Monday, January 30, 2006

ICRC Staying Alive, 2nd edition

ICRC just released an updated version of "Staying Alive: Safety and security guidelines for humanitarian volunteers in conflict areas" (we'll try to avoid the bad BeeGee jokes associated with the title). First published in 1999, this is probably the best and most usable NGO field guide for working in conflict zones. Well written, comprehensive and entertaining illustrations makes this required reading for anyone interested in humanitarian security. The first edition was difficult to track down in electronic format, and it's nice to see ICRC has published the updated guide in a free, PDF format.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

DURO 6x6 armored trucks

Brief mention of NGOs (doesn't say which ones) using Swiss DURO armored 6x6 trucks in conflict zones. Pretty cool looking, but has to be a lot more expensive than your standard issue Mahindra. Anyone have experience with DUROs?

A bad boss is more stressful than war

Stress management is an important part of NGO safety and security. Burn-out, judgement errors and health issues can all be attributed to stress, which can impact safety and security. Here's a brief article, promoting a new book with a chapter on stress, violence and aid workers. Managers take note...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Incident: Abduction, Haiti

Three French nationals doing humanitarian work, including an 84-year old nun, were kidnapped from their car near Cite Soleil. They were later released. It is unclear if a ransom was paid.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Incident: Staff reduction, Ivory Coast

The UN announced it was withdrawing 400 civilian staffers from Ivory Coast, fearing fresh unrest when the Security Council issues sanctions in the next few days. 800 UN civilian staff members will still be present in the country.

Incident: Abduction, DRC

Three Norwegian Refugee Council national staff drivers were abducted by government military personnel in the Rutshuru territory and were forced to transport soldiers, dependents and weapons/ammunition. The drivers were released unharmed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Incident: Helicopter crash, Darfur

A UN helicopter carrying 16 people, mostly humanitarian workers, crashed in the village of Dyalla in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. No life-threatening injuries were reported, but one aid worker is missing. (1/26/06 - Update) A Sudanese aid worker employeed by the Irish NGO GOAL was killed in the crash. The UN helicopter was trying to rescue humanitarian workers from local fighting when it experienced a mechanical malfunction.

Incident: Suspension, DRC

Following a number of security incidents affecting its staff, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) decided to suspend operations in most of the southeastern Pool region of the Republic of Congo. Activities in the districts of Kindamba, Mindouli and Vindza were stopped on 20 January 2006 but continue in Kinkala.

Primary Readings

If you’re new to NGO security and want to come up to speed on fundamentals and accepted practices, here are three primary sources to get you started. They’re all free, but you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them.

Operational Security Management in Violent Environments, Koenraad Van Brabant. The roots of NGO security can be traced back to a U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance initiative to develop security training for the humanitarian community. Grant money funded working groups and the development of training material. Koenraad Van Brabant, who was a member of the original NGO Security Working Group, wrote this seminal book on humanitarian security. (The book is also known as GPR 8, for number 8 in the series of Good Practice Reviews published by the Humanitarian Practice Network.)

Mainstreaming the Organisational Management of Safety and Security, Koenraad Van Brabant. In 2001, Van Brabant’s follow-up to GPR 8 was published. Where GPR 8 is primarily field-oriented, “Mainstreaming” focuses on security management practices and philosophies. The two volumes form the foundations of contemporary NGO security, and many of the community’s training sessions are based on Van Brabant’s works.

Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisations. Most of the big NGOs have their own security manuals, but this one, produced by ECHO (the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission) is by far the most comprehensive and easiest to use. Download it, read it, print it. It’s very good. Versions are available in English, French and Arabic.

CARE International Safety & Security Handbook. A concise and comprehensive reference designed for CARE staff throughout the world. The 2004, 2nd edition has lots of checklists and covers a variety of topics. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic versions available. (Thanks to Bob Macpherson, CARE Security Unit director, for these files.)

Staying alive: safety and security guidelines for humanitarian volunteers in conflict areas. ICRC released an updated version of this classic field guide in January 2006, and we immediately added it to our primary reading list. The best and most usable guide to safety and security issues in conflict zones.

RedR Training Resources. A link to a collection of security papers on various topics. Good content, used as resources for RedR trainers.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Incident: Staff Reduction, Chad

UNHCR announced it would be reducing the number of staff in two (Guereda and Iriba) of its five regional offices in eastern Chad as a security precaution. Recent security threats such as NGO vehicle thefts, robberies, and the kidnapping of Chad officials prompted the decision.

Incident: Detention, Sudan

Amnesty International reports that security forces detained and harassed approximately 40 attendees of an NGO forum being held in Khartoum. Details in this link, but one worthwhile item to note is the government security personnel demanded people hand over their laptops. This raises an important question. Does your laptop contain sensitive information that if lost, stolen or seized could harm your program or your beneficiaries? In an upcoming post we’ll be discussing how to protect sensitive data from prying eyes.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Incident: Suspension, DRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced it was suspending operations in the Pool district of the Republic of Congo due to security incidents and concerns.

Incident: Restricted communications, Nepal

Last night the government of Nepal cut all access to landline and cellular telephones as well as the Internet. Landlines are functioning today, but it’s not clear for how long. This is likely an attempt to disrupt demonstrations planned for this coming Friday. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Last February the government shut down all Internet access for a period of time.

A few questions to ponder. How much of your office operations depends on the Internet, and what would happen if it went down for an extended period? Do you have a contingency plan in place to deal with such a situation? Does your office have access to satellite phones for emergency communications in case telecom services become unavailable due to a natural disaster or government intervention? Is staff trained in sat phone use?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Incident: Suspension, Sri Lanka

Due to increasing violence, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) is suspending operations in the northeastern Trincomalee district. This is the first time ceasefire-monitoring work by the SLMM has been suspended in an entire district, and does not bode well for the NGO community as Sri Lanka once again moves closer to civil war.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Environmental Risk: Pakistan

In the NGO security biz, there’s sometimes a tendency to focus on bullets, bombs and things that go boom. Equally important though (and sometimes even more) is an understanding of natural events such as earthquakes, weather, and other potemtial environmental threats. A case in point is the recent devastating earthquake in Pakistan. When you take into consideration the winter weather, altitude, mudslides and continuing seismic activity, that’s some pretty extreme conditions; especially for many NGOs who tend to operate in low-elevation, warmer climates. A tip of the hat to the Norwegian Refugee Council, who recognized the risk and is taking the initiative in providing mountaineering experts to train relief workers on safety issues in the earthquake struck areas. This is a very smart move in mitigating risk that benefits the entire humanitarian community.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Incident: Protest/Arson, Pakistan

In response to a U.S. missile attack targeting Aiman al-Zawahri, near the village of Damadola (which resulted in civilian deaths), protestors ransacked and burned the office of an unnamed U.S.-backed aid organization. No staff injuries were reported.

Incident: Bombing, Sri Lanka

An unoccupied vehicle parked in the compound of the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at Batticaloa was bombed. No injuries were reported and no groups claimed responsibility. The LTTE condemned the attack.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Incident: Abduction, Sri Lanka

Two Tamils working for the Danish Demining Group were abducted in the Jaffna peninsula area. No parties have claimed responsibility. Things definitely look to be worsening in Sri Lanka as of late and most NGOs are making contingency plans for dealing with escalated conflict between the government and LTTE.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why this Blog?

We decided to start this Blog because there really isn’t a centralized, independent, up-to-date source on the Net that exclusively covers NGO security topics and news. Safety and security is becoming increasingly important in humanitarian operations, and this is our attempt at getting the word out to more people.

Some of things we plan on providing (that you’ve already seen examples of) include:
  • Links to news stories about security-related incidents (with commentary sprinkled in as appropriate)
  • Links to NGO security manuals, articles and training material
  • Practical security tips from the field
  • Editorials on events happening in the NGO world that have an impact on security
The readers we hope to serve include:
  • Smaller NGOs that may not have the funding for dedicated security staff
  • National staff that are serving as security focal persons with limited or without access to ongoing training or information sources
  • NGO management at headquarters or in the field who have an interest in security (either personal or mandated)
  • Mainstream security people (cops, military, government, PSDs, PMC operators, etc.) who are trying to better understand the ins and outs of the NGO security world
That said, we don't want this Blog to only be one-way dialog. Please comment on anything we post. We’d especially like to hear about your experiences, opinions or any questions relating to humanitarian organization security. You can reach us at: ngosecurity-at-gmail-dot-com

All correspondence will be kept strictly confidential. If you’d like to contact us anonymously, use a free Hotmail, Yahoo, or Google Mail account that doesn’t reveal your real name (or organization).

That completes your orientation to NGO security and this Blog, thank you and welcome aboard.

10/8/11 Update - In a few months this blog will celebrate it's sixth anniversary. It's gone through a lot of changes over the years, including several periods of hiatus. At first a lot of news stories were posted, then came a series of YouTube-based video trainings, now you'll find posts about topics I find interesting and useful, along with a few editorials. There's a wealth of information in this blog, so spend some time browsing through the archives. I hope you'll find a nugget or two that will make your job easier.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Whats and Whos of NGO Security

So just what do NGO security people do? To start off with, they don’t defuse bombs, pack Glocks, rescue hostages or provide bodyguard services to an organization's staff members. Instead, you’ll find them:
  • Conducting security assessments (visiting field offices and other facilities, reviewing safety and security conditions)
  • Performing analyses of environmental, political, social and economic conditions that could impact safety and security
  • Offering recommendations on enhancing safety and security
  • Writing security reports, policies and procedures
  • Training organization staff members in safety and security practices
You probably noticed both safety and security were mentioned, and it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms. Safety refers to unintentional events that can cause harm or loss (like natural disasters, accidents, or disease outbreaks) while security deals with intentional acts that may cause harm or loss (such as crime, terrorism, or conflict). In most cases, NGO security practitioners deal with both safety and security issues.

NGO security people typically have a wide range of skill sets, including threat assessment, physical and personal security, fire and electrical safety, first aid, and stress management. You may also run into people with specialized experience in UXO (UneXploded Ordnance = land mines and things that goes boom), refugee camp security, public health, radio and satellite communications, and other rather esoteric disciplines.

While all of this might sound like stereotypical guy-stuff, there are actually a fair number of women in the NGO security field; and they are quite good at what they do. When it comes to humanitarian security, a woman’s sensitivity and ability to build rapport can be extremely valuable.

Most NGO security people held other positions in humanitarian organizations and gravitated to security out of interest or because of newly assigned responsibilities. Occasionally you’ll run into someone with security experience gained from the military or law enforcement. But a former life as a cop or soldier doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll cut it doing NGO security work. There’s a mindset shift that’s required in not relying on weapons, force and offensive tactics; some people find this a difficult transition to make. (At the upper-end, private security and military companies also tend to pay up to 3 to 4 times what you can earn doing NGO security, which limits the appeal of the non-profit world to some people.)

From an employment standpoint, NGO security practitioners typically fall into several different categories:
  • Headquarters staff – Large NGOs will often have a security group, based out of their headquarters, with full-time staff hired to handle various safety and security issues in international offices. These security groups tend to be very small, with only a handful of overworked people. The majority of NGOs don’t have the funding for dedicated security staff, which unfortunately, sometimes can put them at greater levels of risk.
  • Security advisors – Security advisors are consultants hired by NGOs for short-term engagements, usually to perform an assessment, provide training, or some other specialized task. For security assessments, that means usually 10 days to 3-weeks in-country (depending on the size of the operating area and scope of the issues). The humanitarian security world is fairly small, so who you know and your reputation go a long way in keeping gainfully employed.
  • Security officers – Security officers are used by NGOs for longer-term assignments, generally in the one-month to one-year range (and sometimes longer). They’re responsible for the same types of duties as security advisors, but usually go beyond in building and implementing comprehensive safety and security programs for an organization (security advisors and officers generally have the same skill sets, but advisors tend to like working the shorter gigs). Security officers typically end up in areas where there is ongoing conflict or other conditions that require a dedicated and experienced person, available 24/7.
  • Security focal persons – An up and coming trend in NGO security is to assign various security responsibilities to national and local staff members in field offices – designating them as security focal persons (or focal points). This makes a whole lot of sense, because when properly trained, a local staff person who lives and works in a country can often be more effective than an ex-pat who is only on the ground for a few weeks. Capacity building is a good thing. While the security focal person concept is a step in the right direction, there are a number of issues such as training, compensation and established roles and responsibilities that the big NGOs are still working through to get focal person programs off the ground.
If you’re headquarters staff or a security advisor/officer, you can pretty much end up anywhere in the world, from capital cities to out in the bush. Conditions can be very austere and extremely risky, with civil unrest or open warfare going on all around you. Or you might find yourself in a safe, air-conditioned hotel with a good restaurant and CNN and BBC on the television. Assignments totally depend on what an NGO needs, and whether you’re willing and available when something comes up.

If you think all of this sounds very exciting and romantic, at times it can be, and there’s certainly a fair amount of satisfaction in doing your thing to help keep people safe and ensure humanitarian programs stay up and running. However there are also the realities of endless hours on crowded planes (coach section, mind you), getting sick from food, water or other nasty things, never having enough time to do as thorough of a job as you’d like, ending up in some very challenging and stressful environments, and sometimes feeling like you're the Lone Ranger sent in to save the day.

That’s a brief snapshot of the whats and whos of NGO security. However, we’ve got one more brick to lay in our foundation before we move on to exclusively posting about the practice of NGO security. That brick is why this Blog has popped into existence and what you can expect from it in the future. Watch for that post in the next few days.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Security Incident Mapping

One of the challenges of NGO security, especially in places where there may be a large number of incidents occurring, is getting a big picture view of what’s happening. Check out this just released OCHA-prepared map of security incidents that took place in Nepal in December, 2005. It gives you a general sense of what’s happening in the country as well as basic details regarding the incidents. Pretty slick.

Visually representing data is a powerful tool and can better help explain the current security environment to management and other decision makers. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a professional artist, cartographer or GIS person on staff like OCHA to produce incident maps. A simple dry erase whiteboard with a map outline and using colored markers for different incidents works just fine. (Hint: If you’re using a whiteboard to track monthly incidents, use a digital camera to take a picture of the map before you erase the incidents at the end of the month. This lets you keep a handy archive of past incident maps.)

2005 UN Attack Fatality Statistics

UN employee attack fatality statistics are out for 2005, and include nine civilians, two policemen, one security guard and 20 peacekeepers. That's over twice as many deaths as were reported in 2004. The press release has additional details.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Incident: Abduction, Gaza

Masked gunmen in Khan Younis, Gaza abducted Alessandro Bernardini, an Italian peace activist; he was released unarmed, shortly after, by Palestinian security forces. This is the second abduction of a Western humanitarian worker in the past 5 days (Kate Burton, a British human rights worker and her visiting parents were kidnapped in Rafah and then released after two days).

Always remember that just because your organization has the support of the powers that be, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re immune to activities by criminals or factions that oppose whoever is in charge.

Why NGO Security?

Before getting this Blog rolling, a little background is in order…

Up until the late 1990’s, if you did international humanitarian work, the rules of the game were pretty simple. Do good deeds and bad stuff wouldn’t happen to you. Sure there were occasional incidences of aid workers unintentionally driving over land mines, accidentally getting caught in the crossfire between opposing forces, or being assaulted or robbed, but these were exceptions and not the rule.

The humanitarian community operated under the assumption that providing goods and services to those in need and treating people with the respect they deserved substantially reduced the risk of staff members suffering harm. This makes perfect sense. Why would anyone want to hurt you if you were helping him or his neighbors?

After 50 or so years of successfully using this strategy of acceptance, humanitarian organizations (commonly called NGOs, for Non Governmental Organizations) started to notice that in certain places and situations things weren’t working like they used to. If you were associated with an aid or relief organization you might actually be at a greater risk of being robbed, attacked, kidnapped or even killed. You were still doing the same good deeds, but almost overnight it seemed like someone painted a bulls-eye on your back while you were sleeping.

There is lots of speculation why this happened, but in general you can boil it down to three factors - all conveniently starting with the letter “A.” These factors, either singly or combined, are responsible for escalating NGO security risks in different parts of the world. They include:

Affiliation - Let’s say a large, powerful country and its allies decide to invade a couple of smaller countries on the pretext of stopping terrorism (sound familiar?). This enrages many ethnic and religious groups, who view the invasions as a direct attack on their culture and faith. The policies and actions of the country’s government cause it to lose the support of a number of its friends and acquaintances. At best, anyone or any organization that’s believed to be affiliated with the large, powerful country is not trusted. At worst, affiliated individuals and organizations are targeted and attacked. Whether an affiliation really exists and good deeds not withstanding.

Activism – In the good old days, NGOs loudly proclaimed their neutrality (many still do). They were only there to help people in need and didn’t have a political agenda. However, it’s rather naïve to think you can be impartial all of the time, especially when you’re operating in places where genocide is occurring and innocent lives are being taken left and right. In recent years NGOs realized that in some cases, by not taking a stand, they actually were part of the problem. And a certain amount of activism and advocacy started creeping into day-to-day operations. For the big NGOs it wasn’t anything too radical, but it was a shift away from pure neutrality. For the most part, NGOs have been justified in taking this path. But they didn’t fully realize that whenever you engage in activism and advocacy you’re bound to make some people angry and there might be repercussions.

Affluence – The last factor is the “shiny, white Landcruiser” syndrome. As more money entered the coffers of large NGOs, they became more affluent. And depending on the organization, sometimes that affluence became very conspicuous. Pull yourself away from your PC and Internet connection for a minute and imagine you’re in a developing country, walking barefooted down a dusty road toward the market, pushing a cart with a few meager vegetables you hope to sell in order to feed your family. Suddenly a brand new, shiny white Landcruiser roars by. It belongs to a large NGO. What do you feel? Resentment, perhaps? Especially when the two side mirrors stolen from that SUV could bring enough money to feed your starving family for months. Or what about stealing the whole Landcruiser or maybe abducting an NGO staff member? Those rich, Western NGOs can certainly afford it.

Starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, big NGOs (CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, and Save the Children, to name a few) realized that things had changed and saw the need for paying more attention to security issues. Security units were created within larger NGOs, staff was hired, training was developed, and policies and procedures were put in place. All in an attempt to reduce the risk of the organization or its staff experiencing harm or loss from a host of new and existing threats.

And that leads us to this Blog. The practice of NGO security is still very much in its infancy and formative years. The purpose of this Blog is to inform, educate and engage people on topics and issues relating to humanitarian organization security. Future posts will cover NGO security incidents, provide commentary on events that impact field security, and offer practical advice to anyone who is taking on security responsibilities for his or her organization.

But before we officially get started, a little more of a foundation needs to be laid. And the next brick to be put in place is learning about the people who do NGO security. Watch for that post in the coming days.