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A lesson learned.

When word of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait reached the Western community living in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia on August 2, 1990, few, if any, corporate security directors were in a position to implement disaster preparedness procedures adequately. This made it impossible to execute evacuation procedures for nearly 40,000 Americans and Europeans employed in the eastern province.

This article explores the reasons behind this security breakdown and presents helpful steps that security directors and managers can take to avoid similar situations in the future.

Residents of the Middle East have long recognized that Saddam Hussein is not a leader to be taken lightly. No one can ignore threats made by someone who murders his political adversaries, wages an eight-year war with neighboring Iran, and employs death-dealing gas against his own citizens.

Yet, as late as July 1, 1990, the US State Department, the US Military Training Mission in the Middle East, and most stateside US parent companies with joint ventures in Saudi Arabia were advising local corporate officials and security program directors that the Iraqi military buildup was not an actual threat.

One site manager at Rafa, Saudi Arabia - north of Hafar Al-Batin and 30 kilometers south of the Iraqi border - stated, "It was well into the third of August before we knew for sure that Kuwait had been invaded."

Everyone maintained that the positioning of Iraqi troops on the Kuwaiti border was merely posturing and saber rattling by the Iraqis to reinforce their displeasure with Kuwait and other Arab nations concerning oil production quotas and Kuwaiti slant drilling into Iraqi reserves.

Meanwhile, King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat were both relaying assurances from Saddam Hussein to Kuwait that Iraq would not use force against the emirate. Reflecting this "just bluffing" scenario, the Kuwaiti military was never placed on alert status.

This misreading of signals, failure to appreciate an obviously belligerent adversary, and lack of hard intelligence by federal and military officials lowered the threat assessment relative to Iraq's intentions. This lowered threat assessment naturally lulled security directors and other company officials into a false sense of security.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait began at 2:00 am on Thursday, August 2. Saddam Hussein could not have chosen a more devastating time to strike, since Thursday is the first day of the Muslim weekend, and it closely corresponds to the beginning of the weekend in the United States.

One day after the invasion, as the weekend was beginning in the United States and Europe, company officials in Saudi Arabia could not effectively communicate their growing concerns to their stateside counterparts. In Kuwait, banks and travel offices were closed, minimizing the capability of procuring block seating and the withdrawal of needed funds to effectuate the evacuation of US and European nationals. The result? Hostages.

Although most companies participating in joint ventures in Saudi Arabia had lists of employees and emergency procedures on file with the consulate, few took the next needed steps after the invasion. For the most part, none invoked crisis management teams, activated command centers, processed required documentation for exit/entry visas, reserved block transportation seating, or notified fiscal departments to prepare travel vouchers, transportation payments, and traveler's checks.

One fiscal director in the eastern province took it upon himself to request the transfer of funds to the United States and additional traveler's checks to be sent for the possibility of an evacuation. But he was told by someone in the United States that neither action was deemed necessary "at this time."

It wasn't until Monday, August 6, that direct communications were possible between stateside officials and their colleagues in Saudi Arabia. Knowing that Iraq had taken foreign nationals as hostages in Kuwait, many corporate officials in Saudi Arabia were looking for specific direction and guidance from their home offices in the United States. Some officials adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Others made preparations for land, sea, or air evacuation of employees and their dependents.

Compounding the situation was the fact that the Saudi government refused to acknowledge that Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq. One company official was quoted as saying, "Saudi Arabia was not publicizing that [the invasion], putting it in the paper, or even indicating it on TV. . . . On the third [of August] then it's confirmed, even though the papers and the TV are not telling us that Kuwait has been invaded."

Taking their cue from the government, the media continued on the pre-invasion status quo, reporting on any other world event while seeming to ignore the major event occurring just 300 miles to the north.

Activities throughout the region heated up, and world attention focused on Kuwait due to the plight of the "human shield" hostages and the deployment of Iraqi forces on the border of Saudi Arabia.

Throughout Saudi Arabia, employees of US and European firms became apprehensive and demanded that corporations take action to ensure their safety. These demands ranged from allowing dependents to leave immediately to total and immediate evacuation without penalty.

As a result of these demands, some companies implemented costly alternatives and higher alert action plans than were necessary, such as chartering aircraft for evacuation.

Many of these actions were the direct result of telephone calls made to corporate headquarters by concerned - and sometimes irate - stateside family members. These individuals insisted that companies take steps to ensure the safety of loved ones overseas regardless of the consequences to the corporation and the long-term effect such evacuations could have on future joint ventures throughout the Middle East.

The failure to execute emergency planning through rational, prepared steps during this initial segment of the crisis brought tensions to a high point.

The arrival of the 1st Tactical Wing from Langley Air Force Base helped ease the tension. The mere sight of American forces buoyed employee spirits. This gave managers and security directors some much-needed breathing room and the opportunity to stabilize the situation. Eventually, programs were implemented that were in the best interests of employees and their companies.

Security officers, directors, and administrators should remember that the first step in implementing a disaster preparedness or evacuation plan is to assess both the threat and the validity of the intelligence accurately.

In the Kuwait situation, the threat was not accurately assessed and intelligence was misleading. As a consequence, corporate disaster and evacuation plans proved inadequate or ineffective.

Three steps should be taken by both overseas and domestic security directors, personnel managers, company executives, and crisis management team members in the event of a similar emergency.

1. Obtain accurate, timely intelligence reports as soon as a crisis becomes apparent. Gather as much information as possible about the situation from reliable sources. Use multiple sources of information and compare what they report. Do not depend on other companies, the media, or "official" agencies to know the true situation.

2. Establish your own direct lines of communication to the parent organization. Do not rely on messages being relayed to the security director through a program director or other third party. Overseas security directors should have their own communication links to the parent company's security infrastructure.

3. Establish clear lines of authority. In the earliest stages of emergency planning the lines of authority must be made absolutely clear, including who will be ultimately responsible and be the deciding and binding voice on all matters.

Had these three steps been taken by more companies in the Middle East, the trauma of employee and dependent evacuation during the crisis might have been avoided.

Since tensions continue to run high in the Middle East and terrorist organizations may more aggressively target US citizens and business interests, an in-depth review of all segments of company emergency plans is in order for joint venture firms doing business in the region.

Pat Mahoney is president of the International Center for Emergency Planning and Terrorism (INTERCEPT) in Tampa, FL. He has had 13 years' experience in overseas security contracts, eight in the Middle East. When he wrote this article, he was serving as security advisor to the security wing of the Royal Saudi Air Force at the Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia.
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Title Annotation:Special Seminar Issue; lessons about industrial security learned from the Iraq-Kuwait War
Author:Mahoney, Pat
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:The eye of the storm.
Next Article:A disarming question.

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