ESC Winter Meeting Recap

The theme at last week’s Energy Security Council‘s (ESC) Winter 2016 Conference was dealing with crises.  From the recent resurgence of terrorism in the west, how to plan for and survive active shooter events, lessons-learned from a “Black Swan” event, to how to intelligently anticipate future risk events in the sea of metadata , the speakers provided a number of different perspectives and insights on preparing for and dealing with crisis situations when they arise.

Butchko’s Advisor for Assessment and Planning, Charles Goslin, provided the conference’s kickoff presentation, entitled “Militant Islamic Radicalism and the Terrorist Mindset.”  Goslin drew on a detailed understanding of radical ideology, history, methods and trends from his long career as a CIA officer and direct involvement in counterterrorism operations following the attacks of 9/11.   The all-too-frequent “mask” that is placed on terrorists as “nutjobs, nihilists, or fringe elements” was pulled aside to reveal the very deep and abiding roots of radical jihad which date backto 13th Century Islamic scholars and can be followed through to the 1960’s and Sayyid Qutb.  He outlined the primary events in Militant Islamic’s recent history that are used to motivate and inspire a new generation of terrorists, and specific flashpoints used to “humiliate” by proxy and spark violence such as the Palestinian-Isreali conflict, Abu Ghraib, Koran-burning or cartoons of the prophet Muhammed.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Goslin pulled these topics together into a discussion of ways to counter the threat. These included identifying specific trends and patterns that are “tells” for potential insider threats;  understanding and preparing for “tactic replication” (where one radical group repeats the successful attack tactics of another), the developing structured and tailored situational awareness training for corporations with international travelers,  and ensuring that companies develop redundant sources of threat intelligence and local sources on-the-ground in high threat regions.

Next in the conference line up was Houston Police Department‘s (HPD) Stephen Daniel’s presentation on how to survive an active shooter event.  Given recent assault-style attacks by ISIS-linked terrorist cells in Paris and San Bernardino, California, this topic was particularly relevant.   Daniel’s presentation, peppered with real-life testimony from individuals who had survived active shooter events, provided excellent guidance on what to do and how to behave in an active shooter event.  He also offered specific advice on what to do if you are confronted with an active shooter event and you are a CHL licensed gun owner.  He concluded with some inexpensive but practical physical security measures that can be taken in facilities to mitigate to a degree the threat.

BHP Billiton Security Chief, Robert Ream brought the topic of crisis management from theory to reality with his presentation on the recent “Black Swan” event in Brazil.  Ream provided an unvarnished, honest report about his own experience in having to deal with a serious crisis in a remote jungle location in Brazil – what went wrong, and what went right. He was essentially “parachuted” into a dynamic, ongoing situation and had to identify partners, lines of authority, transportation, logistics, and manage public opinion and local politics, in the midst of the crisis.  This discussion highlighted the importance of having a plan in place, but also highlighted the importance of flexibility  at times of crisis.

The day concluded with an introduction by Jim Shinn, CEO of Predata, to his company’s data extraction that analyzes social media and other key data streams.  The software proivdes clients with a way to predict risk trends, events and anticipate shifts in advance of the actual event.  His product has had some notable success, and is capable of providing probability of strategic events occurring in the geopolitical arena from 1 – 90 days out, offering organizations a heads up before crises hit.

I believe the primary takeaway for the day was that information is key to mitigating the impact of a crisis.  The more you know before, during and after the crisis, the better prepared you and your people will be to survive and move on in high-risk environments.