Thursday, September 27, 2012

U.S. Army Noncombatant Evacuation Operations Manual

The always interesting Public Intelligence disclosure site recently got its hands on a copy of the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces Noncombatant Evacuation Operations manual. It presents a behind the scenes look at what happens when USG decides to evacuate citizens from a foreign country. There's a good discussion of embassy evacuation procedures that humanitarian security practitioners may find useful for their own organization's evacuation planning efforts.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Peter Sandman on: Your Safety Problem

Effective risk communication is one of those skills I feel every humanitarian safety and security practitioner should have. Talking about risk (and getting people to listen) as well as being able to defuse situations where others become outraged are mainstays of our profession. Unfortunately, these skills are often not taught in NGO professional development classes and good books on the subject are few and far between.

However there is an excellent source you can turn to if you want to get hip to good risk communication. His name is Peter Sandman. He's been in the business for decades and has advised Fortune 500 companies and government agencies on many high-profile, crisis situations. Sandman is now retired, but freely shares observations, opinions, and proven approaches on his Web site. He's thoughtful, articulate, and very good at what he does; in my opinion, one of the best in the field. I've effectively applied his tactics and strategies on a number of occasions; and spread the word about him to many client organizations I've worked with over the years.

There's quite a bit of information on Sandman's Web site, but to give you a taste, I recommend you read one of his recently posted articles titled Seven Sources of Your Safety Problem:Where Does Risk Communication Fit? Although written for an industrial hygiene journal, much of what he has to say is very applicable to humanitarian organizations trying to instill safety practices from within.

Check out other articles and comments on the site, too. I think you'll find some invaluable nuggets you can apply to your day-to-day work.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10 Things to Know About Guns

Because of high-risk conditions, at times humanitarian organizations may elect to use armed guards to protect staff, offices, and facilities. This decision is not one to be taken lightly. Including a deadly force option in a security strategy presents its own set of risks for NGOs, and the costs and benefits must be carefully weighed.

I've found that the nature of humanitarian work often attracts people who have strong feelings against guns. I respect those opinions, but have seen cases where a lack of basic firearms knowledge actually increased risk; especially in situations where armed guards are employed. I strongly believe that any NGO staff member who has responsibility for overseeing armed guards, should have an understanding of a few essential firearms concepts and safety principles. This knowledge is especially important for security practitioners conducting assessments in locations where armed guards are used.

With that in mind, here are my top ten things to know about guns:

1. All firearms are always loaded - Because of their capacity to take a life or cause injury, firearms should always be handled with due respect and care. If whoever is handling a gun always considers it loaded, the chances of an accidental or negligent discharge decreases dramatically. Guards should never be casual with their firearms.
2. The muzzle of a firearm should never be pointed at anything a guard is not willing to destroy - Not being conscious of who or what a firearm is aimed at increases the risk of someone being killed or injured if the gun unintentionally discharges.
3. A guard should keep his finger off the trigger until ready to shoot - Trigger discipline is another critical safety practice. Most modern guns will only fire if the trigger is pressed; although, some older firearms may discharge if dropped on a hard surface. The finger should stay off the trigger until needed. (To hone your observation skills, see how many times you can spot the finger off the trigger rule being violated in action movies and TV shows.)
4. Guards must be sure of their target and what lies beyond it - If a guard uses his firearm, he must be certain of what or who he is shooting at, as well as what is in the general direction he is shooting. Depending on the firearm's caliber, bullets can travel thousands of meters/yards and still be lethal. They can also readily penetrate windows and walls, depending on the construction.
5. Firearms must be maintained to function reliably - While the presence of a gun alone may act as a deterrent, if your organization makes the decision to use armed guards, you are not fulfilling proper duty of care if firearms are in a condition that may render them unusable when needed. (Ammunition must also be in good condition.) Rust, corrosion, pitting, bent metal pieces, cracked stocks, and large amounts of grease are all clues a firearm has not been well maintained.
6. Past military, police, or militia experience does not necessarily mean firearms competence - Just because a guard served with the military, police, or a militia, don't automatically assume he knows how to properly and safely handle a gun. Observing numbers 1 through 5 above will tell you more about an armed guard's experience and professionalism than a cv or resume. Also, just because a security company provides guards to an embassy or other high-profile entity, doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get the same level of guards. Embassies and large corporations typically have higher standards for protective service details; plus employ internal staff who have experience with guards and firearms and can assess if standards are being met.
7. All guns are not the same - Guns come in a variety of types, shapes, and sizes. Generally speaking, rifles (a shoulder-held gun with a long barrel) and shotguns (also a long barrel, shoulder-held gun but designed to fire multiple projectiles from a single cartridge) have more power and are more lethal than pistols (a handgun that's ammunition is stored in a detachable magazine) and revolvers (a handgun that keeps ammunition in a cylinder that revolves as the gun is fired). Guns are not magic though. Unlike in the movies, attackers may continue to be a threat after being shot; even when powerful guns are used. Shot placement, where the bullet ends up, is more important than the firearm type in stopping an attacker. Mindset, tactics, and skill (in that order) are also always more important than equipment.
8. Shooting is a perishable skill - Some important questions to ask a guard service include: How often do guards train with their firearms? How many rounds are fired during training? Is there a qualification standard individuals must pass to serve in an armed guard role? (In some places, guards have to provide their own ammunition for both training and on-the-job use; as ammunition may be expensive, this can severely limit training and proficiency.)
9. Armed guard scenario training and planning is a must - Different scenarios should be discussed with guards to determine how they would react, such as what would they do if an angry mob appeared or someone with a gun entered the office? (Hollywood-influenced responses should be raise a warning flag.) From a management perspective, it's useful to role play incidents involving armed guards. For example, what are the legal, financial, and public relations consequences of a guard killing an innocent person during the course of his duties?
10. Using a firearm should always be considered a last resort, life-saving measure - This cannot be emphasized enough. Your organization and the guards/guard service must all understand and agree on this point. You don't want to learn a guard assumed justification in using deadly force to prevent property theft, after the fact. Ensure a force continuum is clearly established. That means clearly defining what levels of force may be used depending on the threat. As the threat level increases, the appropriate level of responding force should also increase.
If you keep this top ten list in mind when working with armed guards and services, you'll go a long way in mitigating some of the inherent risks associated with including firearms in your security strategy.

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Friday, September 07, 2012

PechaKucha NGO Security Challenge

PechaKucha is a cool idea that grew out of the Japanese design community. It started in Tokyo nine years ago as an evening meet-up where young designers could get together and show off their work. The governing concept was simple. Your presentation had to consist of 20 images (PowerPoint slides) and be given in 20 seconds.

PechaKucha Nights have since spread all over the world, extending to a variety of fields and interests. Compared to TED Talks, they're more bottom-up than top-down. And while the 20x20 format isn't always strictly adhered to, the general idea is. You have a limited amount of time and a limited number of slides to tell your story. I like the concept because it forces you to distill something to the essence, eliminating all of the extraneous fluff that typically is part of a presentation. These flash talks also encourage you to use images, instead of the usual dull, death by PowerPoint text slides.

Lots of potential here for humanitarian safety and security training, where time is at a premium and attention spans can get short; and after all, training is just story telling. So here's the challenge. Can you put together a PechaKucha presentation on some element of NGO safety and security? If you're up for the challenge, send me your finished product. I'll post them here.