On January 16, 2013, around 40 al Qaeda-affiliaqted terrorists took over the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, taking more than 800 people hostage. During the initial takeover and a subsequent four-day siege, militants went door to door in search of foreigners, then held them hostage, executed them, or used them as human shields. As a result, 39 people from nine countries died. Just two months later in March, the head of Exxon Mobil’s Egypt and Cyprus unit was captured along with his wife by armed kidnappers in Sinai. They were held briefly before being released the same day.
While the two situations had different outcomes, they illustrate the growing danger for executives and employees while traveling for business purposes. Kidnappings and hostage situations, while infrequent, are a real threat that must be considered for executives and the security teams preparing them for transit, especially in certain high-risk parts of the world. By training for the worst case scenarios, a number of smaller but serious threats can also be addressed.
To truly prepare executives in counter-kidnapping tactics, practical skills must be honed. These skills were once the privilege of only a select few—namely security and protection professionals—but they must be taught to all members of the organization who may find themselves in harm’s way. Because the potential for business growth and profit gained from international trips often outweighs the risk of doing business in dangerous areas, precautions must be taken and contingency plans devised to mitigate the inevitable risks involved.
There are four steps the chief security officer (CSO) of an organization or team responsible for travel security should take to increase safety whenever employees visit a potentially dangerous area of the world. Each part of this travel security plan includes a variety of nuances and could fill several articles. This article provides just a brief overview of these four steps: planning, training, tracking, and preparing for emergency procedures.
One of the most critical aspects of travel security is the planning stage. This crucial part of the process is also the most labor-intensive, so having a dedicated individual for this task can be of great value. Executives do not have the time or expertise to conduct a thorough and appropriate intelligence-gathering and travel-planning operation on their own. The dedicated individual can be the CSO of the organization or a specialist on staff appointed by him or her, a security team, or even a contracted intelligence company. Incorporating information from family members or other dependents who might be accompanying the executive is also necessary.
Modes of travel. Thorough, advanced planning is a detailed process that includes all aspects of travel, stay, and return to home base. Starting with the flight, the best mode of travel must be decided: commercial or private. Cost is a major factor, but the extra cost may be necessary if anonymity is an important element. Deciding where to leave from and where to land also plays a key role, as some places have less governmental involvement or may be located in better or worse areas in the country of destination.