Awareness Model

A holistic approach is desirable over one which focuses on individual threats and sometimes creates “blind spots” in threat awareness. Ideally, a real-time shared information stream connecting the brand, cyber info, social media data, executive protection teams, and all ancillary components is established to maintain accurate indicators which signal a change to the threat landscape. Most attacks against an enterprise have some pre-operational indicators. It could be social media buzz, or private groups talking, certain visitors staying late or not checking in or out – all points in the data constellation that can create a picture of a possible pending attack – because to successfully plan such a thing, an abundance of details is necessary. Attacks against an enterprise or traveler rarely happen in a vacuum. Instead, physical and logistical elements tend to occur in concert, sequentially or simultaneously. That is why it is so important for enterprise protection units to acquire and effectively share substantial amounts of pertinent data in real time.


Employee Protection & Security is Crucial

In today’s world, GPS is crucial to enterprise protection and risk management. A company’s foremost asset is the well-being of their people. Natural disasters and terror incidents both pose threats that can become real at any moment. An entity must also protect its public image and reputation – and the ability to keep employees safe shows that the company maintains a high level of diligence in these efforts. Even an unsuccessful executive kidnapping that ends as a thwarted incident or the safe recovery of the individual can create negative unwanted publicity, and thus has the potential to be a public relations nightmare for the brand. In the United States, Duty of Care Laws obligate employers to provide a reasonable amount of protection for their employees. Everyone who works for the company needs to be informed in advance when hostile conditions that can impact them are present or reasonably expected. In addition, they all should be advised on situational awareness measures and response plans. When traveling out of the norm to different countries, environments and cultures, employees can often over or under react to incidents they experience. Training and coaching are important elements in employee protection that can often decide each individual’s safety. Above and beyond the actual technology, to maintain present and ongoing protection a company needs to ensure that all aspects of threat are being considered, that employees are kept well informed, and that they continue to receive security related updates on an ongoing basis. Global travel and workforce presence are common to many brands today, and GPS implementation contributes an additional layer of protection that in many situations is crucial to successful protection of a mobile and global workforce. 

Contributing author: Derick DeJesus, Manager of Operations, Global Risk Group

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