Helping the Helpers
From civilian war casualties to masses displaced by natural catastrophes to the survivors of devastating events, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have long provided aid to people in crisis. But NGOs still are working on how to better protect their own workers, supplies and assets from the same perils — and others — that aid recipients face.
Indeed, over just the past half-decade, smaller international aid organizations — which make up the bulk of the NGO community — have significantly formalized and beefed up their risk management programs.
Part of that is serendipitous, as the insurance market generally has softened for NGOs, and technological advancements have improved these organizations’ ability to keep their workers safe, experts say. But court cases also have had an impact.
Shifting Legal Landscape
“There were some organizations that just weren’t appropriately sensitive to the exposures [faced by workers],” said Scott R. Konrad, a New York-based senior vice president and the not-for-profit business practice leader for HUB International Northeast Ltd.
Konrad says their “wake-up call” was the lawsuit that aid volunteer Flavia Wagner filed against NGO Samaritan’s Purse following her abduction and 105-day captivity in Sudan in 2010.
Wagner alleged the organization neither adequately trained her nor promptly paid her kidnappers’ ransom demands. Without admitting liability, the NGO settled, although it said it had trained Wagner and she had signed a hold-harmless agreement elucidating the risks she faced.
Two years after Wagner’s ordeal, four Norwegian Refugee Council staff members in Kenya were kidnapped for four days. Another was shot and injured during the abduction. A Norwegian court in 2015 ruled the NRC was grossly negligent in how it handled the incident.
“Key to the ruling was the court’s verdict that they ‘cannot see that there is a basis for applying a more lenient standard of due care for employers within the aid sector than that for other employers,’ ” said Matthew Smith, a London-based associate managing consultant for risk consultant NYA International Ltd.
“Although this was just a Norwegian verdict, this and other incidents have given the international NGO industry impetus to examine their security risk management procedures with a view to ensuring duty of care.”
Those workers’ experiences were not unique. From 2004 through 2014, the last year for which data is available, the number of major attacks against aid operations worldwide and the resulting number of aid worker victims climbed dramatically, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. The AWSD is a project of London-based Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research and policy advisory organization.
In 2014, there were 329 attacks and 190 victims, compared to 125 attacks and 63 victims in 2004. In 2013, the number of attacks and victims reached record levels: 474 and 264, respectively.
NGOs’ Insurance Portfolio
NGOs and their workers also face numerous additional risks, which the organizations are insuring as well.
Besides being injured or kidnapped while on assignment, workers also can be injured traveling to and from assignments, and they can suffer a work- or non-work-related illness, disease or injury in a foreign land. All of those incidents could necessitate medical attention and evacuation.
If the NGO is large enough, it also might send supplies and assets, such as vehicles, to a country. Indeed, vehicle fleets usually are the second-highest expense after employee compensation for those NGOs, according to Washington, D.C.-based specialty broker Clements Worldwide.
NGOs also face foreign general liability risk and professional liability risk.
“The international aid organization insurance portfolio, in terms of breadth of coverages, is looking a lot more like a commercial portfolio these days,” said Bruce Cohen, a Washington, D.C.-based managing director in the multinational client services unit at Marsh LLC.
“I definitely think [risk management] has evolved” at NGOs, said Meghan Smith, a Philadelphia-based senior account executive in the commercial markets unit at Zurich North America.
NGOs today are better informed about not only “coverages and what they should be looking for,” but also about local insurance requirements overseas regarding admitted coverage and minimum limits, she said.
While there is plenty of insurance market competition for their risks, NGOs need to be circumspect about what they purchase, brokers advise.
For example, coverage often excludes war and terrorism, said Scott Lockman, director of commercial insurance for Clements.
In some cases, war risk is excluded and terrorism is not, but the lines between those two risks “can be blurred,” said Joseph Weiss, a New York-based vice president of underwriting and the segment leader for corporate accident and sickness business at Chubb.
Sometimes, insurers do not extend coverage to certain countries or for endemic diseases, Marsh’s Cohen said.
NGOs can buy back those coverages, however.
Lockman noted that Clements and Lloyd’s of London syndicates have developed a block of coverages for NGOs that include war and terrorism coverage. Only some of the larger NGOs historically have purchased kidnap and ransom coverage.
But Christopher Arehart, a Chicago-based senior vice president and product manager at Chubb, has “seen an uptick in the K&R product from aid organizations,” including some interest from smaller organizations.
Smaller NGOs are realizing their workers might not be covered by the K&R insurance purchased by an umbrella organization that has contracted for the smaller groups’ services, he said.
“It comes down to a calculated analysis of a risk happening, and sustaining a loss, and what’s non-negotiable, like worker protection.” — Laura Schauble, vice president of risk management, ACDI/VOCA
Budgets, however, continue to affect NGOs’ purchase decisions.
“It comes down to a calculated analysis of a risk happening, and sustaining a loss, and what’s non-negotiable, like worker protection,” said Laura Schauble, the Washington, D.C.-based vice president of risk management at NGO ACDI/VOCA.
For example, ACDI/VOCA, which promotes economic growth in emerging democracies, insures its fleets overseas for the most common losses: collision damage and theft.
But it typically does not buy terrorism coverage, since the NGO does not operate in war zones, Schauble said.
Many brokers and insurers team with risk consultants to help NGOs mitigate risk.
“But not everybody [among NGOs] is aware of that,” said John Warren, a vice president and client executive for Marsh in Washington D.C.
“They think they have to go out to consultants, but it’s already paid for.”
In any case, experts see NGOs paying closer attention to their duty of care.
George Taylor, the Annapolis, Md.-based vice president of global operations at risk management consultant iJet International, finds that NGOs are conducting far more research on the regions they will be operating in.
NGOs also are more engaged in assessing how workers will move about the area they will be working in, where workers will lodge or camp, and other worker vulnerabilities, risk consultants said.
NGOs are taking steps to mitigate the risks to workers by, for example, establishing check-in, in-country travel and lodging protocols, Taylor said. Many NGOs also are embedding a full-time security adviser in their field teams, rather than directing a senior project leader to assume those added duties, he said.
Advances in technology are enabling NGOs to keep better track of their workers, risk management experts said.
For example, volunteers have smartphone and notebook travel apps that provide intelligence, updates and emergency alerts about the areas where they are working.
To ensure workers do not miss critical information, the apps can be set to chime when information arrives. Other apps provide GPS tracking information on workers to their organizations’ security contractors.
And more NGOs are outfitting workers with satellite phones in case a region’s cell phone or Wi-Fi service is interrupted, iJet’s Taylor said.
To reduce the kidnapping risk, some NGOs working in the Eastern Hemisphere are setting up local affiliates that are overseen by Westerners but tap field workers largely from local regions, Chubb’s Arehart said.
Especially significant, before workers head out on assignment, more NGOs now rehearse crisis plans with project managers, group leaders and volunteers, risk advisers said.
“You can never rehearse enough,” Taylor said. “People need to know their part of the plan” for staying safe and responding when safety and health conditions deteriorate.
“It’s all about education,” Clements’ Lockman said.
At ACDI/VOCA, that education process includes detailing the risk management program’s limitations, Schauble said. For example, medical evacuations are run out of commercial airports, not remote locations. Ensuring that workers fully understand how a risk management program is designed is critical to getting their buy-in of the program, Schauble said.
“So what I see now is more of an organizational effort and individual commitment” to risk management, Taylor said. To him, improved NGO risk management comes down to four elements:
• Staying informed.
• Maintaining situational awareness.
• Having a communication plan.
“NGOs can no longer simply accept security risks in the same way they did previously, given the multiplicity of threats to their personnel and a tightening legal landscape,” NYA International’s Smith said.
However, “there’s room for improvement,” Taylor said. &