Lessons Learnt From Libya and Japan

The incidents that have unfolded over the last number of weeks in Japan and Libya have resulted in mass evacuations of foreigners from the countries. This is a stark reminder of the need to ensure plans are in place to treat the risks associated with operating in international and often risky locations around the world.

Traditionally, incident management might incorporate disaster recovery and business continuity planning each with a set of detailed plans that should (but don’t always) have clear hand-offs between them. Over a series of articles I will be discussing my take on this traditional approach in addition to putting forward a more flexible, albeit perhaps more risky, approach.

For now though, it struck me how many ex-pats and business people became reliant upon their own governments to help evacuate them from the danger areas, especially Libya.  The newspapers were filled with “the British Government left us to die” stories. These workers, more often than not on lucrative contracts because of the risky locations they were in appeared to be, in my opinion, abandoned by the companies they worked for. These individuals were not expressing their anger towards their employer though; why not? In fact, what exactly can a foreign worker expect from their government compared to their employer.

To make this worse it is not as if there are not a number of organisations (International SOS is just one example) out there specialising in providing evacuation services, including in “hot spots”, and providing medical and professional advice.

In my experience, these organisations provide very clear guidance under these circumstances; “stand by”, “evacuate immediately” etc..  Why are companies not using them when trouble strikes rather than just leaving their employees to fend for themselves? My employer has been at the sharp end of this on a couple of occasions and very successfully swung into action and deployed services to ensure the safe transport of our people from war zones.

If companies operating in these hot spots ignore this advice and continue operations then governments should be able to subsequently recoup the vast costs from them for evacuating their personnel. If these companies do not even have these services in place, or even a crisis plan of sorts, they are committing a very serious dereliction of duty to their employees, no matter how much they are paying them.

And where in all this, is someone’s personal accountability for their own safety?

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