Article September 28, 2017

4 crucial stages of a K&R incident and how to build resilience

KIDNAP FOR RANSOM RESPONSE: THE IMPORTANCE OF RESILIENCE The noun resilience stems from the Latin resiliens, “to rebound or recoil”. The word is used widely in both psychology and business circles as a term to describe an individual or organisation’s ability to positively adapt and respond to dynamic changes, such as demands, disruptions or threats. Nowhere will you find greater need for individual, organisational and operational resilience than the world of kidnap for ransom, where dynamic change is paradoxically one of few certainties.

Developing resilience is a cornerstone of all kidnap for ransom cases, but it is a process that is best started before an incident takes place. Despite the growing popularity of kidnap for ransom (K&R) insurance, the would-be crisis management teams in most organisations will typically have limited to no experience in handling the initial phases of a kidnap scenario before a suitably qualified response consultant is deployed. Having a plan in place will go a long way toward a successful resolution of a kidnap situation.

An organisation can build its resilience by scenario planning and developing clear policies and lines of communication for all types of security incidents. While panic and confusion usually follow the news of an employee having been kidnapped, they can easily be replaced with conviction and clarity by asking a few simple questions, such as:

  • Who should be notified in our organisation if a person is reported missing or kidnapped
  • What does our insurance policy instruct us to do and are relevant persons aware?
  • What should happen if a kidnapping is reported out of working hours?
  • Who is responsible for collecting and distributing information?
  • Do we have a dedicated working space, phone line and group crisis email address we can use for managing a case?
  • Who will manage reputational issues during the crisis?
  • Who will be the company’s core decision makers and key players?
  • Who manages the ‘business as usual’?
  • Does our company have 24/7 access to relevant personal data of hostages?

Questions such as these should help a company deal with the initial and immediate response to a K&R incident, before a response company steps in and guides them through subsequent steps. The sooner the response company is notified, the sooner they can begin advising on matters such as the importance of confidentiality, negotiating strategies, hostage and kidnapper profiling, working with the authorities, ransom delivery mechanisms, statutory compliance, family liaison and the handling of media enquiries. This kind of specialist insight is gained over years of working in the field and in a wide range of environments. For instance, EOS have experience of operating in challenging overseas environments with high levels of corruption and political instability.

Receiving notification that a colleague or loved one has been kidnapped will always be a shock. In some instances – particularly maritime piracy or lone traveller cases – an organisation may be notified of an incident before there is any contact with the kidnappers. In these situations, it is important to brief all possible call-receivers (often family members) to give the kidnappers the crisis management team’s designated number and not to negotiate or disclose any information themselves. This can help avoid any traumatic situations and prevent snap decisions being made-making occurring which are outside of the crisis management team’s control.

The negotiation in most kidnap for ransom cases will be conducted by a member of the victim’s organisation, coached and guided by an experienced response consultant. The response consultant, in cooperation with the crisis management team, will advise the communicator on a negotiating strategy tailored to the situation and the expected profile of the kidnappers. Depending on the part of the world and the group or individual responsible, kidnappers can be extremely violent or surprisingly benign, and ransoms can range from millions of dollars to hundreds. Consultants will usually record and transcribe all calls with kidnappers and keep detailed case logs, documenting strategy, intelligence, decision-making and operational updates.

This is important for resilience in two ways. Firstly, it allows a second response consultant to seamlessly take control of the case should the primary consultant be rotated out. Secondly, it helps ensure that information is not accidentally overlooked, especially as conversing clearly with kidnappers in remote environments can be challenging. Having detailed case logs and transcriptions helps ensure that decisions are being made with all available information.

Kidnap cases can last hours, days, months or even years. No matter the expected duration of the case, it is important for a response company to start planning the logistics of a potential ransom drop and the extraction of the hostages as early as possible. Having a strong local network and resources on the ground helps ensure operations go smoothly, which is why kidnap response companies invest much time and effort into building reliable local relationships. Indeed, the hostile and complex environments in which people tend to be kidnapped demands that resilience is built in to all aspects of the ground operations phase of a case. This includes accommodation, medical clinics, security, communications and movement.

Contrary to popular belief, an insurance underwriter does not pay a ransom, but will reimburse the insured under the terms of the policy. The insured must therefore have the financial means to pay upfront. If the ransom is being paid in local currency, it typically has to be wired to the case country and withdrawn from a local bank or banks. Achieving this in developing countries is seldom straightforward and once again necessitates experience and local connections.

It’s also important to keep in mind the little things, which may not be immediately obvious, such as paper work and vaccinations: if staff need to be deployed to the case country, visas and inoculations must be organised prior to negotiations concluding, while the kidnap victim may need to be extracted via secondary countries which also require documentation. This is another area where response companies will help, as they have the experience and infrastructure in place to ensure these matters are taken care of.

In order to ensure the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is absolutely crucial for a company to have a response plan in place, which includes a response consultancy partner. And while the life of a kidnapped employee is of course of tantamount importance, it is also true that a company needs to consider their liability and reputation in case of an incident ending badly. Professional handling of all aspects of a kidnap for ransom incident from initial response to hostage repatriation will substantially reduce this liability, and requires a clear plan of action. A K&R insurance policy can help with all this, as it covers the costs of consultancy services as well as ransom payments, and offers policyholders quick access to a pre-selected list of experienced response companies, including EOS Risk Group.