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The DBT and Its Role in Protection


Rick Colliver

The DBT and Its Role in Protection

In my capacity as both a “consumer” of protection services and as a member of several associations seeking to standardize and professionalize the protection industry, I spend my spare time talking to other security professionals, attending conferences and surfing the internet for protection training programs; all in an effort to identify the competent professionals in this business.

By now, most of us agree that protection is a unique career field that we can’t learn about in college, in the police academy, or by watching re-runs of our favorite crime drama. Depending on where we envision our careers going, we should embark on a never-ending pursuit of training and refinement, hopefully from competent and capable instructors. But, how do we find them?

I have often been disheartened when I have been told by school operators (or worse yet, they advertise this on their websites) that “we don’t waste time on theory…we get people out doing the hands-on stuff”.

Are you kidding me? Do you really consider protection theory a “waste of time”? What is it about the protection profession that would make us different from any other profession out there, where we feel comfortable diving into specific techniques without understanding why we’re performing them?

Would you want someone taking your tonsils out after only having watched it done a couple of times by another doctor? Or would you rather your surgeon had several years of graduate level anatomy and physiology supporting their knowledge of “where to cut”?

Would you want someone representing you in a use-of-force case, whose only training in the subject was that s/he had watched another attorney mount a similar defense…or would you rather have an attorney that had learned the ins and outs of the judicial system and had a thorough knowledge of the decisions and precedents that got us where we are today in terms of case law?

More to the point, if the bulk of your protection training is spent interrupting AOP’s while working the ropes, I think you are missing the bigger picture of 1) why did you think you needed a rope line, 2) where were you going to put those ropes and 3) how many protectors did you think you’d need for this? As a client, if I assign a protection mission to you, I need to know that you know what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Recently, I contacted a security provider about setting up a protection detail in a foreign country. The manager’s response was, “How many guys do you want?”

“Isn’t that your job to tell me?” I replied.

“Well…then I think we need about five”. He said.

“For what…you haven’t done the advance yet”? I asked him.

“That’s what we usually use.” He said, somewhat perplexed.

This exchange led me down the path of asking where his personnel received their training, and what kind of training did his team actually receive. The company website boasted that they had the finest, best-trained agents in the known universe, former special forces operators (etc), and I was mildly curious as to what made them the best.

It turned out that each agent received “about” forty hours of training in unarmed combat, evacuation drills and firearms; which included more than 500 rounds on the M-4. When I asked him about training in advance work, threat/vulnerability assessment, operational strategies and etiquette, he merely grunted, “Yeah, they get that too.”

Needless to say, they didn’t get the job (and M-4’s were illegal in the country where we were going). More importantly, it illustrated the type of service a client should expect when they contract with the “hands-on” team that thought that theory was a waste of time. In short, there’s no such thing as the “usual” protection mission, because there’s no such thing as the “usual” threat.

What my research has shown is that protection schools that offer only “hands-on” training are equipping students for reactive rather than proactive roles. Worse, it indicates to a client that this curricular shortcoming may be due to: 1) the instructors don’t understand protection theory themselves and/or 2) their training programs don’t have any real academic content. The school owners simply grab a bunch of firearms instructors or martial artists and sell a protection training program built upon reactive skills.

Central to security planning is the ability to understand the nature of threats extant in any given protection scenario. And, usually this can only be accomplished through risk and vulnerability assessment of the Protectee; including their work and residence venues. From these assessments, we construct design-basis-threat (DBT) profiles around which we can develop appropriate security strategies.

This particular assessment methodology was originally developed by Sandia Laboratories ( http://www.sandia.gov/ )  and can be applied to a variety of scenarios/industries, including nuclear, chemical and public utility security programs, to name a few. More importantly, it can be applied to almost any security problem; such as programs for individuals determined to be at-risk due to occupational, environmental or relational exposure to violent acts.

As the Department of Defense tells us, a DBT is the threat against/from which an asset must be protected and upon which the protective system’s design is based. A DBT establishes the objectives of a security system or program; it 1) defines the assets to be protected, and 2) defines the threats to protect those assets against.

The DBT is often reduced to several paragraphs that describe the number of adversaries, their modus operandi, the type of tools and weapons they would use, and the type of events or acts they are willing to commit.

A standard definition of a DBT revolves around four important themes:

    •    Insider and/or external adversaries – A potential adversary is any individual or group of individuals deemed to have the intent and/or the capabilities to conduct a malicious act.

    •    Malicious acts leading to unacceptable consequences – Steps taken to prevent malicious acts, and protection against unacceptable consequences to protected individuals (intentional and unintentional injury, kidnapping, embarrassment etc).

    •    Attributes and characteristics – The attributes and characteristics of potential adversaries describe their capabilities to carry out a malicious act. Capabilities may include weapons, explosives, tools, transportation, insiders and insider collusion, skills, tactics, and number of individuals committed to attack.

These capabilities help determine the detection, delay, and response criteria for design and evaluation of an effective physical protection system (protective intelligence).

     •    Design and evaluation – A DBT, which is defined at the facility or personal level, is a tool used to help establish performance requirements for the design of physical protection systems.

A DBT is also used to help Operators and public safety authorities assess the effectiveness of the systems to counter adversaries; by evaluating the systems’ performances against their capabilities described in the DBT.

This assessment process involves not only security personnel, but other departmental leaders from the Protectee’s organization so that threats and responses can be reviewed in a multi-disciplinary setting. This type of approach helps balance our understanding of security problems and prevents consistent under or over-reaction to potential threats.

This assessment methodology is but one tool in the protection specialist’s toolbox to help determine the appropriate application of personnel and equipment to any given protection mission. It helps us build our credibility and perceived contributions to a client’s personal and organizational goals.


While it doesn’t have the sex appeal that shooting and car-smashing offer, theory is that component of protection training that allows you to sit across the desk from a client and make them feel like you are worthy of their trust and confidence…and their cash.

By understanding and applying protection theory, you are better positioned to adequately protect a client’s interests under a variety of circumstances, without over or under-responding, delivering a security package that keeps them safe without unnecessarily draining their budget or impeding their ability to conduct business. So, when looking for a protection school, ensure that you select a program that will give you a solid foundation of protection theory so that you can properly analyze existent threats and find appropriate solutions for your clients.


Author: Rick ColliverRick Colliver has served as the security director for two NYSE-listed global corporations. He has managed security operations in 24 time zones, and protection details in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. He is the course developer and lead instructor in the Principal Protection program at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and is an adjunct instructor in protective operations through several police, military and academic organizations, including the distinguished Executive Security International.

Rick is the author of Principal Protection; Lessons Learned (TERRAPIN Publications, 2011), which he reports, is not another “how-to” book on protection, but rather a “why-to”. He is the co-author and narrator of School Safety and Security; An All-Hazards Approach (University of Findlay, 2002) and a contributing author to Gruber’s Physical and Technical Security; An Introduction (Thomson Delmar, 2005). A contributor to both online and print media, his articles can often be found at www.bodyguardcareers.com.

Rick received his Bachelor’s degree in Criminology from The Ohio State University and has completed graduate work in Organizational Behavior through the University of Phoenix, and Crisis Management through the American Military University. He maintains his law enforcement credentials through the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office, where he supports one of the top Principal Protection teams in the country. Since 2005, Rick has also served on the Public Health and the Critical Infrastructure Protection advisory committees for Ohio Homeland Security, Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Throughout his career, he has held certifications as an OPOTA Instructor (1984), CPP (1988), CFE (1989), Rescue SCUBA Diver (1994), EMT (1995), and CHS III (2006). He maintains current certifications in Protective Operations Management (CPOM), and Dignitary and Executive Protection (CDEP), and he is an active member of Nine Lives Associates.

Specialties:Executive/dignitary protection training, threat assessment and workplace violence training, corporate security management, TSA ASO, DoD FSO, firearms instructor (NRA, DTI).


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