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Managing Your Relocation Program through Emergencies

by Anne Bodin

Over the last several years we’ve witnessed significant natural disasters and political turmoil.  Whether it was Hurricane Sandy leaving significant damage across the Eastern seaboard, the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, and numerous political uprisings throughout the Middle East, these events have changed the course of mobility programs across the globe. There is no doubt that these events can be unpredictable and relentless, and this volatility requires quick thinking and action when you have your most precious assets-- your people—living  and working in an impacted area.  The basics of how to plan and react to natural disasters have not changed since Managing Your Relocation Program through Natural Disasters was first written in 2012.  These same guidelines still apply.  

However, when the crisis we are dealing with is triggered by humans, as with the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 and in the political crisis in Ukraine in 2014, as well as the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa conflicts can escalate quickly and impact innocent civilians living and working in the region. The Egyptian Revolution was characterized by both peaceful protests and violent riots, making it tumultuous and unpredictable. That level of risk makes it critical for organizations to ensure the safety of their employees living and working in the affected country and/or region. Unlike Mother Nature, signs of civil unrest can arise long before the actual conflict begins. Monitoring these signs and taking swift and preferably preemptive action significantly reduce the risk for your employees.  Many of the same rules apply for both political crises and natural disasters.       

  • Monitor the globe. Global mobility managers are important stakeholders when it comes to protecting your overseas employees, when managing a global relocation program it is incredibly important to monitor the local news of those countries where your employees are based.  Major news sources such as the BBC and , CNN will also provide constant news streams and alerts. If your company has a global security department or uses an outside medical/security assistance provider, this information may be readily available to you on a pro-active basis. Otherwise, research local news outlets and sign up for their digital feeds. 
  • Know the local Embassies. Keep a record of Embassies and their contact information for every country where you have employees. Having this information on hand could help expedite assistance in an emergency situation.    
  • Watch for warnings. Early warnings are an opportunity to get the word out to your employees that they could be in the path of danger – both human and mother nature.  Meteorologists were able to predict the path of Hurricane Sandy several days before she arrived on the East Coast.  Though warnings do not always change the outcome, they provide additional communication and planning time.  This will help you proactively respond to your employees’ needs and hopefully minimize impact.
  • Know your role and have a plan. Expand your Emergency Response Plan (ERP) to include both human and natural disasters.  This policy should serve as your playbook every time an emergency occurs.  This is especially important when you have employees in the midst of a relocation.  Having a plan will help keep stakeholders and the affected employees calm and ensure every possible step is taken to protect the safety of your employees.  Most organizations have a Business Continuity or Disaster Recovery policies, but having one specifically addressing relocation-related actions is incredibly important.  You should: 
    1. Know where your assignees are and what risks they face in each location.
    2. Be familiar with your company’s risk management plan, risk management team, and your role on that team.
    3. Conduct a risk assessment and provide a pre-departure medical and security briefing to make sure assignees and their families are aware of the risks and know what actions to take.
    4. Have a communication plan in place to update assignees about new/changing situations.
    5. Make sure sending and receiving managers are aware of risks.  Often, receiving managers are not aware that assignees’ risks may be greater due to lack of familiarity with the location and/or their higher profile/visibility.
    6. Evaluate the safety of your employees; power outages and other communication disruptions can make this difficult, but don’t give up until everybody is accounted for.  In some cases (as in Egypt) old-fashioned telephone lines can be your best bet when networks are down.
    7. Determine the available resources that can aid them, and keep in mind that employees may be new to the area and unaware of local resources and assistance.
    8. Following an event, assess any property damage.
  • Along with your plan, keep a list. Maintain a list or report tracking your mobile employees’ origin and destination locations, and make sure it is accessible at all times.  This list should include their contact information along with the local embassy information as noted above.  Though this seems simple, it can be a challenging task when you are managing both domestic and global moves. 
  • Work with your relocation provider. Your relocation provider should be helping you follow all of the steps mentioned above. This will help ensure you have coverage and great partnership as you manage through an emergency.  Your relocation provider can help you execute your plan effectively and quickly.