For this week’s bulletin I couldn’t leave unmentioned the horrific attack on holidaymakers in Tunisia, just over a week ago. I find myself struggling somewhat to know what to say on the attack and relate it meaningfully to business continuity due to the number of victims and the horror of the event. To call this a business continuity incident seems a bit trite but there has been an emergency response to the incident and the way the authorities respond can make an enormous difference to an already difficult situation for the families.
I would like to share some thoughts in this week’s bulletin on responses to fatalities outside your own country. My thoughts are also informed by a fatality outside the United Kingdom of another organisation I am involved in.
Firstly, sensitive management of an incident can make a difference to the loved ones of the person involved. This is a very difficult time for the family and delays, needless bureaucracy, possible misidentification of the body, not knowing the details of the death, potential cover-ups and misinformation all make the situation worse.
The added complication of working with foreign authorities who have different customs, ways of working and timescales can add to the frustration for the family. The country’s authorities may not be experienced in dealing with fatalities of people outside their country and this can lead to further delays and bureaucracy. In this case, having a plan in place for dealing with an event, as we know, can improve your response and make the response smoother. Within the plan needs to be a reminder to those responding to manage the expectation of those effected and make sure that you do not make false promises which you are unable to keep.
In the Tunisian incident, the travel companies as well as the Foreign Office had response teams travelling to the scene of the incident within 24 hours. Although both organisations had staff in the area, they knew that local staff would need extra support. Having a rapid response team on standby that was deployed to the scene of the incident greatly enhanced their response. It also sent a message to those involved in the incident that they cared about those involved and they were not on their own.
Having a team ‘on the ground’ who is known to the incident team managing the incident from the head office back in the UK, allowed better communication and confidence as they knew the people well. In the fatality I mentioned earlier, a senior member of the management team flew out to the country where the fatality happened, to manage the incident locally.
If as part of your business continuity plan you are going to deploy a team or a senior manager to the scene of an incident you need to make sure they have a valid passport and that you have thought through in advance how you might get visas at short notice. If inoculations are required for the countries your staff travel to, should those who are going to respond have the inoculations in advance so they are ready to deploy? You also need to have a think about language; do you have someone in the country who speaks the local language that can help you and talk to the authorities as they may not speak your language.
The Police in the United Kingdom have a role to play in the notification and then the support of the family while the Foreign Office have a role in dealing with the authorities in the country where the incident occurred. Are you aware of their responsibilities and what they can and cannot do as you don’t want to duplicate their efforts or think they are going to do something they won’t as this again will have an impact on the family of those involved?
My last point is to have a plan. We expect those in the travel business to have a plan to look after their customers, but there are lots of other organisations that are responsible for sending people outside their own country. These can vary from businesses whose staff travel overseas, to schools and colleges who organise trips and visits. Having a plan for mass fatalities outside your country can make an enormous difference to the families of those involved in an incident at a very difficult time.