Day 6

Once a Wild West security outfit, now Pinkerton detectives promise to save your business from climate mayhem

Pinkerton, a detective and security agency formed in the U.S. over 150 years ago, is taking on a new assignment: climate change. Writer Noah Gallagher Shannon embedded with the group to find out how.

They're pitching armed warehouse defence and executive extraction

Pinkerton agents will help businesses, among other services, to extract executives from areas facing weather emergencies and civil unrest as a result. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Pinkerton, the detective agency and crime novel staple, is taking on a new assignment: climate change.

Formed during the American Wild West Era, and hired by the U.S. government to go after train robbers and coal mine looters, Pinkerton has provided security and investigations for more than a century-and-a-half.

These days, a rebranded Pinkerton is pitching companies services like armed protection during climate disasters and related events.

"Because bottom lines are being affected by extreme weather and by changes in real estate as a result of flooding or wildfires, they're already beginning to act," said freelance journalist Noah Gallagher Shannon.

Shannon spent time training with Pinkerton agents, and wrote about the company's new focus for the New York Times Magazine.

He told Day 6 guest host Nana aba Duncan what he learned. Here's part of that conversation.

We do know that the Wild West was the Wild West and the Pinkertons could thrive in that lawlessness.  What is it about climate change that they think will give them that opportunity again?

Pinkerton, as a company, has been incredibly adaptive. 

They've responded over the years to market trends and demands from clients rather than necessarily science and ideology. 

So in the frontier west, it was the lack of basic policing and investigations. During the Gilded Age, it was the breaking up of unions and strikes. 

Today, it's more like providing cybersecurity and protecting trade secrets, but they're also beginning to bet that climate change might be the next wave. 

Pinkerton can basically charge what they compared to Uber surge pricing to fly agents down there and protect warehouses, get employees food and water.- Noah Gallagher Shannon,  writer

So what kind of services are they offering? 

Everything from armed warehouse defence, executive extraction, 24-hour surveillance, chartered helicopters and planes, [to] escorted guarded cargo shipments. 

During the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico in 2017, they sort of got a deluge of phone calls asking for protection of various companies — either server centres or warehouses — because many companies effectively felt blind to what was going on on the ground. 

So in that instance, Pinkerton can basically charge what they compared to Uber surge pricing to fly agents down there and protect warehouses, get employees food and water, and basically be the eyes and ears for that corporation on the ground. 

And as these events begin to happen more and more frequently, maybe it's financially wise for these corporations to keep Pinkerton agents on retainer. 

Hurricane Maria detroyed large swaths of Puerto Rico when it made landfall in 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

And you mentioned executive extraction. What's that? 

That might be ... getting an executive, or getting a C-suite person or upper level manager, out of a dangerous situation. 

[That could be a] wildfire that's closed off multiple roads and routes out — that could be a hurricane, that could be a typhoon, that could be political unrest, I don't know. In part I'm saying I don't know because much of this is still speculative on their part. 

They're responding, in many ways, to anxieties and fears and offering package services that can ameliorate those fears. 

You went through some training that their agents would go through. What did you learn in that training? 

Yeah. So earlier this year they took me to a gun range outside of Mexico City, where they had me and a few of the other executives from Pinkerton go through some of the training that Pinkerton agents go through, as well as some of the training that executives have begun requesting from them. 

So an ex-Mexican military officer took us through what they considered urban combat readiness: Maintaining your awareness in compromising situations, quick fire drills, reloading under pressure, etc. 

All of them [were] geared at replicating situations that might occur during a hurricane or a landslide or political unrest if you needed to protect yourself or get out of a situation quickly. 

Detectives from the Pinkerton Agency guard the coffin of American actress Marilyn Monroe, in Westwood Memorial Park, Hollywood, Calif. in 1962. (Keystone/Getty Images)

When you think about this extreme weather that is coming, and your time training with the agents, did you think about how dystopian this all sounds?

I think it does. I think it sounds pretty grim, it sounds pretty scary. I will say that I admire, let's say, the honesty of tackling it head on.

Many of these corporations, many of these groups like Pinkerton, are confronting climate change in a much more serious way than even many of our government bodies or institutions are. 

Because bottom lines are being affected by extreme weather and by changes in real estate as a result of flooding or wildfires, they're already beginning to act and already beginning to plan and already beginning to think about the worst case scenarios. 

And I think, quite honestly, that all of us could benefit from thinking through some of the worst case scenarios a little bit more ourselves. 

I appreciate the tackling of this issue head on, but what about the average citizen? 

The average citizen is left out of an equation like this, and if anything, the average citizen is probably the one on the other side of it.

It was difficult for me to go to a gun range and learn self-defence and fire at human-shaped cardboard cutouts and not think that, ostensibly, this drill was about protecting myself in the future from looters or from hungry people or from scared and confused refugees as the result of some kind of extreme weather event. 

So I don't think there's any way to view this except that it's a kind of tragedy of the commons.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Noah Gallagher Shannon, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.