Sitting Ducks

Yesterday, instead of being stuck in the office doing paperwork, I got to attend a safety training at the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). As I’ve written about the robberies going on in Juba before, and recently car-jackings have been added to the list. So the security training was about how to pull-your act together when there are scary men yelling and pointing a gun at you and taking for your last $100 bucks or even worse….your MacBook!

The training started when this American guy opened his mouth and everything flowing out just confirmed what I already suspected: police/military dude not to be messed with, laughed at or anything else because he could probably kill you just by blinking his eye! After a few introductions, another guy started telling us about all kinds of safety stuff. There is Minimum Operating Security Standards (MOSS) and Minimum Operating Residential Security Standards (MORSS) and being a ‘hard’ target (very difficult to attack) versus being a ‘soft’ target (your sitting duck organizations). While listing some of the minimum standards and examples, one could hear the laughter floating through the room as we all thought about various breaches in our own situations. Juba has changed because of these robberies and a lot of organizations are now trying to meet the new security standards that the situation now calls for. Anyway, below are some of the highlights from this particular session:

==> Gates with walls that should be at least 2.5m high with barbed wire on top, a solid iron door, no gaps underneath
• One robbery succeeded because the gang actually pushed a little boy underneath the gate, and because the guards had actually forgotten to seal the lock, the kid successfully opened the gate and let the gangsters in.
• In another robbery, everything was set except the was no barbed-wire on top of the pole between the wall and the gate so one member of the gang, climbed on top of the pole, turned around to get a gun and clearly got in.
• Iron doors on the main doors and even bedroom doors are also good. One gang was able to break in through the gate but couldn’t access the main house or some of the rooms because they had iron doors that couldn’t be kicked down.

==> Organizations should think about the environment their compounds are located in. Close proximity to dangerous areas mean that robbery gangs don’t have to go too far from home to attack you cause you are technically in their neighborhood.
• The vast majority of the robberies that have taken place have been in two neighborhoods close to the main market which are basically NGO alley because so many little organizations are based within one of those two neighborhoods. Even if their main office isn’t there, there at least one guest-house, if not more.
• Clearly back in the day when NGOs were moving into Juba, things were not like this and therefore no one really thought that the neighborhoods they were seletting were dangerous at the time, because technically their weren’t.
• Need I even mention that I’m sitting in one of those neighbors right now as I write this????

==> Basically smart-guards who know their jobs and how to get help.
• In one incident, the robbers tried to trick the guard by telling them someone was injured so that they could come out and check, but the guards didn’t fall for it. In another instance, the guard did.
• Or another time when the robbers asked if the residents of the house were home and the guard answered no and the robbers left, or yet another time when the guard didn’t respond at all and the robbers again left.

The bottom-line of the training was not to try and pull any ‘hero’ tactics and to just as calmly as possible follow directions and give away whatever they ask for. In the afternoon we did two scenarios and it was really interesting to watch my own reactions. While I can’t get into detail about what the scenarios were (just in case people who haven’t gone through them are reading my blog), I will say that even going through a skit where you know what's going to happen, it still gives you a small hint about how confusing, scary, and violating something like getting robbed can make you feel so I really really hope I don’t have to experience the real thing.

Anyway, before I end this post, I would like to comment on two other things. First, while thinking about all this security stuff, I have actually thought about the financial side of things. For example, making what are simple improvements could easily run past $50,000 yet within any organization, the ideal is that you want more to go toward actually helping your target group than toward overhead, especially since donor funds aren’t infinite. Yet every dollar spent of security of staff members to actually do their job means less going toward the woman or child that very project is aiming to help. At the same time, nothing can be done if staff members are insecure. It also gives you a tiny idea of what things are like in places like Iraq and Afghanistan (which I’m actually convinced are more secure than here). While the military and organizations and companies seem to be breezing through gazillions of dollars an hour, can you imagine what it takes for protect the people that are out there?!? One engineer actually told me that for him to go and supervise a site in Afghanistan, he had to move with multiple vehicles plus conveys of armed soldiers, and that when he got out of the car to move around, he had to be surrounded by two armed people deep on each side – just to do his job!

Second, while Juba is not at that level, I will say that so much is being done to approve on security all around this place and especially in my organization. From simple steps like increasing the number of guards at night per compound, to more improvements on compound gates, more information about how to call in case of emergency and attendance at trainings such as I have described above are all small but important steps. It all just give me a whole new perspective on the job and field I actually work in.

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