Before an organization sends travelers overseas, it is essential to have disaster and emergency response protocols in place. When travelers are involved in a crisis, several organizational decisions are necessary to help ensure a response is carried out in a timely and effective manner. This becomes even more vital when travelers are headed to high-risk locations, where the security environment is more volatile and a country’s emergency services may be limited. Ideally, these protocols and procedures for handling emergencies will be formalized into an Emergency Action Plan.
When an organization has travelers involved in a crisis abroad, the situation can quickly become chaotic—and coordinating an organizational response without an appropriate plan has the potential to impact the efficacy of managing the situation. Developing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) can help ensure organizations are prepared to handle a crisis and that all key stakeholders understand what needs to be done in order to mount a successful response. EAPs can come in a variety of lengths and formats depending on an organization’s unique needs. However, in a travel risk management context, they are typically detailed documents that act as a guide for organizations faced with a traveler crisis abroad. EAPs are meant to be comprehensive and detailed documents, and should be clear and easy to understand to ensure they are adequately utilized when needed.
First, an EAP should outline the Crisis Management Team responsible for carrying out the emergency action plan and managing all stages of a travel incident. The Crisis Management Team should consist of individuals who represent different functional areas within an organization, such as Health, Safety, Legal, Public Relations, and those tasked with international travel, study abroad, and expatriate management. Each Crisis Management Team member should also designate alternate individuals to act on their behalf to build in contingency.
The Crisis Management Team should be supported by a reliable decision-making model that is detailed within the EAP and communicated to all key stakeholders. Understanding who has the authority to make decisions in the heat of the moment is not only crucial, but also requires a time-sensitive response.
The nuances of balancing decision-making authority during a crisis should also be clearly addressed in the EAP. For example, perhaps a Chief Operating Officer (COO) is tasked with making logistical decisions on behalf of an organization on a day-to-day basis. If the COO is the Operational delegate to the Crisis Management Team, does this individual maintain authority to make logistical decisions pertaining to the crisis, or is someone else better suited to make those decisions? Perhaps the Crisis Management Team is only tasked with making recommendations to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who makes all final decisions. Regardless of the workflow, it should be clearly defined in the EAP to help eliminate potential confusion and miscommunication.
An EAP should also include a communications strategy that ensures key stakeholders receive regular updates of how events are unfolding. Organized communication is an essential component of emergency response; no one wants to be scrambling to find phone numbers and emails during a crisis. The EAP should clearly define whom to contact and provide specific details on how to reach those individuals. It should also address all aspects of communication, both internal and external, and establish protocols for a variety of situations, such as how to communicate with travelers directly involved in the incident. This communication facets of the plan should be thorough and detailed, including protocols for situations when it is difficult to access telecommunication networks.
Another aspect of communications within an EAP should focus on how to facilitate information to key stakeholders throughout the organization as well as others concerned about traveler safety and wellbeing. There should be a defined process and delegated party responsible for fielding any media requests and another party responsible for liaising with family members of the travelers involved.
An Emergency Action Plan should also include a section that details specific crisis situations and the appropriate steps to be taken in response. Ideally, an organization will have a master Emergency Action Plan that is adapted and customized depending on the specific region of travel and reason for conducting travel in that area. As such, this section should include information on indicators and warning signs that a specific region’s threat level is increasing and corresponding steps to take in response. To address these topics, the EAP could include potential tripwires, events predetermined by an organization that require an immediate predetermined reaction. Reactions to such events could include sheltering in place, emergency relocation, and evacuation.
Another element of an EAP is the provision of organization-specific pre-departure information. This could detail pre-travel preparation procedures, emergency supply inventory lists, building evacuation plans, escalation processes for notifications regarding a developing incident, in-country personnel rosters, plans for handling health-related issues, repatriation of remains protocols, and details on how and when to reenter a country after evacuating for security reasons.
An EAP should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Putting the EAP to the test during crisis response exercises is a crucial step, as it allows an organization to better understand how the plan functions in “real-time.”
In conclusion, Emergency Action Plans can be essential for preparing administrators to better respond when a crisis affects travelers and the interests of the organization abroad. Having thoughtful strategies and mechanisms in place before a crisis takes place can help mitigate risk and fulfill an organization’s duty of care responsibilities.
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