On the frontline of fear with Rob Redenbach

By Mike O-Connor for CourierMail

THE 12-year-old boy snatched from outside his school in Kuala Lumpur triggered a security crisis which put Rob Redenbach on the next plane to Malaysia.

“My client was a Canadian oil and gas company which had a lot of employees who had students at the same school and they wanted me to do a security audit of the school and run situational awareness training for the parents and students,” he says. “The boy was returned five days later, unharmed, for a ransom and, three days after that, they caught four of the five people involved.

“In the past 18 months, there have been 12 reported kidnappings in KL. All have been released for a ransom without physical injury,” says Redenbach (pictured above). “Kidnap for cash is an industry in South-East Asia and Malaysia.”

Based in the Gold Coast hinterland, Redenbach describes his business as having three parts – keynote speaking, leadership workshops and auditing what he describes as “specific high risks around the area of close personal protection”.

He worked with the bodyguard team of South Africa’s then-president, Nelson Mandela, in the 1990s and has also worked in the Middle East and Kenya with groups like the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, UNICEF and with aid agencies.

“Also, I spent a couple of years in New Guinea before I went to Africa and that was an education insofar as it threw me in the deep end. It allowed me to see how the wheels can fall off and they do fall off sometimes.

“We had about 300 guards and did gold escorts, cash escorts and provided security for pubs, petrol stations and private homes. We had a few problems there and I made my share of mistakes,” he admits.

He later worked in security in Kenya with a former major from the Australian Special Air Service regiment and then moved to Baghdad in the Middle East.

“In Baghdad, I was providing close personal protection for people involved in writing the new Iraqi constitution. These people had to meet with different groups such as the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. I was part of the teams that would take them out to meet them.

“We didn’t have armoured personnel carriers or helicopter gunships. We drove around in beat-up Iraqi civilian vehicles, dressed like Iraqis with headdresses and carried AK47s. That’s how you blend in in Baghdad. It was pretty hairy.

“We got ambushed one day and bullets were flying through the cabin.”

Redenbach says his job as a security adviser is about identifying what can go wrong before it goes wrong.

“Very often people – because of arrogance or over-confidence – think they can handle anything.” This, he says, leads to “The Bubble of Confusion”.

“You have to acknowledge fear will be an element of a high-risk situation yet, commonly, people don’t acknowledge fear. They’ll approach a potential issue or challenge thinking that if something goes wrong, they can handle it.”

Fear, says Redenbach, is a natural part of the survival mechanism.

“When it kicks in, people’s legs start to shake and they get clammy palms, dry mouth and tunnel vision,” he said. “People then interpret that as meaning they are not as good as they thought.”

His aim, he says, is to educate people into knowing that, in a pressure situation, they will experience this. He also holds leadership workshops which deal with how people react under pressure.

“It’s about what a pressure situation is and why do some people advance and others retreat when the pressure is on. Some people stand stubbornly still and resist, even if what they are being presented with could benefit them.”

There are always those, he says, whose body language reveals their attitude towards him.

“They’ll fold their arms and think: ‘Who’s this wanker?’ but, at the end of the day, all I’m talking about is people and how we respond and, eventually, it makes sense to them.”

In Australia, he says, security can be compromised because of suspicion between law enforcement agencies.

“Often security falls short because of a tendency to be tribal and it happens in Australia. If the tribe is the Victoria Police or the Australian Federal Police, then the members of that tribe … tend to exclude anything from outside that tribe.

“There’s a tendency not to look over the fence and to conclude that, whatever is there, wouldn’t be as good as what they’ve got anyway,” he says.

Redenbach’s courses, some of which have had a high degree of physical input, have taken their toll.

“I’ve lectured at the FBI Academy in the US and run programs for the Los Angeles FBI SWAT team,” he said.

“It dealt with defensive tactics and how to increase your chances of beating someone who was more skilful than you. I’m 48 now and I’ve had a reconstruction of both shoulders and I’ve had broken arms. As a result, I don’t teach the physical subjects any more at that level but I teach a refined version with my corporate clients such as bankers and IT specialists.”

Redenbach returns to Malaysia later this month to work on maritime security.

“They have some problems with piracy. It doesn’t matter if what you are protecting is a building or a person, there are set principles you employ. Some of them are early detection, denying access and effective counter measures,” he says.

Asked if he has ever felt his life was endangered, he gives a measured reply.

“I’ve been in enough threatening situations to know how important it is to avoid what’s involved and to know I don’t want it to happen again,” he says.