14 Mar 2024

Timely Advisory On Evacuating People In The Midst of Chaos

By Dr. Larry Barton

First, review your Business Continuity Plan as these documents should be strategic, current and relevant to people, not only building and systems.  Ensure that they include how to include fast access to charter jets or marine systems that could help.  That means that to effectuate this, you need to ensure that you have current and accurate 24/7 cell numbers for all employees.  How often do you ask for updates?  Our experience is that about 25% of all employees never shared their cell numbers at hire or changed them post-employment.

Second, build a relationship now with consulates, embassies, your leaders and others so you know 24/7 how to accelerate advice to people in the midst of chaos.  One point I make in corporate presentations is that an employer should and can present options to employees on how, when and if to evacuate, but you may run legal and operational risk if you mandate with a single solution what to do.  Thus, have options and think about flexibility as events around you change because they inevitably will.

Third, remember that overconfidence can literally be deadly.  Systems may fail you.  Well intentioned people may let you down.  Many Security leaders who have been superb at evacuating people from the ravages of war learned too late that they thought they could hire a boat or plane on two hours’ notice only to realize that other employers were faster and nimbler at securing all aspects of evacuating people, including families.  Suggestion: think 2 a.m. and your phone rings.  A multi-city attack in one country where you operate is underway.  How, and to whom, will you delegate?  What decisions can you make right now and which ones require approval?  If you vacate a country or region, what happens to your intellectual property, manufacturing assets and many other items?  One lesson we have learned is that the Security leader often does not have a Purchase Order or financial authority to buy access to the very essential transportation, temporary housing, food and medical needs of your people.  Fix that now.  Explain to them that exceptional employers trust their Security leaders to be prudent and expedient – but also give them immense latitude to spend- in the midst of rubble, lives lost and an uncertain period ahead.

Fourth, embed a standard that was first instituted at The Walt Disney Company more than thirty years ago: “if you’re not here, you can’t play.”  That politely informs your HQ, which is likely in another country/region, that while you appreciate dozens of inquiries from corporate leaders in HR, Legal, Operations etc. that your first and primary focus is on swift evacuation and attention to the needs of those injured, missing or held hostage and that YOU as a Security leader will let THEM know when you can schedule a GROUP briefing for HQ.  Focus on immediate needs.  People will get it if you discuss this cultural topic in advance.  Just as in most military environments, the notion of “when in doubt, do something” is very much relevant as any catastrophe can be followed by another catastrophe (think of shocks after an earthquake, including a tsunami, followed by another round of challenges such as a fire, spills, structural destruction).

Fifth, the smartest Security leaders think in advance about how they will arrange for breaks and sleep as many catastrophes can extend for days, weeks or, as we continue to see in the Middle East and elsewhere, months.  Rotation of talent is easier said than done.  Mandate breaks and rests.  Assign a single Leader who can manage a barrage of questions and necessities with confidence and diplomacy for many shifts to come.  Second guessing that person will undermine their ability to lead, so think succession planning with a twist as you engage in the scenarios, table tops and preparation events that ISIO has championed for years.

Sixth and finally, do not delay as you look at our world.  Protests and more organized, violent and targeted than ever before.  Bad actors with weapons, including chemical ones that can impair a massive amount of people, are more sophisticated and deviant than ever before.  Climate change, combined with other serious and real natural events such as thunderstorms and a tsunami, presents challenges that are baffling the world’s best meteorologists.  And after any government overthrow comes corruption, so don’t forget that the need to access cash could be astounding as you seek to move people and assets out of harm’s way.

If this brief advisory challenged you, that is a win for every security practitioner and colleague.  It’s fascinating how people will read a commentary and then move on without a reaction, good or bad.  Let us know what you think and if you agree. If you have ideas and concepts to supplement these, we welcome them.  If you disagree, tell us. And if you have stories that can enrich the discussion and help save lives, we need to hear about them.

By Dr. Larry Barton