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Crisis management in a military coup: one family’s story

Crisis management in a military coup: one family’s story

In an increasingly uncertain world, people choosing to live and work abroad need to pay careful consideration to their personal safety. Will moving to an unfamiliar country, perhaps with a family, put them at risk from natural disasters, civil unrest or terrorist attacks? And if any of those events happen, who’ll be there to help them?

For Aetna International members, there are medical insurance policies that provide emergency support in times of crisis. Our partnership with global risk management specialist, red24, offers security advice to members moving to new countries, giving them the reassurance they need to enjoy the experience of living abroad, rather than worrying unduly about their safety. And with 24-hour on-call assistance available all year round, our ActionResponse covered members know that if an emergency situation does happen, red24 is on hand to help them get to safety.

For red24 consultant, Mark Callaghan, the company’s objective is simple in principle, if highly dangerous in practice…

“We provide emergency assistance in crisis situations,” he explains. “For any one of our clients who finds themselves affected by a natural disaster, severe violent civil unrest, a terror attack, or where the infrastructure of the country has collapsed, we’ll either advise over the phone on next steps to safety, or send in a team to pull them out.”

”A few days before the coup happened, we began to hear rumours of some kind of civil unrest…”

It’s a reassuring response for Aetna International members with an Aetna Pioneer or Aetna Summit private medical insurance policy, living and working overseas. They know that whatever the situation, from an earthquake to a war zone evacuation, red24 is only a phone call away.

Headquartered in Cape Town, the risk management company is a global operation, drawing on expert consultants with backgrounds in the military, law enforcement and Special Forces. If a crisis situation arises, it’s their job to get Aetna International members with emergency cover to safety. Mark explains what happened to a family client who was caught in Turkey during the military coup of July 2016.

Alarm bells

“A few days before the coup happened, we began to hear rumours of some kind of civil unrest: an argument in the government that had the potential to escalate into something more serious. We sent alerts to the family, who were at home in Istanbul, but we couldn’t tell them exactly what was happening.

Graphic showing citizens listening to a military leader as part of Graphic showing citizens listening to a military leader as part of


“Social media channels suggested things were about to get worse, but there was nothing confirmed at that point, so the family went to bed as normal. As far as they knew, nothing untoward was about to happen. Our intelligence indicated otherwise…”

Proof of life

“Sometime after 11pm SAST, our in country analysts were telling us that the situation had become much more serious, and that a full military coup was in progress. The first thing we had to do was make sure it was true, so we checked in with our Middle East desk, who were already talking to law enforcement agencies and monitoring the news networks.

Graphic showing a military tank as part of Graphic showing a military tank as part of
“The consulate were busy helping a lot of other nationals, so we needed to think through our own plans”

“We also called the client. Making a call like that in the middle of the night isn’t easy, but we needed to make sure they were all safe and to let them know what was happening. In this case, because it was night, the family was at home together. But if an incident happens in the day, we need to be certain we know where everyone is.

“Once we’d confirmed they were ok, we spoke to both their head office and their next of kin to let them know they were safe and that we were ready to evacuate them if it became necessary.”

No fly zone

“Things got much worse in the early hours of the next day. We had reports of military vehicles on the roads, fighter jets flying over the city and tanks taking up positions on two major bridges. At this point, we believed there was a threat to life and began to create a detailed evacuation plan for our client.

Graphic showing crisis manager helping family as part of Graphic showing crisis manager helping family as part of


“The crisis team in Cape Town assessed the options with our consultants in Turkey. An air evacuation is usually the fastest way of getting people out of a situation like this. We pick them up in secure transport and get them safely to an airport, fast track them through to the gate, and put them on a plane.”

“At this point, however, we were trying to find out if the airport was open, if there were flight diversions, or if any flights were being allowed in. As it turned out, the airport was closed and it looked like it was going to stay that way.”

Run for the border

“With the airport out of action, we had to look at other options: evacuating by land or sea. In this case, we looked at a road evacuation — driving the clients to the nearest safe location. But the police were beginning to close the roads and we had try and work out which was likely to be the fastest and safest route out of the country.

Graphic showing protesters as part of Graphic showing protesters as part of
“While we’re planning the best route out, we also needed to think about keeping a low profile, not attracting the wrong kind of attention”

“One of the big problems in these situations is that you don’t know exactly who’s fighting on which side. It was more hostile in the country than the city, and we couldn’t be certain how safe the family would be, or even which side the police or any soldiers we met would be on and how they’d react to the escorted evacuation of our clients.

“Then we have to factor in kidnap and extortion risks: para-military groups looking for the opportunity to grab foreign nationals and use them to get money or propaganda. So while we’re planning the best route out, we also needed to think about keeping a low profile, not attracting the wrong kind of attention.”

Grab bags

“Given the level of cover the family had, and the uncertainty and potential for things to get worse, we decided to send one of our security consultants directly to the house to reassure the family and help them get ready for an evacuation.

Graphic showing woman calling to report criminal activity as part of Graphic showing woman calling to report criminal activity as part of


“The role of a consultant is mainly to reassure the client that no-one is going to knock on the door and take them away, or arrest them for being a foreign national. They also help them get a grab bag together in the event they need to leave quickly — a small bag of essential items and any medicines they need.

“The bags went straight in the evacuation car, so we could leave at a moment’s notice if we had to.”

Stand down

“By 9am we were getting news that the president was going to retake control of the country. We were still ready to drive the family out, but then we heard the airport was about to reopen and we had the option of flying them out on a commercial plane.

“There were lots of arrests, guns and soldiers on the street”

“Checking in with the embassy, we found out the government had assured the safety of all foreign nationals, which meant we didn’t need to evacuate. We put the family in direct contact with the embassy and stepped back. Not completely though.

Graphic showing crisis manager listening about a military coup as part of Graphic showing crisis manager listening about a military coup as part of


“It was still a high-risk situation and we kept watch in case things deteriorated again, keeping in touch with the client by phone over the next couple of days, sending alerts and emailing new information as it arrived.”

Life goes on

“For the family, things returned to normal relatively quickly. There were lots of arrests, guns and soldiers on the street, they wouldn’t normally have seen, but they went back to work and school. It was like the country had been put on pause for a while, and then quickly recovered, which isn’t always the case.

Graphic showing family eating while child plays soccer as part of Graphic showing family eating while child plays soccer as part of


“Sometimes we’re dealing with a complete breakdown of a country. Like a natural disaster where there’s no water or electricity and the country’s infrastructure has completely collapsed. In those cases, the clock’s really ticking. Ultimately, any crisis situation is a race against time. It’s about finding people quickly, making sure they’re ok and getting them to safety as fast as possible.”

Epilogue: Safe hands

Aetna International members live and work in a huge number of countries across the world, from highly developed urban centres, to some of the world’s most dangerous places. If a crisis happens while they’re overseas and they have the right cover in place, the knowledge they can rely on red24 is hugely reassuring, both for themselves and their families back home.

Emergency response is included as standard in some of our international insurance plans. Talk to our expert advisors if you’re looking for international private medical insurance with the additional benefit of specialist crisis cover.

March 2017 will see the launch of red24 services for Aetna International members in the Americas,  ensuring global AdviceLine and ActionResponse service availability through certain Aetna International private medical insurance policies.

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

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