How to Incorporate Tripwires and Reverse-Tripwires into Travel Emergency Planning

In a world that is becoming more accessible and seemingly more unpredictable at the same time, organizations that conduct operations abroad are facing increasingly difficult decisions. Managers often have to weigh the geopolitical and security risks associated with a location against the benefits of conducting those operations. When difficult decisions must be made, some organizations may determine a specific country or region is not worth the risk. However, academic institutions, NGOs, and private sector companies are often willing to assume an appreciable amount of risk in exchange for the benefits their missions create. When operating in volatile environments, tripwires and reverse-tripwires can be a valuable component of travel emergency planning. Learn more about these tactics—and how to use them effectively—in the article below.

Flow chart for crisis options on a blackboard

What are Tripwires?
Tripwires are events, predetermined by an organization, that require an immediate predetermined reaction. Typically, this action will take the form of an increased security posture. Operating in high-risk locations can put significant pressure on the managers tasked with making quick decisions in stressful situations. In order to streamline the decision-making process while ensuring safety and continuity of operations in these situations, tripwires can be implemented into an emergency action plan.

For example, an NGO operating in a volatile urban environment may have a policy that mandates employees travel in groups of two or more people after dark. In addition to this policy, the organization may have a tripwire written into their emergency action plan that instructs the in-country manager as follows: in the event an individual’s safety is compromised, all travel after dark must be restricted until further notice.

Furthermore, a tripwire may highlight a specific event that indicates the organization’s risk of operating in a country has exceeded the established threshold. For instance, if a mandatoryordered departure’ of family members of U.S. government personnel is issued, an organization may decide to cease operations in that country. Or, an organization may have a tripwire in place that triggers a cease in operations and the return of a traveler to their home country in the event a violent conflict between two or more entities breaks out in a specific area.

What are Reverse-Tripwires?
On the flip side, reverse-tripwires are events predetermined by an organization that indicate a country or specific area is stabilizing and the organization now feels comfortable beginning discussions to renew operations. Organizations that decide not to operate in a specific region, or cease operations due to security concerns, could be missing out on important opportunities. For private companies, this may mean forgoing the chance to conduct lucrative business opportunities, for NGOs it may mean abandoning a crucial aid mission, and for colleges and universities, it may mean prohibiting an expert from researching a rare topic. Therefore, organizations can be very anxious to begin, or renew, operations in certain high-risk areas. However, actually determining if and when the situation has improved is challenging on its own. In these instances, reverse-tripwires can be implemented into organizational travel policies to help identify when a discussion about operating in a specific country or region should begin. For example, the signing of a peace treaty that puts an end to a violent conflict may be a pre-identified reverse-tripwire that signals to an organization the area is now stable enough to resurface this conversation.

Reverse-tripwires can also indicate to an organization that a previous security posture can be removed. For example, during the run-up to a highly contentious election, an organization may adopt security protocols that drastically limit where and when their constituents can travel within a country, in an attempt to mitigate risks associated with violent protests about the election. This organization may have a pre-identified reverse-tripwire that states if the election is held successfully and the results are accepted peacefully by the citizens, then the restrictions on travel can be lifted.

Using Tripwires and Reverse-Tripwires Effectively
Any time an organization operates in a high-risk environment, they should have well-developed emergency management and continuity of operations plans to better ensure safety, security, and the ability to carry out necessary functions.

Depending on experience and purpose of a trip or mission, organizations will inevitably have different comfort levels in certain environments. For such reason, tripwires and reverse-tripwires are a nuanced subject that should be carefully developed by a security expert with intimate knowledge of an organization’s risk tolerance. Tripwires and reverse-tripwires also need to be vetted and approved by all key decision-makers involved with an organization.

Whenever an organization operates in a high-risk environment, it is important that a security professional actively monitors developments in the area. In order to use tripwires and reverse-tripwires effectively, an organization should understand the entire geopolitical environment in an area; often, indicators and warning signs will be observed as the precursors to a tripwire being met. These indicators and warning signs will lead to decisions regarding an organization’s security posture, and tripwires will be in place to act as the ultimate backstop.

Proper travel emergency preparation is becoming increasingly important for organizations operating abroad. Well-developed emergency management and continuity of operations plans will include numerous elements that are designed to better ensure safety, security, and an organization’s overall ability to function when faced with adversity.

Tripwires and reverse-tripwires are just one small part of emergency planning, and remain an intricate topic. A travel risk management partner can carefully weigh organizational risk tolerance to help develop these emergency preparation tactics. For more information about travel security and holistic travel risk management, contact us today.


For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.