What event planners can learn from a man kidnapped by terrorists

Acclaimed BBC documentary filmmaker Sean Langan gives practical tips gained from more than 20 years filming in dangerous locations.

Risk assessment, getting your kit together – including your mental kit – and a great team on the ground are key to managing a crisis, journalist and documentary filmmaker Sean Langan told delegates at C&IT's Corporate Forum.

Langan, whose story has been dramatised in a feature-length movie, was the keynote speaker at the event at The Savoy in central London.

The journalist discussed practical insights on managing a crisis, drawn from more than 20 years of negotiating with terrorists in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Langan revealed his thoughts as he was kidnapped and faced with execution, alongside the drama and surprisingly funny meetings he has encountered over his career. 

"The title of my talk was 'What to do in a crisis situation'," he said.  

"My talk should have been really titled 'what not to do in a crisis situation' because most of the video clips showed were where I was getting it wrong."

Langan has a reputation for going to places and speaking to groups other reporters wouldn’t dare to approach.

He revealed how he unexpectedly found himself giggling with his fixer when facing state firing squads in Zimbabwe, making his captor hesitate and ask more questions about him. They had not realised he was a journalist, and when they discovered this they spared him.

Langan's life took a dramatic turn when he was captured by the Taliban, the subject of the film Mission Accomplished: Langan in Iraq. He was pressed to reveal the names of his children which he initially refused to do. Only when his captors threatened to shoot his fixer did he reveal his son's name, Gabriel, which is the name of the archangel sent by God to the prophet Muhammad in the Islamic religion. For this reason, he was spared again. 

"The talk [at C&IT Corporate Forum] was about – whether it is in Fallujah, Iraq or in my case taking my two boys to Disneyland in Florida – the same process," Langan said.

"It’s about risk assessment, getting your kit together – and your mental kit – and in my case a good fixer on the ground and a good production manager in the UK.

"So when I do go abroad – I spent 20 years negotiating access with terrorists – you have got everything together, you know the area and when unfortunately you find yourself in the middle of a crisis, you are better prepared to deal with it."

Starting out as a print journalist, Langan eventually found his niche with a portable video camera, taking ever bigger risks visiting war zones and meeting terrorist groups.

With what he calls a combination of naivety and ambition, he tracked down kidnappers in Kashmir and visited front lines in Iraq and the Gaza Strip.

But it was his knowledge of Afghanistan and his fearlessness towards the Taliban that made his name.  

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