IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 95

05 A Changing World | Jakarta Unrest
Major Milestone
Jakarta Unrest, 1998 –
Our Clients Turn to Us
By early 1998, President Suharto’s thirty-year grip
on power in Indonesia was loosening. With the
economy in crisis, demonstrations, violent clashes
and riots erupted on the streets. By 21 May the
pressure was so great Suharto was forced to step
down, but the unrest continued.
Travellers and expatriates were desperate to leave
the country, and the US government advised all its
citizens to depart as soon as possible. The road to
the international airport was closed and it became
impossible to get on any commercial flights out of
the country. Our clients turned to us – they knew
we had the knowledge and ability to arrange flights
and they assumed we could deliver.
These were not medical evacuations, but that did
not stop us. Everyone in our Jakarta location,
including Arnaud and Pascal, was hands on.
Within a few hours, a plan of action was in place.
We secured rooms at the only airport still in
operation, the Halim Military Airport, so that our
medics, supported by Michel de Ponteves and other
team members, could help the few remaining
immigration and customs officers handle the very
complicated and time consuming task of processing
hundreds of passports, exit visas and exit taxes. The
exit taxes were a problem as the banks were closed,
making it impossible for many people to get the
cash needed. We resolved this by having a supply
of Indonesian Rupiah sent in from Singapore.
We also established a safe haven in town where
foreigners could wait until their planes had arrived
at the airport and were ready to depart. This was
Left: College students unite and call
for Suharto to step down as President
of Indonesia, Jakarta, 1 May 1998.
Credit: John Stanmeyer/VII/Corbis
to minimise the amount of time passengers would
spend at the airport, which was a potential target.
Once everything at the airport was ready the
passengers were taken there on escorted buses
and transferred to a room set aside for them.
With the minimum of delay they then boarded
their waiting planes.
The flights went to Singapore where our people
again joined together to do whatever needed to be
done: Arranging ground transportation, travel
arrangements and hotels for everyone we evacuated
from Indonesia. Organising the evacuation of so
many people in such a short time was an enormous
logistical challenge. During an intense three-day
period, over 4,000 people were successfully airlifted
out of the country. Many of our staff in Jakarta and
Singapore did not sleep for 56 hours.
Our clients were delighted that were able to help
them in their hour of need. We learned a lot about
how to plan for, and identify, major incidents at the
early stages: From practical steps, such as setting
aside an area at airports to receive members, to
developing more strategic crisis management plans.
The Jakarta evacuation had gone incredibly
smoothly given the circumstances but we – and
our clients – realised that might not always be the
case. Also, as our medical personnel pointed out,
they had handled what was actually a security
evacuation; in future such events needed to be
managed by security professionals. As well as
developing our thinking on crisis planning we
focused more attention on security risks and
responses and recruiting specialists in the field.


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