by David A. Nuttle
3 January 2008
When a volunteer agrees to accept a hazardous duty assignment, overseas, they need to engage in threat analysis to help assure their safety. In the context of this article, the word “volunteer” refers to persons who accept any assignment from a charity or NGO
(non-governmental organization). Hazardous duty, overseas, generally means charitable work in areas where volunteers are exposed to being kidnapped ---- or killed by hostile groups, or natural disasters; e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, etc. Threat analysis means a study of all possible threats to volunteer safety and survival. With many more volunteers being kidnapped or killed, extensive and accurate “threat analysis” will often determine program success and volunteer sustainability.
The first category of threats relate to natural hazards to include floods, flash-floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, sand-storms, wind-storms, tsunamis, extreme heat or cold, diseases, parasites, insects, snakes, wild animals, poisonous plants, polluted water, contaminated foods, and any other related hazards. To be effective and survive, each volunteer must be fully aware of each threat --- and be prepared to properly respond to any one threat, at any time.
Cultural hazards present another category of threats. Some indigenous (tribal) groups have taboos, that could result in the person violating certain taboos to be killed. In other cases, certain offenses might cause a refusal of support for offending persons. Most ethnic and religious groups think and act in a certain ways, and have very specific expectations as regards developing relationships with outsiders. Alienation of local populations will generally mean that the offending volunteer will not be successful in working with that population. Communication often has an established format, and certain words may have a different meaning than what is perceived by most outsiders.
In such situations, translation of words may create false impressions or images causing conflict between indigenous populations and any outsider. To be successful, a volunteer must be able to see the world, and talk about the world, in the same way an indigenous population does.
Many dangerous threats are frequently caused by man-made hazards; i.e. attacks by terrorists, narcoterrorists, insurgents, and criminal gangs. In years past, volunteers were seldom attacked while engaged in humanitarian efforts. Today, there is seldom a real
expectation of safety ------ and volunteers have often become targets, or considered as targets of opportunity. Given this situation, volunteers who are highly “exposed,” and who develop fixed patterns of activity, may make themselves a victim of a kidnapping or assassination. To survive, in this situation, each volunteer needs to sustain a very low-profile and avoid developing habitual routines in high-threat areas. Moreover, volunteers need to know the motivation(s) and modus operandi of the groups creating a threat. Each volunteer then needs to create defensive options to counter every possible type of threat created by such adversaries. As may be necessary, volunteers may need to lobby their
own charities/ NGOs for support needed to make defensive measures viable. (Since a majority of kidnappings, assassinations, ambushes, & bombings occur during travel, secure means of travel should be given priority.)
Counter-related hazards are caused by the errors in host government/ U.S. efforts as regards counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and/or counter-narcoterrorist programs and activities. In many cases, the host government and U.S. agencies involved are deficient in development/ redevelopment areas so local populations fail to see any real or viable benefits from their sacrifices --- and they therefore lack the incentive to long support any counter-effort to reduce the threat(s) to security. This problem is compounded when the military units involved fail to undertake effective civic action projects for populations in the middle of the conflict. If military units only operate from bases, counterterrorist and counterinsurgency efforts will generally fail. Security forces, to include police as well as paramilitary and military forces, must live with, work with, and develop rapport with the populations they seek to protect. Only by such means of direct involvement will effective security be achieved. In the event that volunteers observe such patterns of failure, they must assume that security will be greatly reduced for all concerned.
N.B. Our charity, NPI, has undertaken the following three efforts to help volunteers more effectively overcome the above stated threats:
1) Development of proven safety and survival information for volunteers, and the posting of this information on NPI’s website.
2) Work with GIT Satellite to develop and manufacture a more reliable and secure form of two-way, satellite-type, text-messaging pager with foreign language and burst- transmission capabilities, as well as hand-crank generator. (This pager will give subject volunteers as effective form of safe, emergency communications from remote areas.)
3) Support for Millennium Aerospace Corporation (MAC) in the development and manufacture of an amphibious flying boat --with numerous defensive capabilities—that can also land and take-off from short, sand or dirt, landing strips. (This aircraft, known as the Swan, will provide more secure travel for volunteers working in high-threat areas.)