Sunday, January 17, 2010

Evasive Action

I recently attended a required course taught by the U.S. Dept. of State for government employees who are to be posted overseas.  I had to take this course because I'll be conducting research in another country for several months, and one of the hurdles was taking two courses: one taught online and the other a two-day course held in Arlington, VA.  I had hopes that the course would teach something useful and exciting like evasive car driving or dismantling bombs.  But no such luck.

There were about a hundred people attending this particular session.  Quite a few were being posted to Kabul and other treacherous places.  I felt they needed all the information they could get in order to survive and return home.  I, on the other hand, am going to a location with little violence or potential for terrorism.  In fact, I tried very hard to get out of taking this course.  I've traveled extensively and know how to avoid trouble.  Again, no such luck.  I was told in no uncertain terms that there were NO EXCEPTIONS to this rule.  Since my travel is approved by the Dept. of State, I had to comply if I wanted to go.

So I made the best of it and tried to glean something that might be useful in the future.  The course consisted of a series of lectures by working and retired employees of the Dept. of State, many of whom had spent years in scary places.   We heard about how to avoid being ambushed by assassins (e.g., vary your routine and get off the "X" as quickly as possible), to block attempts at espionage (this is really important for protecting wetland ecology secrets), to deal with a hostage situation (e.g., tell your relatives not to talk to the press: "Yeah, Billy-Bob is going to kick their butts; he'll escape first chance he gets". Thanks, Uncle Joe.), and what papers and records you need to either have with you or to have available to others in case of emergency (medical and financial powers of attorney--allows informed medical decisions and your bills to be paid in case of incapacity).  Some of this was fairly extreme, but information about documents, etc. was useful for anyone traveling abroad.

I came away from this course much more paranoid than before (and as a field researcher, I was already a big believer in Murphy's Law).  But I did agree with the central message of this course: the only person you can count on to avoid (or get you out of) a bad situation.... is yourself.

1 comment:

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