Contingency planning in unstable countries: An interview with Tony Palys

1. What do you think makes a good contingency plan in a country like Libya, i.e. countries with an active conflict ongoing?

What happened in Libya shows the importance of a solid contingency plan that takes into account both the geopolitical landscape of the country where client interests are, as well as the cultural and business requirements of the client. Libya is one of these countries where the security landscape can change very quickly, and this is highlighted again with the recent Tripoli offensive, which saw an airstrike against the main airport and disruptions along the road to the nearest country (by land), namely, Tunisia. It is typical of, but not limited to, a country where active conflict is ongoing - Lebanon, for instance, is a good example of a country that is relatively stable yet, should a conflict with Israel break out, would see potential exit points immediately disabled.

Essentially this shows that a contingency plan must prepare for the worse case scenario.

Understanding the client’s business requirements, priorities, and objectives is key in that sense, along with the plan’s simplicity and flexibility so as to allow for change, especially if there is a requirement to move or evacuate the location or even the country. Communication & Training is also central, so as to allow for staff inclusion from the outset, especially in cases where families may be involved. Similarly, good liaison with embassies, consulates, local law enforcement (it they are reliable), and, of course, a reputable security consultancy.

2. What would you recommend to a client that would find him/herself in such circumstances? What should he or she have done prior to that in terms of contingency planning?

There are several steps that should have been taken prior to any such development. They include:

  • Identifying a core group of business continuity decision makers to make sure the decision-making process (including whether assets should be evacuated or not) be made in swiftly.

  • Carrying out an internal risk assessment of the business requirement and the acceptable loss of business/financial loss.

  • Is there a requirement for a Business Continuity Site and, if so, where is it located, can it be supported and has it been tested?

  • Drafting an all staff communications plan with a backup that is tested.

  • Know where your staff are located, especially families, and keep the database up-to-date, including those travelling, schools, and even hospitals.

  • There may be a need to have a "safe location", such as a hotel, to locate staff and their families if the need arises. Good ties with such locations can go a long way in ensuring support to one's plan with the minimum of “fuss”.

  • Knowledge of where the emergency services are located and what to do if help is required.

  • Training for all staff throughout the company to include out of city/country locations so that all are prepared and know what to do when the need arises

  • Keep a contingency cash fund available for those unforeseen expenses and keep the company cars fully maintained and fueled.