In the post 9/11 era, kidnap avoidance and survival skills are critical. BY SCOTT HENJUM
It's the nightmare scenario of every executive traveling to dangerous regions: The door bursts open and four men dressed in black clothes and hoods come in brandishing handguns, screaming, "Get your heads down on the table. Now! Do it. Don't look up. Don't you look at me."
I complied and watched out of the corner of my eye as the gunmen spread around the room, yelling, prodding black automatic weapons into people seated near me.
One huge guy came up behind me and put his pistol to my head and grabbed my neck. "Are you American? Do you have money? You have credit cards?"
"Who's an American in here?" another barked out from a few feet away.
"Okay, that's it. Stop. It's over," said Randy Spivey, who removed his hood and dropped his fake plastic pistol. "How do you feel?"
A woman seated to my right, blurted out: "How do I feel? Are you kidding? I'm sweating."
Fortunately for me and everyone else in the room, the bad guys bearing down on us weren't real hostage takers or terrorists. They were part of a daylong program conducted by Spivey and his partners at the National Hostage Survival Training Center in Spokane, Wash.
They have trained about 20 CEOs and more than 100 senior executives since starting operations last September. "The interest level among corporations is increasing dramatically," says Spivey, citing the post- 9/11 era and the war in Iraq. He and business partner Roger Aldrich have also trained more than 8,000 people via satellite and small-group sessions.
One-day training sessions and intensive multiday exercises include classroom instruction, reviewing video clips from famous hostage survivors, and scenario role-playing with attendees subjected to mock situations. "Our goal is to give people practical application training," says Aldrich. "We want to expose them to the stress of a hostage situation. Once you are exposed to the stress, you have mental buy-in and you know what you need to do."
Most of the center's trainees have come from the ranks of the federal government-Departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security-but many civilians have been educated, including CEOs, teachers, security professionals, religious groups and run-of-the-mill tourists. "If the hostage survival center trains people from the FBI, they can do a lot for chief executives and other business people," says Bert Holeton, CEO of Bert Holeton Consulting, and former CEO of aerospace company Western Honeycomb, which sold products to Boeing and 125 other companies.
Holeton, who was an infantry officer for a year in Vietnam, attended the survival training in March to cheek out the curriculum for his clients. "These guys obviously have the best training out there," he says.
The same principles apply to corporate travelers as they do to government officials, says Spivey, who spent two decades in the military and headed up hostage survival training for the Department of Defense from 1997 to 2002. "When traveling in high-risk countries, executives need to be prepared," he says. One recent example of the dangers that lurk in dangerous travel is Jeffrey J. Ake, CEO of Equipment Express, who was kidnapped on April 11 by gunmen at a water-treatment plant in Baghdad. Ake, whose Rolling Prairie, Ind., company makes equipment used to bottle drinking water, was seen pleading for his life two days after his abduction in a videotape broadcast on Al Jazeera network.
While being taken hostage is statistically unlikely, security expert Neil C. Livingstone estimates that three-fourths of the nation's biggest companies don't have a comprehensive security and safe-travel plan. "Some companies do an excellent job, but other companies, including very large corporations, are just totally oblivious," says Livingstone, who is CEO of Global Options, a Washington, …