Crisis Management & Protection of Personnel: COVID-19 Outbreak
With a multitude of Fortune 500 companies having large-scale operations in South Africa and Africa, and a substantial number of expatriate personnel working for these companies across the African continent; the security departments of many of these companies have no doubt been sent into a bit of a tail-spin since the majority of the world enacted strict travel restrictions in place to curb the rampant spread of COVID-19.
The question surrounding the safety and security of executives and expats has certainly been at the very top of the agenda for many of these companies since news of impending lockdowns broke. Talk of emerging crime trends, the potential collapse of the health care system and predictions of civil unrest on the horizon are enough to send even the most pragmatic of Excos into a state of uncertainty and in turn, place a substantial amount of pressure on the security department to offer some kind of plan to mitigate the myriad of risks they foresee. We have covered many of those in previous blogs and vlogs.
The following insights will offer tips on how to navigate your company through the emergence of a global outbreak in what is an unprecedented scenario for the modern world:
- Beware of misinformation
We live in an age where information is readily available at the tips of our fingers. While there are many valuable and reliable sources covering the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an equal amount of speculative, fear-based reports made up of sensationalised headlines and rumours. This unfortunately makes it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction, and thus, can lead to ill-informed decision making. South Africa, for one, has made the spreading of fake news a criminal offence and we have already seen eight arrests and the first prosecution under that legislation.
It is of critical importance to only base your decisions on validated sources of information and remember: you are liable for the decisions that you make, and in particular, how those decisions affect the safety and security of the employees you are responsible for.
- Place your duty of care towards your staff above all else
While business continuity (and in many cases – preservation) is no doubt a matter of the highest priority for corporates around the world during these testing and unusual times, for companies operating in third world countries, another matter has likely taken pole position on the agenda – namely, the threat of unrest and the potential impact on their staff, executives and especially expats.
Given the widespread closures of ports of entry into almost every country around the world, and the lack of charter aircraft available (not to mention the exorbitant cost attached to charters), options are limited and largely dependent on the budget available. With that said, an effective ‘trigger’ system should be utilised to dictate planning and preparation in the event of an escalation of threat. The point is that you should already have an emergency evacuation or crisis management plan in place.
The trigger system should identify the events and emerging conditions that will influence the decision-making process and definitively outline the appropriate course of action. All corresponding actions should be pre-planned, roles and responsibilities should be assigned in advance, and all service support requirements should be placed on standby for immediate activation if required. This can include booking and paying for resources up front once a certain trigger-point is reached.
- Trust your plan but be prepared for deviations
In theory, the foundational planning to navigate your company through this global crisis should already be laid in the form of a crisis/risk management/evacuation plan, as we’ve said. A chain of command with crisis management teams at a local, national and corporate level should already be established with roles and responsibilities clearly defined. Periodic rehearsals should have occurred prior to the outbreak to ensure that each role-player is familiar with their responsibilities.
Assuming that this is the case in your company, the activation and implementation of your plan should run like clockwork, right? Well, not quite. We have already established that the situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedented and therefore equally unpredictable. Governments around the world are closely watching one another in a bid to identify what course of action achieves the best results, and what measures to avoid. As a result, lockdown legislation is ever-changing and new measures are being introduced frequently that may inhibit elements of your plan. For this reason, it is critical that contingencies are built into each and every phase and that the plan has been reviewed and adjusted during this time we find ourselves in.
A prime example of this is the closure of almost all points of entry int o almost all countries around the world, a reality that will almost certainly impede most companies’ ability to conduct a full-scale evacuation of their executive and/or expatriate staff. A contingency in this instance would be the possibility of an in-country relocation to a predetermined safe haven as a ‘stand-fast’ point during the ‘Holding Phase’ of the plan. The situation could then be reassessed and plans put in place for possible escalation to the next phase.
The lesson here is to ensure that your plan is somewhat fluid and adaptable to changes in the environment. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, and our plans must reflect this uncertainty in their adaptability.
- Partner with trusted service providers
The ‘moving parts’ of your plan are going to require service support. This may be in the form of additional security, ground and air transportation, lodging and accommodation, basic life support and so on. Now is not the time to shop around. Lean on existing service providers for assistance and should your requirements fall outside of the scope of their capabilities, make sure you appoint trusted service providers with a proven track record in providing the required services.
- Keep one eye on the future
While the safety and wellbeing of your employees should be at the forefront of your thinking, do not neglect putting plans in place to enable business continuity. Your plan should encompass short term measures to ensure business and operational preservation, but looking ahead, you may be required to analyse your market space and engineer new ways of doing business. It is impossible to predict what the actual impact of this outbreak will be on global supply chains going forward, but it is safe to assume that there will be long-term ramifications that compel all businesses to reassess the way in which they have been operating and find new and innovative ways that take into account the frightening prospect that this, or something worse, may happen again.
About the Author
Gareth Katzew – Business Development Manager, NSA Global Security Consultants
Gareth is an accomplished security, safety and physical risk management specialist. He started his career conducting security operations in various remote regions of Africa. Gareth has a number of security training and risk managemnt qualifications, but his main strength lies in his ability to adapt these skills to suit the ethos of our corporate clients. He specialises in the design of comprehensive risk management programs with an emphasis on physical security measures.