Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Monday, March 16, 2015

After All, What's The Worst That Could Happen?

 Unfunny comedies aside, this is a serious question that might have serious implications for just about any post in the world, however safe, secure, healthy and first-world it might seem. Not only does the list of hazardous posts seem to grow daily, even more and more of those that once could be depended on to be staid and stolid, year after year, are turning iffy. In the most respectable, stable countries, terrible things happen. Volcanoes in Italy. Terrorist attacks in France. Hurricanes in the South Pacific.

And who is responsible for helping American citizens in those places, in those unexpected and terrible events? Who is responsible for being ready at every moment to handle the worst ACS problem imaginable?
Me! I am!
 Yes dear, it's you.

And are you ready?

More and more, OIG inspection teams are forced to report "The consular staff has a limited understanding of the role the U.S military in ... would play in a crisis or how the consular section could assist the military. The consular staff does not conduct liaison activities with DOD personnel. According to 7 FAM 1813.2-4, consular crisis planning should include liaising with DOD officials in country."


"In the event of a crisis, consular staff is unprepared to operate emergency
communications equipment, including laptops and portable satellite telephone systems. Current laptops are old and use an antiquated operating system that the Department no longer supports."


"...the consular staff uses portable satellite telephones in the field to communicate with the embassy, the Department, local government authorities, and private U.S. citizens. The portable satellite telephones enable communication via Internet and telephone and are of primary importance during a crisis. The consular section is not conducting periodic drills to ensure that consular staff is proficient in the use of these telephones."


"According to 7 FAM 071 (Introduction), the consular section chief is responsible for managing post’s warden system, including periodic testing, and 12 FAH-1 H-711 (Crisis Preparedness – Purpose) notes that effective emergency planning requires training, drills, and exercises."


"In the event of a crisis, consular staff is unfamiliar with the range of support it could
expect to receive from, or provide to, other U.S. embassies in the region."


"Department regulation 12 FAH-1 H-332 (Post Profile) recommends that consular managers be aware of employees at U.S. embassies in neighboring countries who possess relevant skills and who could assist in a crisis. The consular section provided no documentation that it met this requirement."


"During past crises in ... consular staff coordinated the evacuation of private U.S. citizens to neighboring countries. The consular sections in U.S. embassies in those receiving countries have played central roles in coordinating (those) evacuations. ... Embassy ... should establish working agreements with U.S. embassies in neighboring countries that identify the types of consular support that it could receive from and provide to those embassies in the event of a crisis"


"Consular crisis plans do not reflect awareness of the crisis preparedness of groups that include substantial numbers of U.S. citizens. The embassy reports that 40 percent of the estimated 300 U.S. citizens in ...are attached to missionary organizations and an additional 40 percent work for nongovernmental organizations. Such organizations typically have their own crisis management plans. To prepare adequately for a crisis, the consular chief would benefit from familiarizing herself with the planning of those organizations, briefing leadership on the embassy’s crisis plans, and exploring areas for collaboration."


"To prepare adequately for possible crises, the Bureau of Consular Affairs relies on embassies’ crisis management plans, including periodic updated risk assessments that identify likely crises, describe the consular services to be provided, and detail the challenges the embassy faces in providing these services."

"The Office of Consular Crisis Management recommends that an embassy coordinate its crisis plan with consular sections of U.S. embassies in nearby countries. Embassy ... has not done so, however. Such coordination prepares embassies in the region to assist evacuated private U.S. citizens and to provide temporary duty officers, if needed."


"The consular section chief estimates that approximately 75 percent of the 5,500 U.S. citizens present...are attached to missionary organizations and a large proportion of the remaining 25 percent of U.S. citizens in ... are attached to nongovernmental organizations. Both missionary and nongovernmental organizations often have their own in-house crisis management plans that take advantage of the groups’ long-term experience in the areas in which their personnel live and work. Consular personnel need to be familiar with these organizations’ plans, to learn from them, and to identify how consular section’s crisis plans can complement them."


"The embassy has not informed the Bureau of Consular Affairs about its crisis plans. As a result, the bureau’s Office of Crisis Management is not aware of the types of support the embassy would need in the event of a crisis. The Bureau of Consular affairs underscores the importance of consular managers providing regular risk assessments that identify likely crises, needed consular services, and associated challenges."

Enfants, these go on and on. But when the ground is rolling, the bullets are pinging, the coconut palms are flying past your window, is not the time to wonder where your Amcits are and what you might have to do for them.
Maybe we need a meeting about how to handle this...

If, at the moment that the ground rolls, the bullets ping, the palms begin soaring, you, the consular officer, can rise from your desk and shout "Let's do it!" and every single consular employee will sprint for his or her emergency duty station to handle this crisis without a further single word, you will have done your job.

Until then, you've got some work to do.

1 comment:

John Curran said...

I am reminded, reading through the OIG reports you quote, Madam Consul, of a lecture I attended by former Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, who served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Their report found that our astronauts could have been saved, if only NASA personnel had maintained the close contacts the agency had historically enjoyed with the military, but which had faded over time. Had NASA maintained its military contacts, it would have felt more confident in asking for the Air Force's assistance in getting satellite imagery of the shuttle's damaged surfaces — a request that had in fact been made, and that the Air Force was all too eager to comply with, but which was cancelled by NASA management for insular, parochial reasons.
So much can be learned from these reports. It's remarkable how frequently similar points of failure so predictably appear whether it's a report by OIG, CAIB, or the NTSB.