Laurent Taymans, Regional Medical Director International SOS

On 22 March, a man deliberately drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed to death a policeman outside Parliament. It was the anniversary of the double terrorist attacks in Brussels in 2016. Less than two weeks later, a bomb exploded in the metro in St Petersburg. Paris, Nice and Berlin have also been targeted within the last two years.

Brutal attacks on the ordinary activities of people in a city, travelling to work, enjoying a concert, walking across a bridge or taking the metro, are shocking – just as the terrorists intend them to be. The risk manager needs to prepare for such events, even if they are improbable, and consider all employees – whether at work, on their way to or from work, or taking a break when working away from their base.

In our work, we see two types of employer: the few which regard this as outside their responsibility if the person is not travelling on business as terrorism is likely to be excluded from their liability, and those who recognise it as an element of their duty of care for their employees, even if the person is not at work.

The employer needs to know where people are and should be able to identify any who have been injured or killed, taking into account that health facilities in the vicinity of the attack may be overwhelmed. Ordinary communications can also be disrupted, either by the security services or simply because of heavy demand.

In the past, travel tools have not necessarily been tailored to these events, but this is changing. Being able to warn other employees in the area that there has been an incident is also important, both for their sake and to reduce disruption.

If someone has been injured or killed, families are likely to turn to employers for information and help, and there will be a lot of frustration if this is not well managed. The rest of the workforce is likely to react negatively if it believes the employer has failed in its duty of care, no matter what exclusions there may be for liability. This is the time for the CEO to show leadership. He or she needs to be decisive and humane. The crisis management team should be doing its job.

Finally, the potential business continuity implications need to be included in the planning. There can be significant logistical and administrative complications, depending on the location and extent of the event. Property damage, denial of access to premises, transport closures, and travel and shipping delays due to increased security are all possible consequences.

Here are the key steps:

  • Identify workers directly affected by a terrorist incident.
  • Communicate warnings to other employees in the area.
  • Take a duty of care, not a strict legal liability, approach.
  • Remember the effect on other employees if people have been killed or injured.
  • Plan for possible business interruption.

These elements all need to come together in managing improbable but shocking events. Doing it well can be a key differentiator for an employer.

FERMA and International SOS are conducting research into today’s travel risks for a report ”Workers on the move: Managing new risks” to be published at the 2017 FERMA Forum.

There is still time to contribute by completing the one minute survey! 

See also:

Airmic, International SOS and Control Risks have also produced a new guide on travel risks:

Michaël Dehert, winner of the 2016 Innovative Insurance Programme award, saw his programme tested severely on 22 March 2016 when terrorists attacked Brussels Airport. As Michaël says: “You only get to know the true meaning of policy wording, (sub-) limits and coverage during the handling of such a catastrophic claim.” Read more about his experience.