DAN VERTON, CONTENT LEADER & STRATEGIST

The continued outbreak of a novel form of the coronavirus in China, which has so far killed at least 170 people and spread to 20 countries, has led to evacuations, quarantines, flight cancellations, and border closings. The latest news reports also indicate that 7,000 people were being held Jan. 30 on a cruise ship in Italy after a female passenger and her husband — both from Hong Kong — may be showing symptoms consistent with the virus.

The virus, which was first uncovered in the city of Wuhan, China, has spread so rapidly that it has forced authorities in China to place nearly 60 million people under full or partial lockdown in cities across the country. And while there are so far only 100 confirmed cases outside of China, the outbreak has underscored the urgent need for businesses and schools with international programs to review their travel risk management policies, procedures, and safety communications capabilities.

As my colleagues Mike Kelly and Joe Gleason of AHT Insurance, and I wrote last year in Destination Risk: How Community-Sourced Risk Data & Safety Communications Can Improve Travel Risk Management, travel risks that become safety and security emergencies can be incredibly costly. In the worst case scenario, if an air ambulance is required and someone needs to be medically evacuated back to the U.S. or another location globally because they’re traveling in a place where the health care facilities aren’t adequate, organizations could be looking at a medical evacuation bill in the range of $150,000 to $200,000, plus the additional costs for medical care.

Ineffective travel risk management can result in claims against the organization and lawsuits alleging failure to meet Duty of Care can be financially devastating. In 2017, for example, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld a $41.5 million verdict in favor of a high school student who contracted tick-borne encephalitis during a school-led trip to China.

Today, travelers are faced with a wide variety of potential risk scenarios, from terrorism and civil unrest to petty crime, disease outbreaks, transportation accidents, personal health crises, natural disasters, sexual assault targeting lone travelers and hate crimes, among other incidents. Although risks do vary from location to location, the universe of potential risks for which organizations have a duty of care obligation to prepare their travelers is no longer confined to specific geographic regions or to multinational corporations with thousands of business travelers. To the contrary, travel risk is a critical business continuity issue facing every organization, regardless of size, number of travelers, trip frequency or geography.

The vast majority of U.S. business travelers tend to worry about the things we hear about in the news: war, terror, kidnapping, etc. While those things are all very bad and very severe, the probability of occurrence is relatively low. The much more likely risks to happen, according to the leading assistance providers, are routine sickness (typically related to gastrointestinal issues) and severe road traffic accidents. Travel risk managers need to understand what the most likely risks are and then they must prepare travelers for those risks.

Understanding the risk in a destination helps travelers and overseas staff make good decisions about risk and helps organizations build risk-specific plans and procedures. But for organizations with global travelers and staff, communicating risk information is an even more critical element in meeting your duty of care obligations.

New and emerging technologies like travel tracking, geo-location, one-touch for assistance, and intelligent travel alerts help arm travelers so they can avoid high-risk situations in the first place and more effectively respond in the event of an incident. But platforms like LiveSafe are also making it possible for travelers to engage in real-time, one-to-one communications with security departments and other key management, as well as enabling those management teams to broadcast critical information to travelers located within a specific geographic area.

Technology, when effectively integrated into travel risk management systems at both the headquarters and the traveling workforce levels, can lower the likelihood and impact of critical incidents – with benefits across the organization. First and foremost, these measures enhance the safety and security of travelers and enable global business operations in an increasing complex world. At the organizational level, the resulting risk management systems can decrease insurance claims and increase the defensibility against claims of failure to meet duty of care.

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