Quick and effective
communication with relevant stakeholders and the ability to conduct safety
checks for impacted personnel should be central to any comprehensive emergency
response plan for security incidents overseas. Organizations often address this
need by implementing a crisis communication plan that includes protocols for
disseminating information and filtering updates back to security staff. The
U.S. Department of State has decades of experience conveying critical security
information to U.S. citizens in times of crisis; from that experience, it has
developed the American Liaison Network (ALN). This report provides an overview
of the ALN both as a resource and a model for private-sector security managers
to use as they consider their own crisis communications protocols.
WHAT IS THE ALN?
The American Liaison
Network (ALN) began as the “warden system” in the 1930s, a term originating from World War II air
raid wardens who patrolled territories in the United Kingdom and United States.
In 2016, the Department began improvements to the
including renaming the old warden system as the ALN. The ALN builds on the core
function of the warden system, and promotes a more bi-directional communication
paradigm between the overseas posts and the Citizen Liaison Volunteers (CLVs)
who comprise the ALN. It is a community of U.S. citizens (and occasionally
non-citizens) who partner with U.S. embassies (and consulates) to address health,
safety, and security issues affecting U.S. citizens in their respective
CLVs are usually
longer-term residents of the country and, ideally, speak the local language. As
noted above, they are private citizens who aid the embassy in helping U.S.
citizens in need. They assist travelers
in distress, help the Department of State track down missing U.S. citizens,
and, in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, aid the embassy’s
American Citizen Services (ACS) section to get U.S. citizens to safety. On a
day-to-day basis though, CLVs are the “eyes and ears” in the community,
providing valuable feedback on what life is like for ordinary U.S. citizens
living in a particular country.
A number of success
stories illustrate the ALN’s value to both the U.S. Department of State and
U.S. citizens abroad. For example, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, U.S. Embassy Manila
used CLVs to help share crisis response information with U.S. citizens in
storm-affected areas. In Haiti, CLVs have played a key role in confirming
reports of unrest, detailing the conditions on the ground. In other instances, CLVs have performed (at
the request of Consular staff) limited consular services when Embassy staff
were unable to travel, such as visiting a prisoner in jail or an injured
citizen in the hospital.
BENEFITTING FROM ENGAGEMENT WITH THE ALN
CLVs serve as a key
connection between private-sector expatriates (expats) and the ACS team at the
local embassy or consulate. Private-sector expats are also often key candidates
to volunteer. In fact, CLV engagement guidance specifically mentions
representatives from U.S. or multi-national companies as a key recruitment
category. CLVs are, as the name suggests, volunteers and are not government
employees; they do not receive any financial compensation for their services. Having
an employee serving as a CLV can provide a valuable connection point to the
Department of State, although by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment
Program (STEP), private-sector organizations can still receive embassy/consulate
messaging in emergencies.
ACS is often in most in
need of CLVs in smaller cities and rural areas, which can be the hardest places
to reach in an emergency. In places like Honduras, where the Embassy is on the
mainland but most of the U.S. tourists travel to the islands (e.g. Roatán),
CLVs on the islands can provide an immediate response following an arrest or a
crime, until a consular officer can travel for follow-up.
If you or other
employees within your organization are interested in becoming CLVs abroad, you
should reach out to ACS at the relevant embassy or consulate. Find contact
information on the country-specific travel destination pages on travel.state.gov.
THE ALN AS A MODEL FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS
The ALN can serve as a
useful model for a similar crisis communications network within your own
organization. Though many private-sector organizations have a plan in place for
communicating with employees during emergencies, few realize how effective (or
ineffective) that system is until it is tested by a crisis in real time.
Developing, implementing, and maintaining an effective plan is complex, and
there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The U.S. Department of State has
wrestled with a similar issue over the years in terms of how it has approached
communication with U.S. citizens during crises abroad. As is the case in the
private sector, major incidents have illustrated both strengths and
One of the key changes
made during the transition from the warden system to the ALN was the focus on
two-way communication, and encouraging CLVs to serve as a source of information
rather than simply being a conveyer of information. While top-down crisis
communication measures, such as email groups, phone trees, or “buddy” systems can
and do get information to employees and facilitate accountability checks, the
ALN now encourages CLVs to be more proactive by sharing useful security
information and identifying potential security risks before they become a
crisis. This provides the embassy with valuable security insights that
facilitate the implementation of more effective security measures. Similar
information-sharing networks among employees could also be useful within
private-sector organizations, just as they are between organizations in the
to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of on-the-ground crisis
communication networks could also benefit from the example of the ALN with more
proactive engagement with the networks. This includes measures such as
developing an engagement strategy, designating a country network coordinator, and
planning regular meetings that include substantive training and discussions for
the facilitators. These are all components of the ALN that contribute to its
success in, and outside of, times of crisis.
Another form of
proactive engagement is the inclusion of network members in crisis exercises. As
noted above, many private-sector organizations are not aware of shortcomings in
their crisis communication network until a significant security event unfolds.
For this reason, testing the network through crisis exercises is critical to
its long-term success and viability in true emergency situations. To keep CLVs
sharp, many embassies include them in their exercises. This allows members of
the network to learn firsthand what is expected of them in a crisis and
illustrate how they will support the overall response effort. This inclusion
also helps to build esprit de corps between the members of the network and the
organization that they serve.
Finally, ALN programs
differ from embassy to embassy; they are intentionally flexible. This flexibility
allows each embassy to determine what structure and level of complexity makes
the most sense in a particular operating environment. Local factors such as the
size and make-up of the U.S. citizen community in that country, geography, and
host country resources help determine whether a small, single network is the
best fit, or if a more complex structure with regional sub-networks is a better
design. Private-sector organizations could also benefit for a situational approach
to crisis communication networks that takes into account various
location-specific factors in the design and implementation of a network.
information about the American Liaison Network or crisis communication networks
in general, please contact OSAC.