As a rule of thumb, the more planning something requires—the more likely it is to go wrong. Deciding on where to go for lunch? Pretty likely to go without a hitch. Planning a giant company holiday party? Not so much.
This rule goes for your company’s risk management as well. The aspects of your operations that have the most moving parts and require the most planning also have the highest potential to go wrong.
Maybe the most universal application of this principal is business travel. Few activities require more coordination and planning than business travel. Travel introduces so many variables: transportation, a new city, a new working environment, different weather, different coworkers.
Business travel can provide unique benefits—that’s why it reached record high levels in 2019. But it also brings huge risks. That’s where travel risk management comes in.
What is Travel Risk Management?
The best way to think about travel risk management is to compare it to another well-known area of risk-mitigation: workplace fires. What all goes into your company’s “fire risk management”?
It starts with prevention. There are a number of ways to prevent fires from ever occurring. But your risk management can’t stop there. You also run fire drills—so your employees know what to do if there is a fire. You develop a fire evacuation plan. You make sure your fire safety equipment (extinguishers, smoke alarms, sprinkler heads) is up to date. And you make sure you’re prepared to communicate effectively during a fire.
Basically, your “fire risk management” plan covers everything, A-to-Z. Travel risk management is the same way—it just addresses a broader array of threats. Think about the entire life-cycle of a business trip, from the initial drive to the airport to the returning plane touching down on the tarmac.
Travel risk management means identifying and preparing for all the risks that come along the way. Just like with fires, you need to consider how you can decrease the chances of each threat materializing—plus you need to make sure you have a plan in place if they do. Essentially, travel risk management comes in two parts: proactive and reactive. You need both if you want to fulfill your duty of care to traveling employees.
The first half of your travel risk management plan is the proactive steps you can take. Essentially, these are the active steps you can take today—before any threat emerges—that will mitigate the risk of business travel.
It starts with a travel-focused business threat assessment. This will help you identify which threats you need to prepare for. As part of your business threat assessment, you should have quantified every threat in terms of its impact and likelihood. These quantifications will inform your travel risk management.
For high-impact threats, focus on preventative steps you can take. This includes risks like flight crashes, contracting dangerous diseases while abroad, and being detained while traveling. (Check out Harvard’s ratings of the risk-level of each country to see which countries to consider avoiding entirely.) Although you need to have a plan in place if one of these threats does impact your business, your focus should be on preventing them entirely.
For high-likelihood threats, it’s the opposite. You should focus on preparing for these threats. When it comes to things like severe weather, delayed flights, and jet lag, there is little you can do to prevent them from happening. For business travel, these things just come with the territory.
Here are the key preventative and preparative steps you can take for the biggest threats to business travel:
It goes without saying that the most high-impact business travel threats are those that put your employees’ physical safety at risk. Unfortunately, traveling is more risky than we might care to admit: on average, over 800 Americans die each year while traveling abroad, and that doesn’t even include those traveling domestically.
For these types of threats, it’s best to cut them off at the pass. There are several ways to accomplish this.
For dangerous diseases, the best preventative step to take is to vaccinate well ahead of your travel date. Go to the CDC’s travel website and enter the country you’re traveling to—it will tell you which diseases are the biggest threats and which vaccines you need to take.
Sometimes, the best option is avoiding certain areas entirely. Take advantage of hyper-specific safety ratings from services like GeoSure—which provide safety ratings neighborhood-by-neighborhood worldwide. The second-leading cause of death for Americans abroad is homicide. Avoiding high-crime-rate areas entirely is the safest option.
When it comes to disease outbreaks—like the Coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the world—the right choice might simply be: don’t travel at all. In the early weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic, an area-specific travel limitation (specifically, the Hubei Province) sufficed. Now, that guidance has been changing on a daily basis. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the most recent threat advisories for evolving situations like a disease outbreak.
For certain countries, your company should consider a categorical decision not to travel there. Harvard’s travel risk ratings (also mentioned above) are a good resource for making these decisions. They categorize countries into three groups:
- High Risk: “High risk countries and regions are characterized by war zones, wide spread militancy, asymmetric warfare, violent separatist movements or civil war, major epidemic zones, areas of pervasive violent criminal activity regularly impacting or targeting foreigners, or places without functioning government services—including emergency services—and with little or no rule of law.”
- Elevated Risk: “Countries and regions deemed elevated risk are distinguished by low level conflict—including frequent terrorist attacks, high internal tensions (tribal or political), violence that often impacts civilians and other noncombatants, violence that may be state sponsored, a rule of law that is ineffective with weak emergency services, and/or an appreciable risk of violent crime perpetrated on foreigners. Countries may be placed on this list during periods of uncertainty or volatility.”
- Watch List: “Watch list countries or regions are facing trends or upcoming events that are likely to result in heightened risk in the near future.”
Countries not listed have no substantial current risk factors.
As discussed above, though, some threats are impossible to prevent. We can’t control the weather unfortunately, and flight delays are about as sure a thing as death and taxes. The key, for these high-likelihood threats, is to minimize the impact by adequately preparing.
To prepare for severe weather, the first step is to check the forecast. Once the plane touches down at your destination, it’s too late to figure out that a cold front is coming through. If you check the forecast as the trip approaches, you will be able to pack appropriately. (Check out our article dedicated to cold weather safety tips.) Also, make sure that your employees are equipped with the appropriate emergency weather alerts.
If your company is large and business travel is constant, taking these steps manually likely isn’t feasible. Consider implementing a travel safety app or threat monitoring system which will automatically warn you when severe weather (or some other threat) emerges which could impact your business travelers.
For flight delays or other similar travel disruptions, the key is maintaining productivity through these disturbances. For any in-person meetings scheduled for the day of travel, make sure that you also have a backup plan: either a video- or phone-conference is likely the best alternative.
Also, make sure that your employees are prepared to work in the airport for some time if necessary. Even if they don’t plan on working on the plane, their laptop should never be in their checked bag. (This also reduces the chances of it getting lost in a misplaced-baggage situation.) Portable chargers, noise-canceling headphones, and mobile hotspots are also good to bring along.
For other travel risks, more particularized preparations may be necessary. Consult the sources referenced above for guidance on traveling to the specific country/city in question.
The other half of the equation for travel risk management is the reactive steps you need to be prepared to take. The word “reactive” can take on a negative connotation in regard to business continuity—don’t let it.
The reality is: you need to be both proactive and reactive. All the preparation in the world isn’t worth anything if you aren’t ready to quickly and effectively react to a threat when one emerges.
Here are a few of the key ingredients to an effectively reactive travel risk management plan:
Once you are aware of a threat, you need to communicate with the affected employee(s) immediately. For many threats, it’s critical that you get the information to your people as quickly as possible.
To accomplish this, it’s important that you have multi-channel communication capabilities. Email will likely not get there quickly enough. SMS is much more effective if you want to get your message delivered ASAP.
It’s also important that you have two-way communication capabilities. This goes for any messages you send—your employees should always be able to respond back.
One very effective form of two-way communication is surveys. Surveys allow you to quickly conduct wellness checks in the event of a threat.
For example, imagine you hear news of the Las Vegas shooting, and you know that one or more of your employees is currently in Vegas. In less than a minute, you can send out a wellness check to each of those employees, surveying if they are safe or in need of assistance.
Many risks apply to everyone in a certain geographic area. For example, let’s say that another “polar vortex” is approaching the northeast United States. You need to quickly communicate with everyone in that geographic area—whether they are there on business or not. (You may have some employees who are, say, visiting family in the northeast.)
But you also don’t want to send a company-wide message. Getting in that habit will only cause notification fatigue over time.
The solution is using an emergency communication system with geo-fencing capabilities. This allows you to set a region on a map and communicate with everyone in that region in real-time, using GPS data from your employees’ smartphones.
This enables targeted communication with the precise audience that is at-risk, for geography-specific threats.
Bridging the Gap Between Proactive and Reactive
Up to this point, we’ve discussed the proactive and reactive elements of an effective travel risk management plan. Both are necessary to minimize the disruption that travel risks can bring.
But you also need a way to bridge the gap between proactive and reactive steps. You need a proactive way to identify threats immediately once they emerge, so you can react immediately as well.
The solution to this problem is implementing a threat monitoring system, like AlertMedia’s. This system will proactively scan for threats all over the world—using data from trusted threat sources and hundreds of analysts—and cross-reference those threats with your employees’ real-time locations.
As soon as a threat emerges that could put one of your business travelers at risk, the system automatically notifies system admins (or end users directly), warning them of the threat and giving them up-to-date risk information and actionable advice.
Best of all, the system integrates with AlertMedia’s industry-leading mass notification system—giving you the dynamic communication capabilities you need to react to the threat effectively. The integration allows you to send a message specifically to those employees impacted by the threat in question, and no one else.
By taking advantage of modern technology like AlertMedia’s, you can level up your travel risk management. While you can never eliminate the risks associated with traveling, you can mitigate them. Take the steps necessary to do just that.