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Published: July 26, 2022

Facilitating Agency: supporting locally based security focal points through continuing education

By: Jessica Skelly

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How can we support locally based security focal points through continuing education? And how can we open access to safety and security resources for locally based staff? In this blog, IRC Safety and Security Manager Jessica Skelly shares her perspective on why it’s crucial to invest in security education from the ground up.

We can’t talk about humanitarian security risk management (SRM) without first defining organisational duty of care. In the humanitarian space, duty of care refers to an organisation’s obligation to provide physical and mental safety to its staff. A vital component of this duty of care includes incorporating a thoughtful organisational safety/security infrastructure. Specific SRM workflows may vary across NGOs or agencies but typically follow an organisational chart that cascades from a global head to a regional focal point, to a country focal point, to a locally based security focal point (LB-SFP).

Many LB-SFPs take on the role as a collateral or secondary duty, also holding team lead or site lead positions full time, inheriting security responsibilities through their leadership role. These responsibilities include overseeing and implementing organisational security policies paramount to staff safety, wellbeing and programme continuity. Their security knowledge can vary when undertaking these roles, ranging from zero experience to previous backgrounds in law enforcement.

Some LB-SFPs work in urban settings with an abundance of support available, while others operate in remote or rural locations with few resources at their disposal. It’s essential that LB-SFPs feelsupported by their organisations to advise staff on risk management best practices, respond to security incidents in real-time, act as the organisation’s local security liaison and lead site-wide security training on topics such as contingency planning or access control protocols.

Challenges

LB-SFPs face various challenges and often feel under-trained or under-resourced.

During the planning phase, project-level security considerations are regularly overlooked when creating concept and budget proposals. This leaves those who adopt new LB-SFP roles at a deficit from the beginning, unable to actualise institutionalised security best practice guidance.

LB-SFPs face limited access to their country or HQ-level security counterparts. HQ and programme locations could spread across different time zones; remote locations may have limited wifi and phone connectivity or no overland transit options. This leaves resources, including training opportunities, frequently inaccessible to locally based staff.

Given this level of inaccessibility to resources and continuing education, LB-SFPs can feel siloed and begin to adopt their own security best practices and attitudes that are not informed by organisational security culture or risk threshold. In turn, ineffective SRM practices leave staff vulnerable to risk or risk losing access for the communities they serve.

Opening access for continuing education

We can open access for LB-SFPs to continue their education in numerous ways:

First, it is crucial to account for project-level security considerations in the context analysis phase of a new programme assessment. It is paramount these considerations inform operating frameworks from the outset of a project, creating space to build a training schedule that accounts for the nuances of each locale.

When recruiting for positions that include a LB-SFP component, these responsibilities must be clarified in the job descriptions. Managing the expectations of potential LB-SFPs from the beginning will promote staff buy-in, contribute to an inclusive security culture and support staff retention.

Once onboarded, LB-SFPs should receive a comprehensive training curriculum from their HQ or country-level colleagues. If deployed to a remote location, the LB-SFP should complete their training package before deployment. If the LB-SFP is local to the context, they should complete their training package before assuming LB-SFP duties. We want to set our colleagues up for success and ensure they have opportunities to ask questions before assuming these roles, especially given their varying degrees of familiarity with SRM. We also want to ensure they have access to all relevant tools, resources and reference materials before being operationalised. It’s of the utmost importance that LB-SFPs feel they have the knowledge and support to make informed decisions about risk prevention, mitigation, and their own risk thresholds within their operating environments.

Continuing education for LB-SFPs in SRM plays a crucial part in building a sustainable security culture. HQ and country-level security colleagues should work with LB-SFPs to develop and agree upon a continuing education schedule that promotes industry knowledge relevant to their positions and contexts. LB-SFPs should feel confident to request additional training as their security landscape transforms. Furthermore, building a Training of Trainer (ToT) component will be a considerable asset and contribute to successful knowledge transfer from the LB-SFP to their staff.

Suggested Training Topics for LB-SFPs (these are not all-encompassing)

  • Organisational Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards
  • Organisational Risk Threshold
  • Security through a Gender, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Lens
  • Contingency Planning; Hibernation, Relocation, Evacuation
  • Incident Reporting and Management
  • Medical Emergency Management
  • How to Activate the Security Management Team
  • De-escalation Techniques
  • Active Threat Scenarios
  • Civil Unrest Risk Management
  • Leadership Skills
  • Premises Assessments
  • Travel Risk Management
  • Natural Disaster Risk Management

Conclusion

LB-SFPs play an essential role. They build the organisation’s security identity from the ground up. Investment in their continued education is an investment in the organisation’s objectives, outcomes, assets and image. By decentralising security responsibilities and opening up access to knowledge, we can support LB-SFPs to express agency over the scope of their duties. This model aligns with duty of care best practices and promotes safety and security by supporting staff buy-in to organisational security culture, facilitating successful knowledge transfer to locally based staff, and contributing to overall SRM awareness at the project level. Taking these steps will ultimately lead to a safer and more secure workplace.

 

About the Author

Jessica Skelly is a Safety and Security professional with experience in the humanitarian, military, and private sectors. She has held NGO Security management positions across Iraq, South Sudan, Libya, and the United States. Currently, she works as a Safety and Security Manager with the International Rescue Committee, supporting their Resettlement, Asylum and Integration teams.

 

Image Credit: Christian Aid/Meseret Abiy

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