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GBTA conference 2016: back to basics in a crisis

A humble piece of paper is the vital key to effective risk management when communications are down, delegates were told at the GBTA conference in Frankfurt.

Jens Berglund, head of personnel security at SAAB Aerospace, said that emergency contact numbers should be printed on cards carried by all travellers, as part of “low-tech solutions” to traveller tracking when mobile networks are down.

Steven Burghardt, vice-president at Europ Assistance, added there should be just one emergency phone number for all travellers world-wide. “Don’t confuse them with lots of numbers,” he said.

And both agreed that the other key “no-tech” factor was knowledge: all travellers should be trained and prepared with “frequent drills” on what to do in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, including if they have no access to mobile comms.

The panel were discussing lessons learned from events such as last year’s terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris.

International SOS (ISOS) director Xavier Carn said companies are broadening their approach to traveller tracking, using a multi-layered approach that includes apps and booking data as well as geo-locating and geo-fencing. He added that the “vast majority” of client requests are information related – of around 36,000 cases handled by ISOS in the past year, only 3 per cent required assistance on the ground.

The panel agreed that travellers are becoming more open to sharing their data from a privacy perspective if they perceive their destination as risky – however this is a challenge when incidents take place in supposedly ‘safe’ places.

Paul Moxness, vice president of corporate safety and security at Carlson Rezidor, advised: “Don’t wait for a crisis – and don’t wait to put a plan in place.”

Carn pointed out that in a crisis such as the Paris and Brussels attacks, local employees are in the same vulnerable position as company travellers in the area, therefore travel risk policies should be integrated to include all employees. 

Europ Assistance’s Burghardt said there is a shift in the risk management sector from reactive crisis response to proactive “prevention and mitigation”.

Berglund at Saab Aerospace said his company’s risk strategy engaged all departments including HR, communications, IT, legal and travel management “all working very tightly together” with their needs listened to. He added that employees’ families are also stakeholders, and that ex pat families receive security training.

GBTA 2016: communication breakdown

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