Mission Critical Considerations when Operating in Hostile and Challenging Environments

Achieving mission success in Hostile and Challenging Environments isn’t for the faint hearted but we’ve found with the right intelligence-led approach the freedom to operate anywhere in the world is possible.

20 years ago, Shape Services Ltd began operating in hostile, challenging and austere environments, which were essentially zones of conflict with little or no commercial or governmental infrastructure. At that moment in time hostilities were rising, and we knew that even with our own experiences and backgrounds within these types of locations, this certainly wouldn’t be the path of least resistance. One thing was certain though, we knew we had the right mindset and resilience to face and conquer the complexities that lay ahead of us.

Fast forward on from those 20 years, having focused and continued our operations in these areas, we have learnt many lessons on how to successfully operate and deliver one off projects, programmes and managed services with rolling programmes of works.

To operate in areas that are hostile and challenging, we believe these considerations are mission critical:

Risk Expectation and Management
By far head and shoulders above anything else is the expectation of risk and understanding how to manage it. This should start with the senior people within the project team and cascade downwards to the company operatives on the ground who are being sent out to implement these projects. From top to bottom there needs to be an understanding that the project team could be sending people into harm’s way and that the people that are implementing and operating locally, accept that although every concession is being made to ensure they are not exposed to danger, the potential threat of danger is very real. This acceptance from all parties and most importantly the teams that are delivering locally is just the initial step and in isolation is not good enough to ensure success in the field.

All in-field operatives should be adequately vetted to gain a real understanding of their mindset, persona and background history. This is essential. Psychological flexibility and self-awareness under pressure is crucial for these environments and finding out a person is not suitable once in position has a huge detrimental effect on the rest of the team, both in and out of location. Every effort must be made to mitigate this risk before entering any hostile, challenging and austere environments.

Extensive Project Planning
It is vital that the project team is led by someone that has detailed and intimate knowledge of the proposed solution, all it’s moving parts and how to implement it. Regardless of if you’re integrating a complex system, tasked with a simple fix or indeed executing a rolling maintenance programme, you can experience the same problem both with real time implications.

Given there is little to no support, if for example tooling or materials are missed prior to shipping to location, it most likely will cause increased exposure of risk to personnel, project over run, cost, embarrassment and reflect negatively on the company’s reputation, as there are no hardware or tool shops you can visit to plug the gaps and get you out of trouble and deliveries usually take an age. There should be material and tooling contingencies in place. In these environments it is better to forecast too much than fall short and be waiting for deliveries from overseas. Be as self-sufficient as possible.

Logistical Insight
Logistics of equipment and materials is usually something that is contracted to a freight forwarder, but you must have someone as part of the project team who is aware of the destination’s importation laws and taxes. In some areas this is not a problem, as the end customer or user may have an agreement with the country’s government that there is to be no taxes or customs checking for equipment or materials destined for them. The US Military are an example of this and can have unusual agreements in place. However, where there is no arrangement then there is real possibility of delays and things being held up in the country. As part of the initial project site survey, it is advisable to find a local person or company that has the knowledge and ability to act as local fixer as and when required.

Personnel deployment
When deploying personnel, research needs to be carried out about the country from a travel and threat level perspective and to satisfy visa and port entry requirements. Be mindful that you are sending people to work so a tourist visa is unlikely to be sufficient and work visas may need in-country sponsorship which takes long periods of time, so plan well in advance. Look at both the websites for UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice and the US Department of State https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/ where it will give official travel advice based on what the respective Governments currently know. it will also tell you if there are any Embassies, Consulates or representation for those Governments citizens in your selected Country of projects. For Countries of other nationalities, go to their countries Foreign Office equivalents website. There are also good websites and apps that will give you information on global risks and threats, here’s an example from GardaWorld Drum-Cussac  https://drum-cussac.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/RiskMonitor-Pro.pdf

All of this will build a picture and will help in deciding what level of threat there is and how this should be mitigated. For example if armoured vehicles, escort and security services are required, then a call into G4S https://www.g4sriskmanagement.com/ will likely give you options and most certainly give you insight into the local situation in most of the hostile areas of the world as they are usually present, and again may form part of your picture building.


As we said at the beginning, operating in hostile, challenging and austere environments isn’t for everyone but as Shape Services Ltd found, once we strategised and developed our approach we’ve had the freedom to deliver projects in places we never thought possible.

If you haven’t got the confidence or experience why not engage with a service provider proven to succeed in hostile, challenging and austere environments? Our planned approach to the building, maintaining and operation of systems compliments a variety of market sectors from Communications to Defence and Security, Aviation to Ports and Borders and Critical Infrastructure.

Shape Services Ltd succeed where others simply will not or cannot.

Author: Dean Russell Director of Shape Services Ltd


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