Weather Happens: Considerations for Travel Risk Management
By: Joe Gleason, AHT
Here in the US, September is National Preparedness Month, and the near simultaneous arrivals of Hurricane Florence in the US and Super Typhoon Manghut in Asia are stark reminders of the need to prepare for severe weather at home and while traveling. Like most travel risks, weather can impact travelers in a wide range of ways, from logistical challenges like flight interruptions to injury and illness.
Similar weather events may play out differently depending on a location’s infrastructure and preparedness, so it’s important to understand the risks in your destination and how they might impact you:
- What are the potential risks? Is your destination prone to hurricanes, flooding or other severe weather? Historical patterns are a good benchmark, and many weather events have a generally predictable season which can help you understand likelihood of occurrence and/or severity.
- What is the impact? Severe weather can result in direct and indirect injuries from broken glass, falling trees or debris, submerged electrical lines or other hazards. Where road, power and other infrastructure is significantly damaged, emergency services may be limited, exacerbating even minor illnesses and injuries. And, in developing countries where medical, security and other emergency response services are uneven under the best conditions, essential services may be virtually non-existent. Some weather events have secondary risks as well: following severe rains last year in Mumbai, both waterborne and insect-borne illnesses spiked.
- How are you vulnerable to the risk? As with most travel and international operational risks, weather may impact people unevenly based on details of where you’re working, staying, traveling, etc. A hotel near the water may provide beautiful views but could also be more impacted by heavy storm winds. Likewise, areas outside of a major city, where infrastructure often drops off precipitously, could see more severe damage from storm related flooding or downed trees.
- Track developments. Hurricanes, typhoons and some other severe weather typically develop over time, so being aware of these storms and their potential progress is essential to help plan. More time almost always equals more options.
Prepare and respond as severe weather develops. Considerations should include:
- Postponing travel to potentially impacted locations and avoiding in-country travel to areas that may be especially impacted or where personnel could be isolated by damaged infrastructure. For short-term travelers, in particular, it may make sense to depart the location to avoid post-event travel disruptions and delays.
- Testing communication procedures and resources, especially emergency resources such as sat phones. While communication may be disrupted during severe weather, accounting for personnel as soon as possible after an event is essential.
- Monitoring events and guidance before, during and after severe weather through media, local authorities, embassies, disaster relief organizations and security/medical assistance providers.
- Preparing to shelter in place. Know where to shelter from the direct impact of severe weather (wind, flooding, etc.) within an office, residence or hotel. Ensure appropriate emergency supplies (food, water, etc.) are on hand for a prolonged period of disruption (usually at least 72 hours).
- Reviewing how and when to engage HQ support and emergency resources such as medical and security assistance providers.
Remember that sheltering in place should be an active, planned response not merely staying put to “ride out the storm.” While some risks, such as civil unrest, may flare up one day and then return to business as usual the next, damage from severe weather can have longer lasting impact, limiting access to essential services or the ability to depart a location for an extended period. Sheltering in place should be designed to manage during those prolonged periods.
Weather happens. In many cases there are predictable patterns and forecasting that can provide insight and even warning of impending severe events, so it’s important to keep aware of developments and consider their impact. Like a range of other challenges, ensure weather is factored into travel and operational risk management.