Every business continuity manager develops contingency plans for fires, floods, earthquakes and other disasters. The focus of these plans is to protect life, limit damage, and maintain business functions.
One of the most overlooked concerns is that of a critical person becoming ill or missing while visiting remote or austere regions of the world. Traffic accidents, falls, heart attacks and other illnesses are far more common than major catastrophes but are often overlooked. Of course there are the more notable but less common instances of corporate kidnapping or aircraft accidents like the disappearance of American businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett in 2008.
As a business continuity professional, one must be aware of the nature of travel used by senior executives. This will assist in determining the types of locating devices and flight plans filed by the pilots. Fossett owned and operated the plane he was flying. His plane had an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) but no signal was received.
Senior executives should be encouraged to maintain their own personal locator beacon (PLB) that transmits a satellite signal to identify the registered owner’s whereabouts. Some of the latest models also transmit a GPS location. These devices can be manually activated by the owner or anyone else (such as the security detail) in the event of a serious incident. Once the signal is received by the satellite, the satellite company contacts the number provided by the registered PLB owner. This would allow corporate executives to begin the emergency response process and make the necessary critical decisions. A PLB could be effective in locating a kidnapping victim as well.
The time and cost necessary to recruit and hire key personnel often is very long and very expensive. However, both of these issues pale in comparison to the potential financial cost and loss of reputation because share holders lose confidence in the company’s profitability due to the unknown whereabouts or health condition of critical personnel. In these situations, there can not be the slightest appearance of a lack of business continuity planning. The following recommendations can help limit this potential disaster.
In general, we think of maintaining communications to mean a cellular phone, pager and a good contact number at the hotel when key personnel are traveling. However, in times of disaster these methods of communication don’t always work. It is a good idea to maintain a satellite phone that may be used from anywhere in the world. In addition to just having the phone, dialing instructions should be maintained at the office and with the user. These instructions should clearly explain how to use the phone in various locations in the world and vice versa.
In addition to disasters and other emergencies it is good to keep a satellite phone when traveling to less-developed nations. For example, sometimes in West African countries, the phone system will go down for hours.
If a senior decision maker is out of the communications loop that long, it could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars due to an inability to provide timely decisions on various projects. There are several different satellite phone systems that provide various services, capabilities and coverage. Some phones can even provide the user with their current geographical coordinates or enough bandwidth to use the Internet.
In the event of a serious traffic accident or major illness, business continuity managers must make sure there is adequate medical treatment available and a medical evacuation plan in place. In many regions of the world, the only Level 1 trauma facility is in the capital city. Some industrial sites may be several hours from such a facility. Additionally, the medical facilities may not be comparable to western facilities. A good medical evacuation plan should include: the location of nearest facility that can stabilize a patient, a plan to evacuate a person to an appropriate trauma facility, and medical evacuation to the country of the corporate headquarters or the headquarters of the injured person. There are companies that provide medical evacuations around the world and specialized insurance plans to cover individuals annually or for a particular trip.
Emergency managers should maintain a list of these companies and also coordinate with the company’s medical insurance provider to determine what will be covered. The understanding of these issues becomes very important. For example, the decision to launch a medical evacuation plane from Germany to Nigeria will have to be made quickly due to the long duration of the flight. Therefore, a hasty decision could bring the company large unnecessary expenditures, while at the same time, waiting too long to make the decision could cost the injured person his or her life. An entire article could be dedicated to medical treatment and evacuation in austere regions and emerging markets but the aforementioned points are the most critical.
Lastly, a good public information plan should be in place as soon as possible. All attempts should be made to get ahead of the story. For example, it would be much better for corporate media personnel to be able to say something such as, “Although we have not had direct contact with the chief executive officer since the earthquake, we expect to hear from his party soon. We have a robust communications contingency plan in place that includes the immediate evacuation of any medical casualties.”
The actual script may need tweaking but this type of comment will help stop the market watchers and “technical advisors” from beginning to speculate about what happened, who might succeed the senior executive, and what turmoil the absence of a missing executive might cause the corporation.
Large companies with numerous corporate offices should make sure the company speaks with one voice. This requires a public relations policy must be established prior to an incident. For example, in the case of a situation that affects one corporate office in a particular country, the company policy should dictate whether public relations issues will be handled at the office in that country or the company headquarters. All press conferences and company Web site postings should be coordinated between the corporate headquarters and the corporate office located in the country of the incident.
Will Gunther is a former military special operations member and is currently a disaster preparedness product design consultant and trainer for World Prep Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.