I will start this essay on Ebola with a direct copy of a portion of our training manual, which we created for our in house course prior to deployment. Although generic, I have narrowed the focus by inserting a couple of keys words in bold font. This is a page from the first chapter:
As a security professional, your job is – to mitigate the risk and avoid the conflict. No entity, be it government, corporate, or private, has any desire to expose their key personnel to potentially lethal risk. The whole point of your being there is to negate that risk in the first place. Any time an untoward event occurs it costs the client in terms of:
- Time. Meaning that the client is now busy dealing with an incident when he should in fact be directing his attention to the business, which has brought him to the locale in the first place.
- Money. If violence (or Ebola) occurs, there is a huge audit trail in terms of insurance costs (and increased premiums), material purchases to replace damaged equipment, and if the unthinkable occurs and human beings get hurt, then there are multiple medical bills which often include air evacuation. In the moment it takes to read this sentence, your client may well be forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on recovery. If you fail and a client is kidnapped, (or contracts Ebola) the damage (to include impact on stock prices) could easily run into the millions.
- System Disruption. When an event occurs, it requires additional resources, both human and material, to counteract or recover from the incident in question. In addition to the time and money addressed above, there are intangible costs such as pulling other staff away from their regular jobs to assist. This results in lost productivity.
- Fear is another issue that must be confronted. When an attack (or Ebola) has been successful, employees suffer from fear, which in turns results in decreased productivity, regardless of work location. Decreased productivity equals lowered profits (corporate) or reduced efficiency (government and private).
You are being paid large daily fees to mitigate risk. As General Petraeus stated in Iraq, “We can’t shoot our way to victory”. The same rules apply here. In terms of mitigating risk, your brain counts more than your trigger finger. Think and plan accordingly.
To resume the narrative…..
The literary weapons of choice for most of us at CASS Global are “The Economist” and “The Wall Street Journal”. So although we may not be up to speed as most of America in terms of what dress Beyonce was wearing and who Kardashian clobbered with a baby bottle, it is safe to assume we knew about Ebola ahead of mainstream America.
And like any intelligent firm, we did a quick risk assessment in terms of exposure. We had one pending trainee, a Security Manager at a gold concession in Ghana, coming over in a month. A quick review told us he was in a non-affected area and we moved on with life.
But we actually discussed it, identified risks, and implemented a plan of action, even if it was, in this particular case, maintaining the status quo. This was months before it was diagnosed in the United States.
As a joke, we all placed bets on when it would arrive in America. Nobody said “if” but rather “when”. This was in mid July. Ever the optimist, I said it would be here by September. I was wrong, but not by much. The first confirmed case of Ebola was diagnosed on 01 October in Texas. A Liberian national had lied his way through customs in order to get US health care.
So here is where this essay starts to slide sideways and turn pear shaped…….
To date, in the USA, there has been 1 fatality from Ebola. That means that the US based reader has a 1:310,000,000.00 chance of dying from Ebola this year. Which is comparable to being drowned by a killer whale in SeaWorld, or dying when your spacecraft crashes in the desert. (both with 1 fatality each).
As rational, logic based human beings, if we understand how Ebola works (not overly contagious and not mutative as of yet) then a few simple precautions will see us on our way. I do not anticipate Cody, Wyoming or Athens, Georgia to be pending epicenters of the virus.
The problem is we are NOT logic driven, rational human beings for a significant percentage of our lives…..otherwise we would all stop smoking and take up exercise to add decades to our lives. It’s all about perception becoming reality and our cable news networks have no qualms about screaming EBOLA on news feed. Ebola went from a non issue (happening in somebody else’s country) to front-page headlines in about a week, starting when we had our first case in Texas. Was it overblown in my subjective opinion?
We lose 30,000-35,000 dead annually killed in car crashes but because we are familiar with routine death at the hands of the internal combustion engine, we have become desensitized to these appalling statistics.
But if one is killed by a tropical disease that has the ability to infect other human beings……instant pandemonium.
So as a Security Manager, regardless of level, what is one to do?
The four principal points in our training manual (Time, Money, System Disruption, and Fear) are all best handled by developing robust contingency plans. In other words’ “What are we going to do if this happens here?” Robust, timely, and well-rehearsed protocols minimize the negative impact of all four of the above factors and equally important, restore public confidence. And in the end, its all about public confidence. (Just ask the stock market). If an individual is afraid to go to the grocery store for fear of contracting Ebola from a shopping cart, the ripple effect from not buying that frozen pizza impacts through every tier of our economy.
I do not purport to be the smartest bear in Yosemite, but even my solidly middle class brain grasped the fact that Ebola was a “when” not an “if” in terms of arriving in the USA. We are just too big, too vibrant and too mobile to keep it at bay unless we seal the borders to those from the infected countries. Now keeping in mind that robust, timely and well-rehearsed contingency plans generally save the day, let us see what we got:
This first point is from the Washington Post
- “The hospital that treated Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan had to learn on the fly how to control the deadly virus, adding new layers of protective gear for workers in what became a losing battle to keep the contagion from spreading, a top official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.”
- The hospital then went on to state that it had correctly followed the Ebola protocols, implying that the virus had been transmitted even with the inclusion of protective gear. Civilian panic ramped up quickly until CDC (Center for Disease Control) proved otherwise. I would suggest that contingency planning was a bit thin…though in this case the CDC was on the ball. The hospitals were not.
- Federally, there would be no initial screening of individuals coming from the infected area, and the US would rely on individuals stating to customs whether they had been in contact with Ebola victims. If you were coming from Liberia and had Ebola would YOU volunteer this information to US customs?
- Then there would be screening at 5 major air gateways throughout the US. Great idea. So now you arrive in a smaller city that is even less prepared to deal with an outbreak.
- Maine took a stand and stated that anyone who had been in contact with an Ebola patient was going into Quarantine for 21 days………. until a Nurse fresh from West Africa defied the Quarantine, citing civil rights, lawsuits etc. A sympathetic judge supported her and how it all ends is anybody’s guess. I don’t know what to say…..
- Illinois is considering a 21-day “Home” quarantine. What is a “home” quarantine and how is it enforced?
- New York and New Jersey are imposing a 21-day quarantine for health workers returning from West Africa. This was on Friday. On Monday, it was changed to a “home” quarantine. Ouch.
- As for the other 47 states, they don’t seem to have an official policy. Hope is still a viable course of action in some parts of the world.
- If you are a failed human being, you can yell “I have Ebola!” on an aircraft in flight and actually get a Hazmat team onboard once you arrive at your destination.
- In terms of inspiring public confidence and keeping calm and carrying on, our response (to include lack thereof) has been atrocious. We are inflaming the problem, not solving it.
In terms of time, money, system disruption and fear in the United States, Ebola is a rampaging monster, well up on the Richter scale of public nervousness. Not that it is a deadly killer (though it can be), but because of the public’s PERCEPTION of it. Remember, we as Americans have taken exactly ONE fatality to date.
To be blunt, a lot of the hysteria is due to the crazy quilt and ever changing responses of various entities to include State and Federal authorities. Making it up as you go along (even though you KNEW it was coming months ago) does little to inspire public confidence. And this knee jerk reaction on the part of so many players does little to boost spirits. Rather it creates a vacuum, lacking structure.
And if there is one thing we, as human beings, cannot stand, it’s a lack of structure. We are at heart social animals and if there is a big DETOUR sign that makes sense, the overwhelming majority of us will quietly follow the signs before regaining the highway.
But it has to make sense. Which our Ebola policies lack. Ergo the rise in fear, disruption, and the other two horsemen of the Corporate and public apocalypse. We are not sure, so we become fearful of the unknown. It has been like that since the days of the cave man.
We are already paying a high price for Ebola. Lost productivity, health concerns, fear, system disruption, etc. What a mess. As a security manager, interested in optimum performance of the entire structure, is there a better way?
The White House says no. Hold your ground, pay the price in terms of fear, increased burden on the medical system, and an individual nurse in Maine has the right to bicycle through the village, at odds with State mandated quarantine because she can.
I will not pass subjective opinion, but two very rich, well-educated nations both disagree.
Canada and Australia have simply closed their borders to Passport Holders of the nations in question. The end. Full stop.
So why have these two liberal (in relation to the US) countries hit the brakes and dropped the iron curtain? What do they know that we don’t?
My hypothesis is that their respective Cabinets did not view Ebola as a medical issue, nor one of human rights in terms of travels and quarantines. They simply took a hard look at the potential risk to their citizens. They then cast a long glance at system disruption, fear, time, and money and crunched all the numbers into the master risk matrix register and pulled the lever.
It rang up NO SALE. For by eliminating 99.9% of the possibility of introducing the virus, there WON’T BE public unease, lost productivity, etc. Why? Because both governments have put up a big DETOUR sign on the road which they can justify to a public that will understand and probably support.
Or maybe they were just sneaky, and after watching the pandemonium/circus act playing out here, they opted to quietly take and hold the high ground, regardless of the opinion of the World Health Organization, or a nurse in Maine.
Or perhaps it was simple greed. They didn’t want to forfeit billions in lost productivity. Perhaps they wanted citizens to have structure and faith that their respective governments were not afraid to make some hard choices in matters of health, safety, and security of their citizens. Who knows? But they did it. Both of them.
As a Global Security Strategist for High Net Worth Individuals, families, and Corporations, my risk mitigation strategy doesn’t change much when I confront a major problem. Contain it via isolation. Develop a solution and test drive on small sample to prove effectiveness. Implement aggressively to defeat at source.
Given all the factors discussed above, then I would say Australia and Canada are both acting in a proactive and intelligent manner. In terms of risk/reward, this is a no brainer. I didn’t say I like it, fully cognizant that there is a terrible human cost associated with this decision. But right now our neighbors to the North and the land down under are the only nations proactively trying to contain the spread of the virus. The rest of us are on our ass, reacting to events beyond on control, because we have no controls that mean anything in the first place. And losing the initiative is the first step to losing everything.
Ebola. Contain it. Isolate it. Kill it. But you can neither Isolate nor Kill it if you cannot first Contain it.
So, if the United Nations made me security manager, my first action would be 3 words long.
Seal the borders.