Civil unrest in the Third World is an accepted business risk for companies that choose to pursue ventures in countries where government may not always be in complete control of society. Oil companies working in certain nations know they have to have emergency evacuation procedures in place in case of rebel activity, just as rubber companies doing business in South America know they have to provide armed escorts for their teams to deter kidnapping attempts.
But what happens when an uprising occurs in a country thought to be reasonably modern and stable? As recent events in Egypt have demonstrated, violence and uncertainty can escalate quickly. What can companies do in advance to protect their operations, people and assets when a peaceful country suddenly drops into turmoil?
Practice a total operational shutdown and personnel evacuation through a tabletop exercise. What would happen if you needed to get your people out NOW? Where would you begin, and who would take the lead? And would you be able to maintain reasonable continuity of customer service? A tabletop exercise can simulate this process and tell you very quickly how prepared you are.
Ensure alternative means of communication to your overseas operations extend beyond normal procedures. Cell phones, Internet communications and even land lines might not be available under a martial law environment. If none of these channels is available, how can you get in touch with your people and advise them what to do? Satellite phones, virtual private networks and even old-fashioned dial-up connections can help companies stay in touch when the government cuts off access to traditional means of communication. Of course, having managers on the ground delivering real-time information in person back to corporate and locally to employees is also a critical element.
Be ready to engage a private air charter service. Major airlines cancelled all flights in and out of Egypt indefinitely, and other international carriers are notoriously unreliable. The situation at major airports has been chaotic at best. Private air charter service has been instrumental for companies looking to avoid the problems created by last year’s volcano eruption.
Create contingency housing plans. Traditional crisis planning typically calls for temporary housing in area hotels in case of a natural disaster or environmental incident. If staying inside secure company facilities becomes the only option in an unstable neighborhood, ensuring temporary bedding, food and other supplies are available can help keep employees comfortable until evacuations can take place.
Stay in close contact with the U.S. Embassy. Ensuring a good working relationship with local Embassy officials may help prioritize their assistance to your organization in a crisis. If they are aware of your preparedness plans and are included in their development, they will be in a better position to expedite any needed assistance for your personnel and operations in the region.
Predicting every unforeseen event is impossible, but examples like what has been happening in Egypt represent an opportunity to consider – what if my operations and employees were impacted in the same way? Could I make good decisions about when and how to act in preservation of my business and on behalf of my employees if a seismic shift in government occurred anywhere we operate? The answers to those questions represent a new concept to consider when addressing your company’s crisis preparedness overseas.
If you would like to discuss your company’s crisis preparedness, please contact Matt Barkett at 216-241-3073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.