Doug Nicholson, Chief Operating Officer at GM Risk Group
Doug Nicholson is a highly experienced security and risk management professional, with extensive experience in the Middle East, South East and Central Asia. Doug has managed complex operations during conflict and disasters, including managing 300+ personnel from 22 different nations in a remote conflict region with the United Nations during and post-disaster.
Doug holds an MBA, has conducted research into physiological and psychological responses during interpersonal human conflict, and has authored a number of articles on security and safety training and operations.
An Introduction to Travel Risk Management
When it comes to travelling, there are a few different ways to classify the types of travellers, whether it be business or tourist, as well as the types of business travel or tourist travel (skydiving into an active volcano anyone?). These each have their own extensive variety of risk management requirements when it comes to travelling.
This article cannot cover every scenario or every variable. What this article aims to do is provide an outline or a process of what areas to consider when managing the risk of travel.
While I write this, I am sitting at an airport for the fifth time in five days, in a foreign country I haven’t been to for over a decade, having driven over 2000kms in those same five days, from snow-covered mountain roads to deserts. It seemed like it was a perfect time to write an overview of risk management for travellers!
Risk management is the same, no matter the ‘trip’ we are taking. Think of walking up to a busy road, and you need to cross it. Do you close your eyes and run across, hoping that you will be lucky? Or do you physically stop yourself, and take some very basic precautions?
That act of stopping, and looking for vehicles (risks), and then assessing the likelihood of those vehicles hitting you if you cross immediately, is called ‘Risk Assessment’. You are assessing the risk of crossing the road when there are vehicles headed your way.
If you wait for those vehicles to drive past, and then wait for a gap in traffic so as to cross safely, you have now managed that risk, and effectively conducted most of the process of ‘Risk Management’.
The process is the same for more complex or dangerous ‘trips’, although the contents of that process will become more complicated, sometimes to the point of requiring professional risk management consultants to assist you in safely completing your journey.
These are the basic steps you should take when you are travelling, whether it be flying internationally, or simply driving for a couple of hours to an area you are not thoroughly familiar with.
Please note that the below is a VERY basic process and does exclude some steps in the complete risk management cycle. The higher the risk, (for example travelling to Syria to assess the impact of chemical weapons attacks), the more likely it will be that the travel should only be considered when professional risk consultants have undertaken a very comprehensive risk assessment.
Depending on your background/experience, you may prefer ‘hazard’, ‘threat’, or ‘really bad thing’. The semantics don’t matter, but it is crucial that you sit down and consider where you are going, what public information sources are telling you, (media/colleagues/government travel advisories etc.). From there you start to consider what risks there will be to you, your business, your family, during or because of, your travel.
Examples include: volcanic activity, kidnapping-for-ransom, cyber threat activity on your devices, government ‘crackdowns’, extreme weather events, crocodiles, etc.
The easiest, and worst, manner to think of possible risks, is to think of the worse thing possible. For example, it would be pretty much game over if you were struck by a meteorite during your trip, but what is the likelihood of that happening? Similarly, I wouldn’t be packing cold weather clothing when travelling to Fiji.
Keep it real, but don’t get complacent about the situation. Think of ‘probable’, and not so much ‘possible’.
Similarly, let’s keep the impact of these risks reasonable. I could imagine almost any risk leading to an impact/outcome of ‘death’, but that is generally not the case in most situations. Keep the impact of that risk reasonable as well.
For example, if your wallet is stolen, you will be discomforted, but the impact would be less than if you were kidnapped, or if you were not vaccinated for cholera if travelling to South Asia and you decide to drink the local water!
Likelihood + Impact = ?
Once you have done those first three steps, look at what you have so far. If the likelihood of a risk is negligible, and the impact of that risk is negligible, then do you need to think about these any further?
No. Put that risk aside and move on to the other risks that are likely to have a major impact and/or have a high likelihood of occurring.
This is a very important step. What are you going to do, to control/manage/mitigate the individual risks?
You might visit your organisation’s IT department to borrow an air-gapped computer. You may hire the services of a risk management firm to assist you with a local driver once you arrive at your destination. You may familiarise yourself with cultural behaviours and taboos. You may remind yourself not to stand under coconut trees, or you may have an armed escort team and only travel around in an armoured vehicle.
A tip for this step? Make sure that the consequence of your control is not worse than the risk you are trying to manage in the first place!
Again, a reminder, the steps above outline only a very basic level of risk management when travelling and should not be considered as the final say on the matter for your journey.
My professional advice to travellers is this:
- If you are travelling on holiday, then start the risk management process yourself, by researching official travel advisories and media reports. Plan, plan some more, and then plan again. If the risks are out of your control, then cancel the trip, or seek professional assistance.
- If you are travelling for work, then utilise the services of professional risk management experts, experienced with travel risks, whether they be in-house or external to your organisation.
At the end of the day, every single time you travel, you WILL face risks. It is how you plan your trip with these risks in mind that will dictate whether or not your journey will be a successful one, or a living nightmare.
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