Companies are having to get onto the front foot when it comes to dealing with the increasing range of threats that their people can face when working and travelling abroad, writes Kelly Coombes, EMEA Regional Head of Group PA & Travel at AIG Europe.
More companies are sending more people to more places around the world than ever before. Many business travellers have become quite seasoned and are familiar with the range of potential risks that they may face while abroad. For example, how to get adequate medical treatment or even repatriated in the event that they have an accident or become sick.
Multinationals with offices in more unstable places are well attuned to training their employees on what to do in the event of an outbreak of political violence or, in some more dangerous locations, how to deal with the threat of kidnapping.
But the risk landscape is changing, bringing with it new threats to people and businesses. Cyber threats know no borders. With people increasingly expected to be online even when they’re travelling, they can face risks even in seemingly safe locations. If they log on to an unknown Wi-Fi network, for example in an airport, hotel or restaurant, how can they be sure that the connection is safe and they are not potentially opening up the company’s system to attack?
Natural disasters are increasing as climate change gathers pace. How do you protect your people and make sure they stay safe and return home safely in the event that caught up in flooding, earthquake, wildfire or some other type of catastrophe?
Although a remote possibility, arguably, because of its immediacy and media impact, it is the changing nature of terrorism which is causing the biggest concern among business travellers themselves. Today’s terrorist threat is not just to be found in more remote places but also in more frequently visited locations that have traditionally been considered safe.
Dealing with an altered landscape
Lone-actor attacks, such as those in New York a few weeks ago, closer to home in London’s Borough Market earlier this year and in other locations as far apart as Nice in 2016, Sydney in 2014 and Norway in 2011 (to name but a few), have become the most frequent type of terrorist activity in the Western world, responsible for 70% of all deaths from terrorism in the West since 2006, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace.
Situational awareness training for corporate security and other personnel can help staff to recognise potential risks and vulnerabilities at an early enough stage to allow counter measures to be taken to avoid it. Everyone in an organisation should be part of the overall security awareness programme, not just security professionals. Among other things, staff need to be able to identify and report suspicious behaviour, e.g. individuals wearing unseasonable clothing (which could conceal weapons) or who appear to be conducting reconnaissance.
But this type of training is just one aspect of an effective risk management programme. Personnel should be provided with support ahead of overseas travel and while they are far away from home. They should have access to a global service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Information can be posted online with the latest threat updates for individual countries and cities. Email and SMS alerts can be used to notify people of emerging threats and developments while they are away.
When an incident occurs, companies need to know that they can access seasoned professionals and assistance networks who can respond quickly and efficiently regardless of the situation. Many insurers will include access to these types of experts as part of their policies; buyers should check their wordings carefully. As risk managers move to stay on top of the changing nature of the terrorism threat to make sure they are taking the right steps to protect their people and their property, they need to make sure that they also have a good understanding of the secondary impacts an act of terror could have on the business and whether there are any gaps in cover or employee support that need to be closed.
Getting on the front foot
Risk managers are increasingly taking a more proactive approach to employee travel risks; a more holistic view of the key factors they need to address to keep their people safe and their operations running smoothly. This starts with understanding the threat landscape, monitoring worldwide events and trends, based on changing political, economic, social and environmental situations. Only once the risks they’re facing are suitably mapped out can companies move to mitigate against them. This is an area where investing in specialist knowledge really delivers a return on investment. Security experts can help in crafting security plans and undertaking due diligence assessments. These should cover a number of areas including a security gap analysis, location specific risk assessments, risk management stress testing, and on-site or remote training as required.
Security experts can also deliver crisis prevention services. These should be tailored to the individual company and have an emphasis on building awareness, increasing confidence and training employees and leadership teams around the risks they face on a daily and remote basis. Companies should have a crisis response plan in place that includes protocols for evacuation that suits their business travel and employee work patterns, and is regularly reviewed and updated. A crisis management team should be selected and briefed on its responsibilities in the event that the worst should happen and take part in crisis simulation exercises and contingency testing.
While the chance of getting caught up in terrorist incidents, acts of war, accidents, epidemics or natural disasters remains extremely remote, businesses need to consider the safety of their employees as they go about their day-to-day business. Sometimes the best way to have employees remain calm and act appropriately, is ensuring they have had effective and recent training on what the best response should be.