Workplace Hostage Situations

by Robert K. Spear





From The New Book Business Security

Generally people donıt like to think about the bad things that can happen to them. Unfortunately, hostage situations in the workplace have become far too commonplace. We canıt afford not to think about them.  Letıs start by addressing the threat. Who are most likely to take hostages in the workplace?


Most Common Hostage Takers


Disgruntled Employees / Emotionally Disturbed Individuals

This is the most likely threat in many businesses, especially those with a bureaucracy. It has become so prevalent in the US Postal Service, a disgruntled worker who goes off the deep end is said to have gone postal. It doesnıt matter if the worker has a valid complaint or not‹he thinks he does, and thatıs all that counts. If he chooses to take a boss and fellow workers hostage in order to get what he wants (be they conditions or revenge), he feels totally justified to do so. He believes justice is on his side. Arguing about rights and wrongs isnıt a wise thing to do with this kind of hostage taker. Accept his position as valid for the interim and work from that premise.


Emotionally disturbed individuals, especially in domestic disturbances can also be very dangerous. This author remembers the sorority house next to his fraternity. A middle-aged female cook for the sorority looked up, saw her estranged husband walk in with a shotgun, and took off running out of the kitchen. He chased her down on the front sidewalk, blew her away, and ate his own gun. The homicide/suicide was the talk of not just the large state university campus, but was on the evening news statewide. The sorority and the school suffered a fair amount of negative press over the incident.


Often these people have a death wish and want to take as many with them as they can, especially if a boss or fellow worker is perceived to be at the heart of the problem.



This is the most common threat to retail businesses such as convenience stores, liquor stores, fast food restaurants, and filling stations. These types of businesses are often targets of opportunity for robbers. If the robbery goes bad and the police show up, the criminal(s) is likely to take a hostage as a way of obtaining a chance for a getaway. If the criminal is a strung-out addict, desperate for a fix, anything can happen.



Traditionally, terrorists have taken hostages to obtain media attention to their cause and to demonstrate how powerless the establishment is. 9/11 and the resulting military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed all of that. Al-Qaida has a new rule of engagement. If an Al-Qaida terrorist comes into your business to take hostages, he wonıt leave alive and he will kill all his hostages if he can. Publicity is no longer the driving motivator‹revenge is.


Ransom Seekers

Your company or organization may be shaken down for ransom money‹especially overseas. For profit companies or nonprofit organizations are all at risk. An excellent example of this was the hostage taking of Martin and Gracia Burnham who worked for the New Tribes Mission (a nonprofit organization) in the Philippines since 1986. Martin was a missionary bush pilot and Gracia helped in several different aviation support roles. He was the son of missionaries who worked for the same organization in the Philippines and grew up there. Gracia is the daughter of a Pastor in Arkansas. Martin and Graciaıs three children, Zach, 11, Mindy, 12, and Jeff, 15, were all born there.


Martin and Gracia were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyef Group, Muslim rebels, on May 27, 2001. On June 7, 2002, Martin was killed and Gracia was wounded in a sudden firefight between government forces and the rebels.  The motives for the hostage taking were strictly monetary. The same may be true for corporations doing business overseas, or it may be to make an environmentalism statement or a political one. As a business, you must be prepared for the possibility and know what to expect.


What to Expect

The following points address what you should expect if you or any of your employees become hostages. We will address the:



Initial Shock

If youıre ever so unfortunate to find yourself in the middle of a hostage situation, youıll need to be aware of the specific emotions and feelings youıre liable to have at different times during the incident. Youıll also need to understand what the hostage takers, negotiators, and possible rescuers are thinking and feeling.


By understanding the various psychological attitudes and motivations of the involved parties, you will be able to control your own emotions, to think objectively with a clear mind, and to use the interplay of all these emotions to your own advantage.


When the incident begins, regardless of the type of hostage situation, the first emotion you are likely to feel is utter disbelief. This couldnıt be happening to me! youıll think. This disbelief is a psychological coping mechanism known as denial‹denying that the incident is real of which you are playing a part. You may be convinced that youıre in no danger. This defense is common and effective but cannot be maintained for long. When denial does fade, the hostage has to face the danger to his life.


As soon as denial starts to fade, mind and body-numbing fear begins. Often a hostage will feel so powerless, shocked, and frightened that a temporary paralysis sets in. Escape attempts at this point will not likely be successful. The time for an early escape may only last the first ten seconds of the incident, before the hostage takers are completely in control. Once the incident is firmly underway, it is better to wait for a safer psychological and physical environment.


When this stage is reached, expect to feel helplessness and hopelessness, and disorientation. Often thoughts of escaping happen during this period, but the hostage canıt make his body or mind cooperate. Donıt attempt an escape during this phase! The likelihood of a fatal hesitation is too great. WAIT!


One of the stranger common occurrences in hostage situations is a regression by the hostage to his childhood. Being in a hostile environment, being isolated, and being helpless causes the hostage to forget past adult experiences and to resort to early adaptive behavior patterns from childhood. One female hostage found herself weeping constantly during an incident because she always got what she wanted from ³Daddy² by crying nonstop.


The Developing Hostage Situation

There are several types of hostage situations. Kidnapping is a tactic used primarily by terrorists and criminals as a means of obtaining money through ransom. Kidnappings have other benefits too, such as:



The major difference between a kidnapping and any other kind of hostage taking situation is that the kidnapper hides his victim while the other hostage takers confront the authorities with their victims.


Kidnapping requires extensive planning and precise execution in both the seizure and holding phases, which we will discuss in more detail later. The two primary methods that kidnappers use to accomplish a kidnapping are to take the victim from a static location, such as the victimıs office or residence, or to kidnap the victim enroute, either when heıs on foot or in a vehicle.


Static Location

In order to take the victim from a static location, the kidnapper must know: the location; what security measures are employed; what time the victim is at the location; how aware the victim and his family, friends, and associates are; and the number, times, and routines of police and/or guard patrols in the area.


To gain this information, the kidnappers will survey the location and area and make dry runs to find the best way to penetrate the location. The kidnappers will use ploys and ruses to penetrate the location. Ploys and ruses used in the past have included:



Brigadier General Dozierıs home was reconnoitered by a single individual posing as a meter maid. If Mrs. Dozier had only been aware of the utility companyıs policy of sending meter readers out in pairs, she may have become suspicious.


The actions for a kidnapping from a static location include:



Brigadier General Dozierıs kidnapping was a classic static site operation. Terrorists entered his quarters posing as plumbers. The story they used to gain entry was they were checking a leak in the apartment below his and wanted to see if the leak was originating from his apartment. General Dozier believed their story and let them in. The terrorists gained control of General Dozier by force and by threats against his wife. He was drugged, placed in a large box, and carried out of his quarters. The terrorists escaped with General Dozier in a van, leaving Mrs. Dozier bound and gagged, locked in the laundry room to ensure they would escape undetected.



In order to kidnap a victim enroute, the kidnappers must know the victimıs routine. Once a routine has been established, the kidnappers can plan an attack to include a time and an attack site. The steps in kidnapping a victim enroute are:



Itıs fairly simple to take a victim on foot enroute, once his routines are determined so that a day, time, and place can be selected. The kidnappers will then gain control of the victim, throw him into a vehicle, and drive away to the holding area.


The scenario for taking a victim from a vehicle is:



Every kidnapping incident in which the victim is taken from a vehicle follows this scenario. Any difference will come in the ploy or ruse followed by the kidnappers to isolate the attack site and to stop the vehicle. Ploys and ruses used previously to stop vehicles include:



To isolate or secure the attack site, kidnappers have called security forces prior to the attack to tie up the phone lines, used fake police roadblocks and accidents as diversion tactics. A classic example of a kidnapping while enroute in a vehicle was the case of German industrialist, Hans Martin Schleyer. In kidnapping Herr Schleyer, the Red Army Faction used roadblocks and telephone calls to isolate and secure the area. A stationary vehicle was used to channel Schleyerıs vehicle and the security chase car. A woman rolling a baby carriage and a moving taxicab were used to cause Schleyerıs chase vehicle to pin his car in.


Pre-Incident Preparations

The criminal hostage taker (excepting the kidnapper) generally does not have enough time to prepare prior to the hostage incident. Most of these scenarios evolve as happenstance situations with little or no previous planning. Terrorists and kidnappers, however, usually go through elaborate preparation rituals prior to their taking of hostages.


In this pre-incident phase, the would-be abductors determine what they hope to gain from a hostage situation- ransom, political concessions, media attention, or whatever. Terrorist groups are especially professional in their approach to incident preparation. Preoperational activities are meticulously planned. Reconnaissance missions are conducted against the intended target (the potential hostage) and/or the areas of future operations by small, special intelligence teams. The leaders of the terrorist group then conceive and prepare the detailed plans for the upcoming operation based upon the information gathered by these special teams.


For security reasons, often planners, reconnaissance teams, and the actual abduction team will never meet. Information and orders are passed along through intermediaries, liaison sections, or by message drops. Training and rehearsals sometimes take place in countries outside the target area. Perpetrators, even the leaders, often have no knowledge of which specific target will be taken until it is time to conduct the operation. If a primary target is unavailable, or the risk is perceived as too great, an alternative target is selected. Most terrorist contingency plans include  alternate targets. The plan may also include alternative negotiation demands and departure or escape routes.


Although most criminal kidnappers do not have this much organizational support, the real pros will go through a similar process within the scope of their particular capabilities. The kidnapper, however, will not generally have alternative victims.


Phases of Hostage Situations

There are four phases of hostage incidents acknowledged by most subject area experts:



Capture Phase

In terrorist situations, the strike team is brought together and briefed on the specific primary and alternate targets. They conduct final rehearsals to fine-tune the operation, move to the attack site, and then carry out the plan. Once commenced, the action is at the point of no return and will continue on through to its natural consequence. Kidnappings by criminals start similarly but with less emphasis on security and support.


Ordinary criminals and emotionally disturbed hostage takers generally spend little or no time on preparation but find themselves taking hostages as a matter of necessity or inspiration rather than as the natural outcome of some elaborate plan.


Transportation/Consolidation Phase

This is also situation dependent. In some cases, the hostage takers have enough freedom to transport their victim(s) to a site they deem adequate as a confinement area. In other cases, the hostage takers are forced or choose to make do with what they have and remain at or near the capture site, setting up a defensive perimeter. In other words, a terrorist group may ambush a dignitary, throw him into a car, and transport him to a hideout. Or, a criminal may take over a liquor store and remain there with whatever customers and clerks he was able to take hostage‹holding out against the authorities outside the premises. He consolidates his position so that he is less vulnerable to the police surrounding the outside of the building.


Holding Phase

After the hostage is either moved to a holding location or after the captors have consolidated their position, the incident enters what is its most lengthy phase‹holding. In many ways, this is the safest phase for the hostage. The situation has had a chance to stabilize. There is little or no direct action taken by the authorities. Finally, a psychological phenomenon called the ³Stockholm syndrome² has an opportunity to develop. The Holding Phase is a waiting period and is filled with negotiations.


Termination Phase

Regardless of how a hostage-taking incident ends, the Termination Phase is generally a very tense time for all people involved in the crisis. The easiest and safest termination for the hostage is a voluntary release followed by a hostage takerıs surrender. More dangerous is the escape, and most dangerous is the rescue by an outside force or the killing of the hostages as a means to end the crisis.


The Stockholm Syndrome

The regression to oneıs childhood mentioned earlier sets the stage for another common phenomenon known as the ³Stockholm syndrome², so named after a bank robbery hostage situation in Sweden during the summer of 1973. Jan-Erik Olsson, a professional safecracker and thief, recently escaped from prison, walked into the Sveriges Kreditbank of Stockholm brandishing a submachine gun. In the next six days, Olsson managed by means of the three women and one male hostage he was keeping, to hold the police at bay and to obtain the release of a former prison mate, Clark Olofsson. He eventually walked out in surrender with his hostages voluntarily clustered around him to protect him from police snipers.


The hostages had come to identify with their captor in a positive manner. One of the women even wanted to marry him. On the other hand, they were angry with the authorities for prolonging their captivity and not giving in to all of Olssonıs demands for safe conduct to freedom.


The syndrome has three components:



The regression to childhood feelings and actions by the hostage to the hostage taker sets up a striking similarity between the relationship of the hostage taker and that between an abused child and an abusive parent. The child clings to the abusive parent just as the hostage clings to the hostage taker. The abused child and the hostage with the Stockholm syndrome are strikingly similar in that both are loyal to the ³parent² out of fear. Both feel threatened by intervening authorities and have a tendency to defend a cruel ³parent². The gun of the hostage taker becomes the instrument that demands loyalty.


Hostage fear and anger toward authorities and rescuers are the result of concerns that their actions may cause the hostage taker to become violent, taking out his anger on the hostages. These negative feelings are exacerbated by the concern that the negotiator is stalling, thereby prolonging the unpleasantness of the incident. It is not uncommon for hostages to become more afraid of the police than they are of the abductors.


If you find yourself straining to ³understand² your captorıs viewpoint and striving to agree with it, you are experiencing Stockholm syndrome. Be aware of its development, because you can expect the hostage taker to possibly reciprocate. Thereıs a feeling of ³weıre all in this together².


It is not unusual to see the beginnings of this phenomenon after the first hour or so. Showing pictures of your family may help coax the abductor to see you as a fellow human as opposed to a faceless victim. Youıll want to keep the incident as human as possible. It is when a hostage taker puts a bag over a hostageıs head and face to make him seem less human, that the possibility death is increased. Itıs harder for a hostage taker to kill or harm someone with whom they have started to identify.


The hostage incidents in which the Stockholm syndrome has not been a factor have usually involved constant abuse from the hostage takers. Where constant threat of life and torture are involved, there will seldom be a development of Stockholm syndrome.


In your anxiety, you may find yourself angered by any actions made by your fellow hostages which may disturb your captor. This is valid from the perspective that you donıt want the boat rocked if it is going to endanger your safety. Also, itıs easier and safer to transfer your anger at being held onto a fellow hostage than it is to express anger toward your captor.



You may find yourself experiencing unusual feelings and visions brought on by the stress of a hostage situation. If you have been isolated, confined, restrained of movement, and subjected to life-threatening danger, you may experience hallucinations and claustrophobia. We know the phenomenon doesnıt depend on who takes you captive. The consistent factor is the combination of conditions mentioned above. If you are kept tied up in a small, dark room or closet by yourself and are threatened with death by your captor, you may have one or more of the following unusual experiences:



Your mind is accustomed to constant stimulation. When your mind is deprived of its stimulation, it will manufacture its own. This does not mean you are going crazy, it only means your mind is coping with a bad situation. Once you are released, you may have flashbacks. Understand them for what they are‹harmless perceptual accommodations.


The Hostage Takersı Point of View

At the start of a hostage incident, the hostage taker is at his most dangerous state of mind. He too is frightened‹afraid of the consequences of failure, afraid of being hurt or dying, afraid of losing his freedom, and afraid of losing control. His nerves are on a hair trigger. You may scratch an itch and find yourself getting shot for your movement, which he interpreted as threatening. Keep your eyes averted. Do not challenge him or argue or question his commands in any way at this point.


Later on, when the Stockholm syndrome has had a chance to develop, you may try some of these things. By that time, he will have calmed down a little and should be more reasonable. The most important things for him at the beginning of the incident are to assure his own safety and to gain complete control of the situation as quickly as possible. Those who try to thwart him in any way or just appear to do so, put themselves and others at great risk. Hang tight for the moment!


You should understand that not all hostage takers are alike. Some are less dangerous than others. The hostage taker who is a genuine political terrorist is unlikely to be capricious or irrational. He is also unlikely to be affected by appeals to personal selfish interests: that is, he cannot usually be bought off. He is conscious of the high risks he takes in his exploits, but does not protect himself from danger in the way that either a criminal or a policeman would. Yet for all that, he is a professional. He is dedicated to his job and, though he may want very much to avoid dying, he knows that he may have to.²


The professional criminal, on the other hand (with the exception of kidnappers), will normally only take hostages as a last ditch effort to stay free. Given time to think about his alternatives, heıll give himself up rather than harm the hostages and earn an even longer prison term. A kidnapper, however, is very dangerous. Once he has gotten you to confirm that he has you and that you are still well, your value decreases. Many kidnappers kill their victims to prevent later identification. Terrorists, on the other hand, may kill you out of revenge.



Escaping from captivity is a personal decision. You must weigh the possibility of escaping against your escape failing thus resulting in tragedy. Just as important is your evaluation of your chances for survival and ultimate release. Mental/emotional and physical capabilities to execute the escape must be assessed. If you determine that you are capable of executing an escape and that your chances for survival and freedom are good, you must plan logically and in detail for all contingencies. Given proper planning, a thorough assessment of both yourself and your captors, and a strong desire to survive an escape to freedom, you will have the best possible chance for freedom should an opportunity for escape, release, or rescue arise.


A hostage planning a getaway must have a plan for continuing his escape which will take him out of the area of captivity. This takes him out of the abductorsı immediate search area and provides him with an objective to strive for that maintains his present freedom and eventually provides his ultimate freedom and safety.


Planning for the Abductor Release

The most important thing you can do in anticipation of this eventuality is to constantly observe your captors and their activities and habit patterns. Memorize everything you can about them, so that you can pass on as much usable information to the negotiating authorities as possible. This also includes information about the containment area, which could prove critical to an assault teamıs plans. Remember, you may be the only source of inside, up-to-date knowledge about what the authorities are facing. Try to help them help others.


Planning For an External Force Rescue

The hostage has no direct control over a rescue by an external force. Additionally, in most cases of external force rescues, you will have no prior notice of the impending rescue attempt. Quite often hostages become the innocent victims of their rescuers when the rescue force confronts the captors and a shoot-out occurs. Martin and Gracia Burnham are excellent examples of that. You can; however, plan certain passive and active measures, which may save your life during a rescue confrontation.


Passive Measures

Passive planning should first include the assumption that your abductors wonıt release you and you cannot escape. A second assumption should be that once your location is known, a rescue attempt will be made. Based on these initial assumptions, certain passive measures should be planned and practiced. The first of these is to make it a point to always sit or lie down when in your captorsı presence, unless they donıt allow you to do so. You should also try to keep as far away from them as possible.


These actions alone could save your life during a rescue attempt by keeping you out of the line of fire between the captors and the res-cue force.


Another passive measure that you should attempt is to maintain a cordial and respectful relationship with your captors. The establishment of a human bond between hostage and captor may deter the captor from executing the hostage when he realizes a rescue is taking place. It is much harder to murder someone with whom a friendly bond has been developed than it is to murder someone who argues and is defiant. Several Jewish hostages during the Entebbe Raid owe their lives to a German terrorist with whom they had earlier made to feel ashamed for his countrymenıs actions during the holocaust. When the Israeli Commandos stormed the airport buildings, he looked at them as if ready to execute them. One of the hostages asked him if he was like the Nazis. That reminder was enough for him to turn from them and defiantly go down in a blazing gun battle with the Commandos rather than to harm his charges.


A final passive measure is to always be alert for signals that a rescue attempt is about to take place.


Active Measures

Planning active measures to take during a rescue attempt is extremely important. The first action a hostage should take upon realizing that a rescue attempt has commenced is to immediately lie face down and attempt to remain motionless and silent. You should not try to physically or verbally make contact with the rescue force. Any such attempt could result in your being mistaken for a resisting captor and getting shot. You may also draw vindictive attention from your captors. You should allow yourself to be apprehended by the rescue force and taken from the place of captivity. There will be time later to identify your self as a former hostage and have that identity verified.


The passive and active measures identified above are simple to plan and easy to implement; however, hostages have been injured or killed more frequently than necessary simply because they failed to plan for and implement these measures for their own safety. Such a small effort for such a big price to pay!



There may come a time during your captivity when you might consider using violence to make your escape. If you are not well trained, if the timing is wrong, if you are not committed to following through on your actions, you may get injured or killed, or you may cause others to be hurt or killed.


You must know your limitations! If you are older and/or not in good shape, you need to understand that your reflexes will not be as fast or as smooth as you remembered them when you took that karate course 20 years ago. Pride lets us see ourselves in the best possible light. That could be lethal!


The hostage takers may be younger than you; he or she may have had a recent intensive course in hand-to-hand combat; and they are more emotionally hyped thereby increasing their speed with adrenaline. If they have initiated the taking of hostages, they may have planned out every aspect of it and are expecting trouble while you have no forewarning and can only react. They may be more desperate, considering they have nothing to lose.


You must consider these and many other aspects before you attempt physical violence! If there is the slightest chance of hesitation or fumbling on your part, you may be better off not trying anything! If the captors are Middle Eastern, however, go for it. Theyıre going to kill you anyway.


Consideration of Fellow Hostages

If you deem it necessary to use physical violence (for instance, the captors have already killed or wounded others for seemingly no reason and they seem about ready to do it again), first consider the possible impacts your actions may have on any other fellow hostages. Will they be inadvertently harmed by your actions or through the captorsı retaliation after your attempt, whether it is successful or not?


If there is a gun involved, might it discharge in the direction of innocent people? If there is a grenade or bomb involved, is it worth wrestling with the captor? Is there a safe place to throw it should you gain control of it? How long a delay will there be once the firing mechanism has been triggered?


Thereıs more involved than one might think when weighing the chances of successfully overpowering a captor or a guard. For instance, when this author trains security guards and Military Police in foiling assassination attempts, he uses disarming tech-niques that turn weapons such as guns back into the wielder, so that only the attacker is endangered in the fray. If you feel physical resistance techniques are called for, please consider the safety of innocent bystanders.


When and If To Use Violence

Escaping a hostage situation is similar to escape in a prisoner of war situation. One must do it immediately during the capture process, while a high state of confusion exists. Or, you should wait until later after there is time for careful planning and when the guards are possibly less vigilant. It is common for terrorists to kill or injure someone soon after the incident begins to prove they mean business. If a chance to use physical resistance comes early on, you might first want to reconsider your capabilities in comparison with those manifested by the hostage takers. If you donıt, instead of saving the guy they were going to make an example of, theyıll make you the example. In the case of a criminal, you might want to hold back because they donıt generally kill right away since they need hostages for self-protection. The terrorist, on the other hand, is more interested in revenge and will do just about anything to get it.


If the captor is systematically killing off people or if he appears insane and begins dehumanizing his victims by covering their faces with masks or hoods, you may be forced into physical resistance action simply out of self-preservation. As a general rule, however, a victim should remain passive and avoid eye contact with the assailants thus living to fight another day. No one admires dead heroes or bumblers who cause injury or death to themselves or other victims. Examine your motives before acting rashly.


You must also be careful in that there may be more opponents than you realize. Sometimes terrorists use a ³sleeper² agent (a fellow terrorist) who watches the victimsı initial reactions for signs of ³trouble makers² before he shows his true colors. Be aware of this possible danger!


The safest time for physical resistance is when guards have been lulled into carelessness. On two different occasions, an American OSS agent was able to escape from his Gestapo captors by using a pencil to kill the lone Nazi interrogator left with him to obtain a confession. Since the prisoner had looked so helpless, no one assumed that he would attempt to overcome a lone, armed guard. How ironic that the guard actually handed the prisoner the very implement by which he lost his own life.


Working toward an End to the Situation

Try to help the authorities in their attempts at hostage negotiations and rescues. The best way your company can do that is by providing information on the facility where the hostages are being kept, in their personal information, and in your businessıs routines. If the hostage taker is an employee, any personal information on him is critical. Cooperate in way you can to make the authoritiesı jobs easier and more effective.


Your Worst Nightmare‹

Dead and Wounded Employees and Customers

Express immediate concern and sympathy publicly and privately. Set up support mechanisms and groups for any survivors and their families. Provide professional counseling for them. Determine the economic impacts of the incident to all involved and try to come up with fair compensation for at least their immediate needs.


Coping with the Aftermath

Letıs say you have been taken hostage and have been fortunate enough to be released, to escape, or to be rescued. How will you feel? What do you need to watch out for? What should you do?


Remember how a common reaction to being taken hostage is an initial sense of disbelief, as if this couldnıt be happening to you. Now that it has happened, you may feel, ³This really did happen to me. Iım now different than I was. Why doesnıt everybody else realize that?²


We feel this reaction is similar to that experienced by many Vietnam veterans when they initially came back home. In their case, one day they were fighting in the jungle and heat, watching their buddies die and experiencing the mind-numbing terror of combat. The next day they found themselves strolling down their hometown main street.


They had a very deep sense of unreal feelings that none of their old acquaintances would ever truly understand them again. When a car backfired, they may have automatically dived to the ground with their combat survival reactions still in place.


As it was for the war veteran, so it can be with ex-hostages. A direct correlation can even be made with the pervasiveness and long lasting effects these experiences often have. Just as there are some Vietnam veterans who still find it difficult to deal with their past war experiences twenty years and more later, the ex-hostage may also find his terror and trauma lingering on. Even though the captivity experience may have only lasted a few hours, the aftereffects may hang on for years. Letıs take a look at some of these post-incident reactions and what can be done to return to a life of normalcy.


The Stockholm Syndrome Revisited

As mentioned before, it is common to become emotionally attached to the hostage taker during the incident. It is also common to fear or become angry at the negotiating authorities and rescuers because they are perceived as life-threatening to the hostage. After the incident is over, it is not uncommon to feel guilt, shame, and puzzlement over these feelings. Indeed, these post-incident reactions are so common that they have become known as the fourth phase of the Stockholm syndrome.


Common Problems

There are a number of problems that frequently occur after the hostage incident is over. Some of these are physical in nature:


Many of the problems; however, are psychological:



What Helps

After seeing all the physical and mental problems brought about by having been a hostage you might wonder whatıs the use? Why go on living in misery? We think, however, that you are the one element in this equation that can really make the difference. You might have been helpless during the hostage situation, but once youıre out of it, you have the right, the capability, and the responsibility to control your life and what goes on in it! What you do counts so make it meaningful! These are fine sounding words, but how does one go about recovering from the aftereffects of being a hostage?


First, you need to expect problems and be willing to meet them head on. No one ever said it would be easy. You must be willing to try to over-come any problem that rears its head. Donıt allow yourself the luxury of remaining helpless after the incident. That would be a cop out!


Second, youıll need to talk out your feelings. See a properly trained therapist and heed the advice and help you are given!


What the Company Can Do

Help the victim uncover the specific events in the hostage situation, which he has been attempting to deny or which he has been un-able to accept.


Support him as he feels the feelings associated with these trau-matic events.


Help him acquire a greater understanding of how his hostage experiences have affected his life in the present.


Help the victim find constructive uses for his hostage experience.


What the Victim Can Do to Help Himself

Get back into a routine as quickly as possible. Routines are natural sedatives in a manner of speaking. Lets face it, if youıve just come back from being a hostage youıve probably enjoyed about as much excitement as you can stand. Settle back down into the humdrum of day-to-day life. Use this as an anchor to reality.


Finally and most importantly, emphasize the positive. Try not to dwell on all the bad things that happened or may still be happening as aftereffect. Think rather of those things about yourself and others that have grown and matured from this experience.


The Need for Planning and Standing Operating Procedures

The time to prepare for hostage situations is now‹before one happens. Careful planning and developing routine procedures based on those plans are imperative to give your company or organization the best possible chance of handling crisis situations like these.


The Need for Employee Training

Employees and management need to become familiar with portions of those plans and practice how to respond if a hostage situation ever develops in your company.


The Need for Insurance

Some of the new Homeland Security laws and regulations have made this a controversial area lately. Check with your insurance agent about the availability of terrorist and hostage riders on your companyıs liability policies. Protect your companyıs interests with life and ransom policies on key personnel.


Need for Public Affairs Management

A hostage situation will focus the eyes of the media upon the situation and how your company deals with it. Make sure you think through how such situations will be handled with the media. Prepare for damage control now, not when youıre surprised by an incident in the future.



Hostage situations are a grim fact of life today. The future promises

they will become even more commonplace. Think through the possibility and prepare now!


Much of this material was taken from Mr. Spearıs book ³STAY ALIVE: Survival Tactics for Hostages², Mr. Spear is a retired military intelligence professional, a business owner, and a 7th Dan in Hapkido. He has trained over 11,000 people in self-defense and personal security since 1974 throughout the world. He has had nine books and five video tapes published in these fields.


Spear, Robert K.

Sharp Spear Enterprises and The Book Barn

410 Delaware

Leavenworth, KS 66048




Reprinted from the book Business Security with permission by T. A. Brown