By Juan A. Garcia Jr.
For many expatriates living overseas, the prospect of conducting an emergency evacuation might not seem like an important issue to worry about. Too many times complacency sets in and this aspect of one's security posture is put on the back burner of things to do. This can definitely lead to a disastrous situation for you and your loved ones if the social and political situation of the country you reside in becomes unstable, or if massive natural disaster strikes. During the 1989 invasion of Panama by American forces and 1990 Kuwaiti invasion by Iraqi forces, many unfortunate foreign citizens found themselves stuck in a precarious situation. Some citizens had pre-planned evacuation plans in place and left in time while others did not have any feasible evacuation plan and were stuck in country. History shows us that chaos can occur within a moments notice. This chaos can turn a calm lifestyle into a nightmare situation. Emergency evacuation planning has to be a big part in your security posture while living overseas.
When it comes to an emergency evacuation plan it is better to be ready and not need it, than to need it and be un-prepared. When living overseas you must always assume that an evacuation could occur at a moments notice. If you're an executive working for a large multi-national corporation it is likely that there is an evacuation plan already written up and ready to implement (you hope). Most corporations should have a crisis management plan and team in place. If you've never checked ask your section supervisor, in-country officer, or check your company's internal web-site.
If you work for a multi-national company it is your responsibility to provide and maintain accurate information such as your correct address, contact phones numbers, emergency contacts back home, personal e-mail address, dependent names, any health problems, passport information, and vehicle information. It is your responsibility to keep your information current. You also need to take a vested interest in reading and understanding your company's evacuation procedures if possible. When a crisis starts that is not the time to start reading in hopes to familiarize yourself on what to do. Know it by heart and be ready to implement it once your company tells you it is time to depart the country.
So what if you do not work for a large multi-national corporation with a crisis management plan in place? This should not matter because the only difference then is that you take more ownership of the evacuation process and planning. Even with a corporate plan in place what if a terrorist attack severely damages the capability of the corporation to execute the plan then what do you do?
The starting point is to be keenly aware of the political and social situation of the country you live in. This will allow you to monitor the situation and know when a potential flare up is in the making. Keeping abreast of the situation on the ground is key. Some resources include: English / local newspapers, State Department / embassy web-sites, "Oversea Security Advisory Council" (OSAC) website, shortwave radios, and web-sites that provide security reports and up-dates such as "Air Security International" (ASI). Some of these companies might require a paid subscription, but some will e-mail you free news updates.
Crisis indicators that should alert you include:
- Noticeable increases in radical political activity.
- Anti-foreign and anti-business movements.
- Political oppression.
- Deterioration of social infrastructure.
- Large and violent protests.
- In the case of a natural disaster, impending storms.
There are also planning considerations that you need to adhere to in order to insure that you are ready to execute an emergency evacuation.
- Keep personal documents such as passports, birth certificates, insurance forms, and contact information up to date and in an accessible place so that you only have to grab them and go. Always have copies of your important documents, not only in country but also at your home of record. Another good idea is to scan and keep copies on a CD.
- Have emergency cash (smaller denominations), currencies where you think you might evacuate to, traveler's checks, and credit cards available.
- If applicable have visas for potential safe haven countries.
- Have a bag packed with clothing, baby items if applicable, extra medication, first aid kit, bottle water, small compass, shortwave radio, and a flashlight packed and ready to go. The best things to use are backpacks and not suitcases. Another good idea is a universal adapter to plug electronic devices such as cell phone chargers.
- Have your vehicle filled up with gas and in good working order in case you have to drive out of the country. Have primary and alternate routes. Know where the hospitals, police stations, and other key institutions are located. Know what the border crossing procedures are.
- Know what your primary followed by secondary means to evacuate are: air, followed by car, followed by boat. Know what the safest routes are to get to your exit point.
- Have a staging area designated where everyone can meet in an emergency.
- If your plan is to wait out a situation make sure your home has all the adequate supplies such as non-perishable food items, water, batteries, candles, extra fuel, camping stove, and medication.
Your evacuation will usually be executed in phases:
- Alert phase - situation needs to monitored and precautions taken.
- Readiness phase - have personal affairs in order and be ready to move.
- Movement phase - movement to pre-arranged staging area for final exit.
- Transit - embarkation of exit site.
- Arrival / settlement - arriving at safe area.
As you can see there are many variables that need to be considered and covered, too many to mention in one article. Hopefully these tips and recommendations will get you on the right track if you never gave this subject much consideration. Do not think that just because nothing has ever happened that nothing ever will. It is better to be prudent than un-prepared. Emergency planning cannot be overlooked because you might just get one chance to save your life and the life of your loved ones. Everyone in the family must be involved in the process. It does no good for only one family member to know what the plan is. This also includes family members back in your home country. They should know what your primary and alternate plans are in case they lose contact with you.
Remember security is your responsibility. Be prepared for the unexpected!