Travel security assistance providers – how to choose?

Over recent months, corporate executives and their decision-making has pivoted from the Covid-19 pandemic to focusing on business resumption/recovery, including global travel. Working overseas is often a key element in a thriving business, but it comes with its challenges.  Travelers can become sick or injured, local events can disrupt movement and some environments are inherently dangerous. Moving outside your normal place of work has varying degrees of risk as most regular support mechanisms are not readily available.  Speaking from experience, some business trips take you to  destinations that are rife with problems due to the political or economic climate. So where does travel security fit in your pre-deployment planning and how should your organisation manage a crisis/incident if one were to occur?

Key elements of a mature corporate travel policy should define procedures to address security from planning to execution. There are lots of assistance providers that can support you but how do you choose which is best for your organisation’s needs?  This purpose of this narrative is not a sales pitch or recommendation but rather some suggested criteria to guide your decisions.

The first stop before discussing providers, should be a review of your business needs, both travel and crisis response and decide on company policy around safety of personnel when traveling.  Identifying individuals and define their roles and responsibilities as its those who will perform the required risk assessments prior to deployment. Make sure relevant stakeholders have the necessary buy-in and any plans are totally fit for purpose.

Consider useful additions like holding a realistic table-top exercise (TTX) to validate any plans and managerial effectiveness. A successful exercise campaign with realistic scenarios should highlight what incidents associated to travel security are the most concerning for your organisation.

Most companies do not have the organic resources to:

  • Gather meaningful pre-travel information/intelligence
  • Deliver travel advice for specific regions
  • Provide remote support such as medical assistance to employees in times of need
  • Safely repatriate employees back to their country of domicile
  • Provide adequate security for employees while traveling in challenging environments

As a crisis management consultant, I have been fortunate to liaise with many assistance providers over the years. Such are the complexities and liabilities associated with travel risk management, most organisations seek to outsource critical tasks due to a lack of funding or security understanding.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share my observations when it comes to selecting third-party assistance providers:

Global coverage

Some will tell you they have their own personnel deployed worldwide. While many have excellent networks, it is impossible ANY provider has their own organic personnel everywhere. Almost all leverage, regional security partners who have local knowledge and experience. The approach to outsourcing should be transparent and the focus should be on your assistance provider’s ability to vet their support partners including a willingness to share this information with you the client. The vetting process should include sufficient due diligence to ensure the support provider is technically competent and operating legally in their jurisdiction.

Provision of services

I consider the baseline services you should expect to access are as follows:

  • Pre-travel training, intelligence, risk assessment and guidance for desired destinations
  • Medical support for sick or injured personnel
  • Repatriation of employees should commercial travel no longer be viable
  • Security of employees in higher risk environments
  • Tracking of personnel during their travel (smart phone app and portal)
  • Response capability should things go wrong

You should always ask questions and seek verifiable examples of how the assistance provider has supported other clients in the aforementioned areas.

Point of incident response

I continue to be shocked when hearing some providers have not been able to get to their employee who is sick, injured or in danger. You do not want to find this out when your Chief Financial Officer (CFO) calls your Security Operations Center looking for assistance only to be told they need to get to themselves to international airport! If your CFO could get there on his/her own, they wouldn’t be calling for help. Be certain your assistance provider will respond to the point of the incident and get this verified. This is important enough an issue that you will want to conduct your own due diligence and ensure any claims about the level of service are validated before locking in a contract.

Risk profile

The threat landscape and different environments will impact some more than others. There are many destinations where a male employee may not experience any uncomfortable situations whilst traveling yet it may be exact opposite for a lone female traveler. This is equally true for LGBTQ+ travelers who might experience difficulties traveling in certain regions given the local socio-cultural environment. Make sure your assistance provider is in tune with these modern issues and has tailored solutions for your risk profile.

Emergency app

Most assistance providers have a smart phone app and platform to support their offering. Many organisations maintain location information for their corporate assets. When choosing a provider, importing your own corporate data should be relatively easy including the ability to update it daily. A key feature for the tracking aspects within the platform is the ability to geo-fence the employees you are looking after. Geo-fencing is placing a defined perimeter or corridor where your employee should be during their travel.  Geo-fence alerts should be triggered when a person reaches a threshold distance from the “edge” of the geo-fenced area.  Ensure your assistance provider has a solution for self-managed geo-fencing and the ability for you to manage your own asset location data.

Back-up communication

There are many environments with intermittent or unreliable mobile phone coverage. Particularly in austere environments, where mobile signal is not an option. Ask your assistance provider if they offer satellite based options as not all support this capability.

We hope you find this article useful towards examining your crisis management program and assessing your needs for a third-party travel assistance providers. We would be pleased to attend your next crisis management planning activity where we can answer additional questions and provide support to your organisation.

Take care and be safe in your travels!

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