Sunday, April 29, 2012

Khalil Dale Murder

Sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Khalil Dale, whose body was found in Quetta, Pakistan. Mr. Dale, a British national and longtime, experienced ICRC staffer, was abducted from his vehicle in January (his driver was released following the kidnapping). There were many indications the abduction was both well-planned and targeted.

In the past, organizations have been successful in resolving abductions in Pakistan through good-faith negotiations. Unfortunately, this incident, and several others which have not been widely publicized, cast doubt on a negotiation strategy always working. Over the past nine months, there appears to be a disturbing trend emerging in Pakistan, where certain groups are making very strident political and monetary demands for the safe release of abducted staff members (ex-pats, national, and local staff have all been victims). The abductors leave little room for negotiation and have no qualms about carrying out violent acts if their demands are not met within set time frames.

Security practitioners and managers working for humanitarian organizations in the region need to be aware that the rules may be changing when it comes to abductions.
  • It would be unwise to assume all abductors will engage in negotiations and eventually agree to reduced demands.
  • It would be unwise to assume terms for release often agreed upon in the past will generally be the same.
  • It would be unwise to assume an abduction may only consist of a single individual.
  • It would be unwise to underestimate the sophistication of some abductors when it comes to operational tactics, use of technology, and psychological strategies employed before and during negotiations.
Making assumptions based on what has worked in the past, may sadly result in a tragic outcome.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bilingual Decision-Making and Risk

There's some intriguing research out of the University of Chicago that has implications for humanitarian security practitioners (or anyone who has to deal with risk). The upshot is, if you speak more than one language, you may be able to make better decisions if you think about a problem in your non-native language. This process appears to override cognitive biases (the subject of a future post) that get in the way of good decision-making. I'm a big fan of reframing challenging problems to break through biases, but this approach seems potentially even faster and easier.

Wired has a pretty good write-up on the research, but unfortunately it doesn't talk about the fluency of the study subjects or other details. I always try to go to the primary source when it comes to summarized research, but unfortunately in this case, the full article is behind a pay-wall (don't get me started about companies that monetize academic research that has been paid for by government funding or tax dollars). A little Googling did find the complete article here, though. It's an interesting read and points out the study groups didn't even have a high level of fluency in the second languages.

This is a pretty slick brain hack worth investigating. Give it a try sometime...


Thursday, April 26, 2012

International NGO Safety and Security Association (INSSA)

It's been awhile since I visited the International NGO Safety and Security Association (INSSA) Web site, but after a friendly email from the project manager, I decided to see what's new.

INSSA has been around since 2010. It's a global non-profit association for practitioners and those interested in humanitarian safety and security. The organization was founded by some of the leaders of the NGO security community and is based out of Washington DC. When INSSA was just getting off the ground, it was pretty small. And in an effort to raise funds for the fledgling association, individual membership fees were charged.

The organization has expanded considerably since then, and now lists a number of members from different NGOs and institutions all over the world. They also no longer seem to be charging for individuals to join. That's cool in my book, as it opens up the association to safety and security focal points and others who may have been limited due to tight organizational budgets.

As humanitarian safety and security evolves to become more of a professional vocation, INSSA appears to be at the right place at the right time (and also picking up some key donors and strategic partners). Check them out. Sign up for a membership. And bookmark their Web page (which aims to provide a variety of resources to the NGO security community).

It's nice to see this association taking off...


Friday, April 20, 2012

Send In The Drones

Rolling Stone has an excellent article on the United States' use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, more commonly known as drones). While the US has had a virtual monopoly on UAVs for military use, most analysts believe the playing field will be leveled over the next five to ten years. Prices are decreasing and availability is increasing for commercial surveillance and weapons-platform models. There is also a growing Internet-based, do-it-yourself movement that is placing UAV technology in the hands of people without nation-state budgets. The future will potentially bring both opportunities and threats to the NGO community. On one hand, think about a UAV being used for assessments and monitoring during a humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, if targeted against an organization, a UAV presents some very serious security concerns that may be difficult to mitigate. The prudent humanitarian security practitioner would be wise to pay attention to drone developments over the coming years; particularly their adoption and use by state and non-state actors.

Note: US readers may be interested in a recent FOIA document that reveals which public and private entities are authorized by the FAA to fly UAVs domestically.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

UN Saving Lives Together

If you're not familiar with the United Nation's Saving Lives Together (SLT) initiative, spend a few minutes at the program's Web site and learn more. SLT's purpose is to encourage the sharing of security information and resources among the UN and NGOs in conflict-zones (currently Afghanistan, Darfurs, Ethiopia, Kenya/Somalia, and Pakistan). The program has been around since the mid-2000s, but up until last year, hadn't received much exposure; especially among small and medium-sized international NGOs. The UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) is trying to address that lack of awareness now, by reaching out to more members of the humanitarian community. Sharing information is a vital part of successful security management. If your organization is working in a country where there's an SLT presence, be sure to check out the Web site above for more information and then consider contacting one of the listed liaison officers.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hibernation Food

No, I'm not talking about what bears eat before long winter naps. When I say hibernation I mean when humanitarian workers need to hole up someplace and wait until conditions are safer to either resume operations or evacuate to another city or country.

In conflict zones, it's prudent for organizations to have a hibernation plan in place (typically implemented for the ex-pats). The plan should identify a safe location, how to get there, and how communications will be handled while the staff member(s) wait out the situation. NGO security practitioners advise that the location should be stocked with food and water. But just what exactly does that mean? Here are a few thoughts.
  • Water should be a priority as you can go much longer without food than water. At a bare minimum, one gallon of water per person per day should be allocated. This amount should be adjusted upward in hot climates.
  • Assume you may not be able to cook if electricity and/or cooking fuel becomes limited or unavailable.
  • Context should dictate the amount of food to have on hand based on the number of people to be fed and how long of a hibernation period may be in effect. Enough to last one or two weeks is a very general estimate.
  • Thought should be given whether hibernation will be treated as an austere event or whether normal, daily foods will be consumed.
  • Food should be selected for nutrition value and storage suitability (the amount of space it takes up and shelf life).
  • Avoid low-nutrition (junk) foods as consuming them negatively impacts cognition and decision-making. However, some sweets or other comfort food should be stocked for morale purposes.
  • Since water may be limited, avoid foods that require a lot of water to prepare or contain high levels of salt.
  • Food should be kept in containers or locations that prevent damage from pests.
  • Extreme temperatures decreases the shelf life of food, so select an appropriate location.
  • Don't forget a can opener if you're stocking canned foods.
So what kind of food should be stocked? Generally, staple and packaged foods that don't require much preparation. If you're not an imaginative chef, check out some of the following resources for ideas:

Ohio State University has a short publication titled Emergency Food Pyramid - Eatting Nutritiously When The Lights Are Out. It's simple, informative, and includes no-heat menu suggestions for three days worth of meals.

The American survivalist movement actually has some pretty good approaches to what types of food to have on hand during a short or long-term emergency. This site has a variety of useful information (with a minimum amount of political rhetoric).

Keep in mind that while many food items have expiration dates on the packages, these dates don't necessarily mean the food is unsafe after that date. The expiry dates usually indicate the food may start to lose its normal flavor after that point. In terms of food safety, Kansas State University published an excellent reference on the approximate storage lives of different food kept at 70 degrees F. This document is very useful for selecting different types of hibernation food items and knowing when to rotate stocks.

Bon appetit!