By STEVE YAHN, who has written for and edited national publications for more than 30 years
When rioters took to the streets of Cairo in early February, Philadelphia-based International SOS was ready.
The first thing the medical and security assistance provider did was secure a hotel as a meeting point for various foreign travelers and expatriates it planned to evacuate from Egypt.
"It was a textbook evacuation," said Alex Puig, regional security director for the Americas at International SOS. "First, it was the duty of our clients to make sure their people were at our evacuation location. In this case, the site was a five-star hotel near the airport. Fortunately, the hotel was surrounded by Egyptian military tanks and troops so rioters didn't dare approach the hotel."
Those being evacuated were processed in a large ballroom at the hotel, and lodging was provided on site.
"And the bar was open in case they needed to calm their nerves," Puig said.
Then transportation was provided to the airport in Cairo, where International SOS staffers assisted the travelers through customs and security and onto the plane and then off to one of three locations--Frankfurt, Dubai or Paris--where reception teams were in place to help them onward with their travels.
That first week, 800 or so people were evacuated from Cairo by International SOS to places all over the world, including the United States, Europe and China. Those transported included corporate employees, academics and members of nongovernmental organizations.
Since the unrest started in North Africa and the Middle East, International SOS has evacuated more than 2,070 individuals who were in harm's way. They were evacuated by charter and commercial flights staffed by International SOS teams.
Iain Donald, vice president and director of global risk analysis at London-based Control Risks, which offers strategic security advice for locations around the world, has a caution about airports and similar gathering points, however.
"It may not be safe to move to an international place of departure," Donald said. "Often, we'll decide that travelers or expatriates shouldn't leave the accommodation they're in if it's secure. It may not be the smartest thing just to go the airport and find yourself stuck there with no flights."
One way to look at evacuations, however, is as a failure on your system, according to Bob Falconi, director of corporate security and safety at Symantec Corp. Falconi instead aims to get people out before they have to go to extraordinary means to get them out.
"We're quick to tell our travelers when not to go to a certain location. And if they're caught up in a trouble spot situation, like the early days in Egypt, we would advise our travelers, or even expatriates, to get out of the country before there's a breakdown," he said.
Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp., the information-technology security service firm, has 18,500 employees in 40 countries. The company uses a system to see where its traveling employees are at all times, country by country and even down to their itinerary
"We educate our employees on safe practices on traveling internationally. We give them predeparture alerts when they're traveling internationally. We also give them en-route updates if there's something going on during the duration of their travel," Falconi said.
International SOS also uses something similar, called its TravelTracker. This system consolidates data across travel management companies' global distribution systems from all booking locations. From a single platform, TravelTracker integrates this data into a format that allows its users to quickly search for, locate and communicate with their travelers, using e-mail and global short text messages.
Symantec also provides self-service online information portals where employees can check conditions in various countries around the world, as well as one-on-one travel briefings.
"We insist on that if an employee is going to a higher-risk destination," Falconi said.
From an internal management standpoint, Symantec has had great success with something it calls its business continuity management team. This group is made up of key managers responsible for various security-related functions, set up to coordinate company communication in the face of a crisis situation.
March 4, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications