Managing Kidnapping Risk

American organizations are at risk of kidnapping around the world – it’s vital they manage the risks.

Hostage US estimates that around 200 Americans are kidnapped overseas each year. Some are taken by criminals in countries such as Mexico and Brazil, some are taken by terrorists in the Middle East, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, while others still are detained by hostile regimes, such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. While many would be surprised to learn the scale of the problem facing American citizens, the exposure for American organizations is even greater, with some confiding they experience a dozen or more every year.

Most cases don’t make the headlines; negotiators often opt to keep the case below the radar to avoid increasing the value of the hostage and to limit the number of phishing attempts by third parties keen to get a cut of the ransom payment.

The types of organizations impacted have changed over the past decade or so. It used to be the case that journalists and aid workers could count on their mission to keep them safe – not anymore. Journalists and aid workers are taken alongside engineers, contractors, tourists and business executives.

All organizations need to do the following:

  • Identify your risks and ensure you have the correct security and mitigation policies and mechanisms in place
  • Ensure travelers to medium- and high-risk locations receive detailed security advice about where to stay, how to travel, how to behave – and that they know who to contact should they experience a problem
  • Regularly train your crisis management team in how to respond in the event of a hostage incident
  • Train your HR and security teams together with legal and corporate communications in how to liaise with and support the hostage’s family during the incident
  • Audit your resources to ensure you have all you need to effectively support the family
  • Create a return to work plan for any member of staff or contractor returning from captivity – getting this post-release phase right can make all the difference to a former hostage’s chances of a smooth transition back to life and work
  • De-brief after the hostage incident has concluded – what did you do right, what would you do differently next time, and what lessons can you share with colleagues and partners to help them learn from your experiences

Kidnapping is a low-frequency, high-impact crime. It affects a broader range of American enterprises than ever before. There is much you can do to prevent it from happening, but if and when it does, it pays to be prepared.