Contingency planning for emergency evacuations from South Sudan

On November 6th, 2019, a special risks underwriter triggered the political risk insurance policy held by an NGO under UN contract with staff in South Sudan. Traveller Assist was activated to provide an emergency contingency plan to evacuate 55 expat and local-national staff from four locations in, and around Juba.

Tensions were mounting in the region as the November 12th deadline had been set for Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s government and opposition groups to form a transitional unity government, in a power-sharing arrangement, with opposition leader Riek Machar.

Local intelligence indicated that disputes over state boundaries, allocation of funds and security arrangements would create turmoil between the two groups; that could lead to the unity governments demise and result in a civil war.

Our primary concern was the safety of everyone on-the-ground, but our secondary concern was to mitigate further losses to the insurer, including vehicles and other assets owned by the NGO.

With 55 staff, in four locations; our operations team made two plans.

Plan A: To get all staff to one location, with one aircraft landing to evacuate all personnel.

Plan B: To land four smaller planes/helicopters in each location.

As with any form of travel, road traffic accidents are always one of the highest travel risks. In addition, with Plan A, it would mean leaving all of the vehicles at one location, either at the airport or near an emergency runway, meaning the vehicles would be left unprotected; likely leading to further financial losses to the insurer.

In addition, as with any conflict, our operations team had to assume that the main international airport would not be accessible.

Traveller Assist deployed two Landing Site Surveyors from our medical and security assistance, crisis response team; who were in the air within six-hours of the case-activation.

Upon arriving in-country, each liaised with two separate local ground-agents, and went to assess three potential landing sites each, for a total of six-options; all close to the locations of the NGO staff. This would avoid any unnecessary road moves or loss of vehicles if the security situation in the capital deteriorated.

Through our aviation partners, Traveller Assist operations staff identified three viable options for aircraft that were in the region, including a Fokker 50 (50 passengers), an Mi-8 Helicopter (26 passengers) and a Cessna (12 passengers).

The NGO then made the decision to evacuate all non-essential staff who were based in one location south of Juba, close to a UN compound.

After receiving copies of all personnel passports, we coordinated an Mi-8 helicopter extraction. This is the same type of helicopter used by the UN mission and its presence would not create any more undue attention than it usually does.

Traveller Assist staff arrived at the NGO site just before dawn, assessed that the situation was safe and then directed the helicopter in - safely extracting 21 staff, and one of our consultants who would assist them upon landing. The one consultant who remained behind acted as our liaison.

Later that day, the government announced a 100-day extension in forming a unity government. While this mitigated the November 12th deadline, it is still not clear whether the security situation in the country will deteriorate over the coming days and months.

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