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Each year, HospitalityLawyer.com hosts the Global Congress on Travel Risk Management in Houston, Texas. This conference serves as a converging force for travel risk management, uniting every role (travel, legal, risk, compliance, safety and security, human resources) involved in Duty of Care in a dynamic environment of experts and stakeholders.

We proudly announce the successful execution of the 2013 Global Congress, held at the Omni Houston Hotel from September 30 to October 1. Speakers from a wide variety of disciplines presented a focused array of high-impact topics, including:

  • • Best Practices for Hotel Security Assessments
  • • Best Practices in Evacuation
  • • Best Practices in Executive Protection
  • • Case Study:  What We Have Learned from Recent Travel Disruptions
  • • Creating an Effective Travel Policy that Includes Risk Management
  • • Integration of the Entire Corporate Enterprise into Travel Risk Management

“I come to the Global Congress every year because I always take away something really practical regarding risk that I can apply to my job,” says Charles Brossman, CEO of FCm Travel Solutions. “It’s increasingly important to anyone who manages travel to participate in this program. Managing risk is just as important as managing cost.”

Between plenary sessions, attendees enjoyed more specialized presentations in two breakout sessions and participated in discussion-driven topical round tables. Topics included:

  • • Aviation Safety and Security Assessment
  • • Data and IP Protection
  • • Executive Protection
  • • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)
  • • Ground Transportation Safety and Security Assessment
  • • Tracking

“This is an opportunity that’s been brewing for a long time,” says Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJET. “We go to these different conferences and everyone is doing their own thing and talking in a stovepipe about these issues. But they can’t be solved by any single functional department. They need to be solved by bringing the lawyers, the HR team, and travel and security folks together to talk about how we protect employees and deal with safety and security issues worldwide. That’s what the Global Congress is all about.”

At a luncheon on September 30, the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) delivered a presentation about the considerable travel risk management resources OSAC offers the private sector. On October 1, during another series of round tables, Houston’s consulate corps shared with attendees about the travel challenges in and solutions for their respective countries.

At the 2014 Global Congress on Travel Risk Management (October 13-14 in Houston, Texas)--in addition to one day of a traditional conference format--we plan to make a revolutionary departure from convention. All attendees will be immersed in two crisis scenarios, and select teams of participants representing every role in the travel risk management equation will work to solve the crises before time runs out. Stay tuned for more details; we hope to see you there!

As the shutdown of the U.S. government continues, some three thousand furloughed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspectors will remain off-duty until the situation changes. Most air traffic controllers are working without paychecks and essential support personnel. This means airlines are currently regulating themselves in terms of safety standards, a scenario described by Mike Perrone of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists as “like driving on the highway when you know there are no police out there.” However, Delta Airlines CEO Richard H. Anderson reports that “we haven’t see any changes in travel demand at all. Travel demand is strong all over the world at the moment.”

The National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control have reduced operations to a very limited role. The CDC has been unable to effectively investigate the new MERS virus from the Middle East, and was forced to recall thirty furloughed workers after a salmonella outbreak in eighteen states caused hundreds to fall ill. Most investigators at the Food and Drug Administration have also been furloughed, reducing the FDA’s capacity to inspect imported foodstuffs and help handle outbreaks of foodborne illness.

The shutdown will also affect hotel business.  “For each day the government is shutdown, more than $8 million in economic activity at our nation’s hotels will be lost, putting jobs at risk and causing repercussions across many other related sectors,” says Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. 

 

The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season is humbling forecasters by shaping up as the first in almost two decades without a significant storm, confounding predictions (for the fourth year in a row) that this year would be more active than normal. We now find ourselves several weeks past the season's statistical peak, with nothing to indicate a change on the horizon. Dry Atlantic air, unfavorable high-level winds, and a lack of major activity from the West African coast are combining to make this a boring hurricane season.

Except for Tropical Storm Andrea, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico in June and crossed Florida to New England, the United States has been spared a hit. Last year, four tropical systems struck, including Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy (the latter dubbed a "Superstorm" by the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticutt due to differences in deductibles applied), which together caused more than $52 billion in damage and killed at least 179 people.

"The season looks to be a huge bust," says Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University's annual storm forecast. "That's one of the fun things about being in the weather business. It definitely keeps you humble." For the last four years, the CSU weather team has projected one major and multiple minor hurricane strikes on the U.S.

Colorado State pioneered seasonal hurricane outlooks. In April (and reaffirmed in August), CSU predicted an above-average eighteen storms, eight of them hurricanes and three of them major systems. NOAA also missed the boat, predicting a seventy percent chance for thirteen to nineteen storms, six to nine of them hurricanes and three to five of them major.

The predictions were based on warmer sea temperatures, a strong West African monsoon, and the lack of a Pacific El Niño, a phenomenon which can create Atlantic wind shear. However, the shear (winds that blow at different speeds or directions at varying altitudes) was and is present and has been ripping storms apart. In fact, the shear "has been relentless out there" despite the absence of an El Niño, says Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland.

Mid-level relative humidity across the tropical Atlantic, typically about thirty percent, has also been lower than usual in 2013. "It's been dry out there, and when I say dry, I mean dry," Klotzbach says. "I'm still not quite sure why it's been as dry as it has." If no major hurricane--one with winds of 111 mph or more--forms in the Atlantic this year, "it will be the first time since 1994," according to Rogers.

This year's first hurricane, Humberto, was born at 5:00 a.m. EST on September 11, just missing the record for the latest storm formed since satellites began watching the entire Atlantic in 1967 (in 2002, Hurricane Gustav developed at 8:00 a.m. on the same day). Humberto disintegrated in the central Atlantic. Storms Chantal, Dorian, Erin and Gabrielle all dissipated when they ran into the wind shear and dry air. Because of the shear and dry air, several tropical waves never had a prayer to become full-fledged storms.

One of the few areas in the hemisphere that has been somewhat favorable for hurricane development in 2013 is the Bay of Campeche and southwest Gulf of Mexico, with storms Andrea, Barry, Fernand and Hurricane Ingrid, all of which hit Mexico.

The calmer weather has offered a reprieve for U.S. property insurers, as well as rate increases generated from the loss history due to storms of the recent past. Traveler's Chief Executive Officer Jay Fishman said this month that his company bought back $633 million of its stock since June 30 amid lower natural disaster losses. That's the highest amount for the insurer in a third quarter since it was formed by the 2004 merger of Travelers Property Casualty Corp. and St. Paul Co. "The third quarter, as everyone knows, has been benign and quiet from a windstorm perspective," Fishman said September 11 at an investor conference in New York hosted by Barclays.

Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist at AccuWeather in State College, Pennslyvania, says wind patterns are forming that will prevent any storms from developing nearby or threatening the U.S. As of now, no storm has made landfall on the Texas coast past the middle of October, due to weather fronts sweeping across Texas as fall season sets in.

While we can’t write off hurricane season altogether until early December, lower water temperatures combined with cold fronts sweeping further south this time of year usually signal the end of tropical systems. One very notable exception: Last year, Hurricane Sandy was born on October 22.

So if the weather channel folks seem sad these days, you know why. Hurricanes hitting the U.S. make for ratings bumps. And exciting photo ops.

On Monday, September 30, the U.S. House of Representatives will find itself facing a Congressional deadline; either the House approves the Senate-ratified version of a government spending bill by midnight, or the U.S. government shuts down due to lack of funding authorization. This event would trigger a number of nationwide effects, including the furlough of most government employees. Here are three ways a government shutdown would affect business travel planning and the hospitality industry:

1. The State Department will suspend the issuance of visas and passports. Without the logistics necessary to process applications, the State Department will likely cease issuing all passports and visas for the duration of the shutdown. In the past, this has resulted in a massive backlog of applications; many are never processed and must be re-submitted. 

2. National parks and museums will close. Anticipate vacation spending in the U.S. to decline substantially. Also contributing to this effect is the fact that literally millions of government workers will temporarily go on furlough, creating a serious reduction in disposable income.

3. The Center for Disease Control will suspend disease surveillance. This means the reaction time involved in responding to new epidemics will be substantially increased, which in turn will likely affect insurance rates and policies. 

 

 

In March 2011, a tsunami crippled Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima I nuclear power plant. With critical equipment offline, the plant suffered multiple nuclear meltdowns and discharged a substantial amount of radioactive material; this earned it a Level 7 “Major Accident” rating on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).  After being somewhat contained and downgraded to an INES Level 1, the situation at Fukushima recently upgraded to INES Level 3 after radioactive water began leaking from containment tanks and seeping into groundwater. More importantly, at some point in the near future, TEPCO may have to stop simply cooling the spent fuel rods and actually attempt to remove about four hundred tons of radioactive material from the spent fuel pool of a badly-damaged reactor unit. An extraction of this scale has never been attempted, and could release enormous amounts of radiation into the surrounding area if things go wrong.

Travel managers and mobile employees alike must concern themselves with the reality of facing a nuclear incident like Fukushima while traveling and working abroad. While very rare, nuclear plant malfunctions can prove disastrous for the region around them, resulting in dangerous radiation exposure and widespread evacuations. When mobile employees travel to areas in which a nuclear reactor is located, consider the following factors:

1. Weather. The Fukushima plant met its end not by operator error, but rather the simple misfortune of being located on a coast when a tsunami struck. Nuclear plants located in coastal regions where tsunamis and typhoons are more prevalent, such as the shores of Southeast Asia, have an elevated risk of incident. Also watch out for reactors in locales with a recent history of significant seismic activity.

2. Size. There are reactors, and then there are reactors. The Syrian reactor outside Damascus, for example, is a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR); designed in Canada during the 1970s, MNSRs operate on just a few hundred fuel rods and typically serve an experimental role instead of being a regional power source. Fukushima, in comparison, operated on several thousand fuel rods. The potential radiation release from multi-unit regional power reactors like Fukushima and Chernobyl is far greater than that of an MNSR.

3. Safety. In 1986, a Soviet nuclear reactor called Chernobyl experienced a catastrophic failure and released lethal amounts of radiation all across the Ukrainian countryside. Thirty-one people died and some 120,000 more were evacuated from the surrounding area. An international investigation later discovered the cause of the meltdown to be a combination of widespread operator error and design deficiencies. Nuclear reactors are arguably the safest power source in modern times, but that safety relies heavily upon the regulations and diligence of the company/state operating the reactor.

4. Security. It hasn’t happened yet, but every nuclear reactor standing today is a dream target for terrorist groups, offering the opportunity to turn a few hundred pounds of conventional explosives into a radioactive regional disaster. If the company or government operating a reactor in a given region is providing substandard security around the facility, this increases the likelihood of a nuclear incident occurring. 

 

Every culture has unique mores and traditions. Travel to a foreign country unaware of these nuances, and you risk inadvertently insulting and/or offending the locals with a word or action that may seem completely innocuous to you. While Islam is the dominant religion in dozens of countries across three distinct continents, most Muslims collectively regard certain behaviors as offensive or even taboo. Here are four crucial tips for travelers in Muslim countries:

1. Don’t cross your legs while sitting in public. Muslims consider the shoe dirty because it makes contact with the ground. Crossing your legs in public, especially while talking to someone, can be seen as very rude if the bottom of your shoe is visible to others.

2. Avoid public displays of affection. Some Muslim countries merely frown upon this behavior; others, like Dubai and Saudi Arabia, have been known to actually incarcerate Westerners for hugging, kissing, and dancing in public.

3. Always accept offerings of tea or coffee. Tradition-minded Muslim hosts almost always offer guests either tea or coffee. While it won’t necessarily be seen as rude if you decline, a gracious guest typically accepts what a host offers.

4. Don’t eat in public during Ramadan. Not only will this act offend all Muslims who witness it—after all, they are currently fasting from dawn until dusk—it can also get you expelled from the country. Some countries like Morocco punish only Muslims who fail to observe Ramadan, while places like Saudi Arabia will castigate Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

Please keep in mind that these tips apply to varying degrees in different countries, depending primarily upon local customs and laws. Some Muslim countries are very traditional, while others have adopted or at least tolerate modern Western behaviors. Know the unique peccadillos of the culture you’re about to enter and stay safe.

 

One of my clients recently requested foreign trip travel insurance to Kurdistan through a major insurance company. While discussing the proposal with the underwriter, I asked if Kurdistan was on a no-travel list.  Her response:  “Oh, it should be fine!” Somewhat perplexed by her reaction, I politely informed her that Kurdistan is a province in northern Iraq, which elicited a complete one-eighty:  “Oh, in that case, there’s no way we can insure that.”

I encounter a lot of similar situations when dealing with foreign trip travel insurance; realize that your underwriter, and probably his/her bosses several levels up, may begin the process of validating your proposal without necessarily having the geographic knowledge to realize you’re going to a region that their company will not insure.

Even more importantly, your underwriter may be selling you the wrong policy in the first place. Foreign trip travel insurance policies cover things like medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other relatively routine incidents. Many travel managers think they can buy a foreign trip travel policy and call it a day, only to be baffled when the policy doesn’t cover evacuation costs after armed conflict breaks out in the region where their employees are located. Foreign trip travel policies have significant restrictions for evacuation costs in the event of war or political conflict, with a few insurance companies providing some limited coverage, while others may not provide any.

Some companies (typically larger ones) solve this problem by starting a captive, a single-use insurance company created for the sole purpose of covering its creator. Avis, for example, has a captive set up for rental car liability. Another big company like Hilton could create a captive to cover everything from PR scandals to emergency evacuations of personnel from foreign countries. These firms hire actuaries to calculate how much the captive needs to be properly funded, with emergency evacuation funds typically being based on the cost of evacuating personnel from a given country at a moment’s notice. Captives have the additional benefit of tax preferential treatment; all funds can be invested and do not incur taxes.

These are just a few of the nuances you’ll run across when selecting the proper insurance policies for your mobile employees. If this sounds like information you need to know, come attend my presentation later this month at the 3rd Global Congress on Travel Risk Management here in Houston. I wish you safe travels, and I’ll see you there!

 

If you’re responsible for creating your company’s plan to evacuate mobile employees for medical, meteorological, or geopolitical reasons, consider altitude when developing your strategy. You should review a number of factors, but focus especially on your evacuation vehicle of choiceand remember, helicopters don't fly quite so well at high altitude.

Ever since Igor Sikorsky created the first mass-produced helicopter in 1944, rotary-winged aircraft have been the go-to vehicle for quick, short-range evacuations. Unlike most fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters need no runway to land, and can hover in relative safety above the ground while waiting for evacuees to arrive at the landing zone. They’re an easy choice for travel managers who are developing a modern, effective evacuation plan for mobile employees.

Helicopters, however, have a number of weaknesses—including difficulty flying at high altitude. The rotors of a helicopter work most effectively in dense air, where their circular motion generates maximum lift. At high altitude, air density gradually decreases, which in turn degrades the lift characteristics of the rotor system and decreases the flight stability of airframes. The U.S. Army, having learned in Afghanistan how perilous high-altitude helicopter operations can be, created a flight school in Colorado dedicated to teaching pilots how to fly at high altitude.

When choosing an evacuation vehicle and service, you should consider this particular aspect of altitude. In some high altitude areas, alternative methods of evacuation—though they may take more time—may ultimately be a better choice for the safety of your evacuees. In other cases, when a helicopter is the best or only option, ensure that the service you use trains its pilots extensively in high-altitude operations. Pilots who have extensive experience flying at sea level but no high-altitude training will likely endanger your evacuees.

 

 In a statement on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich voiced concerns that a U.S. attack on Syria’s nuclear facilities may result in a radioactive event that would pose a health risk to the region. On behalf of the Russian government, he recommended that the U.N. prepare a risk analysis to address this possibility.

The Syrian government operates a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor, or MNSR, near Damascus. MNSRs, typically used for research purposes, are fuelled by anywhere from six to sixty-two rods of enriched uranium. While relatively low-powered and safe, MNSRs can release significant amounts of harmful radiation following a systematic reactor failure; however, according to ICENS, a SLOWPOKE reactor like the Syrian MNSR will not undergo a full meltdown like a larger reactor.

The United States is currently in the process of considering limited military action against Syria in response to the government’s suspect August 21 sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb. While Congress votes on whether or not to authorize a military strike, President Obama is attending the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the issue will be discussed among world leaders.

 

Even if we have a seat in first class, most of us don’t relish the idea of taking a commercial flight. Sitting in a cramped seat in a confined space for several hours straight simply makes most people uncomfortable. However, flying takes its toll on some more than others; passengers become light-headed, nauseous, and can even faint because of (a) the relatively low oxygen content in the cabin, (b) a preexisting condition, or (c) dehydration.

When it comes to serious incidents, such as cardiac-related events, pilots will often land at the nearest airport. For the more everyday maladies, though, flight attendants have been trained and provided with the necessary medicine to assist passengers who don’t feel well while on-board.

The news gets even better; according to a recently-released report, your fellow passengers will likely assist you if something serious happens. In seventy-five percent of all in-flight medical emergencies examined, traveling medical professionals stood up and attended to the person in distress.

At the end of the day, your chances of dying during a commercial flight are just 0.3 percent, a statistic built upon the able services of fellow passengers, trained flight attendants, and readily-available on-board defibrillators. However, this doesn't mean people with heart conditions shouldn't take personal precautions before flying; cardiac arrest at thirty thousand feet is a very dangerous and often lethal situation.



 

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