June 28, 2001 - NCPA responds to Security Charge against US Peace Corps

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By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, June 29, 2001 - 7:37 pm: Edit Post

The original article published in USA TODAY
questioning volunteer safety is available here:

Peace Corps Security in Question 14 May

Recent incidents in Peace Corps 14 May

Following is the response which
was sent out from National Peace Corps
Association (NCPA) President Dane Smith
responding to the questions raised
by USA Today.

NCPA Response. The Peace Corps is
disappointed with the content and tone of
the USA Today article, which does not place
into context the successful experiences of
over 163,000 Volunteers who have served in
135 countries over the past forty years.
While the Lowell Sun article was more
balanced, an objective article would have
discussed the many ways in which the Peace
Corps prepares and supports Volunteers
along with any criticism. In addition, we
have prepared an op-ed we will be sending
to the editors of the Lowell Sun. We are also
reaching out to elected officials in
Washington, D. C. and across the country
who are friends of the Peace Corps as well
as our friends at the National Peace Corps

The Peace Corps often operates programs in
some of the least developed countries and in
some of the most remote areas in the world;
unfortunately, health, safety and security
risks are a unavoidable part life and of PCV
Volunteer service. The health, safety and
security of our Volunteers is the Peace
Corps' highest priority.

Since 1961, 163,000 Americans have
volunteered for Peace Corps service. During
its 40 years, the Peace Corps has
experienced 251 unfortunate volunteer
deaths. The majority were related to motor
vehicle accidents, illnesses and drowning.
The Peace Corps considers even one death
to be too many and each deeply affects
every member of the Peace Corps family
around the world. Regrettably, there have
been 20 homicides in our 40+ year history.
Historical context is necessary to understand
the risks PCVs may face and the ways in
which the Peace Corps works to minimize
those risks.

Getting Information on What to Expect Our
policy is to increase volunteers' capacity to
keep themselves safe and to minimize risk
through extensive training during each stage
of service. Training begins from the moment
a Volunteer is invited to serve-specific
information that creates an accurate
depiction of what to expect at their proposed
country of service. Attention is focused on
what conditions and circumstances a
Volunteer might face in any given country,
including unwanted attention and cultural
behaviors that an American might find
offensive, uncomfortable or embarrassing.
Based on this information, a potential
Volunteer makes an informed decision about
living at any site surrounded by community
members who will be their support system-
or whether in fact any Peace Corps
assignment is suitable for them.

Building A Network of Safety The better
integrated the Volunteer becomes with the
local culture and people, the safer the
Volunteer will be. Before reporting to a
work site, Volunteers participate in a three
month, intensive training in the country of
service, often living with host families.
From this early experience forward, they
build a network of friends and contacts in
the host country that will support their
needs, job performance and degree of
success. Safety and security are predicated
in part on the development of effective
relationships between Volunteers and host-
county community members. The proven
Peace Corps approach to safety and security
is characterized by obtaining and
maintaining the acceptance and consent of
host country authorities and the population-
at-large for its presence and for the work of

Training To Keep PCVs Safe. PCVs are
provided with training that prepares them to
adopt culturally appropriate lifestyles and
exercise judgment that promotes safety and
reduces risk in their home, at work and
while traveling. Safety training is offered
throughout the 2-year tour of duty and is
integrated into the language, cross-cultural,
health and other components of training to
maximize its effectiveness. By the end of
training, PCVs are equipped with the skills
they need to negotiate safely in their country
of service. It is expected that individual
Volunteers adopt a lifestyle that reduces
their exposure to risk. This may entail
considerable changes in one's lifestyle-
living with host families, conservative dress,
restrictions on movement and night travel,

Site Selection Criteria Each site is
"developed" before the Volunteers' arrival
to ensure the placement is appropriate, safe
and it has secure housing and work sites.
Selection is based on established safety and
security criteria that reflect consideration of
site history, access to medical, banking,
postal and other essential services;
availability of communication,
transportation and markets; different
housing options and living arrangements.

Creation of Safety and Security Office Ad
hoc security committees from the 1970s
evolved into a task force during operations
leading up to the Persian Gulf war when the
Peace Corps suspended operations in
Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco. In 1998, the
Office of Volunteer Safety and Overseas
Security was established to coordinate the
agency's policy formulation, training and
other activities related to Volunteer safety
and security. An $8.3 million supplemental
appropriation in 1998-99 to improve safety
and security at our overseas posts led to
greater attention to the identification of sites;
upgraded communications systems to
enhance safety; updating and regular testing
of emergency action plans at each post; the
hiring of three safety and security officers in
each region; and conducting physical
security assessments and expanding training.
The Peace Corps also provided additional
guard protection and physical security
enhancements at overseas posts-deadbolt
locks, security bars and personal alarms. The
agency continually explores opportunities to
strengthen efforts and systems in this area,
including peer support networks and
increased capability to provide adjustment
and mental health support.

The Peace Corps also works closely with the
U.S. embassy, sharing information,
developing strategies and coordinating
communications in the event of a crisis.

Incident Reporting Volunteers are expected
to report any incident to the Peace Corps
medical officer or other Peace Corps staff as
appropriate. Using these means, the agency
can provide appropriate support to the
Volunteer and monitor the environment.
From an analysis of incidence reports over
the years, the Peace Corps has focused on
risk factors (time of day, location, alcohol
use, means of transportation etc.) and
attempted to help Volunteers address them.
Volunteers are urged to be aware of their
environment and to adopt a safe lifestyle and
exercise judgment in a manner that reduces
their exposure to risks.

Responding to Safety Incidents. Peace Corps
has a number of systems in place to respond
quickly and effectively to safety incidents
affecting our Volunteers. Procedures and
protocols for responding to assaults,
unauthorized absences, in-country crises
such as natural disaster or civil unrest, are
well laid out in a number of Peace Corps
documents (i.e. Peace Corps Manual, Crisis
Management Handbook, Rape Response
Handbook) and included in the training for
all staff and Volunteers.

Keeping In Touch With Volunteers.
Volunteers work with and for members of
the community of the host countries in
which they work. Those they work and live
with become their new colleagues,
associates and friends. They also provide
protection and help. This is the essence of
the Peace Corps experience.

Each Peace Corps Post overseas has rules to
assure some regular contact with Volunteers.
Likewise, Volunteers are expected to stay in
touch with the Peace Corps office on a
periodic basis. Most Volunteers consider too
much contact with the Peace Corps office as
too controlling and restricting. Nevertheless,
it is necessary to assure that volunteers can
be contacted in case of emergency and for
important notices. Volunteers are required to
report their whereabouts when they travel
away from their sites, and are required to
receive Peace Corps permission if they
intend to leave the country of assignment for
vacation or other purposes. When
Volunteers don't follow these rules they
may are subject to disciplinary measures.

Emergency Action Plans. Each Peace Corps
post has developed an Emergency Action
Plan that states roles and responsibilities for
staff and Volunteers, explains standard
policies and procedures, and lists the
emergency contact information for every
Volunteer in country. Staff and Volunteers
receive training in their respective roles and
the plan is tested and revised regularly.
Peace Corps works closely with the US
Embassy sharing information, developing
strategies and coordinating communications
in the event of a crisis. It is expected that
Volunteers will familiarize themselves with
procedures and their roles, act responsibly
and exercise sound judgment as the occasion
warrants. To this end, Volunteers are
expected to keep Peace Corps staff apprised
of their whereabouts at all times.