Crisis Response and Resolution
What constitutes a crisis while traveling? This is a question that can be best answered by each individual traveler an organization sends out to foreign locations. Each traveler is different and where some may have experience dealing with risky situations, others may be just beginning to explore the world outside of their bubble.
Regardless of how the TRM Program defines a crisis, they have to be prepared to deal with the situations that cannot be avoided. Whether it’s a lost laptop or an outbreak of a deadly virus, the TRM Program must have contingencies that can be tailored to safely resolve the crisis.
Planning contingencies can seem like a daunting task, especially given the unpredictable nature of various crisis. That is why it is better to focus crisis response and resolution on high probability and high impact incidents.
The TRM Program can collect data by benchmarking with other like organziations or through an internal audit to determine high probability and high impact incidents. Analyzing what is common or high impact for a business should be specific to that companies mission and where they operate. Using general industry wide information may cause the TRM Program to waste resources as well as plan for the wrong crisis.
It is important for the TRM Program to understand their company or business groups mission, where they operate and the volume of travelers in the organization. Without this information, it is very difficult to assess and predict probability.
An energy company, likely has an entirely different mission than a humanitarian organization, even if they are operating in the same region. That is why benchmarking with like organizations is so important. If the TRM Program does not have the internal data needed to identify high probability or high impact incidents, they need to contact someone in their specific industry for the information.
Medical (High Probability)
The most common incidents while traveling, that warrant a response, are medically related. Therefore, there are numerous companies that cater to global medical response and evacuation.
Medical response companies plan and respond to thousands of incidents every year. Many of these companies offer insurance policies that cover the cost of the services they provide. It is a worthwhile investment for businesses to contract the services of a medical response company. Most employers see this as an insurance cost that can be rolled into employee benefits.
Using a medical response company is the most cost-effective way to respond to a medical crisis while traveling. However, managers must put pressure on the vendor to ensure that they are updating plans and vetting the sub-contractors they use to respond and transport people.
It is also important that employers read the fine print in their policies or subscription. One of the most common requirements medical response companies have is a doctors referral before transport.
Typically, the traveler must get themselves to a qualified physician to determine whether the illness or injury requires evacuation. If the individual is injured in a remote location, the TRM Program should have a contingency in place to transport the injured individual to a qualified physician.
There are also many medical response companies that will refuse to operate in certain countries. Countries that are sanctioned or in a state of war are typically off limits. There are a few select companies that will respond to these situations through government contracts or humanitarian aid organizations, but the cost can be prohibitive. TRM Program personnel may find that they must plan for medical response internally without contract personnel.
Medical crisis is common while traveling. Although there are numerous resources to tap into for response, aftercare may be required as well, causing the incident to stretch on for years. HR managers should ensure that their employee assistance (EA) program covers crisis, specifically in the area of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). Often insurance coverage, even liability coverage, may only cover the traveler in the country the company is licensed to operate in. The TRM Program must ensure HR managers are involved in the after-care process as well as contingency planning. The TRM Program should not find out that the traveler has no health or labor insurance coverage after the incident occurs.
Traffic Incident (High Probability)
Globally, there are over fifty million traffic incidents every year involving the injury or death of a passenger or pedestrian. The statistics are likely under reported as well, indicating an even higher probability of incidents. What does this mean for the TRM Program? Its only a matter of time before they have to deal with a traffic incident, regardless of their size and travel frequency.
Avoidance is of course the key to mitigating traffic risk, but there will always be those situations that are unavoidable. That is why many countries require citizens to carry auto insurance. But does the travelers insurance cover them in a foreign location? No. It does not. Unless the organization specifically purchases insurance for international auto coverage, their personnel are likely not covered. There are companies that offer multi-country insurance coverage at affordable rates.
Of course, insurance does not do anything to keep individuals from being involved in a traffic incident, so its important for the TRM Program to have a plan in place for response. A general plan will typically not work as each location is quite different. A traffic collision in a MEDC will likely be handled by local traffic enforcement, while in some developing nations, the traveler may have to pay a local citizen reparations.
Travelers should know that they have auto insurance (separate from travel insurance) while they travel and have that information on hand. TRM Program personnel can even go a step further and ensure the traveler has response instructions in their pretravel report.
Crime (High Impact)
When a traveler is the victim of a crime, regardless of the severity, it is a crisis. Whether the crime is petty theft, where the traveler is now without funds and identification, or they have been assaulted and are alone and afraid in foreign police custody.
Crime affects hundreds of thousands of travelers every year and will continue to as long as there is opportunity. How does the TRM Program prevent crime from happening to their travelers? The bottom line is that they cannot stop crime from happening but can ensure travelers are aware of high crime areas and common tactics.
Responding to crime from afar is not an easy task. Much of the responsibility is on the traveler. Law enforcement varies from location to location and in some areas, does not exist. In certain countries the job of the police is not to protect and serve the people, but the regime that pays them. That often leaves the victim with little or no recourse should they be victimized.
With that in mind, the TRM Program must not only plan to provide safe haven for a victim, but also plan to resolve the crime internally as best as they can. If property is damaged or stolen, and cannot be recovered by local government officials, who is responsible for reimbursing the traveler? Is the loss chalked up as a lesson learned or is the organization going to be held responsible?
Travelers who are assaulted in a foreign location also present specific challenges regarding TRM Program response.
Sexual assaults in a foreign country can be particularly difficult for the TRM Program to manage from home. The TRM Program must understand what policies are in place currently to cover sexual assault victims in the workplace and ensure that they have response plans that match those sexual assault policies as well as comply with local laws regarding sexual assault.
Depending on the severity of the assault the victim may need EA resources including, a counselor or family member to come to them. The sending organization will typically be responsible for flying those individuals to the location the traveler is at. Regardless of the severity of the assault, the organization will likely have to evacuate the victim to their residence.
Trauma usually accompanies victimization. Again, the TRM Program must be in contact with HR personnel to ensure victims have access to all the organization has to offer and even resources that they don’t.
Political and Terror Events (Low Probability/High Impact)
Political and terror events are very low probability and happen to a minute portion of international travelers. However, the impact on the organization and the individual could be catastrophic.
The effects of terrorism on a organization can include long-term injury or illness, reputation risk, legal compliance, employee confidence and even criminal negligence.
The TRM Program must be prepared for mass evacuations, medical response, trauma counseling, death notifications as well as operations continuity.
Typically, terrorist or political incidents involve a large media presence. Most of these events are high profile, politicized, and scrutinized, making it difficult for managers to balance organizational exposure, and employee safety. Although employee safety should be paramount, employers involved in these situations have to make decisions under extreme pressure, that include measuring continuity within the organization.
It is obvious why a TRM Program is extremely important regarding decision making during crisis for the organization. Many non-profit and commercial organizations have found out the hard way, that these types of crisis cannot be managed without multiple contingencies in place.
Leadership in Crisis
Contingencies for crisis events should include personnel to manage the following;
Public Affairs - It’s easy to make a bad situation worse by communicating to the loved ones of the affected victim or public, in a way that is perceived as a selfish lip service by a corporate entity. Regardless of the outcome, the organization will have to fight public opinion on how they responded to the situation. It is best to have a plan.
An experienced Public Affairs or Communications Officer (PAO) is one of the most important positions the TRM Program will have to fill, or connect with internally. Communications with the public, government entities, family members and reporters will determine the extent of reputation risk to the organization as well as the long term affects the incident may have on the employees. There is a fine line between communicating in a way that offends and a way that instills confidence. Companies have been bankrupted due to ill-timed or indifferent public statements and remember…..nothing is ever “off the record”.
There is a possibility that the individual in charge of communicating may have to perform a death notification for the organization. This type of communication is not something that just anyone should handle. The responsibility needs to fall on an individual who has had specific training in death notification. Using a company employee alone is not the recommended course of action. It is more effective and prudent to have a grief counselor or the family’s spiritual or religious leader(s) make contact, face to face with the family.
Personal information regarding the individual’s religious preference (if any) may not be readily available. If it is not, the company must do the best they can through EA and the PAO.
It is also the PAO’s responsibility to control the flow of information to the public, including social media. It is critical that sensitive information regarding a crisis be disseminated by the organization first, not an employee at the scene via Instagram. Imagine the victims loved ones finding out they were kidnapped or assaulted through a graphic photo and some hashtags. That could cause serious reputation damage to the organization as well as trauma to the victim’s family and friends.
A communications policy must be implemented and acknowledged by every employee, regardless of whether they travel or not. This puts much of the responsibility on the individual and they will likely follow the policy if it is explained clearly what the consequences could be.
Crisis Manager (CM) – Someone must take responsibility for the decision making during the crisis and it cannot all be on the organization leaders. Although the C suite are ultimately responsible, they are typically not experts in travel, or security related, crisis management and resolution.
The individual in charge of the crisis should be a member of the TRM Program or within security operations management. The CM should have training and experience managing crisis events, not just training. Although training should be a requirement as well, experience will give the organization liability coverage, should the crisis end badly. Its through “training and experience” (the key phrase for anyone going through a criminal negligence trial) that an individual justifies a critical decision.
Legal Representation – Yes, the organization should have an attorney either on retainer or employed with the organization. The attorney should have experience in labor law as well as international affairs. A typical business lawyer will not do in cases that require life and death decisions. There are many attorneys that specialize in cases regarding business travelers.
There are also attorneys in foreign locations that work with businesses that are headquartered elsewhere. If the organization is doing business long term in a foreign country (especially high-risk locations), it would be wise to hire a reputable attorney from that location to handle situations as they come up.
Local Emergency Response – The manager will need eyes and ears on the ground at the location of the crisis event. In cases of catastrophe, it is near impossible to manage the crisis without someone (competent) on the ground.
There are a few options that managers can choose, depending on the situation. If the traveler is in a location that is new or where the organization does not have a presence, it might be necessary to send a qualified TRM Program team member to the meet up with the victim. Of course, this is regarding catastrophic crisis events that will likely not be settled in a few hours. It also might be impossible to send someone to the location depending on the event. War, natural disasters, disease outbreak and other large-scale events would likely result in border closures, preventing the team member from entering the country.
Many employers rely on the individual traveler or management at the location to be their local contact during a crisis. This is a mistake. Unless that individual or team leader has citizenship in that country they will be treated as a guest or in some cases, last priority. A local contact should be just that…. local. Vetted, trustworthy, local contacts can be the best resources the TRM Program have at their disposal during a crisis. That is why it is so important to plan, develop professional (and personal) networks, and collect accurate intelligence on the destination of travel.
HR - Avoidance and response to a crisis are extremely important. Unfortunately, companies tend to focus most of their resources on the response part of crisis management and not enough on the avoidance and resolution of a crisis. A crisis is not over until the victim(s) involved are safely at home and have received the care that is necessary to return them to their normal quality of life. In many cases it is not possible for victims to go back to life as it was before the crisis event. Regardless of how an organization measures severity, it is the victim and their perception that will determine how long this event affects their well-being.
Just as with any workplace accident or injury the organization will be responsible for providing short and long-term care for that employee regardless of where they were injured. It is wise to ensure that liability insurance covers employees while they are traveling abroad. The insurance agent responsible for the liability coverage policy should have a specific understanding of where the business is operating. That agent should also include in the policy specific language regarding employee travel to foreign locations.
An employee benefits representative should also be involved in crisis response and resolution. Typically, employers will consolidate travel insurance into the benefits department in order to reduce confusion as well as for tax purposes. An individual with intimate knowledge of travel insurance should be included from the start.
Most businesses also have access to EA. EA is a package of benefits provided to employees who are struggling with issues that could affect work production. One of the more common benefits provided are mental health resources.
The CM should ensure that they have connected with HR before a crisis takes place, to determine what resources are available for an employee, after they return. The main goal in using HR is to ensure the employee can return to their life, (at the same or better quality) as soon as possible, and that they can continue being a productive member of the team.
Responsible Leader - The organization must appoint a leader to sign off on decisions made by the CM, preferably the TRM Program leader or a member of the C suite.
Ultimately the cost in capital and reputation will be paid by the business owners. Although the executive(s) in charge should not micromanage the situation (often compounding the severity), they should be well informed by the CM, TRM Program manager or PAO, and have the option to say yes or no to critical business decisions.
There are no cookie cutter solutions to resolving a crisis abroad. There are so many unknown variables involved, it is impossible to plan for them all. However, it is possible to ensure that subject matter experts are on hand to respond in an appropriate manner.
With enough experience and training, the CM can respond to almost any crisis with hope for a successful resolution. Not all crisis situations will be resolved or have a happy ending. All the TRM Program and CM can do is their best to prepare, attempt to avoid crisis situations, and hope for the best when the unavoidable does take place.