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Kidnap Response: Better to Plan and Not Need it than Need a Plan and Not Have One

By: Joe Gleason, AHT


Did the Qatari government really pay one billion for the release of 28 members of a royal hunting party that were kidnapped in Iraq? Honestly, we’ll probably never know for sure, but a recent BBC news story provides a fascinating glimpse into the negotiations and ultimate release of the Qataris. While, thankfully, few organizations will have to face this unlikely/extreme impact event, being prepared to respond to a kidnapping is an essential element of travel risk management. Some considerations include:

  • Plan. Agree upon an overall approach to kidnap response within the senior management team, covering big picture topics such as paying ransom, negotiations, the role of external crisis response firms, etc. Having these conversations in advance will decrease response time in the event of an actual incident where time is often critical. This approach should be included in the organizations crisis management planning.
  • Prepare. Providing role-specific training and awareness at different levels of the organization can be extremely beneficial. Crisis management teams should include kidnap response in their periodic exercises, incorporating the approach and principals referenced above. Staff and other travelers should be aware of kidnap risk globally and in their destinations. Travelers should also understand how day-to-day measures support mitigation and response – transportation and journey management, travel tracking and check-ins, incident reporting, etc. In locations where kidnapping is a significant risk, your organization should consider specialized training around mitigation and hostage survival.
  • Align resources. Obtain special risks (kidnap, ransom, extortion, etc.) insurance coverage and keep knowledge of the policy limited to a select, small group of senior management. While these policies cover costs including ransom (though probably not the Qatari’s $1billion – imagine that premium!), the core of these insurance programs is the “embedded” services of a professional crisis response firm that are invaluable in helping guide an organization’s management of an incident. The crisis response consultants should be more than a phone number on a card, buried somewhere in an insurance policy. Meeting with this critical resource before an incident to review their capabilities, procedures and mitigation support is essential. Despite the name, these firms do more than respond to incidents. Most crisis response consultants provide pre-incident training and support designed to mitigate the risks and strength organizational capacity to manage an event through training, plan review and more. The majority of special risks insurance policies include a “prevention” or “subvention” allowance – typically a percentage of the premium – that can be used toward training or other pre-incident support.


Frequently I get the question: “What do I tell staff who ask if our organization has kidnap insurance?” Having been asked that question more than a few times myself, my response was designed to maintain the essential confidentiality of the insurance policy while providing a clear, concise answer, something like: The organization has plans, procedures and professional resources in place to manage a wide range of incidents including kidnapping. While that response side-steps the question a bit, it focuses on what’s really important – the organizational preparation and resources. The costs that may be covered by insurance is irrelevant to staff and travelers. Of course, that answer requires having those plans, procedures and resources in place, so preparation is key.

As with the wide range of risks facing global travelers, it’s essential to be prepared before a kidnapping incident occurs. Special Risks insurance is an integral part of that system, but that resource – and especially the embedded response consultants – needs to be woven together with plans, procedures and training.