“Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.” - Miguel de Cervantes

When unexpected security situations arise with travelers abroad, there is a marked difference in response between trained individuals and those who are untrained. When facing security or safety challenges, the trained traveler or expatriate responds in accordance with what they have been taught and learned; they have protocols and pre-briefed responses as threats present themselves.

 While no one can foresee all contingencies, Personal Travel Security Awareness Training imparts a heightened sense of situational awareness and effective response procedures for a range of security threat situations. In this training, known threats – tactics and common scams employed by the criminal element – are identified, and protocols to avoid or counter these risk vectors are introduced.

 Security Awareness Training is also a critical part of an organization’s Duty of Care, the legal and moral requirement to protect the health, safety, security and well-being of their globally-mobile employees. According to the Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study, which surveyed 628 global companies, organizations must implement best practices, which include training and preparing employees and expatriates for overseas assignments.

 “Managers who fail to pay attention to employer’s duty of care responsibilities, especially for their employees crossing borders, are failing in their commercial, fiduciary, legal, moral and social responsibilities as managers,” concludes the study’s author, Lisbeth Claus, Ph.D, professor of Global Human Resources, Willamette University.


Training Instills Knowledge

Training prior to an assignment provides a traveler or expatriate with knowledge needed stay safe in situations. This knowledge can keep travelers safe from crime and even avoid injuries. It provides them with another layer of “street smarts,” which is important because many people let their guard down while away from home, adopting a ‘holiday from reality’ mindset, when in fact, they should be doing just the opposite. In turn, the situational awareness imparted from this training that may steer someone away from a situation that could lead to robbery, assault or even an accident that could otherwise result in a costly air ambulance evacuation.

The act of travel by itself magnifies risk: the combination of unfamiliar environments, profile of traveler, jet lag and fatigue, different driving conditions, different cultures and different legal systems all contribute to a degree of vulnerability. And many of us don’t do enough to prepare for the safety and security threats of the places we travel to. In fact, many travelers spend more time searching for a restaurant to host that important client meeting or looking for fun leisure activities than they do researching the security precautions that should be taken.

Pre-deployment training and briefings make a huge difference. We can point to clients who use training coupled with mandatory pre-deployment briefings that rarely have security issues. In fact, one scholastic client with several hundred study abroad students in Central America has not had a security incident over the past three years. We attribute this to mandatory pre-travel security briefs and personal travel security awareness training.

Security awareness training allows individuals to become familiar with the security-related risks, and to have a plan for natural disasters such as earthquakes and extreme weather. Training imparts practical guidance for increasing security, developing situational and cultural awareness. Forearmed with knowledge, trained individuals have security protocols – a pre-briefed set of options – to counter situations that may occur. While some themes remain constant, training should be tailored to individual destinations. The overreaching threats are different from country to country. As an example, the main threat in Mexico is street crime, while in China one of the major issues is data theft.

“Common sense is not so common.” – Voltaire

Loose Lips Sink Ships

There are times when discussions that may have seemed innocuous can turn into security and safety issues. Situational awareness is extremely important, as travelers never know who may be listening.

An international airline crew checked into a hotel in Milan. Chatting in the lobby about their plans to meet for dinner that evening, the group shared room numbers and openly discussed their names. A criminal lurking in the lobby heard the conversation. Later, a female crew member received knock on her room door. When she asked who was there, the visitor replied “Reception” and that he had an urgent message from the crew’s captain from one of the rooms discussed. When she innocently answered the door, the criminal – who had overheard the earlier discussion in the lobby – shoved her back into the room, assaulted and robbed her.

In this case, lack of situational awareness led to release of detailed information (room numbers and names) and lack of personal security awareness training resulted in the woman’s naive response to a very predictable threat vector. Trained individuals know to practice discretion about imparting sensitive information in a public setting and would confirm with reception by telephone of an unexpected knock on a hotel room door – claiming to be someone from the front desk.
A pre-deployment briefing that included simple precautions such as not openly discussing sensitive information in a public setting could have prevented this incident.


Threats Differ from Headlines

Threats to business travelers include a wide spectrum, from street crime such as pick pocketing, purse/bag snatching and scams to violent crime including armed robbery, ATM holdups, carjacking and kidnapping to civil unrest, terrorism and natural disasters. 

And while terrorism, natural disasters and kidnappings capture the public’s imagination; travelers are far more likely to encounter security situations issues that don’t grab the headlines. By far the most common travel security risk encountered by our clients is petty crime – which is defined as non-violent crimes like pick pocketing, purse snatching and ATM theft. The other is traffic accidents. That is backed up by International SOS’s Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study, which listed some of the top threats that include opportunistic crime, accidents, pickpockets and violent crime. Terrorism and natural disasters ranked below those.

Security Awareness training combats many of these threats and equips travelers and expatriates with a toolkit in the form of a pre-briefed set of options – pre-planned protocols, or drills. The trained individual has a plan going forward, and the result is a sense of self-confidence that provides a degree of security in certain scenarios.

For example; are you aware of the law enforcement protocol involving traffic accidents in your destination country? In some countries, if there are injured persons, you could face felony charges – up to and including homicide – regardless of who is at fault. You could be detained until the facts are sorted out.
Auto accidents are one of the main ways to get into trouble in a foreign country. Your procedures in the event of an accident will vary depending on where you are in the world. In certain locations, such as Papua New Guinea and Colombia, you should think carefully about staying at the scene of the accident; instead, contact your travel assistance company or embassy or consulate. In other locations you are best to remain on site if an accident occurs. Do some research ahead of time on the best advice to follow.

Tips on traveling can also save lives. Traffic in many parts of the world is chaotic, and self driving is often unsafe. Hiring a driver or reputable taxi company is often the best way to go. Seatbelts should always be worn, and its best to ride in the back seat. Some of these may seem like common sense items, but safety and security training is a great way to reinforce these behaviors.

Stand Firm or Evacuate?

A client called the International SOS assistance center in Philadelphia with concerns that the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country where he resided as an expatriate. There was a government curfew, and there had been shootings in the streets. Shops and businesses were shuttered, and the government had closed many roads – things were pretty bad. Even though we could sense anxiety over the phone, the caller was displaying excellent situational awareness. 

Our people on the ground knew from decades of experience that demonstrations and unrest in this location were frequent and usually ran their course after about a week.

The advice to the client was to remain in place in the relatively safety of their compound and ride out the unrest. This would be safer than venturing through the city toward the airport, creating an unnecessary danger. Aside from a safety standpoint, staying put and riding out the storm also precluded the cost of an expensive evacuation, which can run tens of thousands of dollars. Other evacuation considerations included the fate their local employees if they were to abandon their facility and residence. When asked about staying put, the client said that their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was to stock seven days of food and water at this location for just such an event. 

As the call developed, we could sense the client’s stress level dropping on the other end of the phone line. The client’s situational awareness, level of preparation and overall mindset was the result of security awareness training arranged by their organization and good planning prior to travel overseas.

This article was orginally published as "The Dollars & Sense of Business Travel Security Awareness" in the print magazine.