Do Aid Workers Need Safety Training?

The idea that groups of individuals who have dedicated themselves to helping those in dire need of humanitarian assistance could become the target of violence is hard to fathom, and yet, it is a harsh reality that we must all face. In 2016, there were 158 major attacks on aid operations, with 101 workers being killed, 98 wounded, and 89 kidnapped (Aid Worker Security Report, 2017).

Recent trends show violence against aid workers is a major safety concern.

While exposure to some violence in areas requiring humanitarian assistance to be expected, it does not explain why aid workers are sometimes the actual targets of these attacks. After all, they’re only there to help innocent civilians – they haven’t taken up arms, so why would they be targeted?

Due to the nature of aid work, these individuals are thrust into austere environments, and because of the rules of engagement, are armed only with good faith and intent as aid workers for protection. Sometimes, aid workers are in the field because they possess certain knowledge or subject matter expertise, such as doctors or medical workers. Other times, they are responsible for delivering critical care, medicine and much needed supplies to the local population, such as vaccines, water, or food. It is in these situations that their aid organization t-shirts and flags can sometimes become targets, rather than forms of protection.

According to the Aid Worker Security Report for 2017, published by Humanitarian Outcomes, most attacks on aid workers come from national-level NSAGs, or Non-State Armed Groups who seek to take control of a territory/state.  Targeting aid groups serves the NSAGs two-fold: for one, it helps them to dominate the populations and territories the seek to control, and secondly, it helps them to delegitimize the government in power. Global-level NSAGs, such as ISIS, Abu Sayyaf, al Shabaab and other terrorist organizations, launch more lethal attacks on a smaller scale, meaning that they are more specifically targeting aid workers. The unfortunate truth is, aid organizations are seen as a possible threat to the authority of every NSAG group – no matter what level. That, combined with the fact that most humanitarian organizations have ties to Western Civilization, makes them prime targets for violence from these groups. In addition, due to global aid organization mandates, requirements and international law their personnel do not take up arms and are known to be soft targets for violent extremism.

It is for these reasons that NGO’s need to invest in the duty of care and the personal safety and security of their workers. While hiring armed protection and building high walls and enacting other physical security measures might seem like a short-term solution – it often has the opposite intended effect. It often sends the wrong message and creates an environment of mistrust and demonstrates to the local population that they are not trusted. However, by having each individual employed at your NGO attend a training course such as HEAT or FACT, you are helping to ensure their personal safety, security and survivability in a way that does not send messages of mistrust.

Each individual who works for an NGO should be trained in subjects to include; situational awareness, cultural sensitivity, transnational terrorism, hostage survival and surveillance detection and includes instruction on how to utilize critical government resources.

The O’Gara HEAT and FACT course training offerings provides participants working abroad in hostile and high-risk environments with the knowledge, skills and confidence to effectively identify, avoid and mitigate risk and deal with the most common threats. Our purpose-designed training has been developed to support personnel and organizations such as government and program supporting civilian employees, academic representatives, students studying abroad, executives, those in the entertainment industry, project managers, journalists, NGO’s and humanitarian organizations. The methodologies, techniques and procedures taught by our subject matter experts have been operationally employed and proven.

At O’Gara our focus isn’t just to educate and empower those we train to mitigate risk, but to focus on the philosophy, planning, techniques and strategy of not placing yourself in a crisis situation to begin with!

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