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TRIP Group Masterclass 

On March 4, 2020, the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention (TRIP) Group hosted a Masterclass on Kidnapping Response at the Victory Services Club in London. The meeting also included a very informative update on Covid-19, with advice for travellers and for organisations to build on their emergency response plans. Claire Sanders reports

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Peter Cooper, the Global Security Director at Collinson – which provides medical, security and travel risk management services and is a partner of TRIP Group – opened the meeting with an update on global travel risk, providing information about upcoming elections in Bolivia and Burundi in May of this year.

In Chile, the unrest surrounding concerns over cost of living and inequality that has been ongoing since January was also highlighted, as further protests are planned for this March which may cause disruption for travellers to the area. Cooper added that as the UK’s law on the early release of terror convicts has been amended, there is cause for wariness surrounding returning fighters and the far right’s reaction to the change in the law – this week, UK troops have already been deployed to new Islamic State hotspots in areas such as Chad and Mali to take part in a UN peacekeeping mission.

Covid-19 news

Next on the agenda was Dr Simon Worrell, the Global Medical Director at Collinson, who gave a clear and comprehensive update on the Covid-19 situation. He outlined what is already known about the virus; how the original epicentre was in Wuhan at a seafood market and that the ‘mystery illness’ first reported in November 2019 spread rapidly because the city of 11 million is so well connected in terms of national and international travel links. Neither did the timing help he said, with the Chinese New Year celebrations resulting in increased travel to and from the affected area before the virus could be effectively contained.

Dr Worrell outlined the physiology of the crown-shaped virus and the symptoms that it can cause, namely fever, muscle ache, coughing and shortness of breath. It is highly contagious and spreads via respiratory droplets, with symptoms showing after between two to 14 days. This is not a ‘killer virus’, said Dr Worrell, contrary to what some popular newspapers say; Darwinian theory suggests that it is not in the virus’s interests to kill its host, upon which it relies for replication and survival. However, complications can occur, he noted, if secondary infections such as pneumonia set in, or organ failure occurs, particularly of the kidneys. He continued, saying the disease is severe in about 15 per cent of cases and that people who are over 80 years old, those with chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and patients with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.

At the moment, the UK is in the delay phase of its response plan, which has some overlap with the earlier containment phase and the third phase of scientific research. A vaccine needs to be created from scratch as this is a completely new virus and anti-viral drugs will be developed as more is known about it. The advice given to the public is to wash hands frequently with soap and warm water and to avoid touching the face with unwashed hands. People are advised to clean objects and surfaces thoroughly if they are touched or used often and to avoid contact with sick individuals. Coughs and sneezes should be contained in the crook of your elbow or in a tissue, which is then disposed of immediately. Self-quarantine is a measure for those who feel that they are particularly at risk of passing the disease on or are vulnerable to catching it, especially if they have recently travelled to Italy or China.

So, what happens in the delay phase of the response plan? Dr Worrell explained that measures such as school closures, reduced opportunities for socialising – restaurants, hotels, at football matches and cinemas – may come into force in the next few weeks. This is designed to decrease social contact, slowing the spread of the virus and relieving some of the pressure on the healthcare service. He added that trade and tourism are likely to be affected; travel will decrease and ‘fear of the foreigner’ could, unfortunately, increase. In terms of trade and economy, he said that China could potentially see 40 per cent of its firms run out of money in under three months, with upstream processes affected as Chinese production falters. Should Covid-19 turn into a pandemic, global losses could total 1.1 trillion US dollars.

As there are new epicentres now in Italy, Iran and South Korea, it is difficult to predict the virus’s next move – and the extent of its spread – because it very much depends on the state of countries’ healthcare infrastructure and their ability to identify new cases quickly. Another factor is the scientific literacy of the affected populations – how aware and willing the public is to adopt increased hygiene measures.

Dr Worrell predicts that a vaccine will be formulated over the coming year in readiness for another potential outbreak in 2021, but in the meantime it is important to stay calm and sensible, follow the advice from the Government and check reliable sources for updates to the response plan.

Inevitably, there are myths to bust, some of which are listed here and all of which have the potential to cause fear and concern in the general public. Fact-checking and cross-referencing are important in the fight against panic and misinformation.

Popular Covid-19 myths:

Hand driers can kill the virus
Thermal scanners cannot detect infected people
Spraying alcohol or chlorine on your body can kill the virus
You will catch the virus if you receive a package from China
Flu vaccines can protect you
Rinsing your nose with saline will stop you catching it
Eating garlic
The coronavirus affects older people in particular
Antibiotics can treat it

With all of this in mind, it becomes imperative for organisations large and small to have contingencies in place. Dr Worrell introduced an exercise for participants to establish the status of their company’s preparedness, to share good practice and build on existing emergency response plans.

Outcomes of the exercise included the importance of validating reports and using reliable sources to keep staff informed and internal communications up to date. Investigating supply chains to find out if – and how – they will be affected will maintain business continuity, with alternatives to fall back on if necessary.

The significance of crisis communications and media training was highlighted as, thinking ahead, stakeholder confidence, reputations, staff well-being and job security are all at stake if communication with the media is poor or ill-prepared.

The impact of working from home was also discussed in terms of practicality, feasibility and when measures such as this, or office closures and travel restrictions should be enforced. Again, the message was to follow the advice given by scientists and the public health authorities. Communication with other, similar organisations might also be helpful to share practices, gain insight and ensure consistency.

Kidnapping Response Masterclass

In the afternoon, the Kidnapping Response Masterclass proved worth the wait as experienced hostage negotiator, Sue Williams (see CRJ 10:2), gave her insights and advice to organisations whose staff may be travelling and could find themselves in a hostage, siege or kidnap and ransom situation.

Debunking popular myths first, Williams said that these situations are not always about money – they can involve politics; be a protest; a result of mental illness; or extend from domestic issues. Effective negotiating is not just about talking, but being able to listen. Neither does a longer detention suggest a higher risk of death; the longer the negotiations carry on, Williams said, the more likely that successful tactics can be deployed in the process.

She stressed that preparation for an incident is paramount and that companies should consider the following factors prior to any of their staff travelling (not an exhaustive list by any means):

  • Having an inclusive communication plan;
  • Having up-to-date travel information about the country, including knowing the host country’s likely response plan, understanding what implications the traveller’s passport can have; and whether there are any third party intermediaries that can be points of contact and assistance;
  • A detailed risk assessment for the individual or group travelling, next of kin or ‘buddy’ details, relevant personal information such as social media accounts and DNA or fingerprints, and the use of sanitised devices while travelling;
  • A lone worker contact plan;
  • Two- way reporting that is regular and up-to-date, erring on the side of caution with over-reporting is advised; and
  • Having valid insurance policies that are current and comprehensive – avoid complacency.

In CRJ 15.1, Rob McAlister stresses the need for having the right people around the table in a Crisis Management Team (CMT) and Williams echoed this too, adding that the CMT should not be assembled according to job descriptions and that it needs to be trained to reality, but is likely to meet virtually. It could be that the regular roles of the staff on the team need to be ‘back-filled’ ie taken on by others while the negotiations are in process. This also raises the real possibility that in protracted negotiations, which may take years, multiple CMTs might be needed where staggered handovers should be implemented to ensure continuity.

The response of an organisation to a kidnap or hostage incident goes beyond dealing with the perpetrators – Williams emphasises the importance that she herself places on the family of the missing person and the role that it plays, which can be both positive and negative. She says that the member of staff designated in the family support role needs to be resilient yet compassionate; able to act firmly, but be empathetic as well. They should be able to keep emotionally distant from the family while at the same time instilling confidence and inspiring trust. They must be supported themselves and probably shouldn’t feature on the CMT, but they still need to be kept well-informed with current news and information by the team. Again, it’s all about having the right people for the job.

Although the two sessions – the Covid-19 update and the Kidnapping Response Masterclass – seem poles apart in their themes, there were, in my opinion, common underlying messages. The first is that it is vital to be in possession of accurate information and that this should be communicated in a transparent and regular way with all parties involved, not just ‘the board’, or senior management team. The second is that being trained, prepared and ready for as many eventualities as possible is absolutely essential to instil confidence in clients, staff and other stakeholders.

More information on how to become a member of the TRIP Group and how to benefit from the next Masterclasses can be found here 

Claire Sanders, 01/01/2016
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