A steady stream of global headlines warning of hurricanes, earthquakes, political unrest and widespread epidemics emphasize the importance of preplanning to ensure employees are taken out of harm’s way during emergencies. In fact, preplanning is part of what the travel industry calls ‘duty of care’ – the development of policies and procedures to mitigate foreseeable risks for employees traveling abroad.
According to International SOS, a global service provider that evaluates and manages risks and evacuations, security threats are the primary reason for over half (58 percent) of travel disruptions, followed by natural disasters (43 percent) and in-country risks (41 percent).
“The last thing you want to do is wait until you need something like this to go shopping for it,” cautions Private Jet Services CEO Greg Raiff, whose company provides duty of care for numerous clients. “You have to plan for the unexpected. It costs nothing but time to ensure your vendors are vetted and approved and you have an emergency response plan in place.” At that point, he says, “it is our job to minimize the hassles from the moment we are told ‘go’.”
Corporate travel managers play an integral role, says Raiff. “They are often our most valuable touch point because they understand the information needed and the logistical issues travelers face,” he explains. “We might need to get 800 workers out in a hurry. We work in partnership because we are both thinking the same thing. It’s in the details like passports, travel documents and bus transfers to the airport, not just knowing where to go for a widebody jet.”
Although preplanning is a requirement in countries such as the UK and Canada, it is often non-existent for many corporate travel managers, especially those from small companies with limited resources.
“Emergencies are an afterthought for most people,” notes Dr. Brendan Anzalone, CEO and chief medical officer of AeroMD. “Most people don’t know where to start or who to call or whether they are any good. That’s why the key to success is preplanning, including everything from making sure travel documents and vaccines are up to date to gathering risk intelligence
as to what the medical resources are and then planning the routes to reach better resources. The hardest part of our job,” he maintains, “is getting through the governmental red tape and meeting security requirements. That is why it is so important to have travel documents readily available and relationships ahead of time.”
Dr. Robert Quigley, International SOS senior vice president and regional medical director of the Americas, agrees. “Travelers face language, resource and cultural challenges during emergencies and you want to relieve them of that as soon as possible,” he explains. “The beauty of our model is it knows no borders. Our job is to work with companies and create a partnership for the care of their employees, providing everything from assessing itineraries for risks, including road traffic safety alerts and medical and other resources in the region.”
ISOS, which performs just shy of 20,000 medical evacuations annually, may be best known for Medaire – the first call between flight crews and medical personnel when there is an inflight medical emergency.
Worse however, according to industry research, is the fact that corporate travel managers may not even recognize that risk management for employees either traveling abroad or working overseas is a critical part of their duty of care responsibilities.
A look at ISOS’ 2018 Travel Risk Map shows the risks travelers actually face. “This is part of a company’s overriding duty of care on how they should prepare to assist their employees,” adds Quigley.
“Duty of care is a subject near and dear to our hearts and we have been responsible for making it part of the vernacular in the travel risk management space,” he says. “This is about more than a legal or moral obligation. It’s about doing the right thing and it should be a fundamental part of any corporation’s planning. If you knew a particular area with human asset exposure is experiencing civil unrest and don’t have in place emergency response plans, then you are not meeting your duty of care and, in some countries, that falls under criminal code.”
Companies also have to establish the parameters of providing duty of care services, travel security experts advise, including how to address problems when employees are on their own weekend side trips during business or on vacation. Part of the problem is confusion over whether the duty of care responsibility lies with the human resources, security or travel departments, illustrating the importance for clear lines of authority.
Speed is often of the essence, Raiff says. “One of the primary reasons for using business aviation is its ability to rapidly respond to customer needs,” he explains. “We can be airborne in two hours, but that won’t happen unless you already have your relationships in place. Using business aviation also means fewer diversions, more direct routings and faster service.”
AeroMD’s Ansalone explains the significance of his company’s local connection. “Before we launched our services, medical evacuations in the Caribbean took days for insurance approval and arranging charter flights to come down from Florida. Our company is based in the region, so we have significantly reduced that wait time down to hours. AeroMD specializes in hospital-to-hospital transport in fixed-wing aircraft provided by Boehlke International Airways.” Boehlke is a charter company headquarters in St. Croix.
Anzalone echoes ISOS and Private Jet Services in outlining the procedures for a medical evacuation, emphasizing the importance of having full-time medical professionals on the team. ISOS has 1,400 medical experts worldwide while AeroMd and PJS have their own core teams of professionals including doctors, nurses and medics, who act as escorts during flights.
“We confer with local doctors to assess the patient and whether or not they are fit to travel,” Anzalone says. “Is it safe for the patient to fly? Are they stable, or should we, perhaps, wait an extra day for them to get more stable? Then, we determine where they are going and, with Boehlke, the best way to get there. Boehlke works with families, travel managers or corporate flight departments to manage the booking and flight. Every evacuation is unique. There is no cookie-cutter approach. You have to know the process for each kind of emergency, whether it is medical or hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack.”
About 75 percent of ISOS’s medical evacuations are done via commercial airlines. ISOS, like Private Jet Services, relies on teams of aviation experts who not only know airlines, but also maintain relationships with business aviation companies and can identify the proper aircraft for the mission, including a flying ICU. AeroMD has managed various medical emergencies from heart attacks and intracranial bleeding to car accident trauma.
Raiff explains Private Jet Services’ involvement in risk mitigation plans. “We are brought in by corporate business continuity and security departments more than travel managers,” he says. “This is part of a company’s business continuity plan which pre-plans for contingencies. You have to vet the companies you are going to use to ensure they meet your standards. There have to be policies, procedures and protocols in place to manage any kind of risk and they have to be drilled and periodically updated.”
He also explains contracts cover all the headlines we have seen over the years, including pandemics, volcanoes, nuclear plant accidents, labor strikes and even sudden airline bankruptcies.
“Our definition of an emergency is when you have to get someone someplace fast and you can’t do it with commercial aviation,” he says. “Remember when the Iceland volcano shut down commercial airspace between Europe and the US? That is when we went into action and got people where they needed to go. We have a network of resources, aircraft agents and employees on a global basis trained to take care of any contingency.”
Part of the preplanning is ensuring a travel company meets standards. “We have agreements with our clients where we jump over a lot of hurdles to become an approved provider,” Raiff explains. “We have to have liability insurance and have a legal document in place that allows a client to book flights with a click of a single button.”
However, he cautions, preplanning is only the first step. “This is not a matter of one and done. You have to dust off the program, do some drills, update phone numbers and those authorized to contract for such services. You schedule regular calls to ensure everyone is on the same page. During hurricane season, for instance, we have weekly planning calls for our clients in the US Gulf region.”
In the end, Raiff concludes, the idea is to have the plan in place and ready to go if it’s needed, whenever it’s needed. “We want to know everyone sees the big red arrow that says ‘start here’ when something is happening.”
Preplanning is the first step to creating that big red arrow.