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Organizations not prepared for worst case scenario risk being sued

Image: www.reuters.com

Image: www.reuters.com

A recent Reuters article entitled “Darfur kidnapping victim sues aids group that sent her” addresses an American lawsuit that has sparked a worldwide interest in the kidnapping industry.

Kidnapping is a booming global business, with the number of kidnappings taking place worldwide increasing since the 1990s. In 2008 alone, Canada had five hostages taken in five months. A Canadian Government study assesses that terrorist groups will continue to attempt to kidnap Westerners, including Canadians, and that the greatest threat is to tourists, aid workers, journalists, business people and diplomats. The statistics are frightening, and suggest that there is a certain range of countries in which there is a much higher probability of being kidnapped. If the risk exists, organizations with business travellers have a legal obligation to train and educate their people to deal with that possibility.

It is not unreasonable to say there is a risk involved in sending an employee to Darfur. That risk is assumed by both the individual and the organization, but there are a wide variety of issues that come into play, many of which have the potential to affect Canadian companies. One of the key legal issues is, were the travel risks identified and mitigated, and in case of an incident, does a reasonable response policy or protocol exist?

A number of factors need to be addressed in order to mitigate the risk of international travel. The first step is a thorough risk analysis. The analysis needs to follow a recognizable framework that stands up to scrutiny. There are many guides on how to complete a risk assessment, as well as numerous references on the risks of working abroad, including the Global Peace Index. The Global Peace Index ranks Canada as the eighth most peaceful country out of 153. For those organizations that send employees to the Unites States, it ranked #82 on the Peace Index. If you are travelling, or sending travellers to a country in the #100-153 range, then you have a fairly clear indication that there is degree of risk. The Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFAIT) issues travel risk warnings that can be used to help guide the risk analysis.

After having completed the risk assessment, have a look at the risks in travelling vs. the benefits of the journey, as well as the risk tolerance of the organization as a whole. This may bring to light the need for a number of risk reduction strategies, ranging from insurance and response protocols, to individual training.

Individual training in preparation for events such as a kidnapping or hostage-taking requires a number of different components. Employees need to learn both knowledge and skills. Knowledge can be transmitted through a standard lecture or presentation or e-learning. Skills, however, need to be demonstrated and practiced, to prove that a certain level of capability has been achieved. Only qualified instructors have the experience and education to enforce both the knowledge and the skills required to survive a captivity scenario.

In Canada, some government departments have put in place a program that has been specifically designed to qualify and teach captivity survival instructors. Instructors are screened and selected, and must take a 5-6 week course. Because the subject matter is complex and has a number of nuances, there is also an apprenticeship period after the course. The same process is followed in New Zealand, the United States and Australia. This program helps reduce organizational risk by ensuring that only instructors with the right skills can become qualified.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a great example of the importance behind screening and training people who play a role in captivity environments, and what can go wrong if you do not do so. If the company that is providing your organization with training has not used this screening method, you may already be assuming a degree of liability. A large number of Governments national training centres all use the same, trusted captivity survival training model, and research in that area has made it clear which model works best. If trainers are not qualified to teach, there is no guarantee that the employees are receiving “reasonable” training.

Once a kidnapped person or hostage has been freed, there is a need for post-captivity management. The United States has conducted much research in this area, and studies have demonstrated that a “3 Phase” model run by trained staff (specifically, trained mental health professionals) is by far the best process for recovery. The Chilean mine disaster is a perfect example of how not to conduct post-captivity management. This training can be provided to Health Care Professionals to avoid this ethical dilemma.

Canada, the United States and Europe also have ethical standards which guide their psychologists. Effectively, no psychologist should provide a service for which they have not been trained. If it were a case of child abuse, then a child abuse specialist would be required, and captivity survival is no different. Using an untrained psychologist and not following the “3 Phase” model would put an organization well below the “best practice” threshold and could leave them in a litigious position.

It is very important to prepare business travellers for the worst case scenario. Have your employees trained by qualified professionals, use sound training methods, and have response plans that are supported by skilled experts.

John Proctor
Human Risk Solutions

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John Proctor

CD CISM Vice-President at Global Cyber Security
John Proctor is one of the leading experts in human risk and travel risk management in Canada and is recognized internationally in this capacity. He has been responsible for the development of all of the federal captivity survival programs currently in use in Canada today and has helped several other countries with their own systems. Read more
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