With the dramatic rise in well-publicized terrorist attacks over the past several years, it’s no surprise that the issue of travel safety is top-of-mind for companies with traveling executives.
But are we really less safe than we used to be? And if we are, how should security teams respond to the threats posed by travel in the modern era?
To explore these and other important executive protection questions, Donny Purdy, COO of Groundwork, a portfolio company of Travel Research Advisors, sat down with Dataminr’s Monica Weber for a conversation on “Travel Security in the Modern Era.”
Here are five key takeaways all those who support executive travelers should be aware of:
#1. Duty of care means more than traveler tracking
We touched on this issue recently in our reaction to the Wall Street Journal’s article, “A New Level of Security on Your Business Trip.” Purdy calls out the same article, remarking on its singular focus on traveler tracking as a duty of care solution.
“Tracking apps are incredibly helpful tools in responding once an incident has occurred, but they can’t tell you how to avoid a situation in the first place,” he states. “So while valuable in an emergency, traveler tracking is largely a reactive tool.”
#2. Proper travel security must be proactive, as well as reactive
Purdy further expands on the distinction between proactive and reactive security planning. He notes, “At Groundwork, we take a more proactive – we believe, more comprehensive – approach. We use a number of tools to do this. Because the reality is that you need both. You need proactive and reactive tools to respond adequately to risk.”
For Purdy, a holistic approach lies in the combination of culture, people, processes, and tools organized around a solid risk management framework. An example of a mission carried out by his team in Italy demonstrates how proactive planning – in partnership with these four important factors – drives operational success.
#3. Travelers’ perception of risk is often distorted
The thought, based on recent attacks in London and Paris, that terrorists might attack a major event where your executive is traveling is understandably concerning. Purdy aims to reassure listeners that these attacks are statistically much less likely than the threats posed by more common challenges, such as traffic accidents and medical incidents.
But Purdy doesn’t dismiss the risk of terrorist attacks entirely. Instead, he suggests that travel security isn’t about specific risks. It all depends on the situation and on how the risk assessment process plays out. It’s paying attention to risk on some level that’s important. Once this awareness is achieved, it can be used to identify and mitigate specific threats relative to the situation, rather than making blanket assumptions about threats.
#4. Travel risk exists in seemingly “safe” countries
Midway through the interview, Weber makes an important point: that travel risk is no longer contained to countries that are perceived as being “high risk.” As she notes, this change has implications for the way companies should plan travel for their executives.
“In the past, people made travel arrangements through their companies,” she describes. “Then there was a brief email sent out explaining the state of the location that person was traveling to. There were specific locations that were deemed unsafe, but outside of those, security risk assessments were limited. Today a “safe” country can easily be the site of an event.”
Purdy agrees, but is quick to call out that accounting for these new risks should still be encompassed by a company’s standard risk management approach.
“Terrorism is happening more often in Western countries than people are used to seeing,” he shares. “So yes, it’s something we take into consideration and have had to deal with on multiple occasions. But terrorism isn’t any different than traffic accidents with injuries, kidnapping, or any of the other risks we might identify and consider in our travel risk mitigation approach. What’s the probability it will happen and how severe would the impact be? Is it a risk we can accept or not?”
#5. Risk may change, but your security process shouldn’t
Ultimately, that’s the key takeaway from Purdy and Weber’s conversation: that any travel risk mitigation program must be broad and robust enough to encompass the new challenges we face and resources we have available today.
As Purdy notes, our collective approach to travel security has evolved in recent years. The dialogue around duty of care, the changing face of risk, and the new tools and resources we have to work with have all contributed. But the tried and true frameworks used to address risk have not changed. It’s still critical that teams plan for it ahead of time, react to it in the moment of an incident, and learn from it after the fact.
For more on the specific framework Purdy recommends, or to hear the conversation in full, view the webinar here.
Once you’ve had a chance to listen, come back here and share your thoughts. Does your company’s security program adequately account for today’s unique travel risks? If not, are there any key takeaways from this interview you plan to implement? Leave us a note below with your comments.
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Mr. Hooton serves as Savoya’s Vice President of Operations, giving him an insider’s perspective into the challenges faced by travel managers. His contributions are grounded in this insight, and emphasize travel and safety best practices for travel coordinators and the teams they serve.