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Who's Where? Tracking travel -- an essential part of duty of care

As reports of explosions and small arms fire at Istanbul airport flashed across TV news screens, countless organizational leaders asked the same questions:  “Do we have anyone there right now? Are they okay?”   As critical events unfold around the world — terrorist attacks in Europe & Africa, earthquakes in Asia — answering those questions quickly and efficiently is the launch pad for next steps: If travelers left the country two days before, then a sigh of relief. On the other hand if travelers are on the ground at the airport where bombs exploded or staying at the hotel under attack you may have a crisis to manage. Either way, it starts with knowing who is where.

Achieving accountability — the location and status — of personnel who may be in the vicinity of an evolving incident is an essential part of emergency response and a key component in providing duty of care. Once thought of as primarily focused on those traveling to “high risk” countries, recent world events are a reminder that global organizations need to know who is in Brussels or Istanbul as well as Kabul.  Broadly speaking, there are three main options:

  • Home-grown solutions. These range from a file held by a key member of staff with itineraries and contact info to spreadsheets on shared drives that capture the relevant details. Customizable and cost effective. Most likely points of failure:  Uneven/incomplete data or an inability to access information 24/7x365. The most meticulously gathered info that’s held on a computer hard drive or locked in a desk drawer at HQ may not be immediately useful at 2am on a Saturday.
  • Travel agency information. Some travel agencies offer online “dashboards” to clients that show current and future booked travel that are searchable by destination/transit airport, date range, traveler’s name, etc. Hotels and even rental vehicle info if booked through the travel agency is also visible. Online access is critical to ensure data is available 24/7 x 365. A potentially effective option where a single, centralized travel agency is used and may not involve an additional cost depending on relationship with the travel agency.
  • Commercial travel tracking. A number of companies offer travel tracking as part of their services including International SOS, United Healthcare Global, AIG Travelguard, Track24 and Sicuro. These products typically use itinerary information supplied by travel agencies and/or location data from a smartphone or separate handheld tracking devices. In an emergency, location data from a smartphone can be especially useful in knowing if a traveler is in the vicinity of an ongoing incident or on the other side of the city.  Many of these systems push location specific alerts based on travel itineraries and provide access to a wider range of travel risk management data through online portals or even assistance call centers.

Knowing who is where is only one part of accountability.  Communicating with travelers who may be impacted by an incident is essential to understand their specific status and to initiate response plans as necessary.  Keep contact information up to date and accessible, and ensure travelers have communications devices that will work throughout their journey — at destination as well as layover points.  Many commercial travel tracking tools offer two way communication capabilities to check status, pass information or instructions or allow travelers to send an alert through a “panic button” type feature on a smartphone app.

Tracking travelers in today’s complex global risk environment is an essential element of duty of care. Whether accomplished using a sophisticated commercial travel tracking tool, a travel agency online dashboard, or an organizationally developed system, the goal is the same:  Knowing where travelers are and having the ability to communicate with them during a developing situation.  Travel safe.