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Millions of people recently witnessed President George Bush being quickly escorted into a waiting, armored limousine by a group of Secret Service personnel after bullets began to fly during a speech he was giving in Panama.
What these millions probably didn’t hear about, unless they are involved in the security business, was the April 29, 1992, abduction of Exxon executive Sidney Reso. After leaving for work from his New Jersey home, Reso’s empty car was found at the end of his driveway with the engine running and the driver’s side door open He hasn’t been heard from since.
These types of incidents lead to heightened security for politicians and corporate executives around the world. By understanding security precautions, operators can profit by providing safe, secure transportation for these individuals. Armored vehicles, defensive driving techniques for chauffeurs, and specialized security systems are all included in the total security package.
“The job is to build a fortress. These are all elements of that,” says Glen Busse, vice president of sales for Directed Electronics, a manufacturer of vehicle security systems.
Armored Vehicles Are a Start
“After the Kennedy assassination, armored cars came into their own in the American market,” says AI St. George, chief engineer for Chicago Armor. “The first armored cars in America were sold to the underworld. Then presidents and heads of state, both here and abroad, began to buy them.”
When purchasing an armored vehicle there are many considerations to take into account. First, a potential buyer must determine the actual threat level Amount of armoring, where the vehicle will mainly be used, and special features must also be considered.
“We have a saying, ‘An insufficiently armored car is like no armor at all.’ Light armoring shouldn’t be used where heavy armor might be encountered. We encourage a realistic view of the threat,” says St. George.
“Unfortunately more and more high-level executives of major corporations are turning to sophisticated armoring of their vehicles,” says Tony Scotti, president of the Scotti School of Defensive Driving. “The problem is; too often, these executives are reacting to whom amongst their peers was killed or kidnapped lately instead of realistically examining the level of threat against them personally.
“The actual number of my clients who use armored cars in the U.S. are very few, but that is changing. Look at the L.A. Riots and the Reso kidnapping. These things have made a lot of executives and wealthy individuals sit up and take notice,” he adds.
Once the threat level has been determined, the amount and type of armoring can be determined. According to Ted Carlson of Classic Limousine & Armoring, “If a client is simply worried about someone with a .38 or a 9 millimeter pistol robbing them, the protection will usually be a Level II. If, on the other hand; a person is in the Middle East, where high-velocity rifles, like the AK-47, are amazingly common, the protection must be greater, say to a Level V.” (See end of story)
Vehicles are armored to give the greatest possible protection to the occupants. Bullet-resistant glass, floor armoring to protect against hand grenades and small bombs, and armoring around occupied areas, gas tank, and batteries (dual-batteries are recommended) is installed.
“We also install James Bond-type features such as gun ports, ramming bumpers, flashing lights, sirens/public address systems, oil slick, and tear gas features into our vehicles,” says St. George. Another feature Chicago offers is called “fire power” which consists of pre-positioned fire arms. “Mostly our Middle East customers are interested in this feature. It isn’t in big demand in this country,” he adds.
Another factor that determines the level of armoring is where the vehicle is going to be used. Armored vehicles are designed to give the occupants protection in a surprise attack and protect them until the vehicle can be driven out of the danger zone to safety.
If the car is going to be driven predominantly on city streets, the likelihood of a lengthy attack is minimal and safety only a few blocks away. On the other hand, if the client spends the majority of time in rural areas, where help can be some time and distance away, it makes sense to more heavily armor the vehicle.
Weight Is a Factor
When the armoring process is complete, there is a considerable amount of weight that has been added — anywhere from 600 to 1,000 or more pounds. This can seriously impact the performance and handling of the vehicle. Because of this, there are several systems on the vehicle that must be upgraded and modified to compensate for the additional weight. These include: auxiliary cooling fans; heavy duty transmission fluid cooler; heavy duty oil cooler; extra capacity radiator; heavy duty shocks, coils, and suspension (including the sway bars); and special heavy duty tires that match the gross vehicle weight to the tire load rating.
Other specialty features that can be added include a self-sealing fuel tank. “We armor our gas tanks in three different ways,” St. George says. “We pack the tank with an open-cell foam that acts as a flame retardant. Also, we make the tank both puncture proof and armor plate it.” Additionally, run-flat tires and remote start/electronic system check systems can be added.
“When dealing with terrorism, having the remote start is very important,” Busse believes. Remote start systems allow the driver of the car to start the vehicle while still being far enough away from it to avoid danger. Often, terrorists will plant a bomb in a vehicle and wire it to the ignition or other systems in the car. “These types of security systems can also be used to activate other systems in the vehicle that a bomb may be hooked into.
“Vehicle security systems today are like minicomputers that have different inputs and outputs so the system can be customized for the individual application. Simple systems that primarily guard against break-in can cost as little as $250. Larger, more complex systems that incorporate remote-start features can cost as much as $500 or more,” he adds.
Customizing a security system for a livery application can include the remote start, remote trunk release, automatic door locks, shock sensor, enhanced detection, siren, and specialized “zoning.” “It is especially necessary for livery operators to have a flexible system. In livery situations, often the chauffeur will remain in the vehicle, but will still want the protection of the alarm. Zoning makes this possible,” Busse explains.
Security in the Livery Business
“An armored vehicle is desirable for livery operators because if that company has one of these vehicles, it can charge three to four times the going hourly rate,” says St. George.
In America, the majority of armored vehicles are located in Los Angeles. New York, and Washington, DC. “The people who use these vehicles tend to be entertainers in LA, mainly heads of state visiting the United Nations in N.Y.; and politicians in Washington DC,” he explains.
Ronnie Thomas of Manhattan International in New York City, adds, “There is definitely a need for security procedures and armored vehicles abroad, especially in Europe. We don’t have much call for armored vehicles in the City, but we do have access to them.” Thomas believes the need for armored vehicles is directly related to the amount of turmoil in the world. “With communism waning, we just don’t have much call for it these days. Occasionally, we have a tourist with significant amounts of money and jewelry who requests it though.”
While armored limousines may bring in a much higher hourly rate, it is often hard for an operator to justify the expense of one of these vehicles, According to St. George, depending on the size of the stretch, a light-armored vehicle can cost between $60,000 and $80,000. With the heaviest armoring, a Lincoln or Cadillac limousine can cost anywhere from $150,000 to over $200,000. A Mercedes limousine can cost “a lot more.”
“Operators think, ‘Why buy one armored limousine when I can buy three regular limousines for the same price?’ If an operator has a fleet of over 50, he can afford to operate one or two armored limousines,” St. George believes.
Chauffeurs Are Crucial Link
All of these protection devices are only as good as the individuals operating them. If a chauffeur is driving this type of vehicle, and doesn’t receive the proper training, the protection could prove ineffective. A chauffeur must obtain training in protective driving, as well as evasive driving techniques, in order to skillfully and effectively use the protection level of the vehicle.
“The weakest link in an armored car is when the passenger is getting in or out of the vehicle. A serious operator of an armored vehicle should have a driver that has undergone professional security driver’s training,” St. George states.
“There is not as much demand for corporate security/protection services as there should be, but I think that is changing now,” says Martha Braunig, vice president of Executive Security International (ESI), a security training program. “It has taken a long time for corporations to try to keep their executives safe. The Exxon incident has caused a lot of reaction in the corporate world.”
ESI offers a program that trains chauffeurs in all aspects of executive protection. “The course is a combination of home study and resident training. The students are taught basic executive protection, bomb identification, electronic security detection, defensive driving, defensive shooting, and observational psychology. The course takes six to 12 months to complete,” Braunig explains.
Bruce Cullett, ESI student and private chauffeur for General Electric, believes that the best thing he has gotten from the course is, “doing the correct thing without having to think about it. I have encountered certain driving situations where the training has helped me avoid an accident, but haven’t yet been involved in a security situation.”
Even operators that don’t own armored limousines have to occasionally undergo certain security procedures. Greg Golubin of Manhattan DC Executive in Washington, DC, has to submit his vehicles to security checks by the Secret Service when he is transporting government dignitaries. “They do bomb sweeps and use dogs and electronic equipment to check the cars if the job is going through the White House,” he says.
Certain clients of Golubin will request extra security protection. “Corporate heads of international corporations will request that we hire a special security contingent. I usually hire off-duty policemen. They will drive in convoys including a lead car and follow car. Additionally, with some of our clients the Secret Service, State Department, or local police will sweep the car for bombs,” he adds.
“This type of security is necessary these days. There are more and more threats against corporate executives. Radical groups from overseas are causing trouble in this country, even in the cities — young kids are walking around carrying guns,” Cullett states.
Armoring Levels Vary With Threat
When purchasing an armored vehicle, the real versus perceived level of threat must be examined in order to get a car that will provide the proper level of protection. Armored cars can be purchased equipped with different levels of protection designed to stop certain caliber weapons The level of armoring you need is determined by the type of weapon you want to protect against The levels of protection are:
Level II — This will stop high-power small arms, such as a 357 magnum or 9 millimeter handgun.
Level III — This will stop the above weapons, plus superpower small arms such as a 44 magnum, 12-gauge, or 30 caliber carbine.
Level IV — This will stop the above weapons, plus high-power rifles and M-1 carbines, such as 30.06 military ball ammunition.
Level V — This will stop the above weapons, plus superpower military rifles.
Level VI — This will stop the above weapons, plus high-velocity military rifles.
Level VII — This will stop the above weapons, plus armor-piercing weapons.
Richard Cooley, president of Executive Professional Chauffeuring School in Los Angeles, CA, helped provide information on vehicle armoring for this article.
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