Travel in the modern world is more accessible than ever. Despite the added complexities of the global COVID-19 pandemic and foreign conflict, many NGOs are still looking to expand their global operations—while travelers are poised to discover new, less-traveled destinations. However, with this accessibility and increased global exposure, comes a certain degree of risk. Whether that risk stems from an organization/individual’s specific profile or relates to the health, security, and COVID-19 landscape in a particular geographic region, NGOs have a responsibility to understand and mitigate potential threats. While this undertaking can appear daunting, certain considerations can be made when planning to properly assess and mitigate risk in a foreign environment.
Individual Risk Profiles
One of the primary considerations to make when assessing risk in a foreign environment is the profile of the individual. Consider, for instance, what degree of familiarity the individual has with their destination. Individuals who have traveled extensively in the area they will be operating out of; and/or those who have personal contacts in their operating area who they can rely on in the event of an emergency are likely to have a lower level of risk in comparison to an individual who is operating out of an environment in which they have no previous experience or contacts. For example, someone who has an extensive travel history to a country and who has family, friends, or professional contacts in a country is likely to have a lower level of risk compared to someone that has no contacts in a country and has limited familiarity with the country’s culture and society.
Organization Risk Profiles
In addition to considering the profile of an individual when assessing risk, organizations should also consider the profile of their respective organization and the nature of their operations. For instance, considerations should be made for what type of presence an organization has in a particular country or region. Generally, organizations will face less risk when operating abroad if they own their own facilities in the destination have established relationships with local organizations or other foreign entities operating in the same area, or have a long history of sending travelers to that destination. Organizations new to a particular area may face a higher degree of risk due to institutional inexperience operating in that destination.
Destination Profile Assessments
Aside from just considering the risk profile of an organization and an individual, risk managers should also assess the profile of the particular country or region where they are sending travelers and/or establishing operations. Consider the security environment, the threat posed by terrorism and crime, the political stability of the location, the types and likelihood of natural hazards, and specific health concerns compared to the location’s health infrastructure. Another major factor to consider when traveling in today’s world is the restrictions a country has imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes both international restrictions that could prevent entry into a country and domestic restrictions that provide an added complexity to traveling or operating within the country. The emergence of the COVID-19 variants has demonstrated the fluidity of restrictions and how quickly circumstances within a particular destination can change during a pandemic.
It’s also necessary to consider the local government’s ability to mitigate these risks and their available resources when emergencies arise. Current trends or significant events in a particular destination will also contribute to the country’s risk profile. As an example, instances of civil unrest tend to increase before, during, and following major elections. Thus, the level of risk an organization faces may rise around the timeframe of an election.
Intelligence Acquisition and Dissemination
Once a risk manager has properly assessed the risks associated with their operations, they can take several actions to mitigate their risk level. First, organizations should consider what intelligence options they are receiving. Whether this is government-sponsored intelligence, an intelligence sourcing platform, or intelligence from contacts on the ground in the destination, the acquisition and dissemination of accurate and timely intelligence can help to mitigate an individual’s risk in an unfamiliar environment. This has become particularly important when it comes to traveling during a pandemic as COVID-19-related restrictions are extremely fluid and have the potential to severely disrupt travel.
Destination Training and Education
Additionally, organizations should proactively consider what training they provide to their personnel operating out of a foreign environment. If an organization wants to effectively prepare an individual for potential threats they may face while abroad, the training provided to these travelers should be custom-tailored to their particular destination and the threats they may encounter. Depending on the destination, this may be as simple as providing training on incident reporting procedures, information on how to protect against petty crimes, or possibly providing the individuals with resources if they encounter an emergency situation. Alternatively, organizations with operations in destinations deemed “high-risk” may want to consider enrolling their personnel in a more in-depth Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) course. This training style tends to be more scenario-based and can provide trainees with hands-on first-aid training, active assailant training, or other survival tips. Moreover, such training should be followed up with Crisis Response Exercises (CREs) on at least an annual basis that allows individuals to put their training into practice and refine emergency response procedures.
Contingency and Emergency Planning
Finally, organizations should have contingency plans in place should an extreme emergency event occur. It is essential to be prepared for any potential crises and know how to react beforehand. Often, hazardous situations will develop with little to no warning, restricting the timeframe in which actions can be taken before the situation further devolves. Organizations, for instance, should have plans in place for how their personnel will shelter-in-place inside their accommodations or an organization’s facilities if the security environment outside restricts movement options. They should also have plans in place for how they may evacuate their personnel, should the situation in a destination warrant an evacuation. Organizations should work to establish “triggers” indicating that the security situation in a location has devolved to the point where continued operations are no longer viable. Having the right contingency plans in place will protect an organization’s personnel, and will also reassure these individuals that their organization has plans in place to ensure their safety and well-being should an emergency arise.
Want to learn more?
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. On Call’s travel risk management services not only can help your NGO assess and mitigate travel risk, but respond to it as well. Contact On Call International today to learn more.
You can also check out our latest webinar with Humentum: A Shifting Perspective Aligning Your NGO’s Travel Risk Management Strategy to Our New(ish) Normal. This thought-provoking session takes a deeper dive into the pandemic-related realities that have created the need to shift perspectives, strategize new ways of thinking, and help many NGOs ask (and answer!) some very important questions about travel risk management and duty of care. Watch it on-demand here.