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Terror attacks, higher risks put focus on travel security


A safe international business trip begins long before a jet's wheels touch down at the travelers' destination.

A series of recent terrorist attacks as well as questions surrounding safety at this month's Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have underscored the importance of the Boy Scout motto “be prepared” as far as business travel is concerned. From consulting public and private sources of information to prepping travelers on what to expect and what to do when they arrive, risk managers and security experts face a complex task.

The first question that must be answered is simple: Is the trip necessary? If it is, what framework has been put in place to respond to any emergency? Finally, what can the employee do to minimize chances that an emergency might arise?

Knowledge of local conditions is key. Those responsible for corporate travel can tap government resources such as registering in the U.S. State Department's online Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. They also can stay informed by checking for travel advisories and warnings and consular information sheets on the department's website.

“The first thing you would do in a corporate setting is the same thing that government security officials would do, which is to ask yourself how much do you know about the domain in which you're operating or sending your employees?” said Tom R. Blank, a former deputy administrator at the Transportation Security Administration and now Washington-based executive vice president at Gephardt Government Affairs. “Security specialists call that domain awareness.”

Companies should have a “formalized travel program, including an intake of the information of where the employee is going, why, some review process based on the location,” said Tim Horner, managing director and practice leader of security risk management at Kroll Inc. in New York.

Security professionals and corporate managers should decide whether the travel has an appropriate business need and risk level, he said.

They also should ask if the business could be conducted at another location or through a conference call, Mr. Horner said.

Most travel should be booked through a centralized hub, which allows for an interface with a security intelligence travel provider, he said.

For East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, the university continues to follow its basic policies, structures and procedures, said Tim Wiseman, assistant vice chancellor of enterprise risk management and chief risk officer. He said the school is monitoring threat situations as they develop and tailoring pretrip planning as well as contacts for “those who are out and about.”

The university has about 30,000 students.

ECU is conducting a comprehensive review of all categories of student and faculty travel and is devising a matrix that shows the degree of active involvement and responsibility the university would have in travel, oversight and safety preparation under different circumstances, Mr. Wiseman said.

Information can't be siloed, noted two travel security experts at Lockton Cos. L.L.C. in Kansas City, Missouri.

Logan Payne, assistant vice president in Lockton's international practice, cited “the importance of a joined-up communication strategy” across human resources and risk management. He said workers compensation and perhaps travel accidents might be handled through risk management, while HR would handle other benefits, such as medical care.

“Determine what coverage do we have and how do we communicate that to employees before they go overseas,” he said.

“Communication is key,” said Stephen Page, assistant vice president of international employee benefits at Lockton. “It doesn't matter what programs they have in place, if the employee doesn't know how to use it, it does nobody any good.”

An employee's health issues should be taken into account before the trip begins.

“Hopefully, they've got a robust travel assistance and travel risk management program in place,” said Tim Crockett, Atlanta-based vice president of security at HX Global, the U.S. subsidiary of Healix International Ltd.

“Statistically, depending on the organization, between 85% to 93% of calls will be medical in nature,” he said. This could include problems stemming from what someone ate, chest pain and twisted ankles, he said. “All those sort of things are more likely to happen than the real scary stuff.”

As a result, make sure the person is fit to travel, said Mr. Crockett. Employers should take care to keep employees out of situations that could aggravate their existing medical conditions.

Once there, employees should be able to call prearranged emergency services.

“Have a dedicated phone line and have someone at the other end of the phone line who knows who's calling and can deliver the aid they need,” said Mr. Crockett. “That is reassuring for the traveler.”

In some cases, this means giving an employee a predetermined word he or she would use to indicate they are calling while under duress, he said.

Employees always should be aware of their surroundings and avoid crowded areas if possible, said Lockton's Mr. Payne.

When an employee leaves a hotel, he or she can ask hotel management or a local taxi driver for the best way to get to the destination, said Jim Breitkreitz, vice president and executive technical director of risk engineering at Zurich North America in Schaumburg, Illinois.

He cautioned against relying too heavily on GPS systems.

“If you walk, make sure your GPS system is set to route you on the major route instead of simply defaulting to the fastest route,” Mr. Breitkreitz said. “The GPS does not know where the high crime rates are.”

He said if employees know, for example, that a political demonstration is slated to take place, “avoid that area,” he said.

As a general rule, employees should avoid wearing flashy clothing or jewelry to avoid attracting criminals.

Mr. Breitkreitz also urged employees who want to play Pokémon Go to be “extremely cautious” while playing the game, especially in areas they don't know.

“You're restricting your peripheral vision,” he said. “There's going to be a lot of things going on that you would normally be aware of that you won't notice.”