The Untrained Negotiator
This article will focus upon guidance for the initial responder receiving a call in the middle of the night informing them that their Principal, employee, employer or loved one has been taken hostage. The actions taken by this person – the Untrained Negotiator often proves key to the successful outcome of the situation. No pressure!
We will presume that the Hostage Takers (HTs) have demanded that there be no police involvement and that you will continue negotiations unassisted. This is not a recommended course of action, but one which many people often choose to take – certainly during the initial stages of an incident. Professional negotiation is often crucial to a successful outcome and the points in this article are simply a guide to initial contingencies that should be considered.
Compared to the other options open for the resolution of an incident (sniper, assault, doing nothing, request surrender, chemical weapon), negotiation is really the only policy that can minimise risk of harm to hostages, which does not rely upon us knowing the exact location where they are being held.
First thing to keep in your mind is safety. You must not put yourself, or third parties, in any position where their safety is compromised. Irrespective of the outcome of the negotiation, you should always consider Force Protection of yourself and others – particularly if a ransom is to be paid. You do not want to be taken hostage yourself!
Emotions will run high – particularly initially and as any deadlines approach. Your role as a Negotiator is to stabilise the situation and establish a ‘problem solving climate’. It is not to make any demands or promises or to inadvertently set any deadlines yourself.
Negotiations in this situation are really no different from those in any business scenario; for them to be successful, both parties must establish a rapport and be satisfied with the outcome. Therefore, you should avoid a tone that forces a situation, or one that places you as some kind of pushover. Try and match your style – verbally and vocally – to that of the HT whilst always attempting to take the pressure off a situation as it develops. This will assist you in establishing a rapport – common understanding/mutual respect – with the HT, whilst allowing you to maintain an element of control over the situation.
During negotiations, you must ensure that you keep a detailed log of all events. This will help you to recall detail from previous conversations and will also prove essential to professional Negotiators, should they enter the situation at a later stage. Information that should be included in the log are transcripts of conversations (recordings are even better) and the date/time groups of all events. Also provide a column that details actions taken, and by whom, following the event in the log.
Professional Negotiators – if they are called in – will benefit from this log as well as knowledge of other things relating to the situation. This information can be collated as the event progresses and will include:
- Name(s) of HT(s) and the organisation they represent.
- What do they want? What is their motivation?
- What is their past behaviour during negotiations and their emotional state?
- Are they armed?
- Is there a deadline that has been imposed? What has been said will happen at that deadline?
- Who is a Hostage? Why have they been taken?
- What is their response to stress?
- Are they aggressive? What is their emotional state?
- Do they have any medical concerns?
- Do they have any special training or skills that they may use in this scenario?
Holding Area Information (if known).
- Observation points – outside looking in and inside looking out.
- Escape Routes. Are building plans available?
- Blind approaches?
- What communications are there? Mobile phones, landline, internet?
- What Life Support is there? Air conditioning, water, power?
As an Untrained Negotiator, you should stick to the following guidance during conversation with the HTs…
Do be polite but firm. A pushover will soon lose credibility and the ignorant or ‘bolshy’ person will risk harm to the hostage.
Request ‘Proof of Life’. You need evidence that the hostage is safe and well and in the custody of those who purport to have him before things can sensibly progress. This is best achieved by actually speaking with the hostage. This Proof of Life should be routinely re-requested.
Plead for time if deadlines have been given. You need to ‘speak with a higher authority to gain authorisation’ or ‘it will take longer than that to achieve what you want’. This will introduce doubt, manage expectations and may reduce the anger of the HT if the deadline is not met.
Arrange a further call. Do not allow a conversation to end without finding out when and how the next contact will be made.
Keep talking. Do not end a conversation yourself. Whilst the HT is talking, the hostage is safe. Contain the incident. Have a plan for maintaining operational security. How will the family be informed? What if the media make enquiries? Ensure any witnesses to the event are appropriately debriefed before they are allowed to leave the scene.
Try to gain information such as – age/sex of caller, name of caller, background noise, are they using a prepared text?
HUMANISE THE HOSTAGE (and the HTs).
The Golden Rule; use their first name and refer to their loved ones. It is much more difficult to harm a person than it is to harm someone who represents a political or financial entity.
You should NOT –
Put anyone else at risk. You have enough to deal with, without giving them extra hostages!
Ignore any communication. You must ensure that all communication is answered – 24/7.
Challenge a HT to carry out a threat. They will see this as a challenge to their credibility and likely harm the hostage.
Represent yourself as a Final Decision Maker. You are a conduit or link man not the highest authority.
Make promises. Never make a promise you cannot deliver. Always ‘I’ll see what I can do…’
Set deadlines. Do not set yourself or the HT any deadlines. Do not ask for a deadline. This will place more pressure on yourself or the HT to conduct a stated action. Ensure that a deadline is not set by the HT without passing comment, ‘…It may take longer to achieve that…’
Assume a private conversation with anyone. It is likely that any conversation you have will be monitored by other HTs. Certainly any conversation with a hostage will be listened to.
Disclose a Commander’s name. If you do this, you will lose credibility as the HT will simply want to speak with them instead of you. Say something like…’…there is a group of people involved. I am their liaison…’
RANSOM AND RECOVERY
If a ransom is to be paid you must have plans to ensure that the hostage is returned safely, on payment, and that the payment is not seen as a ‘deposit’ for a larger sum. You must also make all effort to ensure further hostages are not taken as payment is made.
The detail of these plans can only really be put together when the location and required mechanics of any drop off are known but you should start planning for a number of ‘broad brush’ contingencies as early as possible.
Upon recovery of the hostage, you should also ensure that appropriate resources are in place for their initial and longer term physical and psychological care as they will undoubtedly be, at best, severely stressed upon their release.
Negotiations are difficult and stressful on all parties. The best advice is, at the earliest opportunity, to hand over negotiations to a professional. However, the behaviour of the initial point of contact may often determine how the scene is set and a lot of harm can be done if procedures are not established and basic guides are ignored. Conversely, by application of common sense and considered response, even an Untrained Negotiator can positively affect the situation and hasten the safe return of any Hostage.
By Simon Atkinson
Simon is a former UK military Special Intelligence Officer. His company, Athena Security & Intelligence Consultants (ASIC) Ltd provides a global Intelligence training and operational service.
Visit the ASIC website: www.athenaintelligence.co.uk or call +44 (0)141 314 3983 for further information.