After the devastating earthquake struck Haiti, we watched the parents of Rutland, Mass. native Britney Gengel wait for word on the fate of their missing daughter.
By now, you may know the heartbreaking story. Britney, the young Lynn University student, on a mission to help the poor. Just after the quake hit, her father says he got the call his daughter was safe, in the hands of the private security firm who supposedly had rescued her. Only hours later, her parents learned there had been a mistake.
Two weeks ago, Britney’s body was found in the rubble of her hotel. Agonizing for a family, and the college whose insurance company hired the private security firm, Red 24, to search for its missing students and faculty. Red 24 did not respond to our request for comment.
“There is absolutely no excuse for what happened to the Gengels with regard to the mistakes made with information transfer,” says Dan Richards, founder of Boston-based Global Rescue. It’s a private security and rescue firm that teams up with doctors from Johns Hopkins. The group mostly performs medical evacuations from just about anywhere in the world. In fact, hours after the earthquake, five companies hired Global Rescue to find and evacuate employees out of Haiti. “We understand there are desperate people contacting us for a desperate mission during a desperate time,” Richards says.
Security firms are becoming a niche industry. Whether its natural disasters like the quake in Haiti, political unrest, kidnappings or just the run of the mill medical emergency, you can pay for a privately funded rescue effort. For high risk situations, the group contracts out to ex-military members based all over the world. “Lebanon in 2006, during the Israeli Hezbollah conflict. Georgia during the Russian invasion. We were involved in providing security evacuation for people in Mumbai,” Richards says.
All that security comes with a cost. Like an insurance policy, Global Rescue charges members an annual fee. Starting at $329, you’re covered when and if you need it. If you’re not a member and you need their help in an emergency, the cost could run as high as $150,000.
It’s not just individuals buying coverage. Global Rescue says its clients include NASA, the U.S. Ski Team, and Hopkington-based EMC. “We used them last year approximately a half dozen times, mostly for medical evacuations,” says Timothy Holland of EMC. EMC has 40,000 employees in more than 60 countries.
It hired Global Rescue and company officials say it has worked out well for them. The company called on the group once to evacuate employees from a country after political protests shut down the airport. “If we’re sending people outside the country, it’s important to be able to extract them, be it a medical emergency of if there were some type of political unrest,” Holland says. Companies like EMC see it as a kind of safety net for workers, as business grows overseas.