Do You Know Where: Companies with International Operations Must Have Contingency Plans in Place for Employees Traveling to a Foreign Country on Business. (Contingency Planning)

By Taylor-Smith, Moray J. | Security Management, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Do You Know Where: Companies with International Operations Must Have Contingency Plans in Place for Employees Traveling to a Foreign Country on Business. (Contingency Planning)


Taylor-Smith, Moray J., Security Management


AN INTERNATIONAL COMPANY was preparing to evacuate 15 expatriate employees and dependents from a country that had suffered an earthquake. When it came time to meet at the departure point, 25 people showed up. Those arranging for the evacuation had not known that two technical teams were in the country supporting clients at the time. The additional evacuees, who had heard of the evacuation informally from individuals at the local office, disrupted the company's plan.

There were not enough vehicles to get everyone to the airport in one trip, and there were not enough seats on the airplane that had been reserved. The other employees had made their way to the departure point hoping to get a seat because the local office employee did not tell them of the limited transportation or inform them that it would be safer to wait in the hotel until other transportation could be arranged.

The company evacuated the 15 people originally expected at that time, and the additional 10 employees were flown out two days later. This meant that an evacuation that should have been completed in approximately 12 hours-- from when the employees and dependents arrived at the rendezvous point until they actually departed--ended up lasting 60 hours. Fortunately, everyone was able to get out safely, but the delay could have been disastrous.

AS COMPANIES SEEK new business in far-flung markets, their employees increasingly need to travel and work around the globe. Companies must be prepared to help these employees through any contingencies, including earthquakes, civil unrest, and other crises.

While some risks are greater in developing countries, emergency situations requiring evacuation can arise anywhere. For instance, Singapore, a relatively safe and natural-disaster-free city, suffered from severe smog in 1999 as the result of forest fires that were raging in nearby Indonesia. The conditions made the city unbearable and forced many foreign personnel to evacuate. Other examples of such incidents include an earthquake in Taiwan, civil unrest in Indonesia, a coup in Fiji, and the invasion of Kuwait--all of which necessitated the evacuation of international personnel.

Most companies with international operations have detailed plans in place for evacuating their expatriate personnel should the local security situation deteriorate or in case of a natural disaster. But as the case highlighted at the beginning of this article illustrates, these plans often fail to address the evacuation of another category of employees; Those who are visiting on a business trip when a disaster strikes.

The evacuation of international travelers often falls between the travel advisory service, which provides employees with information on areas where it might be dangerous to travel, and evacuation planning efforts, which focus on expatriate personnel based in the country. Many companies do not even know how many employees are visiting a particular international location. In the event of an emergency, they might spend hours, if not days, trying to determine which employees are there.

This problem especially affects companies that are organized along functional lines rather than geographically. It is not uncommon for an in-country office to report to a certain department, such as marketing. Personnel from other departments might travel in and out of the country without ever contacting the local office.

To avoid confusion, companies must coordinate their travel security and international evacuation programs. Corporate security should serve as a central point for activity and information related to evacuation planning, coordinating the role of other players in the travel process, such as internal departments, travel service providers, employees, host country offices, and hotels.

Internal departments. How travel information is collected, maintained, and distributed will vary among companies. …

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