Placing staff and contractors in high risk locations needs to be based on high quality and timely information and backed up by detailed emergency planning. The two allow for proactive solutions that can be implemented smoothly in the face of rapidly changing circumstances. Nick Stocker reports.
With much of our planet’s energy sources in regions where political instability, civil unrest and corruption are commonplace, security and risk management are ongoing priorities for Big Oil. Contingency planning, security strategies and evacuation procedures are taken incredibly seriously by oil operators and talent agencies who must be familiar with the myriad of risks faced in the countries within which they operate.
Earning potential is, of course, highly favourable in high-risk countries; country-orientation and familiarisation with local safety and security considerations comes as second-nature to oil and gas professionals working in such regions – so the lure of Africa and the Middle East will continue to attract highly skilled professionals from every corner of the world.
That said, weeks of violent protests against Col Gaddafi's 42-year-long Libyan rule – with neither side seemingly having the capacity to overpower the other – has thrust safety and security into the spotlight once again and organizations working in North Africa and the Middle East have had to put their plans to the test as they evacuate their expatriate workforces.
Four main challenges accompany the type of emergency evacuation that we have seen in Libya:
1. Accounting for personnel.
2. Logistics of executing the evacuation.
3. Holding area capacities/limitations.
4. Government regulations.
When an emergency situation arises, companies must know: where people are; how many need to be accounted for; whether or not they should stay put or move to a place of safety; what must be done and when it needs to happen – all this done against the backdrop of a need for effective communications when these may have been disrupted.
The logistics of executing an evacuation pose significant challenges – will you get your people out by road or by air? What will you do if it’s not possible to use your preferred method? A convoy is easier to control than lots of individual cars, but is also a more obvious target; considerations such as this will form part of your security strategy.
Holding areas – offering temporary security prior to evacuation – will have different limitations: how long will they be secure for, with enough food and water? This will depend on the volume of people and the duration of their stay. In the Libyan Desert, supplies of food and water were starting to run low, making the requirement for immediate evacuation critical as witnessed by the military evacuation operations.
Government regulations will, of course, vary from country-to-country, but they cannot be neglected when it comes to evacuation planning. Has the government imposed air space restrictions? Have border crossings been closed, and is there a curfew in place? How will that impact your method of evacuation? Will it affect timeframes or logistics – or both?
The nature of every situation will present unique challenges, so it is virtually impossible to anticipate every possible scenario. However, by being aware of those that are outlined above, companies can complete their security planning and be confident that they have developed the framework required to manage through an emergency situation.
Cost and risk – considerations
Companies that work in oil and gas are often asked about cost and risk considerations in relation to security planning. The response to this is quite simple: money is no issue where lives are concerned and when it comes to risk, there are no guarantees.
During times of unrest, when those in control of transport have the power to make or break your evacuation plan, parting with large sums of cash could be your only option. If the going rate for the last flight out is $100,000, you’ll pay it to escape to a place of safety.
With or without these payments, the cost of securing transportation at short notice is likely to be high, especially for large volumes of personnel. When those in control of transport know they’re your only option, the price can escalate.
Guarantees are not possible with security planning, but it’s important to mitigate risk through accurate intelligence and threat assessment to understand each situation as it unfolds. Links with the authorities can help with securing an escort for evacuation. However, security teams must be given the opportunity to forge these all important relationships before the emergency develops. Naturally, this can often come under the gaze of the accountants who might only see the shorter term costs rather than the longer term benefits of such an approach.
While loss of lives is obviously the greatest risk during the evacuation process, companies must also consider the risk of their reputation: if your evacuation planning is incomplete, you could compromise the security of your people and your reputation will, inevitably, suffer. To position your company as inadequately prepared for an emergency situation is to give your competitors greater appeal and miss out on the market shapers of the global talent pool.
As a global talent agency within the oil and gas industry and operating in high-risk locations such as Africa and the Middle East, NES Global supports its contractors with a high-quality risk management plan. Through a partnership with a world-leading business risk consultancy that provides an evacuation monitor in the relevant territories, we can take the most appropriate course of action at the time of incident.
Features of this plan include: a risk management team that identifies threat levels and evacuation advice levels; a 24-hour security support helpline for NES employees, contractors and their families (real-time updates help to take the right action at the right time); a process that identifies who, and where the contractors are, and what they are doing; and transportation co-ordination for evacuation.
As well as establishing their own comprehensive security strategies, companies operating in high-risk locations within the oil and gas industry should ensure that they work with third party suppliers who are also suitably prepared to deal with emergency evacuation – especially when it comes to the agencies that support their contract workforce. This partnership approach has been tested by NES Global across North Africa in recent months.
Specialist agencies that are on-the-ground forging relationships in-country and working continuously to mitigate the risk of threat to their contractors can reinforce your own security strategy, keeping your reputation in tact and giving you peace of mind. The advice to managers facing an emergency evacuation situation is to stay calm, ensure that your communications systems are established and keep workers and their families informed.
Heavy investment in security only goes so far – it doesn’t matter how sophisticated your security strategy is; if your government issues an evacuation notice that you do not follow, it is possible that your insurance premium would be invalidated so you’ll have no choice but to leave.
It’s vital that you take heed of the advice you are given in an emergency situation: if you’re told to limit your movements, then limit your movements; if you’re told to get out, then evacuate. To make your own judgment call about whether or not to follow advice could put lives in danger, so listen to a trusted source and follow their advice
We’re bound by global oil consumption. The world needs energy. And people are required to find sources of that energy. Many of the richest sources of oil are in countries with the greatest political volatility, so risk management is second nature for the companies that work there – it’s part of our day-to-day operations.
It is also highly unlikely that people with the right skills and qualifications to work in the industry are going to be flooding in droves to safer grounds. Quite the opposite, in fact: high-risk equates to higher income for many oil and gas engineers, so those looking for the most lucrative opportunities worldwide will be encouraged by the rates on offer in the Middle East and North Africa.
Essentially, there will always be people who are prepared to take the risk. High-profile political tensions may deter them temporarily, but things will only change significantly if host countries impose sanctions that prevent other countries from operating. Otherwise, it’s very much ,business as usual'.
Nick Stocker is associate director for NES Global, London, UK. www.nesglobal.com. He is responsible for the development and servicing of major NES clients in Latin America and Iraq.