Guest Post: Global Protests and Business Travelers

Lately, it seems as if almost every week there is a protest of some kind at some point in the world. From hundreds demonstrating against nuclear power in Madrid to protests and travel disruptions in Delhi to the deadly anti-government coup in Cairo, there is almost no corner of the world that is immune from these mass scenes of chaos, anger and extreme violence.

These protests are particularly dangerous to unsuspecting business travelers from the United States, who find themselves caught in the middle of such unrest. Business travelers going overseas, particularly to developing nations where there may be anger and resentment toward Americans, need to be knowledgeable and prepared in advance of any trip.

As a security or risk manager, you need to arm your employees with vital information and urge them to be cautious at all times. Here are some tips that you can offer employees, wherever their jobs, projects or assignments may take them:

Prior to departure, research current news about the destination location for controversial events such as a political race or impending decision on a high-profile court case. These events are often the springboard for a protest or riot, especially in developing nations undergoing a great deal of change. For instance, recent events include a protest that led to travel disruptions in Delhi, India, with police firing tear gas on the crowd or a protest that also became violent in Manama, Bahrain. However, no area is off-limits. One recent example was a protest outside the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, where two were injured. Almost any kind of protest can happen anywhere and turn violent and dangerous almost instantly.

The timing and location of public protests tend to be known in advance. If travelers do their homework prior to departure, they can avoid the area or neighborhood where the protest is happening. For instance, if the hotel they plan to stay in is located within a few blocks of the protest, they can cancel that reservation and opt to stay at a hotel further away from the event.  Also, if they have business meetings at restaurants or offices around the protest area, they should consider moving the meeting to another part of the city.

If a protest is being planned, travelers should understand the nature of the riot and the attitude toward Americans so they can assess the situation’s real danger. A teachers’ protest in Wisconsin is not the same as a riot in a Third World nation that is hostile to Americans. If travelers look through the U.S. Department of State’s website (, they can obtain more details on particular governments and regions of the world prior to their trips.

If an unexpected riot erupts overseas, travelers need to go into stealth mode. They should find a safe haven in the area, such as a restaurant or hotel and remain as far away from the main entrance as possible. The main entrances are most likely to be hit by bombs, bullets, or other weapons if the situation turns violent. They need to take off glasses, hats or anything else that identifies them in any way. Even though they may have expensive phones or cameras with them, those items need to be either hidden or simply discarded. Photographs of riots could be confiscated and used against innocent bystanders.

Travelers should remain neutral and avoid sharing their opinion of the situation. If a rioter begins talking to them and seeks their opinion, they should simply say they are unfamiliar with the issue. They don’t want to appear indifferent or uncaring, as that may elicit a violent response against them from an already agitated rioter.

If possible, travelers should go back to their hotels and simply remain in their rooms as much as possible during a protest. They should contact their corporate travel assistance provider as soon as possible, to assist them in a safe removal from the situation.

If there is a protest, all forms of transportation—such as buses, trains, subways, and taxis—become potential attack targets and should be avoided. Even being in a rental car is dangerous. Also, traffic is likely to come to a halt and travelers could find themselves stuck in a terrible traffic jam. If they must travel, it should be done by foot. Local airline service is often disrupted in these situations, and travelers may need to access other area airports in order to leave an impacted area. Their ultimate goal should be to leave the area where the protests are, even if it means going to a city where they weren’t planning to do business.

Bottom line: your employees’ safety and security in these kinds of explosive situations are more important than the purpose of a business trip.

Survivor Goldfish Provide a Lesson in Resiliency

Remember when we brought you that story about Mason, the dog who survived a tornado and crawled home with two broken legs three weeks later? Well as incredible as that was, we now have a tale of disaster survival from the animal kingdom that, while not quite as adorable, is even more extraordinary.

Two gold fish survived the Christchurch earthquake for four months.

Two goldfish, named Shaggy and Daphne after characters from the animated television show Scooby Doo, have become the smallest survivors of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch that killed 181 people in February.

The fish spent four and a half months trapped in their tank in the city’s downtown area, which was made off-limits after the quake. The creatures had no one to feed them and no electricity to power their tank filter before they were discovered and rescued.

How’s that for resiliency?

An aquatic expert believes that the fish survived by eating the algae that grew on the walls and rock inside the tank. Bacteria may have also helped filter the water enough to sustain life.

The story isn’t all good news, however.

There were six goldfish in the tank when the earthquake struck, but by the time the survivors were found, no trace remained of three of the fish. A fourth was found floating in the tank. Goldfish are, after all, omnivores.

Don’t feel too bad though.

These were just goldfish, not a rugby team that crashed in the Andes. And at least, in death, they avoided the ignoble fate of most of their peers: the dreaded toilet flush.

Nice try, putty cat. But goldfish aren’t going to go down without a fight.

How Conflicts of Interest Hinder Offshore Drilling Regulation

Business will never embrace regulation. The market yearns to be free and regulation, most of the time, places restrictions on unbridled capitalism. Some rules improve the competitive landscape for nearly all stakeholders, but that is the rare case.

One constant problem regarding regulation is the question of who does the regulating.

In order to provide proper oversight of something, you naturally must know a good deal about it. For example, if you have never traded securities on Wall Street, it is very difficult to have enough knowledge of all the nuanced realities that take place in that arena. This is just common sense. You can study, research and inquire as much as you want, but there will always be something lacking in your understanding if you have no first-hand experience.

Generally, the ideal person to oversee something, particularly when it is a complex, specialized marketplace, is a person from that marketplace.

Of course, the rub is that anyone who has existed within that marketplace long enough to learn all these complexities will also have developed relationships and biases. If Steve the securities trader worked in a trading room for 20 years, he likely was passed over for jobs by some companies and had a bi-weekly steak dinner with peers from various firms. He developed affinity for some companies and colleagues while developing resentment for other industry players and practices. So if he is to later become a watchdog of those people, it is hard to believe he will not bring those biases with him — intentionally or not — in his rule enforcement.

The SEC and Treasury departments have long been criticized for this.

The offshore drilling regulation world is similar. And a new report by AP shows just how pervasive the concern is among industry players and regulators with interests in the Gulf of Mexico.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that about 1 of every 5 employees of 109 involved in inspections in the Gulf has been recused from some duties because of the risk of coming into contact with a family member or friend working for a company the inspector regulates. Ten people hired since mid-August 2008 were barred for two years from performing work where they could be in a position of policing their previous employer—a company or contractor operating offshore.

In the Lafayette, La., office of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation nearly 35 percent of inspectors have been disqualified because a friend or relative works for a company they could interact with on the job. In Lake Charles, La., nearly 30 percent of inspectors held their last job with an oil and gas company, meaning they can’t perform any duties involving their former employer for two years.

The numbers come from recusal forms under a new ethics policy instituted last year by the Obama administration to identify and prevent possible conflicts of interest before they arise.

Offshore drilling regulation does not have the resources or manpower of the SEC. So it is important that the smaller number of people regulating this segment of the energy sector do so well. And who else but industry vets could know all the ins and outs surrounding practices like ensuring proper anchoring standards for various types of oil rigs, installing blowout preventers and determining safe levels for gas releases?

Then again, if so many of the public servants (at least in name) transitioning from industry to the regulation side of things, how can you trust them to leave their biases at the door? (Especially when there is, like Wall Street, a revolving door practice of people who go from industry to regulation and then back to industry?)

In an ideal world, you would hope that a person who becomes a regulator could take that responsibility seriously enough that their conflicts of interest, while real, do not impede them from creating and enforcing good rules to govern the industry.

And I’m sure that in many instances, that would be the case. But these recusal policies are understandably necessary. And the degree to which they are being issued perhaps highlights a larger question.

How can a regulatory body properly operate when up to 35% of its inspectors are deemed to have conflicts of interest?

Are Your Employees Stealing Your Data?

One of the biggest exposures in IT systems is the simple fact that too many people have access to information that they don’t need access to. The military has long kept everyone on a “need to know basis,” but companies in the digital age have been less effective in maintaining levels of data clearance.

Usually, this isn’t a problem. Most employees are honest people who wouldn’t do anything malicious with any corporate data. But as this information becomes increasingly valuable to outsiders, that temptation can be too much to overcome for some workers.

And according to a new survey from SailPoint, the number is troubling — especially in the U.K.

Of nearly 3,500 employees surveyed, a full 10% of U.S. employees (compared to 8% of Australians and 27% of Brits) said they would forward electronic files to a nonemployee. Furthermore, 9% of Americans (compared to 8% of Australians and 24% of Brits) would copy electronic data and files to take with them when they leave a company.

I’m not sure whether U.K. employees are more devious or just more honest, but even the lower totals in the United States and Australia shows the enormity of the risk. That’s just a ton of people who have no qualms about leaking — if not outright thieving — data.

“Organizations should be very concerned about the number of employees that openly admitted to misusing proprietary data,” said SailPoint cofounder Jackie Gilbert. “These results show that insider threats represent a significant risk to the business. Some of the biggest and most costly data breaches have been directly tied to company employees. Having a written policy is not enough to ensure data security. Organizations need to have automated controls in place to monitor and manage user access controls in order to minimize the risk of insider theft or sabotage.”

What all this means is that while IT directors do need to figure out how to keep the outside hackers from getting into the network — they also must determine how to keep those already within from exposing information to the outside.

As Gilbert says, access controls are a good start.