The newest technology, in the shape of mobile apps and GPS tracking, means security and protection is in the back pocket of employees travelling on business
Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees, and this extends to members of staff who are travelling abroad for business purposes. Using technology via smart applications, employers can stay connected to their business travellers so that if they get caught up in an incident, reasonable steps can be taken to safeguard and repatriate them.
Natural catastrophes have the potential to affect huge numbers of employees. For a disaster that can be tracked in advance, such as a windstorm, business travellers can be alerted in advance and flights rearranged to take them out of harm’s way. In extreme situations, for instance in the aftermath of major earthquakes affecting infrastructure, helicopters can be chartered to rescue stranded employees.
Helping large multinational organisations keep track of myriad staff operating around the world is a new generation of innovative mobile apps and GPS systems. For businesses operating in high-risk locations – including oil and gas, and NGOs – the technology is offered by insurance and travel management firms, giving real-time alerts to incidents as they unfold and a lifeline to staff if they get caught up in an incident.
At TSB, the fall back is always to ensure that another member of staff is aware of a colleague’s travel plans and itinerary, explains the bank’s insurance manager, Emmanuel Fabin. “We encourage our staff to download the app our insurer offers but also to have a dialogue with their own line management, so there are at least two people within the organisation who are aware of what is going on with that particular person’s travel arrangements. It’s about using the technology available but also encouraging people to be proactive and transparent in their communication.”
While the idea of Big Brother-style 24-hour surveillance does not sit well in all circumstances, for employees operating in high-risk environments the ability to switch on a GPS tracking system is increasingly appropriate. Several offer real-time tracking, interactive country maps and reports that show travellers by location and date, booking details and pre-trip analysis
We encourage our staff to download the app our insurer offers but also to have a dialogue with their own line management, so there are at least two people within the organisation who are aware of what is going on with that particular person’s travel arrangements. It’s about using the technology available but also encouraging people to be proactive and transparent in their communication
Four in ten organisations have introduced advisory emails for staff that are travelling abroad, in an effort to better inform them about travel risks, according to Ipsos MORI.
Waiting in the wings
For the majority of travellers, the aim is to be helpful but unobtrusive… until a crisis occurs. “When we had the Nepal earthquakes, we had over 200 people that were involved, so we worked with the helicopter companies that we know in and around Nepal to fly in and get people off the mountains,” says James Page, chief administrative officer of AIG Travel. “And then we chartered an aircraft to fly into Nepal to transfer our people to India so we could then book them onto commercial flights home.”
The approach to travel risk management should be tailored to each company’s risk profile and risk appetite, Page adds. “Most apps send information to their employees to help them prepare for their travel and the locations they will be visiting. Some have a travel tracking capability so that if an event were to occur, the employer is able to look online and see which of their business travellers may be impacted by that particular event. Other perhaps less intrusive tools allow travellers to push out confirmation that they are safe along with their location to their selected contacts.”
For business travellers that need emergency assistance, a single touch of a button on the AIG app will connect them with a 24/7 service centre that has medical, travel and security specialists on hand to provide support there and then.”
Even in Western cities, travellers can find themselves facing a security threat with the need for immediate advice. “During the Paris riots a client called in who was travelling in Paris for work,” says Page. “They had gone out to dinner with some colleagues but managed to walk into a moving protest. That person stepped into a store nearby and called our centre and said, ‘what should I do, where should I go?’”
“Our security team stayed on the phone with that individual while they explained the situation and what they were seeing outside the window.” he adds: “They were then given step-by-step directions to take them back to safety.”
Old but good
Of course, mobile applications need a mobile signal or Wi-Fi to operate. In circumstances where neither of these is available or when a battery cannot be charged, the advice is to fall back on ‘old’ technology, such as land-based phone lines and fax machines. It is in these circumstances that pre-emptive training and preparation should come into its own, argues TSB’s Fabin.
“If you’ve provided your staff with details of the nearest contact points, whether a consulate or local branch office, and advice on what to do in an emergency, you just have to hope they can get themselves to a place of safety while the organisation attempts to make contact.”