CEOs Turn Attention to Travel Plans, Security in Wake of Terrorist Attacks

Some CEOs made the decision to suspend travel in the wake of the attacks that left hundreds dead and injured in France and Africa. Others stepped up their attention to the ripple effects – or at least they should have.

“In a time of uncertainty, CEOs must step into the spotlight to reassure their employees and customers are being cared for,” said Jim Hutton, chief security officer for On Call International. This includes “expressing concern for victims and allowing flexibility and virtual options for those employees who choose not to travel.”

“It’s critical for drills and training to take place before an event happens, and this action starts with direction from the CEO.”

On Call, a New Hampshire-based provider of travel-risk management services to large companies, heard from some clients’ travel and security teams that they were suspending travel to mainland Europe. Those decisions were made even though the U.S. State Department hasn’t urged companies to do so, although the Paris embassy did urge vigilance for travelers.

Meanwhile, with about 300 folks in the Paris area around the time of the attacks, A.T. Kearney had a notification system send out a message to the employees in its Paris office and others traveling there, asking them to reply saying they were safe. After the attack, Johan Aurik, managing partner and chairman of the Chicago-based, global management-consulting firm, asked that employees update their contact information and list multiple numbers where they could be reached.

Also, in the first 48 hours after the Paris attacks on November 13, nearly 400 bookings to Paris were canceled through BCD Travel, the third-largest corporate-travel management company in the world. Some 20 employers that use BCD to book travel for staff issued short-term freezes on trips to France through the middle of the next week, and two froze such plans for two weeks, Kathy Bedell, senior vice president, told CEO Briefing.

BCD was among the many travel-management companies and their clients that shifted heavily into protective mode in the wake of the attacks. BCD, for example, activated its “emergency center” for Europe, and verified the safety of its Paris-based staff, as well as of clients’ employees traveling to Paris on business trips.

While the majority of companies have emergency-preparedness plans in place, the attacks shed light on the need for companies to practice and familiarize their employees with those protocols, Tim Daniel, executive vice president at International SOS, a global provider of travel security and medical assistance, told CEO Briefing.

“It’s critical for drills and training to take place before an event happens, and this action starts with direction from the CEO,” Daniel said.

The panicked actions of some client employees amid the Paris attacks underscored the need for pre-planning and practice, he said. Some of them checked in with friends, family and even their managers to let them know they were OK after the scattered but well-coordinated attacks on westerners, “but not the company’s point of contact, who should have been notified in the wake of an event like this one.”

Added Bedell of BCD, “We’re neither encouraging nor discouraging business travel. But we’re strongly urging companies to make sure they have a travel risk management plan in place that includes traveler contact information and confirmation of whereabouts – before they send travelers on the road.”

More broadly, Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak, a leading travel-search engine, believes that people should keep on traveling. “Those who carry out terrorist attacks want people to be afraid,” he told CEO Briefing. “The best way for an individual to combat that is to keep on living.”

That may be true, but most CEOs will be practicing and urging more caution by their employees after the bloodshed in Mali and Paris highlighted the fact that global terrorism can inflict its will on travelers literally anywhere, at a moment’s notice.

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