As the hostage situation in Alabama continues with a 5-year-old boy being held in an underground bunker, crisis negotiation expert Randall Rogan offers the following insights.
What is the likelihood that a hostage situation will be resolved nonviolently? Long-term data suggest that somewhere between 85 to 90 percent of hostage situations are resolved successfully.
How might law enforcement be working to resolve this hostage situation? The first step for law enforcement is to build rapport with the hostage taker to discern motivations and interests. The situation in Alabama is particularly unfortunate because the hostage taker and the hostage are in a bunker, making it more difficult to gain access or understand what's going on inside with any clarity.
What makes the hostage situation in Alabama hopeful? Next steps? Time, in almost all these situations, is the ally of law enforcement. As time passes and the hostage remains unharmed, the hostage taker is likely calming down. The next step might be to establish a more direct line of communication, some sort of throw phone or other device where the police can communicate with the hostage taker more directly.
What do we know about hostage takers generally? One of the adages is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. However, in the Alabama case, that the hostage taker has accepted medicine and other items for the child's benefit indicates that he has empathy and concern for the child's well-being.
Rogan, a Wake Forest University communication professor, is an international expert and leading researcher in crisis negotiations. He is available to talk about strategy, the need for patience, dealing with persons with psychotic disorders, general success rates and the challenges of crisis communication. His analysis of written documents in 1996 assisted in the investigation that resulted in the arrest of the Unabomber.