On the Road AgainTravel Risk Management in Todays’ Evolving Risk Environment
by: Joe Gleason, AHT Director of International Risk Management
After much anticipation – and delay – business travel has begun to bounce back from the initial pandemic slowdown. Data from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), shows that international business travel continues to rebound, with 55% of recent poll respondents allowing some or more global travel compared to past months. While still short of pre-pandemic levels, it’s certainly more travel than this time last year. Anecdotally, many – dare I say most – of the organizations I speak to regularly have returned to some level of travel.
Even as we begin to cautiously emerge from our pandemic-driven suspended travel, COVID-19 remains a risk – but far from the only risk out there. Civil unrest in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, violence in Haiti and, of course, the conflict in Ukraine all impact those operating globally and especially the international aid and development community. And beyond those “big picture” risks, road traffic crashes, violent crime, illness and injury remain hazards that need to be mitigated.
What can organizations do to prepare for today’s ever-evolving risk landscape? A few thoughts to consider:
- Get back basics. Identify & assess risks (likelihood, impact, effect on ability to achieve objectives), reinforce or build out risk-specific mitigation measures and ensure resources are fit to purpose so they’ll be responsive when you need them.
- Incorporate individual risk profiles in the assessment process. One-size fits all risk assessments don’t work and the pandemic accelerated a trend to involve personnel – and their risk factors – more directly in risk assessments. Whether it’s underlying health conditions, gender, sexual identity or other factors, vulnerability to risk can vary across a team and that needs to be reflected in assessments.
- Increase awareness, communication & learning around risk management and incident response. Ultimately risk is managed by individuals as they go about their daily activities. Preparing team members to identify and manage risks and respond to incidents is crucial. Options range from full blown multi-day course to online microlearning on specific topics; find the right mix that works for your organization.
- Re-affirm organizational role in risk management. HQ teams – security directors, etc. – can’t manage day to day security in a given country or program. Instead, HQ’s role is to build the systems that enable personnel to identify, assess & manage risks and respond to emergencies. While that sounds self-evident, it’s an important distinction to dispel the overly simplistic notion that a global security director will “keep everyone safe.” Reaffirming the role of HQ will help reinforce the value of learning and communication related to risk and incident management.
Resources play a crucial role in managing risk and responding to incidents and emergencies. As travel and global operations increase, it’s important to ensure resources fit organizational needs and that they’re effectively woven into plans, procedures and training. Considerations:
- Take stock of what you have, what worked/works and didn’t/doesn’t.
- The devil is in the details; know what your resources can do vs your expectations. Example: As COVID-19 spread globally, many organizations were frustrated by the inability of assistance companies to evacuate personnel and the unwillingness of insurance companies to cover the cost of pre-emptive evacuations that did occur. But assistance companies were hampered by governments halting both incoming and outgoing flights – a reality outside the control of any assistance provider. And evacuation insurance coverage is based on meeting triggers such as ordered departures by national governments. Do you know the triggers in your security/political evacuation insurance?
- Walk through capabilities and general response processes with key resources such as medical/security assistance providers, crisis response consultants, and insurance brokers. Scenario based walk-throughs, using real world type events (road traffic crash, civil unrest, etc.) are especially helpful in understanding the role of resources; including multiple resources in one discussion – medical assistance providers and insurance brokers, for example – can provide a better understanding of the interconnection between resources and avoid confusion over roles.
- Know internal roles, responsibilities and capabilities, along with how and when to engage external resources. Practice for real life issues. For example: Crisis Management Teams shouldn’t focus solely on pre-established checklists for types of events, instead work through how & when to make decisions, especially during times of limited information or ambiguity.
The pandemic and the current global risk environment present a range of challenges, but also some opportunities: In many organizations there is newfound appreciation for operational risk management that can be leveraged to strengthen risk management, culture, buy-in, and awareness. As the global risk environment continues to evolve it’s essential that risk management systems keep pace.