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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Libya: Lessons Learned On Hasty Exit Strategies

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We've all been hearing what's happening now in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and the unrest that started in Egypt has caused a domino effect among its neighboring countries under similar oppressive regimes.

I really don't want to delve into lengthy academic and political discussions as to the why's and wherefore's of the spreading instability as I'm more concerned about the state of our kabayan's over there who are working as OFW's (overseas Filipino workers)

The unfolding events has brought to light several problems, not all of which are new. The perennial lack of foresight, planning and preparation of the government and its concerned agencies for such contingencies is once again highlighted. As always, we are on constant reactionary mode instead of being proactive. We have only to see how agencies like the DFA and OWWA are all scrambling to get people out now because of their wait-and-see-what-happens line of thinking allowing the crisis to escalate, unlike other countries that have been evacuated and repatriated their own citizens days, even weeks ago!

Obviously, the safety and security of the workers in the first consideration. Over and over again, reports of how mobs and criminal elements taking advantage of the situation continues. If you're a foreigner trapped in this land, you are especially vulnerable! 

The logistics to consider in the exit plans obviously must take into account the distance and coordination with and among the workers who are spread out throughout the country. True, most of them are situated in the country's capital, Tripoli and other major cities, but there are also those who work in more remote areas. Allied with this issue of travel and transport to pick-up points or the means to getting to the designated locations where repatriation will finally be possible.

Some measures to consider for those is such a situation:

1. Communicate, coordinate and consolidate.

- Depending on how large your group is, organize yourselves as much as possible into one single party. If dividing into smaller groups is needed, each group must designate its own team leader to coordinate with other groups and to lead that specific group. Stay in close proximity with each other as there is always safety in numbers. 
- Always monitor and maintain close communication with the embassy and authorities for announcements or advisories.
- Also, it is important to verify or substantiate any news of possible pick-up or rescue. With chaos and uncertainty enveloping everything, hearsay, rumors, false hopes or miscommunication may make things significantly more difficult to effect transition to safer locations. 
- Stock-up on food, water and supplies and resources and ration them. Be prepared for a long siege.
- Make use of online resources for further info (i.e. - make use of Google Maps to keep track of the spread of the unrest or plan your departure/escape route and Google Crisis Response with a "Person Finder" feature) 
- Make a list of your group's members and their important details.
- While securing your personal documents (i.e.- passports, cards, employment records, bank statements) is a given, make copies or notes of vital information and numbers in the event that these maybe lost or taken away from you. Even basic pen-and-paper is better than nothing.

2. Secure and fortify your "safe haven" location.

- Be on the lookout and take turns maintaining a 24-hour watch.
- Secure doorways, widows and any other access points
- Set-up barriers and obstructions (i.e. - furniture, machines, gear at hand) from or outside the doorway entrance or main access. This will at the very least deter some less determined intruders or afford your group sometime to escape if needed.    
- Make a "dummy cache". Most of the reports that are coming in mention mostly only looters or robbers who take advantage of the unrest to break-in into these locations to steal (i.e. - supplies, luxury items, laptops and electronics). Set-up "sacrifice" items they could quickly get and leave. Remember, YOUR life is priceless! 
- DO NOT ENGAGE hostile elements as much as possible.  Your party might be grossly outnumbered and unprepared to respond to the violence. Fight only to defend if you absolutely must then run to escape.

3. "Go" or "no go". 

- In any survival situation, the decision to either stay or leave your location must always be considered carefully. 
- Sometimes it is safer to stay and ride out the conflict in a secure, self-contained location. Unless overwhelming violence engulfs the vicinity  and your group has a flight plan to follow for your escape, sit still and keep each other's morale up. This region of the world is mostly arid dessert, an unforgiving environment and travelling it without adequate water and supplies is almost suicidal. One can't also be sure of the the level of hostility one might encounter outside during your escape.   
- If the threat is great making an escape absolutely necessary, travel light with with only the barest essentials.

4. If travelling on foot -

- Travel quickly and in pairs (buddy system).
- Team leaders must occassionally take into account members of the party throughout the duration of travel.
- If you reach a junction or point of uncertainty anytime during your escape, two scouts must investigate first to ascertain on how safe it would be to go on.
- Keep a low profile and don't draw attention to yourselves. The less contact with others, the better.
- Walls and structures can be reference points and transient shelters but don't stick to them too closely or for too long. If a bombing occurs, debris and materials can cause injury.

5. Be prepared and ready.

- Do not expect a timely, smooth or organized rescue or pick-up. Again, this is the reality of the government's limitations. Be prepared to make do with what you have to the best that you can.  
- Be able to leave or evacuate your location in 30 seconds. Maintain a constant state of readiness with bags packed. Though clothes become less critical, pack a jacket and blanket to keep warm or improvise as shelter.
- It is advised that at least one member in the party have an emergency medical kit at the ready.
- The most critical thing to remember in all of this is to keep mentally focused and not let fear turn into panic. Reassure each other frequently, rest occasionally and constantly re-assess your choices. 

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