New kidnap and ransom hot spots are developing all the time in regions around the world.

In parts of Asia, North Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the United States, criminal gangs, political turmoil and other threats are creating uncertain and hostile environments. Fast-changing conditions mean that regions can shift unexpectedly from secure to unsafe. 

Some of these myriad risks can be seen in parts of Latin America. In 2011, nearly a quarter of all kidnappings worldwide were carried out in Latin America, with places such as Mexico, Venezuela and Guatemala ranking in the top 10 globally, according to data from Control Risks, a global risk consultancy. 

The criminal model is also evolving, giving rise to “express kidnappings” and other criminal variations. 

People working, studying or volunteering in Latin America who are victims of “express kidnappings” will be held for a day or two and forced to withdraw the maximum amount allowable from their bank’s ATMs. The kidnappers don’t ask for a ransom and the victim is often harmed physically and traumatized psychologically, unsure if they’ll survive, before being released.

In another tactic, criminal gangs in Mexico demand “protection” money from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), sometimes even extorting church groups. Throughout Latin America, missionaries have been kidnapped and held for ransom.

Unpredictable Risks, Essential Protection

Against the backdrop of multiple hot spots and unpredictable risks, K&R insurance has become essential protection for businesses, religious organizations, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, the entertainment industry, hospitals, non-profits, NGOs and government contractors. 

Awareness of K&R has grown to the point where risk managers, insurance professionals and executives in many industries and sectors–whether they’re operating domestically or internationally–recognize its important role. While protecting their people is paramount, they also understand that meeting this duty of care requires robust protections. If businesses or organizations fail to meet that standard, employees, volunteers or others who are harmed carrying out their duties may respond with a lawsuit.

A Total Security Approach

Today’s K&R insurance coverage has kept pace with risk trends and changing needs. Its total security approach combines the protection of insurance with the risk management and on-the-ground services of a crisis management and response firm.

The response firm works hand-in-hand with the insurer and, more importantly, the client. In addition to kidnappings for ransom, extortion and illegal detention, coverages often include threats, disappearances and emergency evacuations. 

Comprehensive coverage is a necessity as criminal behavior continues to take new forms. Throughout the world’s trouble spots, kidnappings remain a serious threat, often fueled by drug cartels and other criminal enterprises seeking new sources of income as internal and external power struggles cut into profits. 

But not all kidnappings follow this pattern. In the U.S., hospitals, schools and universities often buy K&R protection and use the risk and advisory component to create plans that guard against infants or children being abducted from their premises. This is just one example of how an insured can proactively work with the consultant firm that works in partnership with the insurer. 

In fact, many entities that buy K&R coverage see substantial value in the risk management component. That’s one reason agents and brokers encourage clients to begin working as early as possible with the crisis management and response firm, well in advance of traveling to a new location. 

Leaving Little to Chance 

To be effective, preparation needs to be specific and answer questions such as: How will you travel from the airport to your work, volunteer or school site? Are you planning to take any sightseeing excursions? If so, where will you go, who will be in charge of transportation and are you aware of the local conditions that could put you in danger?  

The risk management/crisis firm can also advise people on how to keep a low profile. For instance, entertainers in the U.S. often use tour travel as an opportunity to attract attention and publicity. In places where entertainers could be seen as deep-pocketed kidnapping or extortion victims, or may have angered local people with their positions on controversial issues, entertainers and their entourages will be counseled to travel as inconspicuously as possible. Tour buses and SUVs may have to be replaced with common vehicles and tour personnel may have to travel in multiple groups, rather than all together. 

Another important aspect of K&R coverage is that it enables policyholders to seek advice and intervention from the crisis firm. An employee could be the subject of threats or extortion, for instance, but may be unsure about how serious the situation is or how to respond. A crisis management firm can evaluate the threat, determine if it’s credible, and gauge whether the company, and not just the individual, is at risk. The firm’s experts can then advise accordingly. Since most people have no experience dealing with these types of situations and they could become dangerous, even life-threatening, it’s essential that expert advice is easily accessible. The role of an outside firm is especially important in cases where law enforcement is criminal or corrupt and seeking their help can be hazardous.

As domestically based and globalization/international operations grow in importance for many businesses and institutions, the goal is not to limit opportunities, but to pursue them safely. An effective K&R program that pairs a comprehensive policy with a top-notch crisis firm is indispensable for mitigating risk and managing high-stakes situations.