Crisis management: The Emerald perspective

Crisis management

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International Security Journal hears from David Whitworth and Gregory Gottlieb of Emerald Solutions Group.

The very nature of most crises is that they are unexpected. As with most companies working in the security space, we at Emerald plan and prepare for all predictable scenarios.

In our case, this primarily involves taking care of journalists, business executives and celebrities when they travel to places that they consider represent a degree of risk to them.

In most such cases, our role is to manage all aspects of their travel to ensure that any such risk is eliminated or mitigated to a point at which it is at an acceptable level.

During such operations, we occasionally face a crisis: Lost luggage, a change in itinerary, an unexpected road closure.

We strive to ensure that such crises remain invisible to our client by taking the measures necessary to solve the crisis. However, these represent minor crises in most cases.

Dealing with major crises is another thing altogether.

A major crisis in this context could be a war, natural disaster or any situation for which there is no so-called “DS Solution” (‘DS’ standing for ‘Directing Staff’).

Most of Emerald’s operators and managers are former military or police veterans with extensive experience across the globe.

Training for such organisations involves playing out multiple scenarios, for each of which a DS solution has been pre-determined.

In a real crisis, however, most viable solutions cannot be predicted in advance.

So, to deal with such crises, we need to be agile, encourage the use of initiative and have the ability to make swift decisions.

Over the last couple of years, we have faced several examples of unique scenarios for which we have had to act on behalf of clients in situations in which the solutions were not obvious.

Here, we will touch on four examples:


When the civil unrest in Haiti was the only major issue facing the country, we had operators there taking care of journalists who were reporting on the situation.

The work was sometimes challenging, but in general, it was routine for our local teams on the ground.

However, the earthquake that then occurred completely changed the dynamic.

Rather than being able to use the roads, move around with local drivers and ensure that journalists were wherever they wanted to report from in as short a space of time as possible, the earthquake not only resulted in many of the roads becoming inaccessible, but also our local teams understandably had to prioritise the safety of their families over our commercial requirements.

1-ISJ- Crisis management: The Emerald perspective
The National Palace, Haiti, was severely damaged in the 2010 earthquakes

Our reaction was to immediately send a replacement team from the US.

They were able to arrange the rental of both a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft; by doing so before being asked to by our clients, we suddenly found ourselves providing the only means for, not only journalists but also representatives of smaller NGOs, to get around the country.


Prior to the withdrawal of NATO forces from Kabul in August 2021, Emerald had worked with our media clients in Afghanistan on an on-demand basis, using both local and expat operators.

At the time the withdrawal began, we had two teams in Kabul.

We took a decision to keep them there to ride out the crisis and start to prepare for every eventuality.

Our local partners agreed to continue working with us regardless of what may then transpire.

By remaining in Kabul and working closely with our local partners, we found that we could use the hiatus in the aftermath of the withdrawal to properly establish our presence in-country and to put in place all the necessary building blocks to safely accommodate and take care of any Western journalists venturing back into Kabul, once it was under the control of the Taliban.

Carefully navigating the line between direct engagement and the need to comply with international sanctions, our commitment to embed ourselves into Kabul during a period when there were no Western journalists in-country has since paid dividends.

We are now fully established as a licensed security provider and provider of specialised secure accommodation in Kabul which has since been used by multiple new and established clients.

We were even able to react to the Afghan earthquake by providing humanitarian aid direct to the epicentre of the devastating event.


News of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria was first picked up by our APAC Operations Centre, located in Thailand.

As a result of our global presence, we did not have to wait until morning broke in Dubai, where our global headquarters is located.

The news reached our Dubai team very late in the evening.

Within an hour of the initial news, we had dispatched two teams to their closest airports to fly to Turkey and establish a presence.

At the time, neither our regular clients, nor any new clients had contacted us at all.

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The aftermath of the 2023 Turkey–Syria earthquake

Nonetheless, our two teams were able to set up a mobile life support capability near the epicentre within hours.

It wasn’t until several hours later that we were asked by clients whether we would be willing to send Security Risk Specialists to support them in Turkey.

Our response was to inform them that we were already operational on the ground and could provide a turnkey service to their personnel on arrival.


The war in Ukraine, despite the advance notice that was provided by the military build-up along the Russian/Ukrainian border in advance of the invasion, precipitated a major crisis which remains ongoing today.

Emerald’s reaction to the invasion was characteristically swift.

We already had journalists in pre-invasion Ukraine under our protection, but those operators had to switch from peacetime security advice directly into wartime measures.

Thankfully the individuals involved, primarily Ukrainian nationals at the time, did so very effectively.

Over time, we tried to anticipate the needs and expectations of our client base in advance of their requests – and, in almost every case we were successful in doing so.

This required some bold decisions, including the rapid purchase of expensive, modern armoured vehicles for rental and the establishment of an armoured vehicle maintenance and delivery/recovery network across Ukraine as well as the acquisition of large quantities of accommodation in the West of the country to pre-empt the needs of companies evacuating their employees and their families from the frontline in the East.

The question that emerges from these four examples, as well as several others that we could use, is this: ‘How can a corporate entity plan ahead and prepare itself to deal with whatever crisis may occur, whether manmade or natural?’

In our industry, there are examples of companies growing beyond the point at which the operating teams retain the freedom that makes crisis management easier to manage.

Agility, use of initiative and the ability to make swift decisions, as well as the capacity to do something new or unplanned with the minimum of bureaucratic oversight, is easy in a startup or a small company.

However, as a company grows, it becomes fed to processes and procedures, including those adopted as part of essential standards such as ISO 9001:2015, that tend to slow decision making.

To counter this increased decision-making viscosity, at each level of the operational side of such a company, the authority needs to exist to take and accept risk on behalf of the company, with no fear of comeback if it doesn’t achieve the aim, within managed constraints.

Such freedom to act, react and respond to any situation that may arise is how we at Emerald have succeeded in developing our reputation for successful crisis management.

The ‘safety wheels’ that are a necessary constraint or limit on the extent of such freedom to act can be designed to accommodate a range of situations.

The management of crises has other effects on the companies and individuals involved.

In the case of companies, each crisis managed, by its very nature, increases and improves that company’s ability to successfully manage the next crisis.

However, in some people, it can have the reverse effect.

The level of individual stress involved in crisis management must be carefully managed to ensure that each individual’s threshold for handling stress is never breached.

This threshold varies, but the enabling freedoms discussed should be backed up by personnel support that will ensure those involved can provide a consistent level of service, regardless of the nature of the crises.

At Emerald, we have learned these lessons over years of risk-taking that has often paid off but has occasionally come at a cost.

On balance, we are confident that our crisis management credentials speak for themselves and that we are ready and able to manage any crisis that we may be contracted to handle – and even some that we choose to handle outside the scope of a client contract.

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