Managing Ebola risk

Draw from existing risk-management protocols to prepare for Ebola.

The threat of Ebola can unnerve even seasoned travelers and travel managers. But health and travel industry experts say risk-management protocols for an Ebola outbreak are much the same as for any crisis:

  • Assess risk
  • Create a broad planning team
  • Leverage existing risk-management plans
  • Take advantage of partnerships
  • Designate a point person
  • Stay informed and communicate

“Ebola certainly is different from an ash cloud. Yet corporate travel programs should approach these crises with similar strategies,” said Jeroen Hurkmans, vice president of EMEA and APAC for business travel consulting firm Advito. “It always begins with understanding your vulnerabilities.”

Assess risk: Does your company have significant operations in West Africa, especially in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the disease has killed about 4,900 people? If the answer is no, then your travelers’ health risk probably is minimal, said Hurkmans. That’s a perspective shared by health and crisis travel experts who led an Oct. 22 Global Business Travel Association webinar on managing risk around the disease.

A recent survey of Move readers found that only 17% of respondents regularly send business travel to West Africa. Perhaps in a reflection of those travel patterns, 68% of respondents said that Ebola-related risks to business travelers, while serious, are “nothing to panic about.”

But if you do have significant numbers of employees in West Africa—or employees elsewhere on the continent who are likely to face disruptions because of travel bans imposed by other African nations—then you need a plan for managing the risk Ebola poses to your employees and your business.

Create a broad planning team: Your Ebola plan needs to be constructed by stakeholders across the company—not only from travel, but also from security, human resources, legal and potentially other departments. “Ebola is too big to be just a travel issue. It can have an impact on your people, operations and reputation. It can affect every aspect of your company,” Hurkmans said.

Leverage existing risk-management plans: The foundation of your Ebola plan will be your broad travel risk-management plan, and you’ll layer Ebola-specific preparation on top. Your Ebola plan should identify all affected travel locations and map out related scenarios, said George Taylor, managing director of Global Operations for iJet and one of the presenters on the GBTA webinar. It also should include daily check-in protocols for employees in affected areas and provisions for multiple modes of communication (for example, mobile and satellite phones).

Take advantage of partnerships: Travel managers should turn to knowledgeable partners for guidance, Hurkmans advised. “The Ebola situation is changing fast. Work with your travel management company, medical suppliers and security providers to tap their expertise and flow of information.” Talk to emergency transportation coordinators, such as BCD Travel’s preferred partner Anvil, iJet or iSOS about whether evacuations are possible or advisable. Ask your medical suppliers to help you keep tabs on clinics operating on the ground. Work with providers to develop internal and external safe havens for employees, as well as contingency plans if situations change.

Designate a point person: Many corporate departments will be involved in managing your company’s Ebola risk, so it’s key to have a single point person who receives and disseminates all Ebola-related information, Hurkmans said. “You don’t have time to duplicate work, and you don’t want to send conflicting messages to your travelers. The best way to avoid both is to have a one person overseeing your response.”

Stay informed and communicate: In addition to tapping your partners for their insights, keep up with Ebola-related information from reputable sources such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then disseminate the highlights of this reliable news to your travelers—early and often. Even if your company is at low risk, make sure your travelers know that. Otherwise, they might misunderstand the risks or just feel anxious. “It’s important to have clear, regular communications to make this situation less frightening and stressful for your travelers,” Hurkmans said.

The results of the Move reader survey reinforce the importance of clear communication. Of the respondents who said Ebola has had an impact on their travel program, 60% indicated that the impact has taken the form of increased communication with travelers about risks and precautions.

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