Have a plan – and stick to it

Ben Cooper & Justin Priestley

Ben Cooper talks to George Medal recipient Justin Priestley of insurance broker Arthur J.Gallagher & Co. about mitigating risk in overseas travel.

Can you tell us a little about your role at J.Gallagher & Co.?

I head up the crisis consultancy group within the crisis management team responsible for helping clients across all geographies and industry sectors to anticipate, prevent, respond and recover from security-related risks.

What kind of special risks do you find yourself discussing with clients?

Our main focus is around terrorism, political violence, kidnap and extortion risks, which essentially impact property and people.

I know you spend a considerable amount of time talking about terrorism, what would you say is the hardest thing for an international organisation to get right when it comes to high-profile events in low-risk places?

The hardest thing is to ensure that complacency doesn’t creep into the risk assessment process due to the fact the event is in a low-risk country. Whilst low-risk countries are less likely to have a terrorist attack, a high-profile event may make them a softer target due to the lack of security and awareness. By conducting a thorough risk assessment looking at threat and vulnerability of the event, appropriate risk mitigation can be implemented to ensure the security risks are managed.

You have worked extensively with both, what would strike you as the one key thing the higher education (HE) sector can learn from the corporate sector when it comes to mitigating risk in overseas travel?

To ensure travel is conducted in a safe way there needs to be a formalised process to risk-assess the trip prior to deployment. This means looking at the nature of the trip and the country that is being visited. Each organisation will have a different tolerance level for accepting risk but whatever that level is if the risks are excessive then these need to be mitigated or the trip postponed.

Through experience HE is not always as thorough at conducting risk assessments as the corporate sector. Also once on the trip the organisations need a way of communicating to the traveller to inform them of evolving risks, and likewise the traveller needs to be able to contact someone in the organisation if there is a problem. This needs to be sustainable and not just someone’s mobile number – they should have the authority to mobilise the crisis management team if required. For certain risks, insurance and the services provided via the insurance policy may help but ultimately it is HE’s responsibility to ensure duty of care is in place and they have plans and procedures to deal with incidents.

You will understand hostile environments a lot better than most, but in the world of business travel when should that extra level of training kick in, what would you say a hostile environment really looks like in the context of mainstream business travel, and where can good training courses be found?

There are many different types of training available from simulated exercises to on-line training, which depending on the organisation, may or may not be relevant. As we have seen in mainland Europe, traditionally “safe” destinations have now become potential targets for security incidents, therefore I would argue that all travellers should at least consider some sort of situational awareness training to ensure they can remain safe and aware of their surroundings whilst they travel.

We understand you’ve defused a few explosive situations in your time. Large corporation discussions of mitigating risks can often get heated and issues remain unresolved due to a lack of cohesion between different disciplines and departments, and therefore the risks remain. Would you say that’s fair?

Most organisations we work with understand that the threat landscape has changed and continues to change, and are therefore starting to address these areas. Where we see a lack of decision-making is often when an incident is ongoing. Clearly dealing with a crisis is significantly different from the day-to-day running of an organisation and often the time pressures and lack of information makes it difficult for cohesion between teams and departments. The only way to prevent this is to have a plan and to exercise that plan.

I received information about an Active Shooter eLearning Course yesterday. Would you say preparation begins to reinforce fear rather than reassure?

Absolutely not. People are very aware of the threats they face, especially when these threats are playing out in countries where people in the UK have traditionally gone on holiday ie. France. The concept that these things only happen in places like Columbia, Nigeria or the Middle East is now fully understood. Therefore, these training courses educate people in what to do and reassure people.

Somebody once said to me “the Pandora’s box of risks is endless, just concentrate on those that are reasonably foreseeable”. Do you have any guiding principals?

Security risks are definitely seen as foreseeable risks now, so most organisations need to put measures and procedures in place to anticipate, prevent, respond and recover.