Global Risk News

RSS By: Joe Gleason

As our world becomes more globally connected, businesses of all sizes are experiencing a rise in international risk exposures. Here, we will examine the increased risks of doing business internationally, including regulatory challenges, vague or changing laws, political instability, security concerns, differences in contract and intellectual property laws and much more.

When it’s Time to Go: Considerations for Security-related Evacuation

Global Risk
Jun 16, 2017

One of the first historical events I remember in real time was the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. Planes packed to capacity dodging rocket fire, crowds surging over the embassy walls, helicopters whisking people from rooftops… images that for many symbolize security-related evacuations.

Of course, real-life evacuations come in all shapes and sizes – from relatively orderly departures by commercial flights (the preferred option whenever possible) to charter flights, escorted convoys and even the occasional helicopter. Invariably, each event is different, but having been involved in more than a few evacuations over the years there are some general themes to consider:

  • Make a plan… and keep it updated. Plans guide decision making, communication, departure preparation and how to use key resources amongst other topics. There are a myriad of evacuation plan formats floating around; in my experience, the most effective are as simple as possible while still covering all the necessary pieces. Whatever the format, keep it updated – especially contact info which can get outdated quickly.
  • Engage resources early and often. Wherever possible, don’t wait until you’re headed to the airport to contact your security assistance provider; they’re an invaluable source of information for decision making, tracking events on the ground as a situation deteriorates (before the need to evacuate) and providing guidance about not just the need to depart but the means available to get personnel out of the country. Early engagement also helps ensure the provider has sufficient resources should evacuation become necessary and may be essential to trigger any security evacuation insurance coverage.
  • Don’t wait for the US Embassy (or any embassy for that matter). Guidance provided by the US State Department, and other governments, can be useful data for decision making around evacuation – and for organizations working on projects funded by the US or other governments, an “ordered departure” may prompt the withdrawal of personnel. But organizations shouldn’t wait for a government decision to evacuate or for a flight out (unless that’s the only option available). Reflecting this reality, security evacuation insurance coverage increasingly includes departures recommended by the carrier’s designated security response consultants – independent of any official government communication or action.
  • Know your options. Having “go-to” evacuation support through a third-party assistance provider or insurance program is important, but be aware of what other options for departure are available as a situation develops. During both the 2013 and 2015 evacuations from South Sudan, organizations on the ground identified local charter or security companies that had evacuation aircraft in place. In many cases, these costs can be claimed against evacuation insurance if the embedded assistance provider is notified before evacuation occurs.
  • Prepare to shelter in place. “Get our people out of there” is an understandable sentiment as a situation deteriorates. But sometimes conditions on the ground don’t cooperate -- the airport road is blocked, ongoing unrest makes ground movement unsafe, etc. In those cases, the only option may be to shelter in place at a safe location until the situation stabilizes. Effective sheltering requires supplies – food, water, etc. – so plan accordingly.
  • Be ready to move. Windows of opportunity to depart may open and close suddenly and without warning. Personnel should be ready to move quickly – bags packed, vehicles ready, offices secured, etc. Pre-departure prep is a key component of any plan.
  • Don’t forget the local staff. Always a potentially sensitive topic, but local national staff are generally not evacuated from their home country (there are exceptions to every rule, of course). That doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of the planning process. In some cases, local national staff can be released from work and allowed to return to “home” towns/regions/villages where they may have a deeper support network during unrest. There may be roles for helping monitor the office, maintain communication with partner organizations and update the HQ in the absence of international staff – all dependent on the security situation, of course.
  • Debrief and address stress. Once personnel are out of the impacted country and in a safe haven, it’s easy to feel like the job is done. Debriefing about how the process worked – or didn’t work – is essential to help prepare for the inevitable “next time.” And while there is understandable relief once the evacuation is completed, addressing the stress and potential trauma that personnel faced is essential staff care.

Every evacuation will have unique pieces, so these considerations may play out differently in various situations. Pre-planning, informed decision making and effective use of key resources are universally essential components of any evacuation… and risk management more broadly. As always, these are plans that will hopefully never be used, but as the old saying goes: better to have the plan and not need it than need the plan and not have it.

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Not just for evacuations: medical and security assistance companies

Global Risk
May 15, 2017


Often as I help clients strengthen their global risk management and emergency response systems I will remark that their medical/security assistance provider is an ”under-utilized” resource.  And more often than not the reply is something along the lines of: “Yes, isn’t that a good thing?  We haven’t had a medical evacuation in years.”

Unquestionably, having a low incidence of medical evacuations is a good thing.  But the answer highlights an all too common misconception: that medical and security assistance providers are purely reactive resources, standing by and waiting for an evacuation if - or more likely when - needed. The reality is that evacuations only account for a small percentage of cases managed by these assistance providers - less than 1% in the case of Int’l SOS, for example.

In today’s increasingly complex global risk environment, medical and security assistance providers such as International SOS, United Healthcare Global and others can offer a range of services to support travel risk management:

  • Country reports including information on security, medical and other risks in a location are available online 24/7; when a travel-tracking system is used these reports and alerts on developing incidents can be automatically “pushed” to travelers in an impacted location
  • Travel tracking through links with travel agencies or even app based personal tracking
  • Information and guidance on identifying appropriate medical facilities for the full spectrum of care - routine to emergency; coordinating even routine care with an assistance provider can help get appropriate treatment early, hopefully reducing the chance of minor issues escalating to more serious conditions - see this earlier blog post for more general info on managing travel health issues.
  • Guarantees of payment to local facilities for services -- essential to access treatment in many parts of the world
  • Bespoke consultations with assistance centers on developments in the risk environment or specific concerns

A recent example of the last point illustrates the trove of practical information available from assistance centers: Following the announcement that the international airport in Abuja, Nigeria would be closed for at least six weeks, several clients called their respective assistance providers to understand the impact on medical evacuation. In addition to reviewing vetted clinics and ambulance services in the Nigerian capital, the assistance centers talked through their procedures and resources for moving patients to the nearest airport - crucial details that enabled organizations to update emergency medical response plans and continue working with the confidence that they were prepared.

And while this post is focused on third party assistance providers - i.e. those that organizations contracted separately from insurance, at a cost - the same principals apply for assistance providers that are “embedded” within insurance policies. Although these embedded resources don’t offer the full depth and breadth of services available through an iSOS or UHC Global, etc, almost all offer country reports, advice on medical facilities, and the ability to call into the assistance center for guidance on a developing situation before it becomes a full blown emergency.

So whether using an assistance provider embedded in an insurance program or a stand-alone, third party provider, it’s important for organizations to take full advantage of the range of options - and not just think of these services as merely evacuation resources.

Which option - third party provider or embedded - is best for a specific organization? That answer depends on a number of factors including volume and complexity of travel...and sounds like a good topic for a future blog post. Stay tuned and travel safe.

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Laptop in your checked luggage? Avoid it if possible

Global Risk
Mar 21, 2017


Beginning Saturday March 25, in response to increased security concerns, laptops and other “large electronics” will be banned from carry-on luggage for travelers coming to the US and UK directly from various airports in the Middle East. Checking a laptop or other device will not only make a flight seem even longer, but will also violate a cardinal rule of IT security: never check your laptop. Doing so risks loss of the device and all data it contains. Travelers should avoid checking laptops to the maximum extent possible, even where this extends travel time or cost.


According to media reports, the US and British restrictions on electronics involve direct flights to the US and UK from airports in the Middle East. The US action includes flights from Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The UK ban includes Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

For travelers to the US, these new measures impact travel on non-US carriers since no US airlines operate direct flights to the US from the affected airports. For those traveling to the UK, however, the restrictions include British Airways and other UK airlines.

Potential impact

The impact of these new measures will be mixed. Many US government funded contractors and NGOs must comply with Fly America regulations which compel them to use a US carrier, generally from the "furthest point possible" – most often an interchange point in Europe which will not be directly impacted (other than the UK, of course). That may limit the impact on this group of travelers. Commercial businesses, personal travelers and nonprofits using private/non-USG funds may be the hardest hit since they're the most likely to use these direct flights by non-US carriers. Travelers from these destinations to the UK may be more universally impacted.


The principle risk for travelers is the potential for data and property loss by checking a laptop or other device. Mitigation is largely about altering travel patterns. For travelers to the US, this means avoiding direct, non-US carrier flights and, instead, traveling through foreign interchange points (other than the UK) and into the US on US/European carriers. This will boost cost and may extend travel time but will considerably mitigate the risk of checking a laptop. Travelers from the impacted airports to the UK can follow a similar workaround by traveling through interchange points in other European countries. Of course, this guidance will have to be re-evaluated if other countries join the US and UK in these restrictions.

If avoiding one of the impacted flights is not possible, consider travel with a "clean" laptop – i.e. one with the minimum amount of data necessary. "Loaner" laptops work well for this since they don't contain years of accumulated work product or personal documents that may be irreplaceable.  Before departing a location where it's necessary to check a device, back up and remove data so the device is virtually empty. Better yet, if the infrastructure allows, store work in the cloud so there is minimal data on the device anyway – making pre-flight cleaning even easier.

As with so many risks impacting today’s global travelers, this situation will continue to evolve and mitigation may need to evolve as well. Travelers should monitor events and seek guidance from IT, travel and security teams, or an external travel risk management assistance provider, to keep current about risks and mitigation measures.

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Abuja's airport closure: Time to update medical evacuation plans

Global Risk
Mar 01, 2017

Operatinwater_rippleg in Nigeria can present more than a few challenges.  Starting March 8, add the closure of Abuja’s international airport to that list. Projected to last six weeks, the airport closure is a hassle for travelers to Nigeria’s federal capital and it’s a potentially significant challenge for those needing medical evacuation for the city. 

Some background:  The second busiest airport in Nigeria (after Lagos), Abuja’s one runway is in need of repairs necessitating closure of the entire airport. Nigeria’s aviation minister Hadi Sirika is quoted as saying that given the disrepair the airport was “on it’s way to shutting itself.” During the closure, flights will be diverted to Kaduna airport 200 kilometers north of the capital. Given concerns about security along the road that links the two cities, some airlines -- including Lufthansa -- that normally service Abuja will not fly into Kaduna.  The kidnapping of two Germans from a village approximately 30kms from the Abuja - Kaduna road on February 22 will only heighten those security concerns.

Medical evacuations are complicated in general and the closure of the airport in Abuja adds to the complexity. Some considerations for organizations operating in the Nigerian capital:

  • Review procedures for responding to a medical emergency -- i.e. the immediate steps staff and travelers should take including first aid, incident reporting/alerting, etc.  Important in Abuja is understanding how a patient would be transported to a medical facility; some clinics offer ambulances & some don’t.
  • Identify in advance your options for emergency medical care and stabilization in Abuja.  As with any medical evacuation, a patient will need to be “fit to fly” before an evacuation. While the airport is closed, patients in Abuja will also need to be fit for the road journey to Kaduna, too.
  • Know when and how to engage a medical assistance/evacuation provider.  Earlier is better to help assess the condition of the patient, provide guidance on medical treatment and begin the coordination of an evacuation if necessary.
  • Armed escorts are recommended for the ground transport to Kaduna airport. Medical assistance providers should coordinate escorts as part of the evacuation process but organizations need to understand how this works and especially how long it may take to mobilize. This overland travel piece reinforces the need to contact the medical assistance service early.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of advance planning – in general, but especially in this case. Organizations with operations in Abuja should consult their medical assistance/evacuation provider prior to any emergency to understand plans for coordinating a medical evacuation during the closure of the Abuja airport and adjust local procedures as necessary.

Inevitably current contingency plans will be further developed as evacuations occur and lessons learned are (hopefully) incorporated into the process. For organizations operating in Abuja that means keeping aware of the situation and periodically checking in with assistance providers and peers to see how these plans are playing out in “real life.”  As with most challenges in Nigeria, being prepared for medical evacuations during the closure of Abuja’s airport will require prior planning and the ability to adapt plans as the situation develops.

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Abundance of Caution: Mitigating Risks Associated with US travel ban

Global Risk
Jan 30, 2017

As ibusiness_travels being widely reported in the media, implementation of the US Executive Order restricting travel from seven majority Muslim countries is causing a range of travel disruptions and issues.  Multiple sources report that travelers have been refused entry to the US at airports or were prevented from boarding flights to the US, including those holding valid US visas and Green Cards. Nationals of seven countries are impacted: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Given the uncertainty around implementation of this Executive Order, organizations with exposure should exercise an abundance of caution.  Recommendations include:

  • Account for the location and status of all staff/travelers from any of the impacted countries who may be traveling to/working in the US now or in the near future.
  • Consider suspending travel by impacted personnel working in the US on H1B or other visas to avoid the risk of not being allowed re-entry. A number of US companies including Google have reportedly adopted this stance. 
  • Impacted staff/travelers currently outside the US should be prepared to be denied boarding of flights to the US or be refused entry to the US, even if they possess a valid US visa or Green Card. Contingency plans should be developed for providing short term accommodation in third countries for these travelers who may not be able to return to their home country and barred from re-entry to the US.  These travelers may also require assistance in obtaining or extending visas in third countries.

The US Department of Homeland has clarified somewhat the impact on Legal Permanent Residents from the impacted countries. According to the DHS statement, Green Card holders should be allowed entry to the US unless they are deemed a "serious threat to public safety" following a "case by case" evaluation. 

This situation continues to develop. Over the weekend, administration officials suggested that additional countries could be added to the list of those facing travel restrictions -- potentially with no notice as in the case of the initial Executive Order.  And countries impacted may implement reciprocal travel restrictions; the Iranian government has already signalled they may enact such measures and other countries may follow suit.

Given how quickly this situation is evolving, awareness is critical. Organizations with impacted staff/travelers should monitor the situation closely through media, travel assistance providers and other sources, and consider consulting immigration legal counsel to help resolve specific issues.

The original post was updated January 30th to reflect the DHS statement on entry of US Legal Permanent Residents from impacted countries.

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