Indicated in the graphic, the five PR tasks are embedded into the Execution phase of the spectrum. All preparation, planning and adaptation of a TRM program must focus on better performing these 5 execution tasks because this is when lives are at risk.
For the U.S. Military, “the sum of military, diplomatic, and civil efforts to prepare for and execute the recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel” is known as Personnel Recovery (PR). For those in the private sector, this architecture is more commonly known as Travel Risk Management (TRM). The Department of Defense (DoD) has numerous regulations and guidelines that direct Personnel Recovery and which are relevant for TRM programs. As shown in the graphic above, the framework includes preparation, planning, execution, and adaption components. The five personnel recovery tasks featured in this post outline the “execution” component and include Report, Locate, Support, Recover, and Reintegrate, in that order. Everything in an effective Personnel Recovery program hinges on the collective ability to execute these tasks effectively because this is the time that the constituents the program is designed to support are in need of assistance.
So how does this relate to Travel Risk Management? TRM programs also establish protocols and systems with the primary intention of helping people when they have emergencies abroad. TRM programs follow a similar process to the five Personnel Recovery Tasks when travel emergencies occur, so understanding these five tasks can help organizations identify ways to help effectively plan their duty of care initiatives.
Personnel Recovery Task #1 – REPORT: the recognition or notification of an emergency event. An indicator, through various means, notifying of an incident.
How it Relates to TRM: In order for someone to receive assistance in the midst of a travel emergency, the person must report the emergency in the first place. The key to ensuring this happens is for administrators to inform travelers, prior to travel, that they must make their problems known early if they need help. Travelers are often unaware of the assistance options available to them because they were not informed of the emergency notification process prior to travel, or because they don’t know the appropriate parties to notify when they’re having a problem. TRM resources that organizations can make available to their travelers can be specifically designed to make travel emergencies like medical issues, security incidents, or even lost passports more manageable. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide pre-trip training to travelers and inform them of their own responsibilities during this process (otherwise known as duty of loyalty), because an organization cannot provide help when unaware that help is needed. In some cases, technology and open-source intelligence can help indicate when incidents occur, but travelers on the ground near an incident will be experiencing the issue before the news reports it. Minutes matter – the faster travelers are able to notify their organizations of a problem, the faster they can receive help.
Personnel Recovery Task #2 – LOCATE: the effort taken to precisely find and authenticate the person(s) experiencing an emergency.
How it Relates to TRM: A beneficial component of today’s technology is the ability to know where travelers are at any given time. However, if technology isn’t available, a traveler’s location will need to be identified through other methods so organizations can provide the support the traveler needs. The U.S. Military can often gain location details through direct communication or GPS-capable devices. However, this robust capability isn’t necessarily available to organizations outside of the government. A traveler’s location may not be difficult to obtain in every situation, but it’s important for organizations to prepare for unexpected circumstances, such as obtaining locations for those who don’t have cell service. Travelers also need to know how important it is for them to communicate their locations as precisely as possible because this can have an effect on the assistance their organization is able to provide to them.
In an unorthodox example, two people traveling in Bali crashed their scooter into a hidden ditch where it was difficult to be seen from the road. By posting on Facebook, the travelers initiated enough communication and provided a pin-drop location for help to get to their location and save their lives.
Personnel Recovery Task #3 – SUPPORT: this phase begins upon confirmation that a traveler is experiencing an emergency; support includes communication, increasing situational awareness for the traveler, providing assistance to traveler, and more.
How it Relates to TRM: Support for a traveler begins from the moment an incident is known. For the U.S. Military, support may look like helping an isolated person survive in the middle of Africa for 72 hours until rescue can be accomplished. For private organizations, help may include replacing a prescription, coordinating medical support, or providing an evacuation/repatriation to the traveler’s home country.
How a traveler receives support will vary for every incident, but the supporting organization must foresee, to the extent possible, potential destination-specific risks. From there, organizations can implement the appropriate accommodations and support for the traveler.
One last thing, which can often be overlooked, is considering the support needed for travelers’ families. Not all incidents are high visibility, but it’s important to know what resources are available to support travelers’ families when needed. This is likely at the discretion of the organization sponsoring the travel, but support may be necessary when an incident becomes public information.
Personnel Recovery Task #4 – RECOVER: for those incidents that require it, this task begins with the deployment of assets with the intention to regain physical custody of the traveler.
How it Relates to TRM: The recovery phase is fairly self-explanatory, but it’s important to note this process is not solely the responsibility of the organization sponsoring travel. Travelers have the responsibility to help facilitate their recovery. To that end, it’s important for administrators to communicate to the traveler, prior to their departure, how they can help facilitate this process. It benefits any organization to educate its travelers prior to departure because this allows them to be more effective at mitigating issues if and when they occur. If the traveler and those providing assistance are in agreement with what needs to be accomplished, exposure to risks can be decreased.
Recover, in this context, is a blanket term. Not all incidents will result in a traveler needing to return to their home country. However, the recovery phase is not complete until an individual is able to return to their primary purpose, or otherwise be appropriately supported by their sponsoring organization. Continuous monitoring of the traveler should continue until either of these occurs.
Personnel Recovery Task #5: REINTEGRATE: the traveler’s transition back into their normal duties with minimal physical and emotional complication.
How it Relates to TRM: Any incident that prohibits travel from continuing or significantly interrupts travel should include reintegration. Further, organizations should ask themselves what resources are in place for travelers exposed to severe incidents such as an act of violence, significant medical issues, or other traumatic events. For example, the U.S. Military offers three phases of reintegration. Time, complexity, and support increase with each phase depending on the specific incident and the needs of the individual. The intention of reintegration is to ensure the stability of the individual(s) affected and for information gathering to help mitigate similar incidents in the future.
The physical and mental health of the traveler is a top priority. Thankfully, the importance of mental health is gaining awareness for both private and public organizations. In addition to medical and psychological care, reintegration may include financial assistance, ensuring availability of religious resources, legal assistance if applicable, and time off from work. Although this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a starting point for consideration.
It’s important to also include time to debrief the incident as soon as it’s realistically possible. While being sensitive to not increasing an individual’s stress levels, this is time sensitive because it’s important to learn about any finer details before they may be forgotten. There is a relative time sensitivity with this because a balance must occur between not stressing the traveler and not losing important information due to them forgetting the details. The information gained from this can then be utilized to make adjustments to the organization’s overall Travel Risk Management program and encourage mitigation of similar issues in the future.
Keep in mind that as incidents increase in severity, the probability of authorities or interest groups needing and wanting access for information will also increase. Families will want answers. The press will want a story. Criminal investigations may need to occur. The list goes on. Therefore, having a plan for reintegration is critical.
Providing support to travelers is an important and necessary component to any organization’s duty of care initiatives. The U.S. Military has a long-standing commitment to assisting those who become isolated abroad, and understanding their five Personnel Recovery Tasks can help organizations draw on that experience to help support their travelers. Furthermore, this architecture also helps identify the importance of the individual traveler in the process. Many programs currently follow components of this process, but hopefully by outlining some of the details above, organizations can further employ further planning to encourage a smoother resolution of future incidents.
Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2015). Joint Publication 3-50 Personnel Recovery. Department of Defense.
Secretary of the Air Force. (2017). AFH 10-644 Survival Evasion Resistance Escape Operations. Headquarters, Air Force: US Air Force.