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The Return of “What If?”

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It happens once or twice every century, almost like clockwork. Every now and then, things get so volatile that the most basic levels of physical security become a concern to people who have the most to lose. When things go very wrong, the wealthy become large, attractive targets, and that is a very dangerous thing. Think about what happened to the wealthy families of Russia when Lenin took over, or those of Poland when Hitler came calling. It is foolish to imagine that it has magically stopped, and why would it, because modern politicians are surpassingly wise and noble? 

No one knows the future, of course, and that is precisely the point. The world has recently become unstable. So, will some societies break down? And what will happen when they do? Once again, those who have the most on the line are forced to consider such questions, and to prepare accordingly. Some have decided to do little or nothing, being confident that they will be able to “see it coming,” and get out of the way. Others are less assured and have decided to prepare.

THE STAGES OF GRIEF

Most of us are now familiar with the five stages of grief. They may not apply to each of us equally, but they are fairly universal:

1.      Denial

2.      Anger

3.      Bargaining

4.      Depression

5.      Acceptance

This is important just now, because the easy world we’ve become accustomed to over the past several decades may be ending. That is not a pleasant thought, but those of us who have responsibilities do not have the luxury of avoiding this truth. Whether the easy times are over or not, we cannot simply look away because it is uncomfortable. We must deal with reality as it is.

What all of this means is that we have to push ourselves through denial and the rest. We’re here, we’re responsible, and we will have to take some sorts of action. Unless, of course, we believe the easy times will go on forever, which not many of us really do.

Quite a few heads of wealthy families are beginning to take action. The ones we talked to were looking at some fairly dark scenarios, which seem justified by recent events, such as almost half of the French people saying that kidnapping their employer would be a fine thing to do. That is positively frightening; and if they say that in our current recession, what happens when unemployment doubles or triples? The situation could get very ugly, and very quickly.

THE WORST SCENARIOS

One of the worst scenarios is massive public unrest; precisely the kind that could come from masses of people who think their employers and “the rich” should suffer for their unhappiness. What can one family do against a mob of hundreds or thousands of angry people?

The answer, says PRC Associates, a London-based, private risk management firm, lies in preparation. “We can address almost any threat, if the client gives us time to prepare for it,” says Behrooz Nezhad, Executive Vice President of the firm. 

Asked what preparations would look like, Nezhad shows me a brochure for his HESTAR product. (HESTAR stands for Hot Extraction To Sterile Area & Resurrection, which certainly sounds serious to me.) 

HESTAR, a three-phase security system, is designed to whisk one’s family to safety whenever the breaking down of law and order is imminent or underway. The extraction phase, for example, includes the following:

  • A Fully Armoured Vehicle to take the clients to nearest sea harbour.
  • A Landing Craft to load the vehicle on board and head for International Waters.
  • A pre arranged safe haven to offload the vehicle and drive to a mountain hideout.

If that sounds vaguely familiar to you, it may be because you saw a Hollywood version of it in the film, The Da Vinci Code. PRC’s real version, of course, is less flashy and a lot more serious. The people involved in the extraction, for example, would not be 60ish banker types (as in the film), but a team including ex-Special Forces operators.

Nezhad doesn’t want to reveal all the details publicly, but his system includes carefully cached supplies, specialized communication technologies, encryption, long-term storage of documents and assets, and lots of survival gear: Food, clothing, medicine, weapons, water purification and more.

The cost of such a system, of course, is substantial. PRC reiterates that every client’s needs will differ, but they did tell me that their system runs well into seven figures, and that there are also maintenance personnel required. The system must be operable, of course, at the moment it is needed.

THE SECOND ERROR

While the first and most critical error is to close one’s mind to the possibility of bad times, a second critical error can be almost as serious: To prepare for the previous war.

During the Cold War many wealthy families built nuclear survival shelters on their properties. The investment gave them peace of mind, knowing that in case of a nuclear war, they could survive and re-emerge to a second chance in life.

Nuclear war was thankfully avoided (though quite narrowly by some accounts), but the shelters served their purposes just the same: Their owners could relax, knowing that the shelter was available, and that in the worst case, they would survive.

PRC Associates says that they’ve had a couple of clients who wondered if fallout shelters might be useful against terrorism and civil unrest. “Absolutely not,” says Nezhad. “Shelters may have protected families from the nuclear war but they wouldn’t stand the aggression and siege of hungry and violent mobs. Eventually the supplies and ammunition would run out and one has to come up to face the threat. Wouldn’t it be better if families could safely leave the danger zones and hide in a secret place for as long as the mayhem and chaos last?”

THE ODDS

Ultimately, the question comes down to your judgment of the odds. If you knew for sure that the worst would happen on a certain date, you’d be fully prepared for it, no matter the expense. But if you knew nothing would ever happen, spending money would be silly.

So, which will it be?

Again, none of us know the future, but if the past is any guide, the odds are considerably above zero. It may be time to return to an old and ugly question: “What if?”

 

Visit: www.prcassociates.com        Write to Behrooz Nezhad: evp@prcassociates.com 

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