Emerging markets, innovative technology and the desire to learn from each are driving the continued growth of global events and conferences. In fact, I will travel to San Francisco in November to help my company, International SOS, provide medical logistics support to the 2015 FORTUNE Global Forum, a bi-annual event that convenes CEOs as well as innovators, builders, and technologists from companies around the world.
Despite the growth in the number of international events, a critical need remains for both companies managing large-scale events as well as those sending employees to attend on their behalf. Proper planning and implementation of precautions to reduce health and security risks often goes unchecked. A key challenge is the gap between the perception and reality of health and security risks at destinations. It is the inherent nature of humans to have an optimistic outlook; we believe that we are less at risk of encountering a negative event than others.
Trust me - medical and security emergencies can happen to anyone, anywhere at any time. On Aug. 17, my company was in the midst of a regional conference in Bangkok when a bomb exploded near the busy Ratchaprasong Intersection in the city center, killing 20 people and injuring 125. We had 150 employees in town for the conference along with local staff. Due to pre-emptive steps, including the development and rehearsal of an emergency response plan, we were able to keep each employee accounted for and safe, while concurrently providing medical and security support to clients also operating in Thailand.
This incident serves as a cold, hard reminder that risks are, in fact, capable of happening anyplace in the world, and how a focus on prevention can be instrumental in maintaining business continuity, avoiding costly emergencies and, most importantly, keeping employees safe.
With that said, here are some best practices to help companies managing events - as well as those sending employees to attend - protect their travelers from risks and threats.
Managing a Global Event
Conduct a site assessment
Every event destination is different and comes with its own distinct challenges, making a site assessment absolutely necessary for each and every event. A location should be selected based on a sound understanding of health and security risks associated with a particular destination, and the safeguards required in order to mitigate each one.
Medical services need to be available and accessible
Appropriate medical services and equipment need to be readily available and accessible for attendees and on-site staff throughout an event. A good example of this practice in action was at the height of last year's Ebola outbreak, organizers of an international conference taking place in Boston conducted health screenings (temperature and travel history) to check attendees for possible signs of Ebola. This measure provided sensitive and specific care for conference attendees with the contingency that any attendees with a positive reading would be transported to a local medical facility. Proactive, protective measures like these help companies hosting events stay prepared.
Develop an emergency preparedness plan...and practice it
Holistic emergency preparedness plans help companies make informed decisions in the wake of an emergency. Plans need to consist of medical and travel security expert recommendations, up-to-date local intelligence, potential risks based on the event's location, and where the attendees are traveling from. Conduct a hands-on drill at least once and be sure to debrief after the run, to look for areas that can be improved and gaps that need to be filled.
Reducing risk at events requires a team effort. Implementing preparedness plans and safety procedures are not effective for any company if its employees and staff helping support the event are not communicated, educated and trained on their specific roles and responsibilities in advance.
Sending Employees to a Global Event
While companies sending employees to a global event often face a different set of risks than when attending a national conference, the focus remains with the need to plan and deploy preventive measures.
No matter how fit they look, employees should undergo a health screening before traveling
It is a common misconception that employees are healthy and do not require a pre-travel health check. However, even minor health issues, if left unchecked, can escalate quickly into a more serious problem, especially when employees are abroad and away from familiar healthcare providers. Having an up-to-date health assessment ahead of an international (and typically stressful) trip proactively eliminates experiencing a health-related event when abroad.
Conduct your own site risk assessment
Task your company's security team or security assistance partner to conduct a thorough review of potential threats in and around the event that your employees will be attending. Every location has its own cultural customs, climate and environment and each individual traveling to the area is affected differently. Companies conducting site assessments will gain a better understanding of the health and security threats and how each can impact their employees traveling to the area specifically.
Make sure they know before they go
Prior to departure, employees need to be well-educated about how to reduce their exposure to risk and respond to events at the destination they are visiting. Clearly inform your travelers of assistance and resources available in case of an emergency.
Know where your employees are traveling
Being able to locate and communicate with your employees when they're traveling on business is vital to providing them advice and assistance following a significant incident or threat. It can be a very harrowing experience for employees to be away from home when disaster strikes. Implement processes and services to ensure employees receive reliable, vetted information and advice about the incident via a means of communication they're sure to have with them - their cell phone.
Too often companies react to a situation as it occurs as opposed to taking steps to thwart potential risk in advance. Facts surrounding any incident abroad frequently become distorted due to erroneous postings on social media. Understanding the general and specific risks in any situation, and then implementing the necessary preventive measures helps ensure a successful event experience and support the health and safety of employees and attendees alike.