x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

UAE companies seeking security advice before sending staff abroad

Many business owners are working to protect their staff and family members in conflict areas.

DUBAI // The deteriorating security situation in parts of the Middle East and Africa is prompting UAE companies and family-owned businesses to protect staff and relatives overseas.

A security company based in Dubai, Unity Resources Group, will hold meetings this week with an Emirati firm about potential threats.

"Their crisis management team had never considered this style of risk," said Tim Curtis, Unity's managing director of international operations. "We're going to educate them about the threats and make sure they have the tools within their crisis-management plan to deal with kidnapping."

Corporations, family-owned businesses, high-net-worth individuals and development organisations are part of Unity's 3,600 global client list.

The company also works with UAE-based corporations with interests overseas in the fields of construction, energy, medical and finance.

Teams across 70 countries have worked on 1,340 kidnapping and extortion cases. For confidentiality reasons, Unity does not provide details about specific operations or companies.

Security ranges from high-walled compounds to armed teams in residential areas and offices in Iraq. It also involves providing information to families to foil potential plans to carry out kidnappings.

"The general awareness of risk is growing in companies and families who are doing business out of the UAE," said Mr Curtis, who has worked with UN agencies in Afghanistan and as an advisor to the government of Sierra Leone.

"Their awareness of risk is increasing with families and businesses specifically looking to take mitigating measures.

"We educate their crisis management team on the risk their staff may confront, whether it is a business traveller or a long-term project team. For families, we prepare them for travel to specific countries."

During security briefings, clients understand how they can be profiled by kidnappers, who range from low-level criminals to organised gangs.

Warnings about downplaying personal wealth are given to university students studying abroad whose families live in the UAE.

"There are little tactics you can use to make sure you reduce risk significantly," Mr Curtis said.

"Professional gangs work through a detailed series of surveillance, and opportunists look to pick a pocket and perhaps take someone off the streets.

"What they are looking for is a victim that demonstrates wealth.It could be watches, jewellery, a business or first-class ticket on their bags, what hotel they are going to. We have seminars to prepare people about what to wear and how to select their hotel."

During clashes and protests in Egypt last month, teams were sent to corporate offices.

When two Turkish pilots were kidnapped by Shiite gunmen near Beirut's airport on August 9, Unity received a flood of emails asking for updates about the threat in Lebanon, and has since placed northern Lebanon as an emerging risk.

"A large part of what we do is prevention - giving the individual and the company the knowledge to understand the security environment," said Paul Allum, Unity's senior analyst and a former British royal marine commando who has worked in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

"We have seen an increase in tit-for-tat kidnapping in northern Lebanon and I think people need to be aware of that."

Emerging threats in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Tunisia and northern Iraq have also been outlined.

The team often warns clients that failure to heed advice can lead to disastrous consequences.

"Irrespective of who you are, where you are from or the company you represent, if you are in any of these countries you must understand the risks," Mr Allum said.

rtalwar@thenational.ae