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Companies tighten security in wake of Paris terror attacks

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Employers with staff in or traveling to Paris have stepped up security policies in the wake of devastating terrorist attacks Friday that left at least 132 people dead.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for three explosions and mass shootings across the city.

“As France remains under a nationwide state of emergency and much of Paris' business infrastructure closed, companies are contacting staff permanently in country, employees on temporary assignment, staff in transit, even those known to be vacationing there,” Chandra Seymour, senior vice president for reputational risk and crisis management in Marsh L.L.C.'s risk consulting practice in Fairfax Station, Virginia, said in a blog posting.

“As with other disasters, the attacks are a harsh reminder of the ever-present threat of mass violence and the importance of developing, maintaining and exercising corporate-level crisis management, emergency response and business continuity plans,” she said.

“For the second time this year, Paris was struck by a series of terror attacks ... we are struggling to find words to express our sorrow, our dread, our anger,” Henri de Castries, chairman and CEO of Axa S.A., said in a statement Monday. “At this point, and to the best of our knowledge, all Axa employees are safe and sound, but we are continuing our efforts to, as we all hope, confirm it definitely.”

In a statement, Paris-based bank BNP Paribas S.A. confirmed that one employee was killed in the attacks and two others injured.

In the statement, BNP Paribas CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafé said teams had been mobilized to follow the situation and “take the decisions necessary to assure the security of our clients and our employees.”

London-based International SOS and Control Risks Group Holdings Ltd., which operate a joint venture to provide security and support for international corporate travelers and expatriates, said they were monitoring the situation in Paris.

“Sadly, we've been through this before in Paris, as well as Mumbai (India) and other places. Most business travel managers have an emergency contingency plan they can activate right away,” Greeley Koch, executive director of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Association of Corporate Travel Executives, said in a statement.

“A certain percentage of companies will automatically cancel trips to a city in crisis and evacuate their travelers quickly. Others will evaluate the impact of the crisis and act accordingly after ascertaining the safety of their travelers,” he said.

“Some companies are requiring senior-level management approval to travel into a current crisis area, while others are leaving the issue to traveler discretion,” Mr. Koch said.

“For U.S. companies, I would pay very close attention to Department of State travel advisories, and that would go to the security situation in a particular country,” said Tom Blank, a former acting deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration in Washington and executive vice president of Washington-based consultant Gephardt Government Affairs.

The Defense Department on Sunday banned U.S. troops and employees from traveling in their free time within 31 miles of Paris, requiring anyone who wants to travel to that area on official business or for emergency reasons to obtain approval from a general officer or other senior official in their chain of command, according to the Stuttgart, Germany-based U.S. European Command.

Mr. Blank said any company that needs personnel in the Middle East, for example, should consider hiring security analyst and assessment firms, as well as security facilitation firms. Using security facilitation firms “means that there will be somebody who will take charge of your personnel when they hit the ground, they'll transport them, vet their lodging and be responsible for their in-country transportation.”

He added that U.S. companies sending personnel overseas should use U.S. airlines “whenever possible.”

At East Carolina University, “we did the usual things” in response to news of the Paris attacks, said Tim Wiseman, chief risk officer and assistant vice chancellor for enterprise risk management at the Greenville, North Carolina-based university. The university checked to see if it has any faculty or students in Paris who could have been affected by the attacks and checked their status, he said. The university also checked to see if it had any French students or faculty that “would have to reach out to” if they needed help getting back to France or had any loved ones immediately affected by the terrorist attacks.

He said that in concert with the rest of the University of North Carolina system, the school's general administration and the State Department, “we're updating evaluation of proposals for future trips where the threat is increasing.” He said the school's main source of information is State Department travel advisories and warnings.

The French railway network, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, said Monday that trains were running normally and told travelers in a statement “we will all be vigilant together.”

Victims of the attack — whether French national or not — can claim compensation for attacks on French soil from Le Fonds de Garantie des Victimes des Actes de Terrorismes et d'Autres Infractions, according to Paris-based French insurer association Fédération Française des Sociétés d'Assurances.

France has a state-backed reinsurer for property losses caused by terrorism, the Paris-based Gestion de l'Assurance et de la Réassurance des Risques Attentats et Actes de Terrorisme, which likely will cover any insured property losses stemming from the attacks, sources said.

The level of terrorist threat in the United Kingdom has been “severe” — which means an attack is “highly likely” — since August 2014, the U.K. Prime Minister's office said in a statement.

“The police have stepped up their security levels on a precautionary basis and U.K. Border Force are working with their French counterparts in light of the tighter border controls in France,” it said.

Senior Editor Mark A. Hofmann contributed to this report.