Cablegate: Yaounde Authorized Departure Lessons Learned: It

DE RUEHYD #0368/01 1061543
P 151543Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 031997

1. (U) Summary: During the last week of February 2008,
Cameroon's renowned stability and tranquility of Cameroon
were shattered by a spasm of rioting and violence that led
Embassy Yaounde to request the authorized departure of
eligible family members. Mission Cameroon's lessons learned
from this crisis include the importance of clear
communication, institutionalized emergency preparation that
involves host country authorities, staying ahead of the
curve, and making the most of local employee expertise. End

Trite but True - Communication Counts

2. (U) By far, the greatest challenge and frustration for the
Mission related to communication issues, particularly those
within the Embassy. Disparate mission elements, including
our branch office located in Douala which was the epicenter
of violence, were hearing constant rumors and a handful of
accurate reports which were often compared during our
frequent EAC meetings, where key facts and trends were
distilled. We found this system worked effectively for
decision-making at high levels, created an effective liaison
between agencies represented at post, and provided the key
information for warden messages, but it did not disseminate
and control information internally as well as possible. An
issue that came up early in the crisis was rumor control,
which we successfully addressed by designating a single
"rumint" point of contact to collect and compare information
being received. Another challenge post encountered was
ambiguity about the information gathering and disseminating
role of some sections. The EAC meetings were usually
attended by "core" Mission members. As the crisis grew in
magnitude and the implications of EAC decisions grew
commensurately, Post ensured a broader participation in EAC
meetings, which improved communication and coordination
within the Mission.

3. (U) Post established a Consular Control Center early in
the crisis, which helped centralize and control information -
but was probably not used to full potential. As a
medium-sized Embassy, staff often called one another or the
duty officer rather than the control room to seek or share
information. We recommend that colleagues facing even a
small scale crisis establish and use a control room to
institutionalize communication patterns within post and
between post and the Department. A robust control room is a
critical resource to manage information and can provide good
practice for the staff that actually create and man the post,
forcing them to check emergency supply closets, follow
procedures, consult crisis reference materials, and manage
real calls from real people. Control room staff would also
be responsible for maintaining a log, and for doing sitreps,
relieving the EAC of those tasks which became cumbersome, in
part because our first reports combined analysis with
reporting on decisions made at EAC meetings. In our case, by
the time the utility of a control room separate from Consular
became obvious, the crisis was already subsiding.

4. (U) Another lesson learned was our experience that many
people hold unrealistic expectations about what can and
should be done in an emergency. It was important to
communicate to both Mission employees and private Americans
about what assistance they can expect, and under what
conditions such assistance would be granted. For example,
American citizens are often surprised to learn that
evacuation is not a free service, and Embassy families often
have questions about when it is appropriate to consolidate in
the main Embassy compound rather than in residences.

5. (U) Although Post was fortunate that the regular and cell
phone networks never went down, our communications themselves
functioned well, and good backup systems were in place with
radios and satellite phones. The Peace Corps had good
success in sharing information with volunteers via SMS, a
system that post is working to extend to cover both Mission
employees and private Americans registered with the Consular

Practice = Preparedness

YAOUNDE 00000368 002 OF 003

6. (U) In responding to the crisis, post drew heavily on
recent exercises and experiences (assisting in the evacuation
of Embassy N'Djamena) as well as on our Emergency Action
Plan, and found the resources and training that the
Department has made in emergency preparedness to be valuable
and effective. Nonetheless, there were a number of areas for
improvement that ranged from a need for additional
communications gear to the need to update certain contact
lists to the limitations of our host-country interlocutors.
While our post will address these specifically, the moral of
our story is that real emergencies happen when you don't
expect them and don't always leave time to make preparations.
Also, many shortcomings became apparent only when attempting
to actually gain remote access using a FOB, or when we
learned that off-duty DOD personnel were not required to file
a country clearance request, or when it became evident that
planned consolidation points for Peace Corps volunteers were
more dangerous than their regular sites. In short, while
tabletop exercises are useful in refining plans, drills that
require staff to actually execute the plan are necessary to
identify hidden difficulties and avoid unnecessary delays
during a real crisis.

7. (U) While Post has a strong set of contacts among the
police and military authorities, we found that these entities
were disorganized and/or ill-prepared to either receive or
act upon requests to assist private Americans or other
expatriates. As a result, escort assistance was provided in
a very ad hoc manner, making the already difficult task of
coordinating the movement of expatriates significantly more
challenging. Consequently, post is joining with other
missions to approach the host government requesting that it
establish a central point of contact empowered to coordinate
assistance to expatriates. Post has also been prompted by
the emergency to re-evaluate possible evacuation routes, and
to consider whether private security firms have a useful role
to play in assisting expatriates.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Take Care of the Troops and They Will Take Care of You
--------------------------------------------- ---------

8. (U) First among the things that we believe went well
during the crisis was our successful effort to reassure and
engage our local staff in responding to the emergency. Many
staff made the risky decision to defy the transportation
strike and transport colleagues to work, or to walk many
miles on foot. The Ambassador herself, in a Town Hall
meeting early in the crisis, assured our local employees that
their safety, and that of their families, was our first
concern. This was immensely important to them. Likewise,
the Herculean efforts made by the Budget and Finance Section
to ensure that our LES staff was paid in a timely manner made
a huge impression upon them. These efforts were rewarded by
extra effort on the part of our staff, who were invaluable
eyes and ears, and who were instrumental in our efforts to
locate and assist private Americans throughout Cameroon.

Hope for the Best but Plan for the Worst

9. (U) Among the more valuable aspects of EAC meetings were
our discussions of worst-case scenarios. Together with a
review of our tripwires, this dialog kept the Mission
thinking and planning ahead of a quickly evolving crisis, and
set agreed benchmarks to avoid the "frog in the frying pan"
mindset. This allowed us to be proactive without being
alarmist. Most notably, it gave time for a sober review of
the serious decision to move to authorized departure, a step
that was taken partially to stay ahead of a potential
deterioration in security and avoid an unmanageable rush of
departures at a point when departing would be more difficult
and/or expensive.

Know Your Wardens and Manage Your Data

10. (U) The Consular Section had some specific lessons
already shared with the CA bureau and the Crisis Management
Support staff, and would urge all colleagues to make time to
invest in maintaining a strong warden system that backs up
the internet-based registration system (IBRS). In addition
to assisting in efforts to locate and assist Americans,
wardens are invaluable partners in getting security

YAOUNDE 00000368 003 OF 003

information as they often have broad networks that extend
throughout the country and include Cameroonians as well as
expatriates. An issue with broader implications for post
management was our discovery that the quantum leaps that have
been made in the ability of the consular section to track
private Americans using the consular taskforce software (CTF)
come at the price of additional staffing demands,
particularly prior to the establishment of a Washington
taskforce to assist. Effectively collecting and managing the
huge amounts of data involved is a significant
responsibility, and we strongly recommend that posts
designate an officer exclusively to this task as early as


11. (U) Overall, Post felt well trained and equipped to
respond to this emergency, and appreciated the excellent
support provided by our colleagues in Washington. The
incident was a reminder that appearances can be deceiving,
and that in Cameroon, as in many countries in the region, a
deep reservoir of discontent fed by political
disenfranchisement, unemployment and high commodity prices
lies just under the placid surface. Accordingly, all the
investments that post has made in developing contingency
plans, testing communications gear, and engaging with host
country counterparts have paid handsome dividends. Post will
strive to further improve our readiness to respond to a still
unsettled situation, and we encourage our colleagues to find
ways to build emergency preparations into your routines, and
to engage host country counterparts in frank and specific
discussions about your own worst-case scenarios.

© Scoop Media

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