By Cindy Atoji Keene
Dan Richards has been watching the Ukraine crisis very carefully. As CEO and founder of private security firm Global Rescue, he’s used to high-stakes rescue work in unstable regions. Thankfully most U.S. personnel have already pulled out of the area, says Richards, who is also breathing a sigh of relief after his client, the U.S. ski and snowboarding team, recently came out of the Socchi Olympics incident free. “Whether it’s an individual tourist who needs assistance while traveling abroad or a potential mass evacuation for dozens of people, Global Rescue is ready to help members in need,” said Richards, 40. He added that one way to think about Global Rescue is like an auto club that dispatches aid for stranded travelers – “but for the body, not the car.” The firm partners with transportation and medical professionals worldwide and deploys these networks to help with clients’ medical care and evacuations. Richards’ company has been involved with corporate and government interventions as well as families or individuals, such as evacuating mountain climbers or even assisting a woman injured during an African safari.
Q: What are you working on now, as far as crisis response or disaster planning?
A: Q: We do about a thousand operations a year, so there’s never a dull moment. Climbing season in Himalaya starts at the end of this month, and we conduct about a dozen operations there every year. Evacuation in Himalaya is handled on a private basis, and by the way, one aspect that we’re dealing with now is the high instance of evacuation fraud. Believe it or not, some trek operators are taking climbers up too fast without enough time to acclimate, which can cause severe altitude sickness. Then helicopter transport takes place and the trekking company and others are able to tap into insurance premiums. We’re actively involved with combating these fraudulent actions.
Q: Why are more and more employers realizing they need a crisis plan?
A: As multinational organizations expand into new overseas markets, especially in developing countries, they are recognizing the need to monitor and protect their employees. When you look at the incidents of natural disaster, terrorism, and other crises over last 30 years, the trend is up and to the right, both in frequency and magnitude. The ‘Duty of Care’ concept also says that employers, academic institutions, and others have a responsibility to provide a reasonable level of protection to those under their charge. Groups are coming to us to ensure that they’re meeting this legal obligation of safekeeping.
Q: How has social media changed the face of possible crises? Situations can escalate more quickly now, as news about demonstrations can spread quickly online, for example. How does it change what you do?
A: It’s true that social media has changed the nature of intelligence and information gathering. There are flash mobs and more spontaneous gatherings. But ‘open source’ also can act as early warning signals that allow us to quickly gather information and rapidly mitigate the impact of a crisis. We have information-intelligence teams in Boston, New Hampshire, Thailand, and elsewhere that constantly monitor world events, including social media sources.
Q: Do wealthy travelers need to take extra precautions while traveling the world? A: Members of a political party, business associates, and others may need to take more precautions than the average traveler, as they’re more likely to become a target of opportunity. One of our members is former Red Sox player Wade Boggs; he’s an avid outdoorsman and travels around the world fishing and hunting. If he has a problem in a foreign country or just wants advice – maybe something he’s eaten doesn’t agree with him – we are there 24/7.
Q: What’s the best advice that you can share with adventurers?
A: Number one, know the environment you’re entering. Too often travelers see a pretty picture in a travel magazine and say, ‘I’m going there,’ without doing any research. Butan, for example, has become a popular destination. It’s very beautiful but also remote and incredibly rugged with not a lot of infrastructure. If you’re a 70-year-old person with a cardiac condition, it’s not the best place for you to go. Secondly, bring a way to communicate – a cell phone, SIM chip or satellite device – so if you do have a problem, you can contact someone.
Q: What country is the most difficult, logistically or politically, to deal with?
A: At the top of the list is North Korea. The good news is that we have hardly any clients who go there, and fortunately, those who have didn’t need any assistance from us.
Q: You say that you haven’t had a failed operation yet – but what came close?
A: We’ve never not been able to help a client; it’s just a matter of how long it will take. There are still a lot of dark areas on the map that take a lot longer to get to. These include areas of extreme environment, in the high mountains or deserts of the world. Also challenging are places where there is either the threat of war or open conflict. We experienced that in Lebanon in 2006 when we needed to conduct rescue operations along the border of Israel and Lebanon.
Q: What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever personally done? Have any close calls?
A: One of the reasons I started the company was that I had a close call as a collegiate athlete. I ruptured my spleen in a small town where the emergency crew didn’t have the ability to provide me with good care or advice. I survived mostly because of luck. The paramedics asked me where I wanted to be treated, which was a strange question to ask a 19-year-old. I should have been medevac by air to Boston, and chose instead to go three hours on fairly bumpy road on back of ambulance. I could have bleed out very easily. This stuck with me my whole life and really bothered me. I wish I could have picked up the phone and gotten some better advice.