Prepare to face any situation

Colin Pereira, Head of High Risk Security at ITN News

Colin Pereira, Head of High Risk Security at ITN News, assesses how organisations can be better prepared to provide employees the right level of care.

Until recently, travel risk management was the preserve of a few organisations and companies that specialised in high-risk and pioneer markets. Headline-grabbing terrorist attacks and increasing geopolitical disruptions worldwide have, however, made safety a priority as travel managers realise no location is immune to risk.

Organisations are now rushing to adopt adequate “duty-of-care” processes and procedures fearful of being accused of negligence. Off-the-shelf country risk and incident alerting products as well as travel tracking tools seem to offer a panacea, but is it as simple as that?

These tools certainly do help, particularly when dealing with a macro crisis like a terrorist attack, or natural disaster. They can enable businesses to communicate and locate travellers in a timely fashion, however, it is worth noting that these high-profile incidents still remain rare.

Micro emergencies, on the other hand, are by far, more common; perhaps less newsworthy, but simple accidents, criminal acts, assaults and ill health have a great impact on individuals who travel.

In his experience, Carl Carter, deputy managing director of Voyager Insurance, a leading provider of travel insurance, commented on the risks facing travellers: “Far more people get injured or are involved in road traffic accidents due to poor driving conditions; and you are around 40 times more likely to be killed due to criminality than terrorism.”

So, preparing for both kinds of crises is important. In order to do this, risk managers need to understand what their risk exposure on individual trips is. Too often managers may be able to locate their staff, but they have no idea why their people are travelling. Most organisations do not have the facility to ask its employees: “What are you doing on your trip?”

Is the traveller attending a business meeting in an office, or are they doing a site visit at a factory in a remote location?  These two activities may be in the same country, but the risk exposure is completely different.

To answer these questions, managers need to establish a risk assessment process that not only identifies the risk, but also how to assist the traveller to mitigate those risks; and who to reach out to in an emergency.   

Risk assessment compliance is often perceived as overly bureaucratic and if wrongly implemented, can stifle business ambitions. However, if adopted in a sensible fashion, companies will actually meet their duty-of-care requirements and the traveller will see that their employer is actually caring and not just reacting.

Whether responding to the micro or macro incident, organisations need to consider the emergency plan – if disaster strikes, how will they react?

Most believe that their emergency assistance provider (often attached to your insurance) will simply kick-in and save the day. Managers need to research in advance the actual capability of their emergency provider. Glossy brochures always promise an immediate response, but there are few providers that can actually deliver efficiently on a global basis.

It is also worth noting that a popular emergency provider can become severely overstretched during a macro crisis when all their clients are demanding assistance. In Egypt in 2011, and Libya, at the height of the Arab spring, many providers struggled to meet their clients’ evacuation needs when everyone wanted to be extracted at the same time. As for the Foreign Office consular assistance, this capacity is on the wane as departments have been cut.

So, there maybe be times when an organisation’s risk and travel managers need to find solutions on their own.  Having a prepared emergency or contingency protocol can put you ahead of the curve.

Contingency plans should identify the individuals or roles from the management that will make up the crisis decision- making team within an organisation.  It is worth investing in crisis management training for this group to mentally prepare them for making the tough calls under pressure.

When managing a crisis it is a common failing to develop tunnel vision and throw all resources at the immediate problem.  It is crucial, however, to remember to contact the next-of-kin very early on and maintain good communications with them throughout.  Family members often feel helpless at such times, so it is good to involve them as soon as possible.

Flexibility is key during a crisis. If the plan is not working, do not be afraid to rethink the plan; and after an incident, make sure to learn from them by having a full debrief.     

Despite the increasing risks, travellers are adapting and beginning to take the dangers in their stride.  Management needs to do the same and prepare for both micro and  macro emergencies.