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Mumbai terror attacks - a case study

Assisting clients during siege by gunmen

On Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 21:20 local time, Islamist extremists launched concurrent attacks on ten locations in Mumbai, paralysing India’s financial capital and its largest city. The terrorists, after infiltrating the city using satellite technology and detailed interior maps of targets, opened fire on Mumbai’s busiest train station, a hospital, a popular café, a Jewish outreach centre, and two five-star hotels. The siege ended three days later when India’s National Security Guards subdued the terrorists at the Taj Mahal hotel. In all, over 180 people perished and more than 308 were injured in what many referred to as ‘India’s 9/11.’ Among the dead and wounded were many expatriates and international business travellers.

November 26, 23:28: International SOS issues special advisory to clients

The Global Information Centre (GIC) in New Delhi issues a special advisory to clients. Over the next four days, the GIC, jointly operated by International SOS and Control Risks, posts frequent advisories on the security members’ Web site and emails these to over 18,000 clients. International SOS staff uses its travel locator technology to identify members in Mumbai and contacts affected clients.

November 26, 23:30: Crisis Management Team develops action plan

As members were advised to avoid the Colaba peninsula, International SOS and Control Risks activate crisis arrangements. A Crisis Management Team (CMT) comprising logistics, security, medical, communications, and aviation experts develops an action plan to locate members and ensure their safety.

The CMT located in Singapore continues to meet at regular intervals until the end of the crisis, keeping International SOS’ 26 alarm centres and regional teams updated on its activities.

November 26, 23:51: Incident Management Team is activated

A nine-person, security-led Incident Management Team (IMT) with

special knowledge of Mumbai is deployed. The team’s mission is to make contact with clients, assess the security situation, and provide reporting from the site. The IMT also investigates medical and logistical arrangements, establishes contact with local credentialed providers from within its proprietary network, and prepares to provide close support to affected clients.

November 27, 00:30: Alarm centre calls surge

In the first ten hours, we receive one security-related call every two

minutes via our alarm centre network. To provide the most efficient assistance for members, a temporary alarm centre is established in Mumbai. In total, over 2,300 unique calls are made regarding the attacks.

November 27, 06:00: Terrorists hold positions inside Taj and Oberoi hotels

The terrorists hold off security forces at the Taj and Oberoi hotels. Over 550 guests, visitors, and staff members remain trapped inside the two hotels. The IMT establishes headquarters at a hotel in close proximity to the hotels under siege, deploys a team to the incident site, and works with local authorities to ensure accurate information and advice is being sent to clients trapped inside the hotels and surrounding areas.

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Mumbai terror attacks - a case study

November 28, 15:00: International SOS reserves charter flights for evacuation

International SOS places two charter flights in Mumbai on standby in support of its clients

November 28, 16:30: Post-traumatic stress counselling is provided

At 08:50 local time, the three remaining gunmen inside the Taj Majal hotel are killed by Indian Special Forces, concluding the operation to recover hostages. One French International SOS member trapped in the Oberoi hotel had directly witnessed the terrorists killing victims. In response, a French-speaking psychologist with expertise in post-traumatic stress disorder is identified and deployed to provide counseling.

November 28, 17:22: A search for members inside hospitals and embassies

The IMT, led by Dr Vineet Datta, Medical Director with International SOS Assistance, visits ten nearby hospitals to look for injured foreign nationals. “Many of the hospitals and mortuaries were operating at near capacity and the situation inside was chaotic,” said Dr. Datta. “We met over 15 patients in various hospitals and two of them were successfully repatriated to the United States. Additionally, we were in contact with representatives at the US, South African, Australian, German, Japanese, Canadian, and French embassies.” In some cases, we moved patients to better- suited medical facilities, medically managed their care with local providers, communicated with family members, and provided medical reports for doctors at home to continue care once home.

December 1, 08:30: Singapore and Paris security teams debrief clients

Singapore and Paris security teams lead three webinars with Dr. Datta, with over 450 clients participating worldwide. Clients were able to ask our security specialists questions and learn about the latest travel advice.

A team approach

In the events related to Mumbai, International SOS handled 281 cases -- 258 security and 23 medical cases. We undertook thirteen repatriations, including two with medical escorts on commercial flights to the US. International SOS and Control Risks coordinated security escorts for ten of the hostages and organised the repatriation arrangements for one of the deceased.

While India has a long history of terrorism, the Mumbai attacks represented a step-change in the nature and sophistication of attacks. Foreigners were directly targeted at the Café Leopold - popular with Westerners - and at the Taj and Trident-Oberoi hotels. Gunmen targeted British and US passport holders as hostages while the assault on Nariman House, the Jewish outreach centre, was also a clear attack on Israeli nationals based in the building. The attacks were the culmination of detailed planning and thorough preparation. They again highlighted the challenge of securing hotels against the threat of terrorism and illustrated the ongoing threat to international travellers and expatriates.

As history has demonstrated, catastrophic events such as this often require a combination of medical, security, and logistical expertise to help those caught in the turmoil.International SOS offers business travellers and managerial staff 24-hour advice and information to help prepare for travel into volatile environments, and expert medical and security assistance in the event of an incident.