Know Before You Go: It's More Than a Catchy Phrase
Ticket purchased. Bags packed. Laptop charged to work on the plane. Another business trip and you’re ready to go. Well, almost ready: Do you know which crimes impact business travelers in your destination? How about common medical issues? And how significant is the risk of terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, natural disaster….the list could go on and on. Ensuring travelers understand the risks in their destinations (and along the way) is a key component of an organization’s duty of care obligations. Knowing the risk environment helps travelers make appropriate decisions, and more broadly these risks shape the appropriate mitigation measures and emergency response systems.
Through the media we’re inundated with news about Zika, terrorism, civil unrest, natural disasters, coups — and that’s just in the past couple of months. Beyond these headline grabbing risks, crime, road traffic accidents, illness and a host of other issues are potential risks for global travelers. Of course risk is uneven — Nepal has a higher incidence of severe earthquakes than western Europe and in many countries the risk of road traffic accidents is greater in rural areas than in large cities. Awareness of location specific risk is essential.
Exposure to risk varies as well based on what an organization and travelers is doing, where they are doing it, how, etc. While both are in Kenya, working in an office in Nairobi vs working at Dadaab refugee camp expose travelers to a range of different risks. Understanding not just a list of risks, but exposure is important to ensure plans are tailored to meet real — not generic — needs.
A range of sources are available to understand location-specific risks for global travelers. Some are more general while others can dive into specific, detailed information. There’s no single, authoritative source so it’s important to have a range of options including:
- Travel assistance and security/risk management companies.Too often thought of as “just” evacuation companies, travel assistance/risk management firms provide a plethora of information geared toward travelers and overseas personnel — from in-depth country briefs to updates on developing security incidents. Delivery methods generally include online and via email and can often be tailored for automatic delivery based on traveler’s destination. Some assistance companies offer phone consultation as well.
- Government travel information. US State Department country information and travel alerts/warnings can be especially general and often conservative, but they offer valuable perspective on how the US Government views risk in a country. OSAC Crime and Security reports offer more detailed, practical information on country level risk. UK, Canadian, and Australian travel advice may offer additional views. And for US citizens, registering through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program ensures the embassy has the necessary info to provide support in an emergency.
- Peer support networks. At both the global and local levels, peer support networks offer opportunities for detailed, targeted information on risk from those with direct experience and knowledge. Globally OSAC special interest groups (IDWG, ARC amongst others) can provide regional and sector specific information though both periodic reports and email groups. A myriad of local peer support networks, formal and informal as well — from OSAC country councils to the International NGO Safety Organization (INSO) with offices in 10 countries to local security forums in South Sudan, Pakistan, etc — provide locally informed perspective from on-the-ground professionals.
- Local contacts. Information from trusted local contacts is invaluable, though it’s important to recognize that the local “grapevine” can also contain myths and rumors.
Using multiple, diverse sources of information can help ….but it’s important to balance that with the potential for information overload. Security or risk managers will likely use a wide range of sources, with a smaller, more tailored group for individual travelers.
Whatever sources are used, information on risk needs to be shared — before someone steps on a plane to avoid the “I didn’t know X was an issue here” type situations or having travelers learn the hard way that it isn’t a good idea to go to the ATM at 2am (pretty much true anywhere). Delivery of information can vary — from pre-travel briefings and orientations to destination specific security memos, etc. Many travel assistance companies can automatically “push” destination specific information to travelers when linked to an organization’s travel agency feed. The latter is especially useful to ensure travelers get updates on developing incidents in their destination or travel interchange points.
“Know before you go” is more than a catchy phrase. Understanding the risk in a destination helps travelers and overseas staff make good decisions about risk and helps organizations build risk-specific plans and procedures. For organizations with global travelers and staff, communicating risk information is an essential element in providing duty of care.