Humanitarian aid operations have become one of the most high risk sectors in the world. According to a recent study by the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), 260 humanitarian aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks in 2008 alone. One factor of this is that aid workers are being viewed as agents of the West which make them vulnerable to attacks from terrorists and other criminal organisations.
By using a framework commonly adopted by NGOs, this paper aims to provide insight into how technology can be effectively used to improve risk management whilst increasing NGO effectiveness and reducing costs. Technology can provide the mechanism for achieving an appropriate equilibrium between security measures, the cost of those measures and the ability of the NGO to effectively perform their role in the community.
Many aid organisations adopt the security triangle concept of Acceptance, Deterrence and Protection as shown in figure 1. Gaining acceptance from the beneficiary community is still seen as the most effective approach to security whilst protective and deterrent security measures create a barrier between the NGO and the community so reducing access, increasing tension and generally undermining the bond of trust that has traditionally served to protect the NGO. As deterrence and protective measures are added the NGO’s effectiveness may be reduced and the cost of operations is increased.
Consequently, many aid organisations invest minimally in security measures. As the statistics testify to, this is proving to be a flawed approach when operating in higher risk zones. In environments such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where banditry, kidnapping in attacks against NGO’s are pervasive, the pure acceptance approach is increasingly unviable. Aid workers are seen as an easy target. Organisations have to invest in security measures, remotely manage operations using mainly local staff or in some cases, cease operations. In these environments, NGO’s find themselves operating at Point A in Fig 1 which is unacceptable. In order to achieve Point X they are adopting protective and deterrent security measures such as armed escorts, blast walls, security lighting, barbed wire and security guards. But this is expensive and the danger is not moving to Point X which is still effective but actually moving to Point Y which is both expensive and ineffective.
Faced with this dilemma what are the options? Somehow NGOs have to move northwards from Y to X. The introduction of technology may be one way, amongst others, of approaching this. At Track24 we have captured this concept in the term Sustainable Stand-Off Security (SSOS). The concept is that an NGO carries a low profile tracking device; their location is monitored and if they are in trouble they press a distress alarm. Everyone who needs to know that they are in trouble is then informed within seconds and they have an exact location. A response can then be rapidly deployed. The nature of the response will depend on the environment they are in but in high risk zones this could be an armed team in close proximity. In this way the NGO is able to operate without the visible presence and cost of close protection so reaping the benefits of higher acceptance but their security is improved by the existence of an appropriate response mechanism.
SSOS is sustainable because it provides a lower cost security and risk management framework compared with adopting full protective measures such as those offered by some security companies. NGOs have traditionally been against the use of security companies because it compromises the acceptance approach and is often prohibitively expensive. Perhaps a pragmatic role for security companies, where there is some permissiveness in the environment, will be to provide monitoring and response services to NGOs. Given that total acceptance is increasingly inadequate NGOs need to, and in many cases are, adopting different models. A stand-off approach using technology may well provide a mechanism for moving north again on Fig 1, reducing costs, increasing acceptance and lowering risk.
We believe that SSOS captures a new concept for managing risk and it will be increasingly adopted by organisations. There is already wide acceptance of the technology for managing risk – it works. Within the NGO community we believe this approach should be explored as part of re-achieving the equilibrium, Point X.