How to Act If You're Kidnapped

Strategies for trying to stay safe and recognize opportunities to escape from a kidnapping; advice from Kroll's Kelly McCann

Frustration creeps into Kelly McCann's voice as he talks about the lack of smarts many companies show when it comes to travel security. Particularly regarding kidnapping, which is an unfortunately common practice in many countries.

McCann is senior VP of security operations and training at Kroll and consults with Fortune 500 companies on anti-abduction training. (His resume includes stints providing expertise to the Air Force Anti-Terrorism Specialty Team Force Protection Instructors and the Office of Naval Research in Close Quarters Battle.) He ticks off some common invitations to would-be kidnappers: drivers holding up signs in the airport with the executive's name and company; execs who always arrive on the same flight, stay in the same hotel and use the same routes to get from the hotel to their workplace; or laminated business cards attached to luggage.

Of course, the logical first step in dealing with kidnapping is to prevent the kidnapping in the first place. That means not being time-and-place predictable, limiting the number of people who have access to your itinerary, and arranging for a security detail if necessary. Be paranoid: "Assume the office or plant you're visiting has been penetrated by people adversarial to your interests," says McCann.

Even with these precautions, McCann advises clients to have a last will and testament, assign power of attorney and develop a prearranged distress signal—a phrase, a number—with members of your family or company. "If it's a kidnap-for-ransom, there has to be something that says, Yes, this is a real event," he says.

In a Hostage Situation: Kelly McCann's Advice

Now the nitty-gritty: You find yourself taken hostage. In the chaos surrounding the kidnapping, which is likely when youre in the most danger, the attackers are sometimes vulnerable, McCann says. "If you visualize ahead of time—"I'm going to decide at a critical moment that no one has direct physical control over me'—you might literally be able to haul ass," he says. If you're not thinking that way (most people probably aren't), then its best to comply and not fight.

Once taken, you'll usually be brought to one or more transitory spots before arriving at long-term internment. McCann points out that those intermediate locations may provide opportunities to escape as well. If running away is still not an option, he says, it's important to remember that people are working to get you released. "The feeling of hopelessness works completely against you," he says.

"If you visualize ahead of time you might literally be able to haul ass."

- Kelly McCann, senior VP of security operations and training at Kroll

While in captivity, adhere to some kind of sanitary schedule. "There's dignity when you attempt to stay clean. Find comfort in having your circadian rhythms in tune. Make yourself aware when it's morning, afternoon and night," McCann says, though he notes that can be difficult if you're fed or let out for relief infrequently.

Mining your captors for information also can be helpful. You may be able to discern whether you were abducted for political or religious reasons, for ransom or for all of the above. McCann advises finding some kind of resonant chord with abductors to try to get them to show more empathy toward you.

"The fact that you have children, family, go to church, are a compassionate person, anything that strikes to the heart of humanness, are important so they cant diminish who you are. You don't want them to make you a sack of potatoes, to look at you like an inanimate object," he says.

Some captors may try to convert you to their religion. McCann doesnt think captives should go along. "I would say, 'I appreciate and recognize your religion, but the way I was brought up was to believe [in my religion].' At least theyd recognize this person has a set of beliefs," he says, and they may respect that fact. But he doesn't advise engaging in religious or political discussions.

You should also stay alert. "Always keep your eyes open for situations advantageous to you, small suggestions for captors that will increase your health and improve your living circumstance," says McCann. Things like a pillow or blanket can go a long way toward making you more comfortable in an otherwise difficult situation.

If there's a rescue attempt, McCann says not to help the rescue force or attack the captors. "When a force comes into a situation, they're looking for violent or nonviolent behavior. They're looking at hands, because hands carry weapons. If you make an aggressive movement, depending on the lighting, you could be seen as being violent toward them. Stop moving and hit the ground. Do exactly as you are told," he says.

You may be handled roughly. Rescuers dont want you hugging or backslapping them during the raid. They need to make sure you dont have any weapons and havent become sympathetic with the captors, and they cant divine that immediately. Expect to be bound and removed from the scene. (Any backslapping can be done later.)

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