Congratulations! You’ve made it to the fifth (and final) installment of 7Spears’ Travel Security series. We hope you’ve enjoyed what we’ve learned together thus far. As a review:
In Installment 1, we introduced the basics of Travel Security; why it is important, the concept of Duty of Care, and the role that the security practitioner should play in the preparation, planning and response of a holistic Travel Security program.
In Installment 2, we reviewed the responsibilities of both the traveler and the practitioner performing the “CP” functions as it pertains to Pre-Travel tasks. We discussed Travel Intelligence, the six categories of Pre-Trip Planning, and insurance issues.
In Installment 3, we discussed Travel Security Specifics; international travel best practices, secure communications and OPSEC, anti-crime and anti-kidnapping principles, and the use of facilitators; all from the perspective of both the practitioner conducting the travel and the practitioner performing the “CP” role.
In Installment 4, we talked about some of the most useful aspects of an effective Travel Security program – the activities conducted after the trip is over. We talked about post-trip activities, how to conduct an effective post-mortem meeting, and the reports that should be completed (whether they are required of your customer or not).
In our final installment, we will review the aspects of contingency planning. We will discuss the essential elements of contingency planning, review the foundational document of a trip (known as the Emergency Action Plan – EAP), and then highlight supporting documents used in contingency operations.
Contingency Planning Introduction
Conducted during the pre-trip phase of the Travel Security Cycle, Contingency Planning is such a vast topic and is so important that it warrants its own attention. Contingency planning is full of nuances and “it depends” answers. It is also highly dependent on the person/element being supported and the environment in which the support will take place. These factors open us up to a large volume of criticism and “what about” questions. It is important to understand from the outset that this post is meant as an introductory session to general concepts and principles. It is not meant to be the “catch-all” solution to all trips and all travel elements in all environments. Having said that, we are definitely open to comments, criticisms, and suggestions, so take a gander and then fire away! As always, if you need customized help with contingency planning for your element or a specific trip, please reach out to us.
At its core, contingency planning answers the question, “What if?” in each phase of the trip. Just think about that for a second. As we think about everything that could go wrong on a trip, if we then try and come up with a solution to every single scenario, our contingency planning can quickly become very unwieldy. And this brings us to the first principle in contingency planning: Keep it simple. This plan needs to be remembered and executed when the situation is at its worse; when Murphy has reared his ugly head and what can go wrong…has. On the surface, this may seem counter-intuitive. Contingency planning needs to be comprehensive and thorough. Yet it needs to be simple enough to be implemented in an emergency scenario. We have found that, in order to strike this balance between opposing concepts, you should lump contingencies into related groups (we call them “missions”) and then come up with common solutions that can be applied to any emergency within that group.
Confused yet? Not to worry. We’ll clarify it when we get to the nuts-and-bolts of the Contingency Plan and the Emergency Action Plan (EAP).
Finally, for the sake of clarity, we want to differentiate between the Contingency Plan and the Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Don’t get caught up in the titles. You can call them whatever you want. For our purposes, think of the Contingency Plan as your “Emergency Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – those actions you conduct when and if a category of emergency occurs. The EAP, on the other hand, is trip-specific and has the names, locations, contacts and procedures that will be used for that specific trip.
Essential Elements of a Contingency Plan
Again, think of the Contingency Plan as your Emergency SOPs. In this document, you group contingencies into related categories (“missions”) and detail the actions to be taken if an incident were to occur within that category. These steps are universal and apply regardless of the location of the trip. They are general concepts that guide the actions of the traveler at all times. To clarify this concept, we will use the skeleton of 7Spears’ Contingency Plan as an example. Keep in mind that this is our SOP, which may/may not work for you or your company.
Here at 7Spears, we have identified that all contingency operations have five (5) critical tasks that must be completed. Our Contingency Plan, therefore, is organized by these 5 Key Tasks:
5 Key Tasks of Contingency Operations
- Report. This category entails how the traveler will pass information back to the CP and what that information should entail. Additionally, this category covers how the CP will authenticate the reported information. It also outlines what responsibilities the CP has to pass this information to other agencies (the client’s company, the USEMB/RSO, medical/travel insurance, etc.).
- Locate. This category covers how the traveler will pass their location to the CP. In turn, this category outlines how the CP can monitor the locational information of the traveler.
- Support. This category is divided into two sub-categories: support to the traveler and support to the company and family of the traveler in an emergency situation. Here, we outline what mechanisms will be used to provide morale and other assistance to those entities involved in the emergency scenario, should it become a prolonged incident (kidnap, detention, death, missing, etc.).
- Recovery. This category entails what mechanisms are available to recover the traveler to friendly or home-station control. Examples include medical evacuation insurance, US State Department assistance (such as a Non-Combatant Evacuation Order (NEO) or USEMB directed negotiations), host nation support, etc. It also details the actions taken by the company to mitigate risk to brand and business while reacting to the emergency incident.
- Resumption of Business. This is the process of both transitioning the traveler back to their normal duties in the wake of an incident (counseling, medical, etc.), as well as the resumption of business and brand in a (hopefully) more resilient manner than pre-crisis.
In addition, 7Spears has identified four (4) crisis categories that our travelers may find themselves in. We label these as emergency “missions” and further break down our Contingency Plan along these lines. They are:
- Medical Mission. This would entail any emergency that causes the traveler to be unable to complete his/her primary purpose due to a medical concern. Hospitalization, although not mandatory, would be an example of a Medical Mission.
- No Communications (No COMMS) Mission. At 7Spears, we establish a 24-hour communication policy – meaning that we require our travelers to check in with the CP in some form or fashion at least once in a 24-hour period. Prior to the trip we identify an ideal comms window for this to occur (given the itinerary, time differences, etc.). A No COMMS mission occurs when the traveler has missed a 24-hour contact window. Additionally, a No COMMS Mission could occur, mid-crisis, if an abbreviated contact window is missed during an incident.
- Incident Mission. This category covers the myriad of situations that may require the traveler to “get off the X”. Any incident in which the traveler does not have the ability to immediately extricate him/herself would fall into this category. Examples include, an attack or robbery, kidnapping (or attempted kidnapping), arrest or detention. The common factor that places the emergency in the category of “Incident” is that the traveler is unable to remove him/herself from the situation and that the crisis irrevocably impacts the primary purpose of the trip.
- Other Mission. This catch-all category involves any situation that does not fall into the other three categories. What separates an “other” emergency from an “incident” emergency is that the traveler is not in immediate danger, but the danger is imminent and will have irrevocable impacts on the primary purpose of the trip. Possible scenarios include: a NEO, civil unrest that presents an imminent threat to the traveler, impending natural disasters, a traffic accident (with complications), or identification of surveillance/casing of the traveler (“pre-strike activities”).
So let’s take a look at a few examples from 7Spears’ Contingency Plan to illustrate the point.
Example 1 – No Comms Mission
“In general, communications will be maintained between the traveler and the CP once per 24-hour period. This communication could be in the form of a phone call, text, email, beacon check-in, etc. If contact is missed, the following actions will be taken:
- Establish comms with the CP ASAP
- Contact another CONUS trusted contact and ask that he/she pass a message to the CP
- Contact the USEMB and ask for assistance in getting in touch with the CP
- Contact Travel Insurance company and ask that they assist you getting in touch with the CP
- (When applicable) Reach out to local contacts and ask them for assistance in getting in contact with CP
- Attempt to contact the traveler
- Attempt to contact the hotel/venue of the traveler to be connected or leave a message
- Send a location request to the traveler’s cell phone app
- Monitor all beacon and tracking software
- Notify USEMB to make them aware that you have a traveler (STEP registered) in their area that you have lost communication with (note date/time of last contact)
- Notify Travel Insurance company to make them aware that you have a traveler (pre-registered) that you have lost contact with (note date/time of last contact)
- (When applicable) Reach out to local contacts and ask them for assistance in getting in touch with the traveler
Example 2 – Incident Mission
Any situation in which the traveler does not have the ability to immediately extricate him/herself would fall into this category. The key factor identifying this as an “Incident Mission” vs. an “Other Mission” is that the event is actually taking place; not that it is imminent or probable. Should an incident occur, the following actions will be taken:
- Attempt to remove yourself from the situation (EX: get off the “X”, talk your way out of an arrest, etc.)
- If you can extricate yourself, make a determination as to your safety and the impact to the overall primary purpose of the trip
- If you can continue, notify the CP of the incident and be prepared to receive further guidance
- If you feel that you must abort your trip, move immediately to the closest Emergency Rally Point (ERP) and make a determination on your next/best course of action
- Determine what entity will be able to provide the most immediate assistance and contact them (CP, host nation contact, USEMB, local police/military, etc.)
- If the CP is not notified first, they are immediately notified next
- After the initial call, traveler will make hourly comms with the CP to provide updates. These checks will continue until the situation is resolved or a new schedule is coordinated with the CP
- Notify the USEMB with as many details as possible and the plan for future contact/action. Discuss support options.
- Notify travel insurance contact with as many details as possible and the plan for future contact/action. Discuss support options.
- Notify local contacts/resources that may be able to help. Do NOT discuss details. Discuss support options.
- If, after the initial call, the CP does not hear from the traveler, initiate the No COMMS mission.
You get the idea. Our Contingency Plan also has sections relating to brevity codes, OPSEC, how to formally initiate a crisis mission, special communications and signaling protocols, checklists for different environments, etc. This SOP should be detailed enough to be effective, but basic enough to be remembered. There are a few sections of our Contingency Plan that deserve particular attention:
Communications Format. In an emergency scenario, it is important that communications are brief, concise and efficient. That is a tall order in the midst of a crisis. At 7Spears, we developed the S.L.I.C.K. acronym to remind us how to pass critical information in a concise and quick manner:
Status – Initiator indicates that they are declaring a crisis status. This status is confirmed/repeated by the receiver.
Location – Location is passed and we set a standard for the format in which it is passed.
Intentions – What is the initiator going to do next? This includes who they are going to contact, where they are going to go, and what they are going to do when they get there.
Confirm Next Contact – Both initiator and receiver confirm when the next comms window (and method) will be.
Key Event – What happened to cause the initiation of a crisis mission?
Notice that the Key Event is the last thing to be passed. This is because it is the least important of all the critical information. If comms are cut short for any reason, the most important information should be relayed first (“I need serious help and this is where I am at.” ). If needed, we can figure out the “why?” later.
Public Affairs Guidance. Rest assured that if an incident occurs, it will eventually end up in the public forum. With the prevalence of social media and the globalization of news coverage, it is only a matter of time before a western traveler’s unfortunate circumstances end up on everyone’s phone screen. It is important to get out in front of the story before it takes on a life of its own. 7Spears has developed (with the advice of experts) pre-formatted public statements that fit each of the different contingency missions. Should a crisis occur, we will post the appropriate statement to our website and we have established SOPs for how to handle the press should the incident go longer in duration or garner greater media attention (bottom line, after the initial statement, keep your mouth shut and get an expert consultant in on it quick!).
Our Contingency Plan also addresses support to the traveler and families in a protracted crisis, reintegration procedures and ways to resume normal business operations as quickly as possible.
The Emergency Action Plan (Trip-Specific)
Having an SOP is great and significant effort should be put into creating a comprehensive one. But the guidance in a Contingency Plan is very generic and just the broad-brush strokes of contingency operations. Prior to every trip, we spend a significant amount of time and effort developing contingencies that are specific to a given project. These plans are called the Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The EAP is worked on collectively between the traveler and the CP. It is a formal brief to one another during pre-deployment activities, and is the final item reviewed prior to the traveler leaving the office. Combining the Contingency Plan with the EAP in this manner meets the intent for the CP to be able to anticipate the actions of the traveler, even if there is no further communication shared.
The first thing listed in the EAP is the primary trip timeline. This is the baseline from which contingencies are adjusted. Was the traveler supposed to conduct a high-risk movement and never checked in? Was he/she scheduled to arrive at a venue and never showed up? The baseline of “what is supposed to happen” is important to have ready in a contingency scenario.
Next up in the EAP is a list of Key Locations. There are common key locations in every EAP: the arrival airport, the hotel, the USEMB, other “friendly” embassies/consulates, and hospitals that were identified to be of use (identified during pre-trip planning). Additionally, the team should identify Emergency Rally Points (we call them “ERPs” or “Go to Hell Points”). Our policy is to pick four (one in each cardinal direction) that can support a contingency scenario. Key qualities of an ERP are:
- Easily identifiable from the ground
- Away from densely populated or heavily trafficked areas
- Available to be occupied 24/7
- Enable a traveler to loiter for a short period of time (2-6 hours)
- Supports the ability of help from an outside agency (host nation, USEMB, travel insurance, etc.) to service/secure the traveler
Identifying ERPs from the home office can be a difficult task, especially given these requirements. We rely heavily on Google Earth to assist us. We tend to lean towards large parks, memorials,touristy-type sites, or sites just off of easily-identifiable intersections. Basically, we are looking for locations where a traveler can go to rest and recoup for a second if they, for whatever reason, are unable to get back to a hotel/airport/embassy. We try and have one in each cardinal direction, somewhat out of the hustle/bustle of the main city so that – no matter where the crisis occurs – there is an unimpeded path to an ERP.
All key locations are mapped, imaged (with Google Earth) and given a brevity code. All Key Locations (including ERPs) are then surveyed/verified on the first day that the traveler is in-country. Very often, the “ground truth” will appear quite different from what was pictured during the pre-trip planning, so ERPs are adjusted in the first SITREP home, and the EAP is modified.
Following the Key Locations portion, the team will go through the four contingency missions (Medical, No COMMS, Incident, and Other) and plan out the specific actions that will be taken should a crisis occur. This follows closely with the actions outlined in the Contingency Plan SOP, but detail specifics of hospitals that will be used, identifying exact Emergency Points of Contact (EPOCs), numbers that will be dialed, etc.
After the actions for each contingency mission are outlined, special contingency scenarios are planned out. These “special contingencies” will be identified in pre-trip planning. For example, if you know you will be travelling in an area prone to heavy civil disturbance, a special plan will be implemented to cover rioting. If the area is known to be rife with checkpoints, a checkpoint plan will be put into place.
The EAP closes out with a list of brevity codes. Brevity codes are special words or phrases that can be used in the event that emergency communications need to take place over non-secure lines and there is an OPSEC concern of the messages being monitored. In “normal” environments, emergency communications should be clear, concise, in plain text, and in the open. Brevity codes are only used in special circumstances.
There is a critical EAP annex that must be highlighted: Key Contacts. The Key Contacts annex lists all the critical numbers; hotel, traveler’s cell, CP office, CP cell, USEMB RSO, Post 1, other “friendly” embassies, EPOCs, travel insurance emergency number, etc. This is kept in the EAP, as well as shrunken down, laminated, and carried with the traveler at all times.
Supporting Documents Used in Contingency Operations
As extensive as the Contingency Plan SOP and EAP are, there are some supporting documents that are also used in contingency operations. At 7Spears, we also include the following:
- Emergency Info Folder. Each traveler creates an Emergency Info Folder. This folder has a photocopy of the traveler’s passport, visa stamp, and any IDs or credit cards that he/she will be carrying. It also has a strip map to the traveler’s home, special instructions for family care/notification, and instructions on any special technical devices that the traveler will use for tracking or beaconing (we use a variety of phone apps and beacons). We also have photos of the traveler from various angles and we document any tattoos or distinguishing marks/characteristics.
- Comms Log. This has been repeatedly mentioned in previous installments. The CP keeps a careful log of ALL communication received by the traveler – whether it is email, text, voice call, beacon check-in, etc. Also annotated is the time of contact, who received the communication, the mode of communication, a summary of the communication, and a location (if known or sent). The comms log is a critical piece of information, especially in a No COMMS contingency mission
- Contingency Plan Annexes. There are several annexes to our Contingency Plan SOP; many of which are specific to 7Spears. You should ensure that you have annexes that cover the particular aspects to your company and the work that it does. We have a family support annex, a movement/convoy annex, an annex that covers the contents of emergency go-bags and vehicle kits, etc.
The CP Perspective
In a previous installment, it was discussed that during “interesting” overseas trips, the CP makes attempts to not schedule anything outside of the office. The reason for this is to be able to track all travelers AND to have that emergency/contingency folder close by, along with all plans and procedures in case of any type of emergency/mission listed above. There is no need for distraction during this time, and it’s during these times that phones, laptops, apps are all on full sound and notifications. It’s just as important to attempt to stay cool, calm and collected whenever some type of issue pops up. We don’t want to miss a thing during these trips. The importance of the CP during these trips cannot be emphasized enough.
Contingency planning is a laborious, detailed, and draining process. However, it is a critical component to pre-trip planning. There is never a guarantee that Murphy will not appear on any trip. If you have luck like we do, Murphy will appear in the one way that you have not planned for. Contingency planning is not meant to cover every possible scenario. Rather, it is meant to provide a general framework and outline policies and procedures that can be adapted to any contingency that presents itself. A well-crafted, thoroughly understood and executed contingency plan significantly increases the chances that both the traveler and the CP can adapt to whatever comes their way – planned for or not.
We hope that you have enjoyed our series on International Travel Security. It has been our pleasure to collaborate with the many readers who have offered their questions and comments along the way. It is our hope that you may have learned something that you didn’t know before. At a minimum, we hope that our offerings have allowed you the opportunity to consider an aspect of Travel Security in a different light. Thank you for your time and attention. We look forward to continuing our collaboration on the myriad of topics to come and can’t wait for your questions, comments, and suggestions. Now get out there and put this stuff to good use!
- Victoria State Government – Overseas Travel Contingency and Emergency Response Manual – an example of a government agency’s Contingency Plan SOP. A great base to modify from. (Use your search engine with the bold terms above to locate a copy)
- Global Preparedness: Plan for the Unplannable When Your Employees Travel Abroad – a different perspective from another security consultant that give you some scenarios to think through as you come up with your contingency plans. https://officeninjas.com/global-preparedness-plan-for-the-unplannable-when-your-employees-travel-abroad/
“Life is a journey – Let’s travel it safely!”
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