Safety and security issues have always been top concerns for global employees, their families, and the corporations sending them to live in foreign countries.
Yes, even long before the horrible events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent rise of violence fuelled by radicalism on a global scale, companies and expatriates have become more aware of the potential dangers that lurk in unfamiliar territory.
In the past, the emphasis was on raising the awareness level of security needs – using primarily physical methods, such as locks and alarm systems, security lights and fences – to avoid potential dangers in foreign locations. Alas, today much more needs to be done in the quest for peace-ofmind. Safety efforts now must include an acute knowledge of cultural differences and mindsets.
Knowing the lay of the land, so to speak, may just mean the difference between staying safe or being a potential target for undesirables! And for expats calling Malaysia ‘home’ – at least till their contract ends in a couple of years’ time anyway – perhaps talking to someone like Uva Raj would be a matter of top priority!
Uva is the Chief Operating Officer at Knights Armor Sdn Bhd – a company that offers executive protection and consultation services for a wide range of public figures, as well as high worth corporate types across Malaysia.
“Safety is in the eye of the beholder,” reveals Uva. “In foreign surroundings, all the cultural cues people usually seek to decide who or what is safe no longer make sense. People are at risk when the cultural or behavioural norms of the new environment they’re in are not understood. Perhaps taking more interest and understanding the destination culture, and attitudes about one’s own culture, will directly affect a sense of safety and security.”
It is much easier to spot a security threat at home simply by being vigilant and then counter the threat. People do so by avoiding suspicious people or by locking their doors. They can discern whom or what is suspiciously unsafe, and, more simply, they know when to run. This is where Uva lays down a most important concern: “But what happens when you’re in completely new surroundings, and can’t even identify a threat?”
Uva feels that some of the most important considerations for the newly arrived expats are the destination country’s security, medical and travel risk status. This includes the political, crime and cultural perspective of the country, and how it effects the daily lives of its residents. “Expats are presumed to be easy targets as they are oblivious to local orders or ways, and are perceived as being more well-off than the locals.”
According to Uva, some of the most commonly overlooked safety concerns in everyday life may result in serious personal danger if ignored. So in a nutshell, the following are just a reminder of key things that every expat should keep in mind, in view of keeping safe in Malaysia, or anywhere else for that matter:
1. Undergoing a risk, threat and vulnerability assessment process should be the first order of the day. A security specialist or company may be employed for this.
2. Training in simple, safe-response measures like first aid or CPR may just help save a life.
3. Get as much information as you can about high risk locations, individuals and groups in your new city from your respective embassies.
4. Do not alienate yourself from the locals – nothing beats local knowledge – and having new, local friends go a long way in this regard!
5. Avoid wearing obviously expensive jewellery or watches out in public, unless they can be concealed. Flaunting wealth can draw unwelcome attention!
6. Be alert for strange people, vehicles, and events in one’s vicinity, neighbourhood, or workplace.
7. If harassed verbally, walk away quickly toward other people, look confident, and do not say anything.
8. Divulge no personal information over the phone to an unknown caller – make sure everyone in your household is aware of this rule.
9. Be aware of any suspicious or unexpected packages delivered to the home or place of work.
10. Just in case, one should keep keys and enough money for a phone call and taxi separate from one’s wallet always!