Observation 2 / UK
When you get arrested in Saudi or into a scrap in Iraq, one company hopes you’ll call.
Press and hold the big red button on Drum Cussac’s phone app, wherever in the world you are, at any time of any day, and alerts flash on screens in an office in Bournemouth, on England’s south coast. The building, if you squint, bears some resemblance to a smaller knock-off version of the mi6 headquarters in London. People watching those screens in Drum Cussac’s global operations room will then work on getting you out of whichever pickle you find yourself in and, if necessary, back home. Drum Cussac has been quietly performing such assistance for its corporate customers since 2000. Its new service, CloseCircle, which launched this year, extends that expertise to individuals and families, with a client base of students, expats and businesspeople.
“Ultimately it’s about problem solving,” says Christopher Job, Drum Cussac’s chief operating officer. “That’s what we do.” These problems are as variable as the reasons people get into trouble while travelling: arrested in Saudi Arabia for possession of antibiotics not known to be illegal; injured in a remote Fijian village demolished by Cyclone Winston; in a traffic accident, somewhere in Africa, after which grievances were assuaged by the delivery of a goat to the village elder.
In the global operations room, 10 screens show live news channels, the bbc news website, an assortment of social-media feeds, a global weather map and Drum Cussac’s own world map interface. The latter, also available to Drum Cussac clients, grades every country – and the regions and cities within them – according to 25 metrics of risk, grouped by Environment, Infrastructure, Medical, Political and Security. It also allows real-time monitoring of all assets that Drum Cussac watches – which, if one totals every employee of every one of their clients, and the insurance policies that include Drum Cussac’s services, amounts to about 11 million people.
Many of Drum Cussac’s 55 employees are ex-military; they bring with them not just a soldier’s brisk, utilitarian approach to getting things done (very often in sub-optimal circumstances) but the networks they acquired while serving. Which is why, they explain, operating in places such as Iraq and Libya is actually pretty easy: someone always knows someone who is there. Management prefers, though, to recruit analysts from academia as they tend to write better. These boffins, in turn, tap into expertise around the world. “Where there’s a will there’s always a way,” says Job. He can’t recall a case that’s stumped them, though “sometimes it can take a bit longer than the client might like”.
CloseCircle costs £195 (€224) a year for an individual, £349 (€400) a couple, £595 (€684) a family. A likely client might be a family who live in separate countries, who want to be able to track each other’s movements and crave a measure of insulation from events. After the London Bridge terror attack of 2017, Drum Cussac flew two students back to the US who’d been in the vicinity and wanted to go home. “Although after the Paris attacks,” says Job, “we had a request for guards with machine guns and we said no.”
There are, theoretically, no limits on the lengths to which Drum Cussac will go to retrieve you should the red button be pressed. That said, it is wise to those who might believe a subscription is outstanding value for the thrill of being evacuated from some picturesque mayhem on their own aircraft. “There is some nuance in the wording,” says Job. “But in general, if you go in good faith, we will get you home. It’s not a total golden ticket but it’s pretty good.”