What to consider when setting up a crisis management strategy

Incidents such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the outbreak of Ebola and the MH17 Malaysian Airlines plane crash can have a devastating effect on an organisation.

Crisis management

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  • Think location when drawing up emergency response plans. Getting an employee out of a war-torn African republic will require a very different approach to bringing them home from Europe.
  • Ensure an employee assistance programme (EAP) has global capabilities. A UK EAP may be able to help expatriates overseas, but it is essential to extend cover to their local colleagues.
  • Make crisis management part of an organisation’s culture. This will ensure employees know what to do in an emergency but will also demonstrate their employer’s concern for their safety.

As well as affecting employees who are directly involved, these events can distress colleagues and family members, and, where an employer is seen to have failed to respond quickly and effectively, they can also result in long-lasting reputational damage.

Developing a crisis management strategy is an effective way to support staff that are affected by these types of incidents. James Spencer, international corporate benefits manager at consultancy Jelf International, says: “Employees can find themselves caught up in all sorts of situations around the world. Being able to respond quickly and support staff affected can significantly reduce the damage.”

Emergency response planning

But knowing what to prepare for is not easy. After all, potential crisis situations vary significantly and can range from: a natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake; a terrorist attack; or an outbreak of disease.  

Although these situations are very different, the key emergency response procedures will be designed to achieve the same objectives. Mike Blake, compliance director at PMI Health Group, says: “The way [employers] would respond to many of the major crises will be the same: evacuate and support employees that are in potential danger. So put some broad scenarios in place that can be adapted to different events.”

Location is an important consideration when building a crisis management strategy. Marco Bannerman, executive director, distribution for Europe, at health insurance provider Aetna International, says the organisation works with employers to identify specific challenges that result from employees’ locations. “Communications can be a challenge in some parts of the world such as West Africa so we’d look at ways we could maintain telephony in a crisis,” he says. “Similarly, think about transport. We have a mining client with a site 250 kilometres from a railway. Designing its plan included finding out how quickly fixed- and rotary-wing planes could get to the site.”

Support benefits

Emergency response plans can also call upon a variety of benefits to provide support in the event of a crisis. In addition to providing evacuation and repatriation services in the event of a medical emergency, some international medical insurance plans will also provide support in situations where employees’ security needs to be protected. 

Aetna has partnered with crisis response management specialist red24 to provide this on its Interglobal plan. “When some of our policyholders were caught up in the Arab Spring, red24 provided the co-ordination and security personnel to oversee transporting them to safety,” explains Bannerman.  

Where security services are not incorporated within medical insurance policies, they can be purchased separately through companies such as Control Risks and red24. The latter, for example, can provide a range of services including pre-travel advice and support, emergency helplines, close protection services and evacuation. red24’s online travel tracker service also enables an organisation to keep tabs on employees in high-risk destinations. Individuals or groups can be searched in real time according to a number of factors including name, location, carrier and hotel. 

Psychological support

While crisis management needs to consider the immediate risk to those caught up in an incident, it is also essential that it takes into account the emotional impact on employees, both those directly involved and their colleagues. Mike Lewars, commercial lead and head of international at Buck Consultants, saysemployee assistance programmes (EAPs) are a good way to provide emotional support. “An EAP can provide counselling support over the telephone but, where there’s been a critical incident, such as a bomb or suicide that may affect many people, some will also be able to provide a debriefing and on-site counselling,” he explains.

As these events can happen anywhere, it is also important to tackle them with benefits and services that are suitable for diverse international workforces. Kate Nowlan, chief executive of EAP provider CIC, says that where an organisation has a mix of expatriate and local employees in an office, an international EAP is essential. “If a critical incident occurs, [employers] need to be able to offer them all the same support, preferably in their own language. If [an employer] can only support UK employees, this could add to the trauma.”   

Ready for action

Not only do employers need to provide a range of services that kick in should the worst happen, they also need to ensure employees are aware they are there. Common ways to raise awareness include details about emergency helplines and EAPs on wallet cards and information distributed in staff rooms or around photocopiers, and as part of a pre-travel briefing for staff.

Jill Miller, research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says that staff briefings on how to respond to different crises can also help. “Employees don’t need to know the ins and outs of how the organisation would respond to every event, but running through some of the procedures can make a big difference if something does happen,” she explains.  

Training can also be an invaluable way to help employees cope in a crisis situation. This can include resilience training to help individuals cope but also line manager training to enable them to identify when employees are struggling.

Taking this multi-pronged approach is important. “It’s about letting employees know their safety is important to the organisation,” says Miller. “Knowing this support is in place can make a huge difference to how an employee copes both during and after an incident.”  

The rise of home-grown extremists in the EU

Top five EU countries with citizens fighting in, and returning from, Syria and Iraq













United Kingdom












Source: Threat Forecast 2015, red24, December 2014

Top 10 high-risk countries for 2015

A crisis can occur anywhere in the world but, according to red24’s annual risk calculation, published in December 2014, the following 10 countries, listed in alphabetical order, were assessed as the most risky in terms of factors such as crime, terrorism, conflict, political stability and kidnapping.

  • Afghanistan
  • Central African Republic
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

Source: Threat Forecast 2015, red24