Business Travel Risk

Beyond Brussels: Employee Crisis Communications

Emergency notification "handshakes" are an increasingly popular way for companies to stay in touch with employees in conflict zones.
By: | March 29, 2016 • 4 min read

John Persons (not his real name) was in the Brussels airport around 8 am on March 26, 2016 when two bombs detonated, killing 31 and wounding around 300.


Fortunately for Persons, his family and his employer, a large U.S. insurance brokerage, he was not among the dead or injured.

His employer knew he was safe almost immediately. Expert Care, a service of American Express Global Business Travel, saw from his itinerary that he was scheduled to be in the Brussels airport.

Risk managers confirmed it by geolocating Persons through an app on his smartphone, then sent him a Short Message Service (SMS) message.

He texted back “1,” code for “I’m OK.” Expert Care immediately forwarded the good news to Persons’ employer.

A response other than “I’m OK” — say, “2” for “I need help,” “3” for “I’m not sure” or, more ominously, no response at all — would have triggered a much different scenario, said Evan Konwiser, ‎vice president, digital traveler, American Express Global Business Travel.

“Travelers in the red column of the dashboard may need help,” he said.

Their companies’ crisis and travel managers would next decide how to proceed: phone call, follow-up texts and/or alerts to local authorities. As responses trickle in from travelers who had no or spotty mobile broadband connection, and those who were separated from their devices or were nowhere near the trouble spots, the travel manager would focus on the smaller group who really did need help.

Emergency Notification System “Handshake”

This kind of SMS “handshake” is high among companies’ preferred methods of communicating with its employees who get caught in crisis areas, said Matt Bradley, regional security director for the Americas, International SOS, because it’s fast, requires few keystrokes and transmits more reliably in low-signal situations than more data-hungry methods such as email and social media, although they also have their place in crisis communications.

Travel risk programs and emergency notification systems should deploy on smartphones, the technology every business traveler carries, said Hart Brown, ‎senior vice president, practice leader, organizational resilience, HUB International.

“Local employees know the crisis response plan, but travelers are often left out of the briefing.” — Matt Bradley, regional security director for the Americas, International SOS

“Travelers leave other devices in their bags or forget to charge them.”


Smartphones can contain numerous mechanisms for locating and alerting travelers: GPS, apps, a programmed or installed panic button, email, social media and voice communications, Brown said.

“Every tool has strengths and weaknesses, so we pull in as much data as we can from every source,” Konwiser said. For example, “if a traveler missed his flight to Brussels, the itinerary data might not be updated, but we’d know he’s safe if he swiped his Amex corporate card at a concession stand in Heathrow 10 minutes before the explosions.”

Although social media, including Facebook and Twitter, can help break news — the suspicious package in the Atlanta airport that led to an evacuation on March 23, 2016, for example — it can also broadcast unverified information, such as the tweet about shots fired in the Atlanta airport during the same incident from someone claiming to be there, said Bradley.

International SOS, which provides medical and travel security risk services to many Fortune 500 clients, monitors Twitter for incidents, seeks verification and then takes action if appropriate.

Action may include sending information to clients’ travel managers or directly to travelers about an incident, always accompanied by advice.

During the terrorist shootings in Paris in November 2015, for example, “we told people, ‘Seek shelter. Don’t go back to your house or hotel. Get off the street.’ ” Information without advice, Bradley said, creates counterproductive anxiety and panic.

For those times when smartphone communications fail, companies should have a backup plan that includes instructions to go to a pre-determined rally point, such as a hotel or supermarket that provides shelter against rain, is usually open for business and that cab drivers can find easily. Rally points are never monuments, train stations or office buildings, which may themselves be targets, Bradley said.

Best Practices in Mature Global Travel

Companies whose employees travel extensively should have “overarching” crisis management plans, either housed at corporate headquarters or regionalized to branches, Hart said, and travel risk management plans that include a travel portal that aggregates flights, hotels, meeting times and locations, and arrival/departure dates.

“We want to see that aggregated data bundled and visualized on a map so risk managers can see where their people are.”

Of course, preparing employees before they leave should be part of the plan, said Bradley.

“Local employees know the crisis response plan, but travelers are often left out of the briefing. Before they leave, employees should know where hospitals are. Where the rally point is. Where the backup rally point is.”

Companies should be aware of risks — political unrest, infectious diseases, cultural flashpoints, weather — before they send employees, and those with major operations in a region should also invest in a journey risk plan that probes a region’s details: Is it safe to hail a taxi on the street? Does the employee need a driver? Where does she go and who does she call if there’s an issue?


Most insurance policies that involve foreign and business travel have response capabilities embedded in them, such as who to call and how to get help abroad, Hart said, but clients aren’t always aware of the information. Brokerage houses, he said, should educate clients on what duty of care looks like and how to implement crisis and travel risk plans.

“The broker’s role is to make sure policies connect carriers with response partners so the crisis plan works efficiently from beginning to end,” he said.

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.


In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.


Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”


How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.


One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]