What are the basic elements of a Travel Safety & Security Program?
What are some of the things I need to ensure that we have in place?
Where should I start with Travel Safety & Security?
These are some of the questions that Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser tackles in today’s episode on Travel Safety & Security programs.
Bryan Strawser, Principal and CEO at Bryghtpath, and welcome back to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast.
Today, I want to talk about travel safety and security programs.
We just had a client ask us last week about what it would take to start up a travel safety and security program, which, of course, turned into a long conversation about, “What do you have in place today, and what kind of things should, do you feel like you need to have in place? And here’s what other companies your size do. Oh, and by the way, are you talking about geographically, your employees’ travel?”
All of these are good questions to ask, as you’re starting to think about this, but here’s what I want to focus on. Here are some elements of the travel safety and security program, from our perspective. This is an area I have a lot of personal knowledge in. I was responsible for most aspects of travel safety and security at my former employer, where I was the head of crisis management, intelligence and business continuity.
And as a consultant, we’ve helped a number of organization stand up travel safety and security programs for median and large enterprises, whose employees travel and operate globally, even if it’s just in North America, between Canada and Mexico, and the United States. So there’s a number of elements to a travel safety and security program. It starts with an acknowledgment that there is a duty to care, that you have as an employer, to make sure that your employees are safe.
That, as they travel, and this would include your contractors, and really, any guests that might be traveling with an employee, like a spouse, or children, if you allow such things. But it’s certainly an acknowledgement that there’s a duty to care. That you should have, as an employer, in terms of making sure that people are safe, as they travel.
You almost want to think about as, whether they’re on the clock, so to speak, or not, if they’re traveling for you, the reason why they’re there is that they’re with you. You’ve sent them there. And so, you have some responsibility, from a safety and security standpoint. Not just legally, but because that would be the right thing to do, because they’re employed.
So a good travel, and safety and security program, starts by having travel policies that allow you to put some structure around where employees can travel, and kind of activities that they can engage in, and your ability to decline them from visiting certain locations. Usually, I think about this at a country level, where, perhaps your business operates in many, many countries. And that requires your employees to travel to even more countries, from where you might source products or talent, or you might have a vendor as a BPO, as an outsourcer.
There’s a lot of reasons that you might have employees traveling to countries that are not necessarily places that you normally are doing business. You need the ability to understand the risk of traveling to those countries, the training or briefings and knowledge that your employees need to have, in order to successfully and safely operate in those countries, and in some cases, you need the ability to restrict them from traveling to those locations.
For example, for many years, most US companies did not allow employees of their businesses to travel to Myanmar. The reason is that the former Burma was under economic and other sanctions by the United States, and other entities, and there was simply not very … it was simply very difficult to do business there, because of those restrictions. Not to mention, they had an extremely authoritarian government. So it wasn’t a great place to have folks travel.
Another example of this kind of travel restrictions is in the India/Pakistan area. There are parts of Pakistan, where, without a number of security precautions and measures that are prohibitively expensive from being taken, US citizens should probably not travel to portions of that country.
In the same way, there is a province in India that’s on the Pakistani border, the province of Kashmir. Beautiful place to visit, I understand. Not a safe place to be when it’s the day that India and Pakistan decide to start launching artillery at each other into Kashmir. It’s a disputed area, and it’s not a great place to be for most travelers, because you never know when you’re going to find yourself in the middle of an exchange of artillery fire.
So you need the ability to restrict travel to certain places, and enforce that in policy, and enforce that through your travel agency, or your travel systems that you might be using. And that requires you to have at least some ability to understand the risk of these countries. You can get some information through the US State Department, if you are a US business, about, at least the State Department’s take on that country.
They have great free information available on the US State Department website. You can get alerts by country and region. You can get even more detailed alerts from the specific embassies and consulates in the countries in question.
You can also buy this information through a number of providers. This is something that we do here at Bryghtpath. But there’s other large organizations, like International SOS, Control Risks Group, WorldAware, which was formerly iJET, Global Guardian, Emergent Risk, and others that will risk rate countries, and provide some of this information to you, and let you make the right decisions.
Another core element of your travel safety and security program is the simple ability to know where your folks are, and that requires some type of travel tracking service.
There’s a number of providers and a number of travel agencies that do this, Carlson Wagonlit, WorldAware, American Express Travel, International SOS, if I didn’t already mention that.
There’s a number of different travel tracking systems that are out there. Or it can be something as simple as, you get an extract every day from your travel agency, that tells you who’s currently traveling, and where they’re located.
But when something happens globally, this is how you know what you need to do, in terms of responding, because you will know who is there, who is traveling at that location, and enable a rapid response to that situation. Or the peace of mind, knowing that something has happened in another country, and you don’t have anyone traveling there today.
Simple example of how this has worked in my life, in the past. In 2013, when I was the head of crisis management for a large company here in the Twin Cities, there was the Boston Marathon bombing. And although we didn’t have locations near the bombing site in downtown Boston, we know that we had, with some executives that were there in Boston that day, unrelated to the marathon.
And we knew, or suspected, anyway, that we had some employees who probably ran in the race, locally, and folks who had traveled there. So we could find the travelers, the ones that were there on business travel, and we could quickly make contact with them, I think there were 10 or 12, quickly make contact with them, ascertain their safety, and made them aware of what was going on, made sure that they stayed clear of that area.
Then we spent some time tracking down the other employees who were participating in the race, mostly by doing, reaching out to leaders, and then having those leaders tell us who was participating, and what they knew. But the point is that we knew who was traveling in the city of Boston, and we were able to make that quick check, to make sure that they were safe and okay.
Another important part of a travel safety and security program is having good ongoing communication, that happens between travelers and your security team, or your third party travel safety and security provider, who keeps them apprised of things that might be happening in the local area.
For example, a few years ago, one of our clients had a large global education business, and the CFO and some other senior executives were in Germany, at the same time a terrorist attacked occurred, centered in the same neighborhood, where they were actually having lunch. So they had this issue of, we needed to rapidly make contact with them, and make sure they were safe, and then get them to their hotels, get them to a secure area.
There literally was shooting going on in a number of locations, in the neighborhood that they were at. We did this, in this case, through a third party provider that this client had specifically contracted for this purpose. It was just done through our leadership as their crisis management vendor. That’s the type of ongoing kind of emergency communication that we’re talking about here.
In order to make all of this work, from a travel safety and security perspective, many parties will turn to a third party firm that provides medical and security support, and the intelligence monitoring necessary to make this all work. There’s a number of companies that do this.
Some of the larger and reputable ones include WorldAware, formerly known as iJET; International SOS, which is a joint venture between Control Risks Group and International SOS, they have a travel security organization; Global Guardian, which is based in Virginia, a little newer, very nimble, fast-moving operation. And there’s others that you’ll find out there, as well, that operate, perhaps, in specific regions, or have a global reach.
Most companies will use International SOS or Control Risks Group, from our experience, and both are very reputable organizations. WorldAware is, as well. But these third parties provide travel tracking, they provide the other services that are necessary, in order to make your travel safety and security program work.
In a medical emergency, they can route your employees to a vetted clinic, or they can bring emergency medical care directly to their location. For example, India is a good example, where there’s not always good, English-speaking, top quality medical care available, with some knowing where to go.
In this case, if you’re contracted with one of these providers, you would go to their clinic, where you’re guaranteed to have good communication, they’re going to speak the language, there’ll be an appropriate level of medical care, with access to other resources for medical evacuation, specialty care, and emergency surgery, and that kind of thing.
But they also can provide security support … so, when you have a situation where the security situation just goes south for you. For example, think about the Arab Spring, in Cairo, where suddenly, things went from perfectly calm, to essentially a riot, almost a civil war situation, very rapidly in 2011. Then these providers had assets on the ground that could protect your employees, that could evacuate them, get them to the airport for evacuation flights, and that kind of thing.
So, as we think about a travel safety and security program, there are some of the elements necessary for a successful program. Some of these may not be necessary for your organization, depending upon the size and complexity, and geographical locations that your team visits. But this will give you at least some perspective on what that program could look like.
Thanks for tuning in, and we will talk with you on next week’s episode.