Tuesday, January 01, 2013

An Incomplete Manifesto for Humanitarian Safety and Security Practitioners

You can’t eliminate all risk.
Don’t fool yourself or others. Bad things can still happen; despite your best efforts. Work on building resiliency.

Boring and mundane stuff is usually more dangerous (as a whole) than sexy threats.

Disease, vehicle accidents, and fires harm far more humanitarian workers than terrorists.

Assessments are just a snapshot in time.
Avoid treating them as if they’re written in stone. Real world context is much too dynamic and fluid.

Pick low-hanging fruit.
Identify easy-to-fix (low effort/low budget) vulnerabilities and do something about them early on for cumulative risk reduction.

Practice kaizen.
Kaizen is Japanese for “gradual improvement.” Apply the concept to safety and security. (By the way, Kaizen doesn’t come from Zen but originated with Toyota manufacturing process and theory.)

Take advantage of teachable moments.
If something bad happens to your organization (or someone else's, for that matter), be prepared to use it as an example to educate and affect policy and behavioral change. The more publicity an event tends to receive, the more teachable it can be.

Pay attention to small things.
They usually snowball into something bigger and more challenging to handle.

Know the costs.
Implementing a security management program and safety and security measures takes time, money, and effort. Understand the tangible and intangible costs before you start implementing (or promising to).

Use the Incident Command System (ICS).

It’s well suited for managing humanitarian crisis events.

Get buy-in.
If you don’t have management’s committed support of safety and security efforts, look for another job.

Always be polite.
Treat everyone you encounter with respect. Be patient, always.

Listen and ask questions.
Especially when your opinion and advice are being sought. If you don’t know or understand something, don’t try to fake that you do.

Be honest.
With yourself and others. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

Learn from field staff.
If you don’t live there, you can’t possibly understand the full context.

Understand what drives and motivates people.

Having a sense of others’ perspectives goes a long way when it comes time to work with them.

Recognize the Dunning-Kruger effect.
In others and yourself ("But I wore the juice!").

Remember that the news media is sustained by exaggerated risk.
Don’t buy into it. Statistics and critical thinking trump talking heads and hype.

Turf wars and pissing contests with other NGOs degrade security.
Play nice, share information, and cooperate with other practitioners.

Don’t make predictions.
Even if you’re smart and well informed, your predictive batting average still probably sucks. Don’t believe me? Try writing down all of the predictions you made about work and personal life during the course of a month. Then see how many come true.

Understand the difference between strategy and tactics.
Tactics should support and be linked to a defined strategy. Always clearly establish goals and strategies before you start taking action.

Go outside your domain.

Study how safety and security is practiced in other domains (such as private sector, government, education, the natural world, etc.). To quote Bruce Lee (and others), "Take what is useful and discard the rest."

Think critically.
Avoid dogma and herd mentality.

Don’t refer to staff as Safety and Security Focal Points.
Just what is a focal point? Would you want to be called one? Ditch ambiguous buzzwords that don’t convey meaning (or respect); even if everyone else uses them.

Avoid mindless copying and pasting.
Too many safety and security manuals, policies and procedures, and trainings are works copied from elsewhere; derivative at best, regurgitated at worst. It’s fine to leverage (up to a point), just don’t let it stop you from innovating.

Until something bad happens, staff typically views safety and security measures as impediments to their daily workflow.
Accept it and work around the problem. Playing on Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) can be effective, if done mindfully and sparingly.

Always give staff a reason why a safety and security measure or policy is being put in place.

Compliance will increase if they understand motivation.

Don’t use PowerPoint.
It’s a crutch. If you have to, use lots of images (that are relevant) and few words. Engage people, don’t put them to sleep.

Pack light.
If you travel enough, you’ll eventually figure this out.

Take care of yourself.
Dealing with bad things on a regular basis can take a psychic toll. Find beauty and joy in life to balance the negativity that is a part of your job.

Don't do stupid things, with stupid people, in stupid places.
And encourage the same behavior with staff.

Walk, run, swim, bike, lift weights, do yoga, whatever. It decreases stress. Good fitness also allows you to perform your job better.

Don’t give advice unless asked or expected to.
What goes through your head when you receive unsolicited advice?

Watch your ego.
Pride does indeed go before the fall. Learn about cognitive biases and how they can trip you up. And don’t take yourself too seriously.

Mentor someone.

Pass on your experience and knowledge before you leave.

Need some ideas? Try works by: Dan Ariely, Robert Cialdini, Epictetus, Danny Kahneman, Gary Klein, Peter Sandman, Nate Silver, Nasim Taleb, Edward Tufte, Seneca, Sun Tzu, and Karl Weick.

Get hip to digital privacy and counter-surveillance tools and techniques.
The EFF's Surveillance Self-Defense site is a good place to start.

Do the right thing.
Don’t let bureaucracy, politics, and nonsense stand in the way of true humanitarian practice.

Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
Theodore Roosevelt said this in his autobiography (attributing the quote to one Squire Bill Widener). A self-evident and useful motto to live by. I'd also add: "To the best of your ability."

You can’t save the world.
(Especially with Big Ideas.) But if you're mindful, you can make it a better place.

last revised 11/23/2014 - inspired by Bruce Mau’s An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

Thursday, December 20, 2012

PBS Story on Humanitarian Security

Ray Suarez of PBS NewsHour has an interview with Joel Charny of InterAction about humanitarian safety and security. Audio and transcript are here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Afghanistan Abduction and Rescue

Dr. Dilip Joseph, a US citizen working with a small US NGO called Morning Star Development, was abducted in Kabul last Wednesday afternoon, along with two other staff members. Details are still sketchy, but Joseph was rescued on Sunday by special operations forces. One US Navy SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU) operator was killed during the mission. There are conflicting reports over who was responsible for the kidnapping (Taliban or a criminal gang), but Joseph was taken to a mountainous area near the Pakistan border. The two local staff members were released 12 hours prior to the rescue mission. Officials stated that while negotiations had been started, no ransom had been paid. Update - Mainstream media news stories are starting to appear with more information, including this one.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Transparency International Corruption Index

Transparency International recently released the latest version of their most- and least-corrupt countries report (including nifty, interactive map). Just in time for the holidays, see whose been naughty or nice. (The Washington Post has a good executive summary if you're pressed for time.)

This resource is a must for getting a general sense of levels of corruption (and implied cultural acceptance) in different parts of the world. When advising clients who are setting up new programs in places they've never worked before, I always point them toward Transparency International to set some baseline expectations.

Research by Dan Ariely has shown that dishonesty is highly contagious (this will be the subject a future post). Knowing about corruption levels ahead of time can help prevent unexpected and unpleasant surprises.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Threat and Vulnerability Assessments in Seven Questions

Harm – Loss – Disruption* (to an organization, its staff, its assets)

1. Who might want to cause it?
2. Why might they want to cause it?
3. What type could they cause?
4. How much impact could it have?
5. How likely is it?
6. What can be done to decrease the chances?
7. What can be done if it occurs?

Humanitarian safety and security is not rocket science! And assessments don't need to be overly complex or time consuming (most of them don't even need to be conducted by a full-time safety and security practitioner; and that's coming from someone who makes a living in the profession).

Anyone can ask the above seven questions. Just be sure to involve other people (preferably field staff) who can help with answers you don't know or aren't fully clear on. Keep the process uncomplicated and concise and treat it as a conversation that's meant to deepen understanding. After you've finished answering the questions, write up a plan (again, concise) based on your findings. Then implement it.

When it came to building design, the famous architect Mies van der Rohe once said, "less is more." The same holds true for practicing NGO safety and security...

*Harm = Injury or death (people) or damage (property) Loss = Losing possession (property)Disruption = Interruption of normal operations


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

EISF Gender and Security Guidelines

About a year ago, I had the pleasure of doing an online interview with Christine Persaud on gender issues that relate to humanitarian safety and security practice. Shortly afterwards, Christine was engaged by the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) to conduct research and write a series of guidelines on gender and security. EISF has just released Christine's work in digital format, titled: Gender and Security: Guidelines for Mainstreaming Gender in Security Risk Management. It's a very well put together and useful 60-page PDF document that delves into security challenges associated with gender and practical ways to address them. The content, writing, and formatting make the manual quite accessible and readable. Kudos to Christine, Hye Jin Zumkehr, and EISF for providing this much needed reference to the humanitarian community. I highly recommend this volume to NGO managers (especially those in the field) and feel it should be required required reading for all safety and security practitioners.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Taliban BCC Boo-Boo

For awhile now, the Taliban has been using email, Twitter, and other types of modern media as part of their communications strategy. Last week, one of their spokespersons made a classic boo-boo and sent a press release out with email, CC-ing the entire distribution list instead of using BCC:. Oops. Security implications are obvious. If you're interested, Michael Yon has the complete list of email addresses here.