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#111 Blowing off their Security Officers

November 23, 2011

Submitted by Humaniterial Girl: Follow her on Twitter: @HumaniterialGal.

So you’re 36 years old and find yourself running down the road with three colleagues in Pétion-ville, Haiti at 230am on a Saturday morning, hiding behind cars (phew you came in the unmarked hire car tonight and left the logo-emblazoned Land Cruiser at home) because Annoyed Response Director is apparently on his way to bust you for breaking curfew. Which suggests ARD himself is also breaking curfew but logic is not the point here.

This is the curse of the EAW working for a conservative NGO with security restrictions so tight that if actually followed, you would leave most EAW parties before they even began. You’d like to say that you haven’t behaved like this since you were 16, except there is no way you ever behaved like this at 16, or 26 come to think of it. So what is it about being on deployment that makes you revert to behavior that was too infantile to engage in at school even when everyone else was doing it? Are you about to start up smoking as well? Indulge in a little toilet-wall graffiti to out the married men (sorry “geographically single” men) trying to hook up with anyone and everyone? It’s tempting.

But why break curfew? Have you finally succumbed to the sort of peer-pressure you so artfully resisted during your youth? Are you that desperate to get out of the Team House and skull a few Presidentes? Well yes, it would appear so. But more than that, it tells you something about NGO security procedures, and the confidence you have in your security officer.

There comes a time in every EAW’s life when they rate themselves more highly than their security officer. You realize a) you know more about security than they do b) you have been to way more dodgy locations than they have and c) you have better connections outside the organization so can send an urgent tweet for that UN helicopter if and when necessary. At times you’ve felt safer in active conflict with a security officer you trust, than in less volatile contexts with a security officer who is young/ inexperienced /unfit and overweight/a bit thick =  liability. And why is it that most NGOs set their curfews later on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights? Is it really more dangerous to be out partying on a Monday evening? Seems unlikely.

Secretly, most EAWs do not trust their security officers and consider them either too slack or too strict, and usually both at the same time. The past Presidential elections in Haiti are a good example. Some agencies were in lockdown from Friday evening until Monday morning. Some were in lockdown for election-day only. And yours? Well nothing at all, except a message to say that bars and restaurants would be closing down at 8pm on Saturday evening. So go out and get your burgers early folks!

It’s hard to know what to do about such security advice. You don’t want to become one of those arrogant blasé types that thinks you know better than everybody else. But for now at least, you’re going to keep relying on your experience, intuition…and making friends with UN helicopter pilots.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 6:02 am

    LOL!!!!!! Seeing that you have given Haiti as an example, let me just say the one location that is THE be all and end all on security and curfew matters: RC BASECAMP.

    I have lived only ever there when in Haiti. Who wants to one up me on that one? I don’t think you can…

  2. November 23, 2011 6:14 am

    I have never had a security officer but if I did I would definitely blow him off for a UN helicopter pilot (who wouldn’t!)

    • February 22, 2013 2:24 pm

      Many security officers are women, and they’re usually much more strict than their male counterparts. They could “blow you” right out of the country. And do not try tangling with the Marine contingent at the Embassy. They may seem insouciant, although patient and steely-eyed, when you report that you’re in a jam, but they will bite your head off and toss you from the Embassy if you don’t present proper i.d.

  3. November 23, 2011 6:25 am

    Don’t forget the USAID / AUSAID / CIDA personnel that “understand the local context” better than the Infantry Corporal assigned to keep them alive, who decide to ditch their helmet and go for a stroll down Highway 1 in Kandahar.

  4. November 23, 2011 9:01 am

    How about those that think you “fit the profile” of the kidnapping targets in the region? Haiti, I’m looking at you.

  5. UKLaid permalink
    November 23, 2011 12:21 pm

    I really wondered what we were going to get with this ‘blowing off’ title!

  6. kculv permalink
    November 25, 2011 10:20 am

    Perfectly written article! I’ve spent time with private security detail near the mal passe/jimani border that think all dominican and haitian (but primarily haitians) are rebel bandit, really to assalt, rob, and kill any aid worker or tourist. that crazy wartime mentality causes more problems, than it does to serve to protect. those crazy ex-marines instigate most of the attacks that come their way.

  7. Tongue-In-Cheek permalink
    November 25, 2011 9:13 pm

    You are so right! They are so crazy, and double standard-ed and really don’t know the locals like you do (all the locals have really nice smiles – even the armed ones). You as an EAW had a lot of experience with lawlessness growing up in Suburban USA/UK/EU and no-one tells you what to do (yes you are 16 again but are much better paid than you were then).Sure you are employed to take responsibility for improving Social Justice and so that means You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Partay! It is ALWAYS fun to break rules, and some bend nicely, and when you or someone else has a security incident and the Head Office closes down the project (or at least access to project areas), your ‘vulnerable’ beneficiaries will probably get along ok, and afterall, you really are too busy to go to the place-formally-known-as-the-project-site as you have to conduct life-saving workshops in your compound or write media releases back home telling everyone how you really made a difference and how everyone else has messed up. It is also you who gets to quit and go home because it is ‘not worth it’, while someone else (usually national staff) has to continue on, wondering who the next drunken, sorry, dedicated EAW will be to grace them with their expertise! Those cute kids on the media releases are so lucky you are dedicating yourselves to them!

  8. November 29, 2011 5:55 pm

    @HumaniterialGal: You’d better behave yourself when I’m your security officer… ;)

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