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Watch your back…

Corporate kidnapping is a very real threat that companies face. David Honour explores the subject.

Get free weekly news by e-mailCorporate kidnapping hit the headlines in June with the abduction of sixty gas pipeline workers in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes. The kidnap gang demanded a $1m ransom from the workers’ company, Techint.

The Peruvian case was unusual in that it involved a large number of victims. Much more common is the kidnap of individual company executives or members of their families. This can be for attempted financial gain though the demanding of a ransom or to bring political or social issues to the attention of a wider audience.

Companies have a duty-of-care to protect employees who may be working or travelling to areas where the kidnap risk is high. It also makes good business continuity sense. Too often business continuity planning seems to focus upon IT and communications systems and the availability of data. Human resource aspects of business continuity are often neglected; but people are mission critical business assets that need protecting.

There are many measures that firms can take to protect employees against the risk of kidnap. They can be summed up under the following broad headings:
Awareness and information, Security, Response and Insurance.

The first aspect of this is making employees aware of the kidnap risk that they and their families face. At-risk staff members should be identified and should be fully briefed as to the threat. They should receive training in the personal security measures that they can take and in defensive actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of kidnap and in response to a kidnap scenario.

Information should be gathered about the kidnap threat-level in the countries and regions that employees will be based in or travelling to. There are specialist companies available to assist in this area. Factors to consider are the general social and political risk factors at work in the area; risks raised by the nationality of the employee (for example, US employees may be more at risk in Saudi Arabia than Saudi employees); and specific threats raised by the company’s activities (for example, companies involved in ethically sensitive projects may engender an enhanced risk of kidnap).

Both personal security and facility security measures should be taken to help reduce the kidnap risk.

The US Joint Chiefs of Staff has published a useful guide on personal protection measures against terrorism (1). It recommends the following general security measures which are also highly relevant to the issue of kidnap:

* Instruct your family and associates not to provide strangers with information about you or your family.
* Avoid giving unnecessary personal details to information collectors.
* Be alert to strangers who are on government [business] property for no apparent reason. Report all suspicious persons loitering near your resident or office; attempt to provide a complete description of the person and/or vehicle to police or security.
* Vary daily routines to avoid habitual patterns. If possible, fluctuate travel times and routes to and from work.
* Refuse to meet with strangers outside your work place.
* Always advise associates or family members of your destination when leaving the office or home and the anticipated time of arrival.
* Don’t open doors to strangers.
* Memorize key phone numbers—office, home, police, security, etc.
* Be cautious about giving out information regarding family travel plans or security measures and procedures.
* If you are overseas, learn and practice a few key phrases in the native language, such as “I need a policeman, doctor,” etc.

This list is not exhaustive and, as already mentioned, all at-risk employees should be given access to specialist training services.

Security measures should be taken to protect facilities; corporate premises and sites as well as employees’ own homes. The need for access control systems, window bars and grilles, CCTV, alarms, perimeter fencing and external lighting should all be assessed and all doors, windows and locks should be checked for suitability. The use of guard dogs or security personnel should also be considered and it may be even thought appropriate to equip an internal room as a ‘panic room’ (made famous by the recent film of the same name), which is especially strengthened to withstand external attack.

Should the worst happen and a kidnap attempt proves successful, how should the victim respond?

Security specialist Asset Security Managers Ltd offers the following advice:

* Do not attempt escape unless there is an extremely good chance of your survival. It is much safer to be submissive and obey your captors.
* Try to establish a relationship with your captors and get to know them. Kidnappers are less likely to harm you if they respect you.
* Exercise without fail regularly every day.
* Never refuse food, no matter how poor its quality.
* Try to insist on access to a local daily paper.
* Invent mind-games to keep yourself mentally alert.
* In the event of a rescue try and determine the safest place to be.
* Do not attempt to negotiate as this may well interfere with what others are doing on your behalf.

No attempt to rescue the employee should be made by the company. This should be left to the appropriate authorities.

For companies at risk of corporate kidnapping incidents, kidnap response should be a scenario built into crisis management plans so that the correct actions are quickly taken following an incident and the appropriate specialists invoked. Regular exercises should be conducted so that any gaps in the plans can be identified and filled and so that all crisis team members become familiar with the correct procedures.

Finally, there are many insurance schemes around that provide cover for the risk of corporate kidnap. Where there is a significant kidnap threat these are worth investing in. They normally cover costs such as:
* Loss of money paid out as a result of a threat to kill or injure an insured person.
* Reasonable expenses incurred in the investigation, negotiation or payment of a covered loss.
* Reward payments which lead to the arrest and conviction of parties responsible for the kidnapping.
* Reasonable interest incurred on a loan obtained to pay a covered loss.
* Travel expenses incurred in connection with a covered ransom or extortion demand.

(1) JS Guide 5260: Service Member’s Personal Protection Guide: A Self-Help Handbook to Combating Terrorism.

This article was first published in Enterprise Risk magazine. David Honour is editor of Continuity Central.

Date: 3rd October 2003 •Region: Worldwide •Type: Article •Topic: BC general
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