Designing a Travel Safety and Security Programme Part 4

The fourth article of a series focused on designing a robust and effective travel safety and security programme.

First published by Grant Rayner on 20 Nov 2023

4 min read

Travel Security

This essay was originally published in Dangerous Travels on 20 Nov 2023


This is the fourth article in a series focused on designing robust Travel Safety and Security Programmes. In this article, I’ll focus on two key aspects of travel safety and security: medical and communications. I’ll also touch on local resources.

Putting things in perspective, your travellers are far more likely to get sick while travelling than they are attacked by terrorists or even robbed on the street. It follows that you’ll need a diligent approach to medical planning for travellers. Let’s start with that.

Medical

Establishing sound medical protocols is one of the foundations of any effective Travel Safety and Security Programme. Let’s break down the different aspects you should be considering to ensure travellers are appropriately protected.

Insurance

As a baseline, your organisation should provide all travellers with travel insurance that covers illness and injury while travelling. However, while travel insurance is an important aspect of responding to injuries and illnesses, it isn’t effective at preventing them. There’s therefore value in not just focusing on responding to medical emergencies, but helping travellers avoid them in the first place. More on that shortly.

Country Risk Ratings

Medical risk should be factored into country risk ratings. When evaluating medical risk, consider factors such as water and food safety, diseases, the standard of medical care, and complexities related to medical evacuation. I would also include air quality and extreme temperatures. Both of these factors currently present major risks in a number of different countries.

Medical risk should be a key consideration when considering travel approvals. In a scenario where you need to send a traveller to a country with a high medical risk rating, you might decide to keep the trip as short as possible. You might also want to ensure that the traveller stays in the best hotel in town.

Destination Guides

Include medical risk ratings in destination guides, along with an overview of medical risks.

If any vaccinations are required, make sure these are noted in the respective guides. Some vaccinations require several injections that may need to be started well ahead of a trip.

Also include a list of approved hospitals and clinics in the respective destination guide. Medical assistance providers can provide a list of preferred hospitals and clinics in each location. Embassy websites typically contain a good list of clinics and hospitals and are also a good reference.

Avoid including a long list of hospitals and clinics in the destination guide. Instead, provide a few good options in the vicinity of the hotel and office. Also consider the requirement to identify psychological counsellors. When selecting counsellors, consider their ethnicity and language.

Training

In addition to incorporating medical details into destination guides, it’s also essential that you provide training in medical aspects to travellers. During travel security awareness training, reinforce the importance of the traveller seeking medical assistance early and always informing a colleague and family member if they start to feel unwell. This training should also reinforce the value of carrying a personal first aid kit.

All travellers will benefit from first aid training. Employees travelling to higher-risk destinations should participate in more advanced first aid training, possibly including treatment of trauma injuries. Similarly, travellers going to remote areas should participate in remote medical training.

If the traveller is moving out of a major city and travelling to more remote communities, develop a comprehensive medical plan for their journey. Incorporate these details into a comprehensive journey management plan.

In countries where the standard of medical care is poor, the emphasis needs to shift to risk avoidance. Travellers should be briefed to be conservative with their actions and to avoid placing themselves in situations where they may get injured or sick. A good example of this in action is to be less adventurous regarding what they eat and where they eat.

Some countries will require robust medical evacuation plans that emphasise movement to a location that can provide an appropriate level of care. In Asia, for example, most medical evacuations are routed towards either Singapore or Bangkok.

Communications

Communications are another essential component of a Travel Safety and Security Programme.

As a start point, travellers should know who to call in an emergency. This procedure may differ depending on the type of emergency. In the case of medical emergencies, my recommendation is that the traveller calls a medical provider first, then follows up with a call to their manager or Security Operations Centre with an update. The situation will be a bit different in the case of a security emergency. In a situation where the traveller works for a large company with a large internal security team, they can call their 24/7 Security Operations Centre. If the traveller is working for a smaller company that doesn’t have a large internal security team, they should call their assistance provider for support.

Whatever approach your organisation takes, ensure that the details are documented in procedures and and communicated during travel safety and security awareness training.

Many developing countries have unreliable cellular networks. Cellular coverage may be unavailable outside of major urban areas. Some autocratic countries also place restrictions on internet access. Any factors that may impact communications should be detailed in the respective destination guide.

If satellite phones or messengers are required for a particular location, ensure that information is included in the respective destination guide. Also be sure to provide the traveller with pre-departure training so they can competently use the devices.

Communicating during an incident

If there is a traveller emergency, you will want to have very clear and streamlined communications protocols. These protocols should be documented in polices and procedures, and should be covered during training for both the Security Operations Centre and travellers.

Specifically, line managers should understand that they need to step out of the way in a travel emergency so that the traveller is receiving advice from a single, appropriately trained, operator.

Check ins

In some locations, it may be appropriate to implement a system of check ins, where individuals contact the Security Operations Centre at specific stages of their travel. For example, when they land, when they clear immigration and when they reach their hotel. Once on the ground, travellers may be required to check in once or twice a day.

In practice, check-in programmes can be difficult to manage and are typically managed poorly. Over time, travellers simply stop following protocols. Procedures should be documented and the process should be detailed in training for both the Security Operations Centre and travellers.

Where you plan to implement a system of check ins, ensure you take a risk-based approach. The higher the risk, the more comprehensive the approach to check-ins. Specifically, ensure you have robust protocols in place for handling missed check ins. At a specific juncture, these protocols should incorporate the activation of local resources to support the traveller.

Local Resources

Your organisation should identify resources in each destination to support your Travel Safety and Security Programme. Typically, these resources would support travellers during an incident.

For example, for most locations you would want to identify the following resources:

  • Security vendors
  • Transport vendors
  • Psychological counsellors
  • Translators and interpreters
  • Fixers
  • Guides

These resources don’t have to be listed in destination guides (you typically won’t want a traveller to be reaching out to these resources themselves). Instead, they should be listed in a directory available to the security team. In the case of an incident, the security team can activate these resources to provide local assistance for travellers.

The degree to which you vet these resources will depend on the level of risk and the number of travellers that go to the destination each year. Vetting is time consuming and doesn’t necessarily yield conclusive results. There’s a conundrum here. The higher the risk, the greater the need for vetting. At the same time, the higher the risk, the more difficult it will be to vet companies. The fact that higher-risk countries are generally also highly corrupt countries doesn’t help.

Nonetheless, some level of vetting is critical to make sure you understand the capabilities of the company and how they might be able to support your travellers during an incident.

I’ll wrap up this series on Travel Safety and Security Programmes next week by focusing on training, contingency planning and response.

Thanks for reading.


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