Magazine article Security Management

Business amid the Minefields

Magazine article Security Management

Business amid the Minefields

Article excerpt

Doing business in countries where "navigating the minefields" isn't just a metaphor for managing risk is one of security's greatest challenges.

Spirits were as high as a gusher when companies began to find fresh and plentiful oil reserves in Yemen in the early nineties. Firms such as Canadian Occidental and Hunt Oil were busy drilling wells and building pipelines there when, in 1994, tensions erupted and the country broke out into a north-against-south civil war - with many oil facilities located physically in between.

When a MIG jet bombed a Hunt Oil facility, it drove home the extreme danger of the situation, forcing the companies to get the approximately 1,000 employees and family members out of the country as fast as possible. Disaster management plans, crafted in advance, called for assistance from U.S. aircraft, French ships, and a variety of other sources. This multinational effort proved to be life-saving. Not a single employee or family member was injured or killed during the fighting.

Months later, when the first personnel returned to their sites after the uprising, they discovered that minefields had been set up around the facilities and unexploded bombs had been left on the site. But these problems had been anticipated and addressed in the disaster recovery plans prepared in advance by each company. Consequently, security teams lost no time wondering how to react. They simply followed the plan, bringing in experts to clear the minefields and remove bombs before staff were allowed to return. They also checked facilities and residences for other dangers and implemented plan procedures as appropriate. By planning ahead, the companies prevented a potentially large loss of life and helped the plant return to normal productivity levels as soon as possible.

In their quest for rich oil reserves and new income streams, many North American oil companies continue to do business in exotic parts of the world. But as the previous account makes clear, oil work abroad carries a host of risks that companies must address when setting up operations overseas. Therefore, security directors must research the country's conditions and develop a security plan to address any possible contingency.

Research. Knowledge is the best defense. Security's arsenal should include a thorough understanding of a country's history and current conditions, including laws, customs, political trends, economics, and medical services. This armament will help security avert some problems and prepare employees for those that cannot be avoided.

Security managers can obtain country-specific information from the U.S. State Department, from CIA country fact sheets (available via SM Online or ASISNET), and from many private sources, including Control Risks, Kroll Associates, The Ackerman Group, and Pinkerton Inc.

Some companies give employees summaries of this background information, others provide direct access. For example, NOVA, an Alberta, Canada-based integrated gas transmission and petrochemicals company, provides employees with online access to country and foreign city profiles (provided by Kroll Associates and Control Risks) through its internal corporate security Web page, accessible to employees on the company intranet.

Employees should also be given contact information. Resources should include the location of local embassies and consulates where they can turn for help in case of an emergency.

Contingency plans. A carefully crafted contingency plan is an essential part of any effort to secure operations in foreign countries. The plan should address every possible risk scenario, providing for implementation by an emergency response team, including detailed instructions that designate which staff position is responsible for each procedure required.

Contingency plans should be tested when the site is first set up. One scenario should test the main disaster recovery team, and another should focus on the backup team. …

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