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Published: July 1, 2020

Adopting an inclusive approach to aid worker security risk management in the COVID-19 era

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In 2018, GISF (then EISF) published a research paper entitled ‘Managing the Security of Aid Workers with Diverse Profiles’. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has made an unprecedented impact on the way we work, affecting partnerships, programmes and headquarters offices. Taking the key lessons of the paper, this blog piece explores some of the inclusive considerations that security risk managers might make at this time.

While COVID-19’s reach may be practically universal, its impact is far from it. Even before considering the secondary risks associated with the pandemic, the health risks of the virus itself are plainly unequal. On top of the well-documented impact of COVID-19 on older people, data from the UK Office for National Statistics show that Black men and women are more than four times as likely to die from the virus compared to people of white ethnicity. With this knowledge in mind, developing an inclusive approach to security risk management is an urgent responsibility – not a box-ticking exercise.

At all times, personal characteristics can impact the safety and security risks that individuals face. These include sex, gender, ethnicity, nationality, neurodiversity, physical ability and sexual orientation. Some risks are unique to certain individuals based on these characteristics:

With many health and social care services shut down during the pandemic, staff with disabilities will have been faced with specific risks that their able-bodied colleagues have not.

Other risks, however, exist for the majority of staff, but are more or less likely for some than others:

The isolation and anxiety created by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present a mental health risk to all staff. However, for staff with pre-existing mental health disorders, this risk is heightened.

Going further, the 2018 paper offers a holistic approach, which suggests that an aid worker’s personal security is impacted by the interplay between:

  • Where the aid worker is (context)
  • Who they are (personal characteristics)
  • And their role and organisation.

For example, local and national staff, overall, face greater security risks than their ‘international’ counterparts. However, certain roles, employers, contexts and personal characteristics affect the immanency, degree and type of risk that such staff face. As the COVID-19 pandemic looks set to accelerate the ‘localisation agenda’, security risk mitigation policies and planning need to reflect the specific risks that local staff and partners face.

As the research explains, all aid workers have an individually specific profile brought about by the intersectionality between these three variables. The strength of adopting a holistic approach to personal security is that it improves security risk managers’ ability to not only foresee risks to their staff’s safety and security, but also to effectively mitigate them.

As aid organisations begin to return staff to the workplace, and resume or scale-up their operations, the following considerations (among others) can be made to improve the inclusivity of their approach to security risk management.

Involve staff and partners in development stages

  • Involve individuals with a diverse range of personal profiles to develop risk assessments and security plans. This can help security risk managers to understand the interplay between different facets of identity and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • When working with partner organisations, ensure that risk assessments and security plans are developed jointly.
  • If differentiated mitigation measures are identified for particular profiles, discuss them with staff that would be affected to ensure their appropriateness and compliance.

Question security procedures

  • Include individual characteristics in risk assessments. For example, when assessing civil disorder and harassment risks, consider how these might vary based on ethnicity.
  • Consider the degree to which training courses and briefings address a diversity of profiles.
  • Regularly review protocols and documentation in light of emerging information, such as new research on the differentiated impacts of COVID-19.

Inform staff and partners and allow opportunities for feedback

  • Provide sufficient information for informed consent during re-deployment and re-entry to the workplace.
  • Share risk assessments and security plans with staff before returning to work, to allow them to raise concerns about particular risks, and provide time to put in place proactive measures to address risks for staff with particular vulnerabilities.
  • Remind all staff of the incident reporting mechanisms available to them.

These are just some of the considerations that might be made, but of course, different organisations will have different requirements. For more information on managing the security of aid workers with diverse profiles, please see the full paper and summary brief. For more information on partner-specific security risk management, look out for the release of GISF’s upcoming research paper ‘Partnerships and Security Risk Management: From the local partner’s perspective’ later this year.


Managing the Security of Aid Workers with Diverse Profiles

This GISF research paper aims to better understand what challenges aid organisations face in relation to managing the security of aid workers while being mindful of their diversity.

Beyond the Tick-box: developing a person-centred approach to security risk management

Security Risk Management (SRM) is first and foremost about the protection of individuals, but it is sometimes at risk of losing this focus and becoming over-procedural. In too many instances, SRM is perceived as an administrative burden, limiting - rather than enabling - staff actions.  To be truly effective, SRM should be thought, communicated and implemented in a way that is person-centred. This blog presents what makes a person-centred approach to SRM, deconstructing its rationale, challenges and looking at ways to move forward with it.


Diverse, Inclusive and Safe

This blog by Richard Chapman-Harris raises a key consideration for humanitarian organisations operating in high-risk countries: What does equality, diversity and inclusion mean for security risk management? Do they relate? Do they contradict each other? In his blog, Richard shares some key steps that organisations can take to be more…