International developments, national events, state politics, local activism, community leadership – how might these impact business operations? What effect do they have on safety and security? Real-time awareness of what is unfolding at all levels is an essential component to accurately assessing the state of security in a region and being able to effectively manage and work within it.
Stepping beyond the local lens applied to domestic projects, how can situational awareness benefit an organization at the international level? This is one role of Strategic Decision Support.
Security situations and risk landscapes are fluid and can change rapidly. This makes consistent and repeated assessment an essential component to maintaining the heightened state of awareness necessary to operate securely in today’s often unpredictable environment. As world events unfold and geopolitical shifts occur, security becomes an increasingly integral part of successful operations, on both broad and local scales. Risks and security threats may include anything from terrorist incidents, sabotage, protesting and activism, to vandalism, community hostility, kidnappings, threats to supply chain and threats against individuals. Regardless of the threat, however, the interdependence of security, situational awareness, personal safety, and ultimately informed decision-making leading to project/organizational success is a fundamental relationship to examine.
Examples of awareness pieces that play important roles in a security assessment and strategic decision-making:
Nationally, events such as presidential elections, campaigning, and political scandals can affect the volatility of a nation’s population and their propensity to protest. Dissatisfied populations now have a stronger voice than ever before in an increasingly interconnected world, one that is heavily reliant on internet, TV, and social media. The recent storming of the US Capitol demonstrates that this doesn’t just take place in less developed countries, but rather is affecting threat landscapes in major world superpowers.
Neighboring regions may have a profound impact on local security. In Mexico, for example, drug transportation and shipment routes cross multiple states and may intersect at various points. In addition, states and drug shipment routes are controlled by multiple, potentially rival, crime groups. Just as geographical boundaries do not hinder the flow of legal or illegal commodities, nor do they prevent such security threats as violence, turf wars, or rivalries from crossing borders.
Similarly, protest activities against a mining or energy project in bordering regions may call like-minded people to action, especially given the reach of activist groups and non-governmental organizations. Local communities monitor similar projects with interest, promoting social engagement and noting successful resistance tactics. This is often seen with energy projects in the US and Canada. The cross-border nature of energy sector activism lends strength to resistance movements and often provides motivation and strategic insight to activists. It can be expected that support for these initiatives will cross borders, if not physically due to COVID restrictions, then digitally through online campaigns and trainings.
Developing a familiarity of key community and influential figures, as well as understanding important causes, concerns, and existing relationships can not only create a heightened state of awareness, but can also help to establish significant inroads to acceptance with the indigenous communities, lack of which can raise potentially significant security concerns.
Local inhabitants are increasingly aware of the impact that natural resource exploitation, in particular, has on their environment, as well as the financial gain that is often at stake. Potential issues include concerns over poverty, environmental damage and human rights violations, as well as disputes over land purchases, population displacement, compensation payments, water usage and pollution, and waste water. Disputes often give rise to opposition, including local activism and protests. Moreover, potential profits gained by local communities can attract competition – not only from local inhabitants but also between rival crime groups. One need only look as far as the ongoing turf wars in Mexico to see these threats unfold. Each of these situations can pose significant security issues.
The Shift Towards Local Consultation. In a human rights capacity, there has been a shift over the last 20 years in favor of local populations, partly due to the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. This convention requires governments to ensure that indigenous groups are consulted about projects or laws that may impact their communities. There has been considerable debate regarding whether this convention gives local populations the right of veto when it comes to projects moving forward.
Engaging and developing relationships, trust, and cultural sensitivity with the local community can be one of the most valuable assets for keeping on top of relevant security issues. Locals are often the most knowledgeable regarding potential volatilities and impending disputes in their area, in addition to being well placed to control uprisings and gather support when needed. Strategic Decision Support can play a role in helping to establish these relationships. Therefore, in addition to the costs and risks involved in establishing international projects and relationships with local communities, one must consider the benefits that can result from these partnerships, not least of which is strengthening the state of security to the benefit of all stakeholders: the indigenous community, company personnel and the project’s success.
The Importance of Security and Heightened Situational Awareness Cannot be Understated
Establishing vital relationships with the local population and harnessing “local knowledge” is essential. Integrating this insight with an understanding of the broader local, state, national, and international contexts can create a powerful foundation for strategic and informed decision-making, bringing substantial advantages to an organization’s security and success. Investing in Strategic Decision Support isn’t about determining which regions are safe and which are not. It is about creating a heightened state of awareness in order to proactively and effectively identify and manage risks, while building a strategy tailored to each unique case that will also work alongside the local community.