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Paris attacks provide stark lessons

Posted On: Nov. 22, 2015 12:00 AM CST

Paris attacks provide stark lessons

Risk managers are urged to revisit and rehearse their companies' travel risk management plans in the wake of the devastating Paris attacks that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured.

While the attacks took place during Friday leisure activities, they underline the seriousness of the terrorist threat across Europe and elsewhere as well as companies' need to ensure they have robust plans to manage travel risks, experts say.

“Business travel and human resources departments should rehearse and check their emergency staff location and alert systems in order to inform staff of developments, or to check their status during and after incidents,” said Tim Holt, London-based head of Inform Alert: 24, which is part of Willis Group Holdings P.L.C.'s Special Contingency Risk Ltd. kidnap and ransom specialty unit.

“Based on the national threat assessment for each country, travelers or expatriates may wish to adopt some of the approaches they would apply to hotels, restaurants and local travel in more traditionally exposed countries,” Mr. Holt said. “For example: Are there adequate security guards? Where are the viable exits?,” are among questions travelers may want to ask, he said.

While the attacks were deadly and destructive, industry experts anticipate insured losses will be limited.

Since the Nov. 13 attacks at several locations for which the Islamic State group took credit, clients have been reviewing their travel risk management and assessing whether to send employees to Paris, said Rob Walker, a security analyst at International SOS in London.

“A travel (risk) policy is not set in stone; it needs to adapt as situations change,” Mr. Walker said.

“First of all, we reached out to all of the students that we had studying in France and made sure they were OK and gave them instructions to shelter in place and stay safe,” said Gary Langsdale, risk officer at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania.

After initially just modifying itineraries for trips scheduled for Thanksgiving week, “PSU has exercised its discretion and changed our minds about university-related trips to Paris —- we've canceled them,” Mr. Langsdale said. “We are also closely scrutinizing group travel to New York and Washington from now through the end of the calendar year based on the perceived increase in threat.”

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 of enterprise risk management at the Greenville, North Carolina-based university.

It checked to see whether it has any faculty or students in Paris who could have been affected by the attacks and checked their status, he said. It also checked to see whether it had any French students or faculty whose families may have been affected by the attacks or who needed help getting to France. The university didn't turn up anyone.

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,” Mr. Wiseman said.

He said the school's main source of information is U.S. State Department travel advisories and warnings.

While the attacks occurred outside of business hours, companies must be aware of the rise in so-called “bleasure” travel — employees who are sent on assignment and add days to their trip as vacation, Mr. Walker said.

Though the business portion of an employee's trip may be over, companies need to be able to contact them if there is an emergency to ensure they are aware of any help that might be available.

Terrorism is just one of the risks travelers face, Mr. Walker said, and employees should educate themselves about the place they are visiting ahead of time and ensure appropriate security is in place.

It is vital that companies communicate effectively with employees in the event of a disaster and make sure that technology is easy to use and not overly intrusive for staff, Mr. Walker said.

If employees do become stranded abroad, a communication schedule should be agreed upon and they should be told of local colleagues or commercial contacts who can help them, he 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 now executive vice president of Washington-based consultant Gephardt Government Affairs.

He said any company that needs to send personnel to the Middle East should consider hiring a security analyst and risk assessment firms.

He said the use of security facilitation firms also should be considered.

“Using such 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,” Mr. Blank said.

The French risk managers association, l'AMRAE, last week expressed its condolences to members who lost family, friends and colleagues in the attacks.

“The risk manager is at the heart of enterprise resilience. Entrusted with identification of the risks facing the organization, he or she brings their expertise to the management of crises, the security of people and property and the planning for catastrophe scenarios,” AMRAE President Brigitte Bouquot said in a statement.

“We will keep you informed of the actions and information that we put in place. Do not hesitate to let us know your needs and suggestions,” Ms. Bouquot added.