Enabling the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance.

Re-thinking security management for the humanitarian sector

The safety and protection of humanitarian workers is quickly rising up the agenda as the number of recorded incidents involving these brave individuals increases year-on-year.


International NGO and humanitarian staff are often placed in some of the most volatile and dangerous locations on earth. They deliver aid with only a fraction of the training or safety protocols afforded to the highly trained and well-equipped military personnel with whom they often work alongside. This is reflected in the increase in aid worker incidents: from 2002 to 2011 the number of incidents involving injury went up by more than 450 per cent, according to The Aid Worker Security Database. In just short of ten years the numbers of deaths and kidnappings have doubled and quadrupled respectively, as humanitarian workers are singled out and targeted for their associations with foreign organisations.


NGOs could follow the lead of other organisations operating in hostile environments and procure prohibitively expensive systems to better protect staff. However, the delicate and sometimes costly business of protecting an individual or group in a volatile region has its complications. High tech equipment is expensive, and even in the hands of locals, identifies a humanitarian worker as part of the international community and, therefore, a potential target.


But action does need to be taken. Location management is essential to ensure duty of care across a humanitarian workforce. In crisis situations it’s crucial that NGOs have systems in place that allow them to respond in a timely and effective manner. Likewise, aid and development staff must have the capability to communicate their location and safety status to a security team. Spreadsheets that account for the last known movements of an individual are simply not as effective as a technology solution that provides precise GPS locations, or that can be triggered to alert the organisation to an emergency incident.


Responding to kidnappings and incidents involving injury is costly and can lead to further risk for other organisation members. Using cost effective everyday technology to find out who is safe and who isn’t enables security personnel to gain an accurate, near real-time picture of incidents as they occur and then react accordingly.


The lack of capability to account for the location of humanitarian workers, in light of a steady increase in the number of humanitarian workers killed, kidnapped and injured while providing aid and development support, requires attention and swift action from NGOs. Managing staff location, providing a subtle means of emergency communication, and responding quickly and appropriately will enable better management of incidents affecting aid workers. The technology exists to cost-effectively manage a humanitarian workforce better than ever before; NGOs must exploit it to ensure they meet their duty of care responsibilities.

James Cartmell, Commercial Executive, Track24 ELMS




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