In this week’s bulletin, Charlie discusses the importance of being prepared for potential incidents when sending staff abroad for work and the importance of communication.
I take a keen interest in anything that happens in Sudan. When I was 18, I spent a year there, working as an English Language teacher in a secondary school. As the school was in a small rural village, south of Khartoum, we were very much integrated into the community, and I have very fond memories of the hospitality given and the warmth of the people. I recently talked to a couple of people to see if I should go back and revisit my old school after, I am afraid to calculate, thirty-eight years. One person said it was fine, and another said I shouldn’t go due to the political situation. The recent fighting between the RSF and the Sudanese Army has definitely put a hold on any nostalgic trip I might make!
I have been following the evacuation of British and other nationals and thought I might share with you some lessons associated with the evacuation and having staff working in the country.
- I always say it is important for business continuity professionals to horizon-scan and follow the news, so that in events such as the outbreak of fighting, we can quickly assess whether there will be any impact on our organisation. Conflict within Sudan is likely to have a lesser impact on organisations not directly involved in the country, than, for example, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, for many organisations, there is no risk. I did notice that many of those who were interviewed on the BBC were originally from Sudan and had gone back for the Eid holiday after Ramadan, and many of them seemed to be working in the Scottish NHS. They needed to leave the country to get back to work. At the beginning of the fighting, an aircraft was caught on the tarmac at Khartoum airport, and a Saudia plane was destroyed. There have been cases in the past when there was a coup or fighting in a country where transit passengers ended up stranded and had to be rescued. I was recently in Malawi, and on my return flight to Addis Ababa, the flight stopped at Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the UK Foreign Office advice, the city is safe, but there are large parts of the country to which they advise against travelling. So, the lesson learned is that , first , look at your organisation’s exposure to an incident in a country and whether this has any wider impact.
- Secondly, check if any of your staff may be in the country or transiting through it. If you have staff abroad on a work trip, then there is no doubt that the organisation they work for is responsible for their safety, and should ensure that they return safely from the visit. Organisations should have plans in place, often in association with their insurance or travel company, for forming an incident team to manage the situation until they return. If staff are abroad on holiday, then the organisation does not have any responsibility to support or help them. However, you may want to consider whether you have a moral responsibility to help them to make contact with the authorities and perhaps arrange repatriation, or lend them the money to pay for repatriation. This should be done on a case-by-case basis, but I do remember when the ash cloud from Iceland in 2010 grounded all European flights, there were many staff members who were stuck on holiday, and many schools were missing teachers, who were not able to get back for the beginning of term.
- Lastly, if you are caught in an event like Sudan, are you aware of what to do and are you prepared? Often, we are used to long-haul flights and can forget to take out insurance and read up on the country and what to do if there is an issue. Thailand, a popular tourist destination, is occasionally susceptible to street violence in which a tourist can accidentally get caught up. Often, in coups or other domestic violence, the internet can be cut off, and so there can be no easy contact with the authorities who will give you guidance on what to do. The World Service used to be the way people in conflict zones were given information, especially if the government was going to carry out an evacuation. I used to carry a small radio with me when travelling, but those days are long gone, and I use my phone to listen to the morning news on demand over the internet. I have some sympathy with the British government in trying to organise an evacuation and the difficulties associated with it. It has to be done in consultation with the warring parties. If you have watched the film “Black Hawk Down”, you will be very aware of the challenges of extracting people from a war zone back to a safe base. As the British have up to 4,000 people to extract, this is a large number of people.
So, as I often say, we need to horizon-scan for new issues and quickly determine if there is an impact on your organisation or staff. If you are caught up in a conflict abroad, you should make sure you know how you might be communicated with if the internet is down.