Charles ‘Chuck’ Regini at Unity Resources Group, one of our partners in Special Risks and Kidnap and Ransom insurance, explains how the professionals move into action to protect your people when a ransom demand arrives out of the blue.
Can you imagine that chilling phone call in the middle of the night? “We have your people! You must meet our demands!”
What would you do? How would you react? How would you protect your people, look after their families and manage your firm’s international and local reputation?
If you have Kidnap and Ransom or ‘Special Risks’ insurance from Bellwood Prestbury, the one bit of good news in this nightmare scenario is that your policy will pay for a group of trained and experienced international crisis management consultants to work with you to reach the best possible outcome.
Chuck Regini, Director of Global Crisis Response at Unity Resources Group, is on the leadership team of professionals your insurance cover may provide. Unity has experienced consultants ready to support corporate clients for critical incidents like kidnaps, extortion and non-extortion threats, missing persons, and emergency evacuations.
We asked Chuck to take us behind the scenes of a recent incident, where his firm supported a client who had several employees snatched from their base in Africa.
“The project site was in a remote part of the Congo, with dense jungle and very little infrastructure.
The surrounding area was mostly controlled by dozens of well-armed militia groups who were in opposition to the official government. It was like the Wild West in the jungle.
“You can probably imagine the panic these executives are feeling.”
“When our client got the call, the project office in DR Congo informed HQ in North America. Using the hotline from their insurance policy, they called us.
“You can probably imagine the panic these executives are feeling. They have never been in this situation. They don’t know what to do. They are 6,000 miles away. They were relieved to connect with people like us, who do this professionally.
“We have skilled consultants stationed all around the world. We select who will support each incident based on their experience, local knowledge and languages, as well as the ability to deploy quickly. In this case, given that French is the local international language, we sent an ex-French intelligence officer from Lyon in France, and a South African consultant. It was an arduous trip: Fly to Rwanda. Overland to DR Congo. Helicopter into the project site.
“We had another of our consultants join the client’s headquarters team. Both teams were then embedded for the duration – however long that might take.
“Our first priority is to sort out the chain of command and organise the client to manage the incident. Who will make decisions at HQ? Who will coordinate actions on the ground?
“Kidnappers may make contact with multiple sources. Someone in the local project. Perhaps a direct approach to the parent company. Another to family members. That can breed confusion and misunderstandings, which can jeopardise the safety of the hostages.
“Another priority is to establish contact with family members and make sure they are properly informed and understand what to do if they are contacted. These situations can last weeks, months – even years. Doing the best to help family members cope and ensure they have the best information at all times is critical.
“It’s not necessarily the best idea to rush into negotiations to try to quickly resolve the situation. We recommend a more deliberate and careful approach. We talk through the options. Manage expectations. Provide ongoing assessments of the situation and continual recommendations on next steps. Reassuring them as best we can.
“We also need to consider outside factors, like the local authorities and military, media coverage, other employees and the local community.
“Who should communicate with the kidnappers?…A low pulse rate is helpful.”
“One of the key areas is to decide who will be the contact person for the kidnappers on the ground. Who should that be and how should communications be conducted?
“We look for someone who is articulate. Mature. Someone who can handle stress and is open to advice. It is best that they volunteer for the role. It has to be someone who has the bandwidth and availability and wants to do it. A low pulse rate is helpful.
“We then train and coach this communicator and support them throughout the process. Before contact is made, we will have a plan on what to say and goals for each stage.
“We will also look to provide advice to others that may be contacted by the hostage takers on how to redirect back to the primary line of communications. Our objective is always to manage the kidnappers’ expectations about what is possible. We are always assessing and reassessing. Making recommendations on strategy.
“We also continually check on the welfare of the hostages. We look to obtain proof of life. Ask for evidence that they are being properly taken care of.
“It’s always a concern that local authorities may go in guns-a-blazing; hostage rescue is seldom advisable...”
“We also advise on how to maintain a cooperative and collaborative relationship with the local law enforcement or military.
“It’s always a concern that local authorities may go in guns-a-blazing; hostage rescue is seldom advisable in financially motivated incidents. The safest, securest way to resolve things for the victims in those incidents is negotiation; with the authorities then taking action to arrest the offenders once the hostage is safely home.
“In this case, after nearly three months of negotiation around money, concessions for the local community and other social issues, a payment was agreed.
“How to exchange money for hostages is always complicated. Sometimes we agree a ‘drop’ – a bag in a bin or a locker, like you see in the movies. Other times we use an intermediary. In this case, it was agreed that a local community service worker, trusted by both sides, would make the delivery.
“This is a really tense part of the proceedings and we make it clear to clients that they should not expect an immediate release.
“The kidnappers need to feel secure, so they may not pick up the money straight away. They need to transport the hostages from their safe location to somewhere accessible. They may need to make escape plans. They
may need to process money. In this case, all the hostages were safely released in the jungle several days after the payment had been made.
“They were malnourished and dehydrated from living in the jungle, but basically they were in good condition.
“Of course psychologically they had been through a lot, never knowing when it might end; always worrying that other militia might get involved or there might be an armed rescue mission.
“After the incident was resolved, we provided the client with recommendations on how to avoid an incident in the future. Some of this was about security. But in this case, finding ways to build better relationships with local communities was also an important issue.”
About Chuck Regini
Charles ‘Chuck’ Regini is a Director at Unity Resources Group, the international advisory consultancy that supports businesses, governments and organisations in challenging and high-risk environments.
What does your insurance cover?
If you hold a Kidnap and Ransom or a Special Risks policy through Bellwood Prestbury you can be covered for all of the costs involved in the professional support described here.
You can also be compensated for any payments that may be made, up to an agreed rate stated in the policy. 10% of premiums can also be used towards pre-incident professional crisis management training and prevention services.