Travel Risk Management 101: Working Effectively With Your Organization’s Emergency Assistance Provider

This article was submitted by guest contributor, Marcia Henisz, former Senior Director of International Health, Safety and Security at Drexel University and Principal and Founder of SASSIE Consulting. Her work focuses on the management and mitigation of international risk for academic travelers, including helping clients with incident response, strategy, policy development and education of travelers. She is an active member of OSAC Women in Security, the Academia Sector Committee, NAFSA and URMIA. She is a frequent presenter on health and safety strategies at NAFSA, the Forum on Education Abroad, URMIA and OSAC.

Let’s be honest: in the busyness of the day-to-day, many organizations don’t engage with their emergency assistance providers as much as they should. Understanding and securing appropriate coverage can feel overwhelming, and by the end of it, most are just happy to have resources in place that they know they need but hope that they will never have to use. Unfortunately, it is often in times of crisis when help is desperately needed that an organization will really get to know their emergency assistance providers, which is not the ideal “first date!” Investing the time and energy in getting to know your provider before you need these services can make all the difference.

While your employer may not have the resources to staff a full risk assessment team or maybe even a single risk analyst, your emergency assistance provider should ideally have an in-house global security team with regional specialists, available to you for consultation. These security experts can help you to better understand the broader risk concerns of a particular location for trip planning or interpret the risk implications of a series of events to inform decision-making about travel. Several times during my university career at Drexel University, an impromptu phone call with On Call International’s regional security specialists provided meaningful new insights and helpful suggestions around risk mitigation measures for travelers. They even provided written itinerary assessments specific to the destination and our travelers, which was an invaluable resource.

As organizations struggle with limited resources for training, keep in mind that emergency assistance providers have a vested interest in helping to educate the travel support team of your organization. The stronger the skill set of your team, the less likely it is that an incident will develop into a crisis. Generally, providers should make educational opportunities widely available without cost to plan subscribers and often to an even broader audience. Organizations should make efforts to regularly participate in these educational opportunities as they often reflect hot topics in the field or identified areas of needed knowledge growth for organizations. If your emergency assistance provider offers any kind of customized training, take advantage of this as often as it is available! And when your emergency assistance provider comes to visit, plan the time carefully to maximize the visit’s impact, targeting key administrators or travel populations. Employees often make more effort to attend a session provided by an outside expert over in-house trainings. It’s also a great opportunity for you to establish a personal connection with a key member of your incident response team: your emergency assistance provider!

This leads nicely into considering incident response: do you know what happens behind the scenes when one of your travelers contacts a 24-hour emergency assistance center for help? Understanding the process of incident response and the resources available from your emergency assistance provider will help your organization to better manage an incident and community expectations. If you are responsible for travel support and have never been to a 24-hour emergency assistance center, this is a must-visit even if it is not your current provider One of the most useful visits from early on in my career as a university safety and security professional was a behind the scenes tour of On Call International’s 24-hour emergency assistance center in Salem, New Hampshire. This visit provided a much deeper understanding of the resources that were available to assist our travelers as well as an appreciation for the challenges of coordinating resources with the needs of panicked travelers. An awareness of how things happen internally with the emergency assistance provider has helped me multiple times to resolve an incident faster and with better care for my travelers which is a win-win for everyone involved.

Making the most of your relationship with your emergency assistance provider can help to provide stronger risk assessments, education and training for your organization and strengthen your incident response. And people who work in this field tend to be wonderful people: committed to helping others in times of difficulty and eager to help organizations successfully manage challenging incidents abroad. By making the time and effort to learn more about the resources available from your emergency assistance provider, you strengthen your team’s “toolkit” for travel safety and security, and you may just make a new friend in the process.

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.