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Travel Security: Protecting your people abroad

NZ Security Magazine, Aug/Sep 2017

At the ASIS NZ Chapter Auckland Breakfast Meeting on 21 July, guest speaker, Peter Frost talked “Travel Safety and Security: Considerations to protect you and your business against threats during crisis”.


As headlines suggest, business travel isn’t getting any safer. Terrorist attacks, natural catastrophes, kidnap and ransom and sudden political upheavals seem to be increasingly frequent – and not just confined to places off the beaten business travel map. These risks impact the safety and security of the business traveler in new and ever-changing ways.

The changing nature of the threat landscape is such that acts of indiscriminate violence can no longer assumed to be something that happens in danger ‘hot spots’. International terror has brought large scale attacks to the business capitals of the world, while elsewhere, business people can be – and are – targeted for theft and kidnapping.

In the lead-up to the northern hemisphere summer, the UK travel industry pushed 23,000 employees into training sessions run in partnership with the UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) in order to raise awareness in relation to dealing with terrorist incidents.

If the UK travel industry, which knows a thing or two about travel security, has seen it fit to raise awareness of such issues among its personnel, then other frequently travelling industries should probably take note.

Peter Frost knows more than a thing or two about travel security, with over 25 years working in government and the corporate sector. Peter recently left Air New Zealand, having spent 15 years working in the airline’s group security department, where he managed a team responsible for maintaining the airline’s security integrity, including oversight of travel safety journey management.

His role as Manager Security & Intelligence also involved contingency planning to manage the airline’s response on a 24/7 basis to a multitude of potential and actual crisis and emergency events, including accounting for staff on leisure or duty travel.

During his previous ten-year service in Government, Peter oversaw a small team that managed threats in the international security risk environment, including mitigating threats against New Zealand’s interests to incidents and events overseas, as well as within New Zealand.


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Why plan and prepare?

“Whether it’s a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or political unrest, companies with employees on international assignments have a responsibility to plan for, prevent, and mitigate the risks associated with employee travel,” wrote Lilly Chapa in ASIS International’s magazine Security Management.

According to Peter, the definition of workplace has changed in recent years – incidents that occur offshore can lead to external scrutiny by authorities both offshore and onshore. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, employers have a greater responsibility to protect staff travelling on business, and when it comes to sending employees overseas, employers' health and safety obligations are also subject to the laws of individual countries being visited.

In addition to legislated responsibilities are moral ones, such as providing a duty of care to travelling employees. For these reasons alone, organisations should have plans and policies covering the security aspects of duty travel.

Apart from the physical impacts of harmful events there is also the potential for negative media exposure, and adverse consequences for reputation, brand, revenue and share price. Ultimately, an organisation with a travel security plan is one that is promoting an organisational culture focused on good practice and business resilience.

While many employees are conscious about travel security, many are not, and those who are do not necessarily going to be aware of all the risks and all the strategies and measures available to maximise their safety while overseas. Plans and processes around travel security help to familiarize employees with the risk landscape and to manage their expectations around their responsibilities and how they need to be thinking and acting while travelling.

In addition to the safety of persons, explained Peter, a key reason for planning travel security is the custody of sensitive material, including the security of documents and data.

Planning can also assist in maintaining and fine-tuning interoperability with key stakeholders and contractors, such as security partners, travel booking companies and travel safety providers.


Pre-planning considerations

According to Peter, there are a number of considerations that ought to be addressed at the pre-planning stage. Ultimately, it’s about “planning, predicting, and preempting”, and asking the question, “Have you taken reasonable steps to prepare?”

An organisation’s overall approach to managing the travel of its employees should be described in a formal travel policy, a document that should outline the responsibilities of both the employer and employee when travelling.

Conducting a risk assessment is a key step in gaining an appreciation of the risk context of the intended travel, including the destination, itinerary, hotel, airline, etc. An assessment of vulnerable points, such as the travel itself, pick-up point arrangements, and route to and from the hotel, will identify the need for special measures, such as an advance party.

Other relevant factors, according to Peter, include the composition of the delegation, recent events and other information gained through database research, liaison and official travel advisories.

Based on the risk assessment, is the travel necessary? Are there other ways in which the same objectives can be achieved, such as by using communications technologies such as Skype, videoconferencing and social media, or by meeting a counterpart in a third country?

Does the organisation have an authorisation process for travel that takes into account risk thresholds and that restricts travel to ‘no go’ destinations. Does it require a business case for travel to other destinations flagged for risk? Are employees allowed to combine leisure and duty travel?

Does the organisation provide for – or require – employees to undertake a travel briefing prior to departure, or to complete a checklist of security-related preparatory tasks? Does the organisation utilise GPS tracking technology to monitor staff movement while travelling?

For travellers who may require more extensive pre-travel preparation, such as senior executives, those with specific vulnerabilities, or those having to unavoidably travel into high-risk scenarios, a range of additional measures may need to be considered. Scenarios may need to be workshopped, and third-party contractors, such as security escorts, liaised with.

Whoever the traveller and whatever the circumstances, it helps to centralise travel arrangers. The provision of multiple contact points and telephone numbers can make coping with an emergency situation more difficult, and when an emergency scenario materializes, the traveller will unlikely be in a position or mental state to be rifling through a convoluted contact list.

According to Peter, checklists are an essential part of the pre-planning phase. Items such as insurance, essential medications, currencies passport, visas, domestic arrangements, ensuring HR details are up-to-date, and knowing where nearby police are located, should be ticked off.

He also suggests simple yet effective measures such as pre-registering employee travel on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Safe Travel website, and the utilization of situational awareness and incident management tools, such as Web EOC.

Whatever the organisation’s travel security plan involves, it is critical that employee responses to incidents are in line with the plan. Many business travellers expect their employer to coordinate any arrangements necessary, but the reality is that in an overseas emergency it may well be the employee’s own state of preparedness that gets them through.


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