A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security


In many non-governmental organizations, especially smaller ones, it is the security advisor’s responsibility to monitor staff for, and advise on the effects of, excessive stress. Even if it is not on your formal job description it is in your best interest to keep an eye on staff stress levels. Overly stressed staff frequently make poor decisions regarding their own security and are inclined to take short cuts when it comes to following established security procedures.

Excessive, prolonged stress can lead to an emotional and physical exhaustion commonly referred to as burnout. It often begins as normal stress but then you start to feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to humanitarian work in the first place. If left untreated burnout can eventually threaten your job, your relationships, and your health.

According to the Mayo Clinic you may be at greater risk of developing burnout if:

* You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life
* You try to be everything to everyone
* Your job is monotonous
* You feel you have little or no control over your work
* You work in a helping profession, such as health care, counseling, teaching, aid worker or law enforcement

The signs of burnout tend to be more mental than physical. They can include:

* Feeling detached
* Isolating yourself
* Irritability
* Frustration
* Feeling trapped
* Feeling like a failure
* Despair
* Cynicism
* Apathy
* Feeling powerless
* Feeling hopeless
* Emotional exhaustion

It is important to catch burnout quickly. Doing so can save a valued, experienced aid worker. Failure to do so can result in yet another bitter, cynical, possibly alcoholic, aid worker who is merely going through the motions.

One final note of caution: NGO security officers are as prone to burnout as other aid workers. You’ll need to monitor yourself for the signs and symptoms and take action because there is a very good chance that no one else will. Don’t try to work through it. It won’t work... and the only thing more dangerous than a bitter, cynical, alcoholic, aid worker is a bitter, cynical, alcoholic, security officer.

How Many Kidnapped Aid Workers?

Sometimes the mainstream media really makes my blood boil. You may recall that on 21 May three aid workers were kidnapped by gunmen in Somalia. The headlines that came in on my news feeds were maddening.

First off the mark was DawnNews via Twitter with the headline "Two Italians among three aid workers kidnapped in Somalia." OK, so we have two Italians and somebody else. Maybe they just don't know his nationality yet.

"Two Italians kidnapped in Somalia" - PRESS TV Hmmm... what about the other guy?
"Italian aid workers kidnapped in Somalia" - Independent Online
"Somali gunmen kidnap two Italian aid workers" - Reuters South Africa OK... so maybe its just two Italians?
"Officials say gunmen kidnapped aid workers" - Reuters Or maybe the other person wasn't an aid worker?
"Somali gunmen kidnap two Italian aid workers: officials" - Reuters
"Somali gunmen kidnap two Italian aid workers: officials" - Washington Post
"Witness: Somali gunmen seize 2 Italian aid workers" - The Associated Press Just two Italians I guess.
"Somali gunmen kidnap two Italian aid workers-officials" - AlertNet Newsdesk
"Witness, diplomat: Somali gunmen seize 2 Italians" - The Associated Press
"Somalia: Two Italian aid workers kidnapped" - آكي adnkronos
"Somali official: Gunmen seize 3 aid workers" - The Associated Press Five hours after the DawnNews report the AP editor realizes that it was three aid workers.
"Somali official: Abduction of 3 aid workers, including 2 Italians ..." - PR-Inside.com (Pressemitteilung)
"Somali official: Gunmen seize 3 aid workers" - The Associated Press
"Somali official: Gunmen seize 3 aid workers" - Adal Voice of Eritreans
"Somali official: Abduction of 3 aid workers, including 2 Italians" - Adal Voice of Eritreans
"Gunmen Seize 2 Italians, One Somali Aid Worker In Somalia" AHN via Hiiraan Online. And finally Hiiraan Online points out that there is such a thing as a Somali aid worker.

Of the seventeen headlines that crossed my virtual desk more than half would have had me believe that only two aid workers were kidnapped. Seven of seventeen acknowledged that in fact three aid workers were kidnapped. Only one clearly identified the nationality of the Somali aid worker.

With headlines like these it is no wonder that so many national staff in INGOs feel like the second class citizens of the aid world.

iPM: Twittering Around the World

BBC Radio's iPM until Chris Vallance contacted me to talk about using Twitter in Afghanistan. He has put together a a great piece titled "Twittering Around the World". Its definitely worth listening to. There are a lot of fascinating people doing interesting things with Twitter.

Add IPM Radio4's channel to your page

Be sure to check out the blog post too. Chris has links to some cool Twitter related sites.

Courage, Passion and Lifelong Learning

This video, from the always inspirational TED Talk series, isn't even remotely connected to security. Watch it anyway... especially if, like me, your cynicism sometimes gets the better of you.

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This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
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