“If there's money to be made, business will go there.” And if it's a dangerous place, you'd better do your homework and have a true exit strategy.
Where to Get Your ’Intel’
Next, you need reliable sources of information in order to assess what you'll be up against. Sullivan's first stop is the 's Overseas Security Advisory Council, or OSAC. “Most companies flying internationally belong to it,” he said. “You call them up, and they will transfer you to the analyst for the region you're going to, who will give you an up-to-date written assessment of what's going on there. They will also give you the name and phone of the regional security officer - the RSO, the State Department's law enforcement official - who will be your contact on the ground there.”
Sullivan then recommends obtaining a second assessment from a private-sector intelligence provider, such as Stratfor Global Intelligence or FrontierMEDEX (formerly Air Security International), for comparison with the OSAC report. “What you want is called a 'country and city assessment,' and you want to get it as close to the departure date as you can but with enough time to analyze it and still get updates. When I was a corporate security officer, I also belonged to the International Security Management Association [ISMA], which is composed of security directors at Fortune 500 companies, and would tell them where I was going to get advice on hotels, secure ground transportation and so forth.”
For NBAA members, the international feedback page on the organization's website (www.nbaa.org) serves as a useful resource for advice from operators with direct experience in the region or country where the operator is headed. Additionally, the NBAA's annual International Operators Conference, under way this month in San Diego, is an excellent venue for networking with other operators engaged in overseas flying, and contacts made there can be exploited later on when planning flights to unfamiliar locations.
“I have what I call the 'three phone call rule,'” Sullivan said. “If I can't get what I need in three phone calls, then I shouldn't be going. You may not necessarily be headed to a war zone but a country or region like Pakistan, Turkey or Africa where there's activity on the ground like crime or terrorism. This process works with all the scenarios. You can just as easily wind up with a roving band of criminals as you can with a terrorist group or a private militia or a mob. Nigeria, with all the riots there, is a perfect example. So with that scenario - anywhere where it could go to hell in a handbag quickly - you should have a security officer or a contractor who knows where you're going.”
Obviously, if you fly for a company large enough to have an internal security department, a direct liaison should be established between the flight and security departments, as Sullivan arranged at Texas Instruments. The security department, which will have its own intelligence sources, can handle a lot of work from the flight department by obtaining and coordinating the country and city assessments, allowing cockpit crews to concentrate on the minutiae of actual flight planning. Also, its professionals, often with law-enforcement experience, can offer a perspective on details that the aviation manager may have overlooked. Further, the security director can assist the flight department manager in determining whether it is reasonably safe to fly the trip in the first place.
Once the trip is under way, communication with the home office is important. Another detail that often “falls through the cracks,” Sullivan reminded readers, is arranging a direct contact at the destination from whom the flight department manager can receive updates (and relate further intelligence if the situation changes), especially if he or she is not accompanying the trip. This can be a member of the crew or a security officer traveling with the aircraft. “That person will be your primary contact on the ground,” Sullivan said. “And they should have a 'get-out-of-Dodge' plan if the situation goes to hell.” (More on exit plans later.)
According to Charlie LeBlanc, president, security services, at FrontierMEDEX in Houston, before you make an assessment of the security situation where you're going, you first have to define the threat. Using a 1-to-5 rating system, where 5 represents the most hazardous, LeBlanc cited the following Category 5 cities (as of January 2012): Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Baghdad and Basra, Iraq; Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, Pakistan; Kabul; Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; Sana'a, Yemen; and Tripoli, Libya.
“Looking at this list,” he said, “they're all dangerous places, but in terms of the threats you have to account for, you have to ask what makes them dangerous. You can split them up into categories: either threats of crime, political unrest or extremism.”
So preparation starts with defining the threats you're going to be up against at the destination. “If it is a situation driven by high crime in the city, but the airport is OK, leaving the asset [i.e., the airplane] there is not so much a concern as taking care of your people in the city,” LeBlanc pointed out. “When you're flying to these cities, preparation becomes the key to properly protecting people and assets. There are multiple components here: the airplane, crew, passengers and what I call 'reputational assets,' or the reputation of the company. All of these could be under attack, but having good intel can put you in a position to counter them.”