In our last article, we discussed the potential for war in the Persian Gulf and the impact this could have on firms with employees assigned there. In today’s post, we will be discussing the potential threats and contingencies firms should prepare for if a conflict in the Gulf does break out.
Obviously, the best course of action for any business would be to evacuate its employees and their dependents prior to the commencement of hostilities. However, there is no guarantee of advance warning, and there may not be adequate time for an orderly withdrawal of personnel before the fighting begins. Furthermore, standard crisis and evacuation plans may prove inadequate given the potential for a high-intensity conflict lasting for several months. That is why it is crucially important that firms prepare themselves for the special challenges that could materialize if a war in the Persian Gulf ensues.
One of the most important aspects of proper crisis preparation is to brief, train, and educate your employees about the potential threats they may face. For example, if a conflict breaks out, employees could become targets for kidnapping and terrorism. Therefore, it is essential to teach employees how to be “hard targets”. It is also important that they understand where to seek medical attention while they are traveling. This is particularly important in the context of violent conflict. Employees should know the location of multiple medical facilities, and should be trained in basic first aid. Additionally, employees should be as familiar as possible with the firm’s crisis and evacuation plans. It is much easier handling a crisis when confusion is kept to a minimum and everyone is on the same page.
It is also critical that firms have systems in place to monitor and track employees properly. Although good monitoring is important in all employee travel plans, it could prove especially important in the event of a violent conflict. In the midst of a crisis, it may become very difficult to locate personnel quickly. However, a good monitoring system can help security personnel and supervisors easily locate and connect with their workers. Moreover, a proper monitoring system could prove useful when it becomes time to execute an evacuation plan.
Given that communication systems tend to be popular military targets, there is the possibility that landlines, cell phones, and the Internet could be cut off in the Gulf. Therefore, it is important to develop contingency plans and acquire backup systems. Satellite phones and satellite Internet links could prove critical. Old fashioned walkie-talkies, CB radios, and pre-designated assembly areas could also come in handy if high-tech systems fail.
Even with a sound monitoring and communication plan, firms could face challenges in developing and executing an evacuation plan. The plan will to need to be more comprehensive and specialized than standard evacuation plans. This is because there is a likelihood that a war could lead to the blocking of the Strait of Hormuz and the obstruction of all sea traffic. Air travel is also likely to be interrupted. This means that evacuation may have to be done by land, which could also be complicated by hostilities. Companies should plan multiple land evacuation routes, as any particular route could be cut-off or prove too dangerous. There is also the possibility that the nearest adequate port of departure could be hundreds of miles away. This is why it is imperative that detailed plans, with built in redundancies, should be laid out well beforehand.
If evacuation proves impossible, which it might, firms should develop other contingency plans. They should ensure that their employees have access to adequate food, water, and medical supplies. Moreover, there should be plans in the event that electricity is cut off. The lack of air conditioning could prove particularly dangerous as summer temperatures in the region average well over 100°F. Firms might consider back-up generators and ensure that their employees are able to access secure cool shaded areas.
If the situation drastically deteriorates, many Western companies, particularly American ones, may feel a need to turn towards the US military for help. To be sure, the United States military has bases all over the Persian Gulf and could be well placed to aid civilians in jeopardy. However, the last thing that the US military would need, in the middle of a war, is to be swamped by hoards of civilians. As such, firms should coordinate with their respective embassies and militaries well beforehand.
This article has covered some pretty frightening potential scenarios. Yet, all these scenarios are realistic given the context of the current international environment. Moreover, there seems to be broad agreement among foreign policy experts that the threat of war in the Gulf is very real. However, preparing for the worst does not mean expecting the worst. Nor, does it mean that firms should pack their bags and leave the region altogether. The threats that exist, while intimidating, are manageable. If firms plan properly and make modest investments in preparation, they can avoid many of the potential hazards they face.