The holiday season is in full swing – people are traveling, spending time with loved ones, relaxing and reflecting on an almost complete year.
Offices are more often filled with parties than with meetings. It is a time for joy, a time for cheer (to borrow some sentimental lines), but for those associated with crisis or emergency management, this isn’t a time to rest on your laurels. In fact, I would argue that the holidays, whether from Thanksgiving to the Super Bowl or over the summertime (regardless of the hemisphere you are in), are often the most chaotic periods of year.
During any holiday period, crisis management professionals should be keeping an eye out for pending threats to human, physical, and financial capital. Why? Because as many employees are traveling for both business and vacation, those who aim to disrupt business see this as an opportune time to do something. The stress of holiday travel makes even the most vigilant among us weary and easily distracted, more focused on making our connections than we are on safety. Couple these increased risks with ever present natural disasters of all stripes (winter weather, wildfires in the southern hemisphere, unpredictable earthquakes) and Murphy’s Law is in full force, which I have adapted for the modern era – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” especially when you are preparing for time off.
So how can crisis managers combat these seemingly insurmountable issues, ensure that we remain ahead of the game, keep our businesses and personnel safe, and still enjoy the time off? First, we must take measures to ensure those we support know we are there with resources to keep them safe; second, that our collaborators are as prepared and vigilant as we are for everything from bombs to leisure; third, remember that especially in multinational firms, holidays in your home country are just another day in another part of your business world; and finally, that we use all the tools in our toolkits to make the holidays as safe for everyone as possible.
A simple and easy step to take before any holiday period that impacts your business is travel reminders.
Provide your travelers short reminders that increase their awareness of holiday issues. If you have a 24/7 emergency number your employees, remind personnel to put it in their phones. The mere fact that your employees will know your team is present is a positive for long after the holiday.
But, always be aware and have discussed in detail with your legal and leadership teams the length to which your duty-of-care policies extend. If your company is unable to extend duty-of-care to cover employees’ personal travel, you likely do not want to include company resource information within that update; instead provide local or federal resources or general travel awareness campaigns to keep your personnel. For example, encourage US citizens to register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) if traveling overseas, as this allows US Embassies and Consulates to contract US citizens during emergencies. Other countries also have these programs for their citizens.
Second, be vigilant as a crisis team.
As crisis and emergency managers, we need to ensure the corporate crisis teams is aligned on the importance of awareness during the holidays. Ensure all the various departments and stakeholders understand the risks the holidays bring to your businesses. Assess what is the most likely, but then prepare for the most difficult situations; do not become complacent.
Have the mechanisms you utilize to inform employees of a potential crisis been tested and are readily available to multiple persons on your team? Does every core competency have at least one person on call during the holiday? Do you know those personnel and have their contact information? Holiday seasons are unfortunately not the time for the entire Crisis Team to go on leave and a crisis is no time to be figuring out who is around to help you. Preparation may be a lot of leg work, but the moment an incident invariably occurs over the holiday period, you will be better able to tackle the crisis.
Related: 5 Security Tips for Travelers
Another key is to remember that holidays are not universal, nor can you expect the same levels of service from different local and national governments during the holidays.
Personnel in your company may be working a regular day while you are taking time off – the latest terror incident in London occurred on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving in the US; when many were enjoying Black Friday sales, some personnel were dealing threats to life safety. On the other hand, New Year’s Eve in New York City sees a preponderance of security personnel in New York. But in other parts of the world, most government services are shut down almost entirely during holiday period- if your “crisis” does not rise to the level of national attention, you may not be able to rely on local authorities to assist.
All of this may seem overwhelming, but a crisis manager can always have tools ready to go without going over budget. Your company may have invested in travel tracking software – if they have, get to know all the data it can provide you. If you are running on a tight budget, never fear! Free resources like the NYPD and Global CT Shield provide detailed analysis of security risks during holiday periods; the FBI’s Domestic Security Advisory Council (DSAC) and the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provide communities of information to US based companies. Private security and crisis groups like TinyG provide global perspectives on security threats in real time, all for free.
While this time of year is certainly no picnic for a crisis team, it is not something to lose sleep over. Preparedness and the right use of tools at your disposal will keep your employees safe, your C-Suite confident in your abilities, and allow you to silence your cell phone…if only for a few hours.
Michael H. Gladstone is WeWork’s Senior Manager, Emergency Management & Planning and is one of the longest tenured members of WeWork’s security team. He is responsible for the development and implementation of WeWork’s global Crisis and Emergency programs, runs the corporate Emergency Management Team, and manages programs with the aim at protecting employees and members. Michael has previously worked for the U.S. Department of State as a Crisis Management Program Officer and for the New York City Department of Education as a High School History teacher. He holds a M.A. in International Law and Global Security from Georgetown University, a M.A. in Teaching of Social Studies from Columbia University, and a B.A. in History from Brown University.