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Safety and Security Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Joe Gleason, AHT Director, Risk Management Services


Uncertainty has been a defining feature of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to evolve at lightening speed. While the pandemic remains primarily a public health emergency in much of the world, there is the potential for an increase in safety and security issues as the pandemic spreads to areas prone to instability during times of increased tension. While the situation remains fluid (to say the least), and details will vary by location, these risks may include:

  • Crime, especially where offices with computers and other equipment are left unoccupied as employees work from home
  • Xenophobic rhetoric or incidents where COVID-19 is perceived to be a “imported” issue like those recently reported in Ethiopia
  • Internal movement restrictions, including checkpoints, etc.
  • Civil unrest, including demonstrations and looting

All of these risks may be exacerbated by competition for resources such as food, water, medical supplies and fuel for vehicles and cooking that may occur. In locations where businesses close and unemployment increases, international NGOs, companies and their personnel may become attractive targets for criminal activities if they are perceived to have valuable resources.

Compounding these challenges are limitations on travel being imposed by some countries that may reduce or prevent the ability to depart – even in an emergency. In some locations, already limited medical or public safety resources may become overwhelmed, further increasing tension as the pandemic develops.

During times of potentially increased tension, such as this pandemic, it is important to increase general situational awareness, monitor events closely and refresh good personal security practices including: 

  • Maintain a low profile
  • Limit movement, especially after dark; avoid traveling alone and limit walking
  • Do not walk throughout the city or residential areas, especially after dark
  • If yelled at or otherwise targeted avoid escalating the encounter and depart the location
  • Avoid displays of wealth or carrying large sums of cash
  • Avoid wearing headphones or using handheld electronic devices in public
  • If you think you are being followed, do not go home. Go to the nearest major establishment, hotel or police station.
  • If you are in a vehicle, keep door locked and windows up
  • Limit errands and consider having items delivered
  • Consider the need to augment physical security at the office, branch offices and expat/TCN residences; where teams are working from home and offices unoccupied, consider relocating high-value items (computers, printers, etc.) to residences.
  • Review emergency communications and incident response procedures

As this situation continues to evolve organizations working globally – and especially those in areas prone to instability – will need to ensure they are focused on both the health challenges as well as potential safety and security risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, please visit AHT’s dedicated COVID-19 resources page.