How to plan for travel emergencies

08.07.2015 | 13:00

This guide outlines how to prepare a formal travel emergency response plan, working closely with your travel management company.

More and more businesses are expanding into emerging markets. With this trend comes an increase in operations within complex or hostile environments or, at the very least, unfamiliar territories.

What’s more, recent crisis-hit regions like Ukraine and Thailand, or unexpected natural disasters, like the Philippines typhoon and the Japanese tsunami, remind us that emergencies can occur suddenly in areas we previously considered as relatively contained. The possibility of being caught out in this way - and the implications for business travel and business continuity - shows the real importance of contingency planning. Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and more recent crises like the Arab Spring, companies are getting better at preparing themselves with risk and evacuation strategies. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.


1. The key elements of advance planning

Regardless of which travel management company you work with, the more thorough your own company’s emergency planning - the more effective your partnership with your TMC will be in moments of crisis. Apart from the inconvenience of arranging emergency travel, the considerable risks of being unprepared for the worst are business interruption and reputation, and exposure to legal liability as a result. Employees’ lives may even be in danger. Good emergency planning must be based on reliable tracking of your travellers, effective communication with them at all times, and preparing them appropriately for the risks they may face. More specifically, you’ll need to prepare a formal emergency response plan, work closely with your TMC in preparing the plan and communicate your emergency strategy formally to employees as part of an overall travel policy.


2. Where is ‘high risk’ for you?

As we’ve said, your employees may be at risk in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. You’ ll need to classify the high risk destinations that apply to your company. Some may be well-known hot spots where political instability prevails. But there are other factors too. Unfamiliarity with a destination can make travelers vulnerable. So, too, can fatigue - for example when there is a need to drive following a long flight. Alternatively, illness or crime can be major setbacks - particularly in areas without effective medical or policing structures. There are several companies that specialize in providing information about unstable locations and in supporting travelers with medical emergencies far from home There are also useful government websites that provide reliable information on currently risky areas, or you may have your own resources to research these.


3. Know where your travellers are and how to contact them

It may sound obvious, but it’s crucially important to use a tool that helps you track all your travelers easily. Your TMC should help you with this. By booking through your TMC, key data on traveler movements is safely stored and easily accessible through employee tracking systems. Set up pre-trip reporting to identify all those booked to high-risk destinations. For effective communication, remind all your employees to keep their travel profile up to date, so that you’re able to contact them quickly should the need arise. Also make it clear to them how you will get in touch with them in an emergency.


4. Who needs to be involved?

However much they may seem like seasoned travelers, always prepare employees going to high-risk areas for the possibility their trip may be cut short. Make high-risk destination pre-trip briefings compulsory for all travelers affected. Even though there may be many employees who are not expected to travel to dangerous regions, or whose regular travel would not normally be considered risky, you should ensure your ‘duty of care’ policy is communicated clearly to everyone in the company, including what to do in an emergency and who to notify.


5. Create an Emergency Response Plan

The plan should include:

• A step by step guide setting out responsibilities, actions and information required in the event of an emergency

• Clearly defined expectations of what your TMC will provide and the information they will need from you

• How travelers can get travel information while on the move, and how you will communicate with them

• A guide to the information you would need to give to your travelers, such as the procedure in the event of loss of mobile communications

• Details of a nominated spokesperson who would communicate the emergency to the wider business

• Key contacts at your TMC - including out of hours


6. Responding when crisis hits

6a. The emergency response team

Once we activate our emergency team, we create a ‘Situation Room’ either at our office or a room you may have designated for emergencies – as long as it has the right tools available to help handle emergencies (for example multiple phones, and connectivity to our booking systems). If appropriate, we can also set up a team on the ground - for example at a strategically located airport or hotel. In this part of the guide we focus on what to expect from your TMC once you’ve received an emergency call or been made aware of a crisis situation - and what they are likely to need from you to help make the travel process as efficient as possible. Given our large number of clients in the energy sector – we recognize the high risk nature of the industry both in terms of personal risk (accident and injury) and the location of oil and gas projects (potential diseases) but also geo-political risks in certain energy hot spots. ATPI has developed a well-tested response service that works in tandem with the client’s own emergency planning - our guidance is based on the travel-related services ATPI provides:

6b. Locating and moving your travelers

Working 24/7, we start by helping you to locate all your travelers and determine the best way to get them home. Using our global network of contacts – we book the most logical flights based on the information we have. As new information comes in, we alter bookings as appropriate. It may be that the employee cannot get to the airport until the following day, or we may discover there is a closer airport.

6c. The right technology

We have a proprietary traveler tracking tool, (ATPI’s Employee Tracking System (ETS)) which takes information about travelers’ whereabouts from the global distribution system (GDS) used for booking and distributing airline tickets. This enables us to see where the traveler is going and when. If, for safety and security reasons you need to track your travelers further, we are able to do this via their company mobile. There are also other methods for tracking in remote locations, for example special wristbands. Our own flight booking technology, with its global reach, will give you the best opportunity in the market to find seats for your travelers - as options are often very limited at times of crisis.

6d. The importance of communication

Throughout a crisis, effective communication is vital. Having an on-site emergency team makes this easier, so that our team and your key representative can make decisions quickly, face-to-face - rather than by phone. Decide who will be responsible for communication at your end. We use dedicated phone numbers to handle an emergency. Typically, an ATPI manager will be in hourly contact - day and night – with our team on the ground to ensure that staffing levels are sufficient to handle the situation.


7. The value of post emergency analysis

Once the emergency situation has been managed, it’s of benefit to analyse the travel response process, and ways which it could be improved should future crisis arise. Perhaps there are processes that could be implemented to improve communication or arrangements for onward travel – some of our clients run dummy emergency response days and it’s important that both senior stakeholders and employees understand how travel fits into these situations.