Snapshot: Authorized/Ordered Departures and Suspended Ops at Overseas Posts (FY13-FY16)

Posted: 1:18 pm PT

 

Via GAO

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U.S. Embassy Cuba Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma

Posted: 9:17 am PT
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On September 6, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Cuba warning U.S. citizens to “carefully reconsider” travel to Cuba due to Hurricane Irma and announced the authorized departure of USG employees and family members. This follows the declaration of “authorized departure” status for the U.S. embassies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic yesterday. As of this writing, no evacuation has been announced for U.S. Embassy Nassau.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully reconsider travel to Cuba due to Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that is projected to impact Cuba.  This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge.  Disruptions to travel and services are likely throughout the country.  On September 6, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.

Read in full here.

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Embassy Dominican Republic Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma

Posted: 1:14 am ET
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The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo is now also on authorized departure status:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully reconsider travel to the Dominican Republic due to Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm projected to impact the Dominican Republic. This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threating flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge.  Disruptions to travel and services are likely throughout the country, particularly in eastern and northern regions.  On September 5, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma. 

Read the full Travel Warning here.

On September 4, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a reminder to U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic “to remain vigilant during the hurricane season.  At this time, Hurricane Irma is forecast to impact the entirety of the Dominican Republic to varying degrees with eastern and northern areas most heavily impacted, by Wednesday, September 6.”

On September 5, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens residing and traveling in the Dominican Republic that Hurricane Irma, “currently a category 5 storm, is projected to affect the Dominican Republic.” Also: “This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, and storm surge, and Hispaniola-wide impacts are likely.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities are monitoring the progress of the storm, and the Embassy will issue updated messages as needed. Travelers and residents wishing to depart before the arrival of the storm should contact their airlines or tour operators and keep their families informed of their welfare and whereabouts.”  No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the Emergency Message (see U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members Due to Hurricane Irma).

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U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated)

Posted: 3:01 pm ET
Updated: 8:58 pm PT
Updated: Sept 6, 1:17 am ET – Original headline: U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members Due to Hurricane Irma
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On September 5, the State Department warned of non-essential travel to Haiti due to Hurricane Irma. It also announced the authorized voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Haiti ahead of Hurricane Irma, now a category 5 hurricane, and apparently larger than the state of Ohio. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the approach of Hurricane Irma and recommends U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel to Haiti. The National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov) reports that Hurricane Irma is a strong, dangerous Category 5 storm with high winds and heavy rain. A hurricane watch has been issued for the northern coast of Haiti, and a tropical storm watch has been issued from Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-au-Prince. Additional information on Hurricane Irma is available (in Creole) from Haiti Civil Protection’s website and Twitter.

U.S. citizens residing and traveling in Haiti should be alert to flooding. Given the approaching hurricane, there is limited time available for a safe departure via air. The Department of State has authorized non-emergency personnel and family members to depart Haiti in advance of Hurricane Irma. We recommend U.S. citizens depart Haiti prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Airports are expected to close if conditions deteriorate.

As mentioned in yesterday’s emergency message, the Embassy has banned all personnel travel north of Port-au-Prince. In addition, the Embassy has cancelled the travel plans of all incoming employees to Haiti until the threat passes.

We recommend those citizens who are unable to depart to shelter in place in a secure location. U.S. citizens should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for any evacuation instructions.

For immigrant or nonimmigrant visa questions, please contact the call center at +509-2812-2929 or email support-Haiti@ustraveldocs.com. If you will not be able travel to an already-scheduled appointment in American Citizen Services from Wednesday, September 6 through Friday, September 8, please call 509-2229-8000 or 2229-8900, or send us an email at acspap@state.gov to reschedule your appointment.

Read in full here.

The Haiti Travel Warning also dated September 5 now notes that “On September 5, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.” 

The U.S. Consulate General in Curacao issued an alert for U.S. citizens in the Dutch Carribean that the current track of Hurricane Irma brings the eye of the storm directly over Sint Maarten Tuesday evening into Wednesday with sustained winds of 180 mph, gusts over 200 mph, and storm surge in excess of 10 feet and advised U.S. citizens to “take shelter in concrete buildings on higher ground away from the coast.” (Note: In 2010, Curacao and St. Maarten acquired a semi-autonomus status within the Kingdom and Bonaire, St. Eustatious, and Saba (BES-Islands) became municipalities of the Netherlands). No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the alert.

On September 4, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a reminder to U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic “to remain vigilant during the hurricane season.  At this time, Hurricane Irma is forecast to impact the entirety of the Dominican Republic to varying degrees with eastern and northern areas most heavily impacted, by Wednesday, September 6.” On September 5, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens residing and traveling in the Dominican Republic that Hurricane Irma, “currently a category 5 storm, is projected to affect the Dominican Republic.” Also: “This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, and storm surge, and Hispaniola-wide impacts are likely.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities are monitoring the progress of the storm, and the Embassy will issue updated messages as needed. Travelers and residents wishing to depart before the arrival of the storm should contact their airlines or tour operators and keep their families informed of their welfare and whereabouts.”  No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the Emergency Message.

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GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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Related post:

@StateDept Orders Evacuation of US Embassy Banjul Family Members From The #Gambia

Posted: 5:56 pm PT
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On Saturday, January 7, the State Department ordered the departure of family members of USG employees assigned to the US Embassy Banjul, in The Gambia. It also authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country. The evacuation order comes with the new Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.  On January 7, 2017, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members and authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country.

The security situation in The Gambia remains uncertain following December 1, 2016 presidential elections.  On January 10, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the current president’s petition contesting the election results, which is a potential flashpoint that could lead to civil unrest.  The sitting government has begun taking restrictive measures, which include shutting down and restricting radio stations, and making politically motivated arrests.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has stated it may intervene if the president does not step down by January 18.

U.S. citizens should consider departing on commercial flights and other transportation options now, as airports and ferry terminals may close unexpectedly in the event of unrest.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.  U.S. citizens should ensure that travel documents (passports and visas) are valid and up-to-date.  Consular services, already limited throughout the country due to very poor transportation infrastructure and security conditions, may be further limited, including in Banjul itself.

U.S. citizens who decide to remain in The Gambia should prepare for the possible deterioration of security:

  • Exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Stay home or at another safe location.
  • Have emergency supplies of food, water, and medications.
  • Let friends and family know that there might be communication disruptions.

Additional recommendations on emergency preparedness are available on the Travel.State.gov web page “What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad?

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Related items:

 

 

 

US Embassy Kinshasa Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Personnel in the DRC

Posted: 6:13  pm PT
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On September 30, 2016, the State Department placed family members of USG employees in the Democratic Republic of Congo on mandatory evacuation (see US Embassy Kinshasa Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members of USG Employees). On December 2, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning and announced the “authorized departure” or voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel by December 10 due to the deteriorating security situation in the country. The Travel Warning also urged U.S. citizens to depart the country before December 19.  Excerpt Below:

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa warns U.S. citizens of the potential for large-scale demonstrations and civil unrest on/around December 19, the date on which President Kabila’s term in office was due to end before elections were delayed.

U.S. citizens in the DRC should seriously consider leaving the country in advance of this date. As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State has ordered family members of U.S. government personnel and authorized non-emergency personnel to depart the country as of December 10, 2016. This replaces the Travel Warning dated October 7, 2016.
U.S. citizens should consider taking advantage of departing commercial flights and other transportation options now.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely solely on U.S. government assistance.  U.S. citizens should ensure that travel documents (passports and visas) are valid and up-to-date.  Consular services, already limited throughout the country due to very poor transportation infrastructure and security conditions, may be further limited even in Kinshasa.

U.S. citizens who decide to remain in DRC through December 19 should prepare for the possible deterioration of security:

  • Exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Stay home or at another safe location.
  • Have emergency supplies of food, water, and medications.
  • Let friends and family know that there might be communication disruptions.

Additional recommendations on emergency preparedness are available on the Travel.State.gov web page “What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad?

In addition, ongoing instability and sporadic violence continue in parts of the DRC. Armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces operate in:

  • North Kivu
  • South Kivu
  • Bas-Uele
  • Haut-Uele
  • Ituri
  • Tanganyika
  • Haut-Lomami.

These groups kill, rape, kidnap, pillage, steal vehicles, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians can be indiscriminately targeted.  Kidnapping for ransom is common, particularly in areas north and west of Goma, North Kivu.  Congolese military and United Nations forces continue to operate throughout North and South Kivu and near the DRC’s borders with the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan, particularly in and around Garamba National Park. Travelers in the region may encounter troop movements, armored vehicles and attack helicopters.

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly trained security forces at official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa.  Be cautious when stopped by security forces.  Requests for bribes are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay.  In the past year, several U.S. citizens have been illegally detained by government forces or robbed of their valuables while being searched.

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#HurricaneMatthew Closes US Embassies in Haiti, Jamaica, and The Bahamas; USAID Activates DART

Posted: 1:44 am ET
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Due to Hurricane Matthew, the State Department has authorized the voluntary evacuation of authorized family members of U.S. government employees from the The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti. A Travel Alert for Cuba recommends that U.S. citizens defer travel to eastern Cuba.

Alert October 3, 2016 Cuba Travel Alert
Warning October 2, 2016 Haiti Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 Jamaica Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 The Bahamas Travel Warning

 

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@StateDept Extends Evacuation Status of Family Members of USG Employees in Turkey Through September 23

Posted: 3:49 am ET
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The State Department has issued an updated Travel Warning for Turkey. The warning dated August 29 announced the extension of the authorized departure status for family members of employees at US  Embassy Ankara and USCG Istanbul through September 23. It also extends the ordered departure status of family members of U.S. Consulate Adana employees and family members of U.S. Government civilians in Izmir province until September 23, 2016. Below via state.gov

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey. On August 23, 2016, the Department of State extended voluntary departure of family members assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul through September 23, 2016.  The decision to authorize departure followed an attempted coup and the subsequent declaration of a 90-day state of emergency by the Turkish Government.  The decision to approve voluntary departure status was taken, in part, to allow the Department of State to monitor the effects of the July 15 coup attempt and subsequent declaration of a state of emergency on the security situation in the country.  The Department continues to monitor the effect of these developments as well as recent terrorist incidents in Ankara, Istanbul, and Gaziantep, recurring threats, a visible increase in police or military activities, and the potential for restrictions on movements.  U.S. citizens should carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time.  In addition, we have recently experienced delays securing consular access to U.S. citizens, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, detained or arrested by security forces.

Foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations in Turkey. As stated in the Worldwide Caution dated March 3, 2016, extremists throughout Europe have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, aviation services, transportation systems, and public venues where people congregate as well as religious sites and high-profile events. Most recently, they have threatened to kidnap Westerners and U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are reminded to review personal security plans, monitor local news for breaking events, and remain vigilant at all times.

U.S. Government personnel in Turkey remain subject to travel restrictions in the southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig.  U.S. citizens should avoid areas in close proximity to the Syrian border.

The Department of State is also extending its March 29, 2016, ordered departure of family members of U.S. Government personnel posted to the U.S. Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. Government civilians in Izmir province until September 23, 2016. The U.S. Consulate in Adana remains open and will continue to provide all routine consular services.

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U.S. Mission Turkey Now on “Authorized Departure” For Family Members in Ankara and Istanbul

Posted: 2:08 am ET
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The State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey on July 26 announcing the “authorized departure” of U.S. Mission Turkey family members from the US Embassy in Ankara and the Consulate General in Istanbul.

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey. The U.S. Department of State is updating this Travel Warning to reflect the July 25, 2016, decision to authorize the voluntary departure of family members of employees posted to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. The Department of State made this decision following the July 15 attempted coup and subsequent declaration by the Turkish government of a 90-day State of Emergency. The Department continues to monitor the effect of these developments on the overall security situation in the country and advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Turkey at this time. During this period, U.S. citizens in Turkey may see an increase in police or military activities and restrictions on movement.

Read the updated warning here.

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The State Department has already extended its March 29, 2016 mandatory evacuation order for family members of U.S. Government personnel posted to the U.S. Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. Government civilians in Izmir province through July 26, 2016.  We expect to hear further extension of that order now that the two other posts in the country are now on authorized departure  following the declaration of a 90-day State of Emergency. See @StateDept Extends “Ordered Departure” Status for Consulate Adana/Izmir Prov Through July 26, 2016.

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