Column: Risk Management

Survival 101

By: | March 2, 2015

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I recently saw a riveting presentation by Michael Sjøberg. He is a hostage survival expert with the Human Advisor Group in Copenhagen, Denmark. Michael afforded me a glimpse into the world of kidnap and ransom that is sadly plaguing our reality today.

My jaw dropped when I learned some statistics. Around 15,000 to 20,000 kidnapping, extortion and illegal detention incidents occur every year globally. That translates to 40 to 55 a day. In approximately 67 percent of kidnapping cases, ransom is paid with an average payment of $2 million. An estimated $1.5 billion is being paid to kidnappers annually. These numbers are staggering.

My exposure to the horrors of a kidnap and ransom situation have been limited, thankfully, to what I see on the news which seems to occur too often lately. As a risk manager, I have also explored and purchased kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance policies for firms for whom I have worked. The policy mitigates financial risk where the insured is assured reimbursement of ransom under the policy.

Sjøberg’s talk was an eye-opener for me. His focus was on the kidnap victim, not the ransom. One of his specialties is helping people survive a kidnap and ransom event. When a person is kidnapped, it is a psychologically traumatic event. In seconds, a victim’s life transforms from ordinary to absolute terror. People instinctively react in variable ways. Some freeze, while others resist.

A kidnap victim’s sole focus should be not on escaping, but on survival — physical and psychological survival.

The first 30 minutes of a kidnapping event are known to be the most dangerous. This is when the kidnappers are most on edge and susceptible to violence. Sjøberg stressed that it is critical that the victim gain control over their emotions and react in ways that are calculated to increase their chance of survival.

A kidnap victim’s sole focus should be not on escaping, but on survival — physical and psychological survival.

Sjøberg shared an abduction story of a family of four with two small children. With training, the parents knew the psychological importance of maintaining the semblance of a daily routine while in captivity. Even though they had no toothbrushes, the children improvised brushing their teeth, maintained a routine sleep schedule and did schoolwork every day.

They also tried to establish a rapport with their abductors — engaging with them on universal subjects like family and sports. Their goal was to get the hostage-takers to see them as real people, a real family, rather than objects.

They also knew not to try to negotiate their own release. Much like trying to perform your own surgery, it is better to leave such skilled work to highly trained professionals.

Many “at-risk” organizations know little about kidnapping and what actually happens before, during and after a kidnapping takes place. This to me was the most alarming. Thousands of employees travel internationally to high-risk regions every day where kidnap and ransom is a genuine threat.

Would your employees know what to do if they were kidnapped? Do your employees know what type of action the company will take to secure their release? Does your organization understand how they would respond? Does your organization work with trained security professionals to handle the situation? Is this discussed in your safe travel and risk management program?

Sjøberg strongly recommended employers put expatriate employees through a rigorous training program. Employees should be taught what to do and what not to do in the event they are kidnapped. It can mean the real difference to their survival.

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