On November 13, 2015, the world watched in shock as the City of Lights was struck by tragedy. As horrific as the terrorist attacks in Paris were, social media sensations like the Porte Ouverte movement (signified by #PorteOuverte on Twitter) helped restore our faith in humanity. The term is French for “open door,” and social media users posted the hashtag for those in need of a safe place to sleep in Paris following the devastating attacks. Similar social responses were seen in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing and the Nepal earthquakes: people were eager to leverage social media to help victims of tragedy.
So what does #PorteOuverte mean for employers and risk managers? More than you may think: there are more than 645 million registered users on Twitter. According to eMarketer, two-thirds of companies use Twitter to communicate. With its scope, it only makes sense that this social media platform serve as a lifeline for information-sharing among your employees during crisis situations.
The Porte Ouverte movement was widely applauded for its efforts to provide help – so much so that use of the hashtag extended well beyond Paris to people around the world tweeting their excitement for it. The movement is a great concept, but there’s a catch: the real danger with social media sensations like Porte Ouverte is that their risks often don’t seem to gain public awareness until they become a reality. In the case of Porte Ouverte, most of these risks thankfully weren’t realized, but trusting the hospitality of strangers should always be approached with an awareness of potential risks.
Not only is there a possibility that those offering their homes as “safe locations” could have negative intentions, but attackers could also find new targets using the hashtag. Social media sites – and particularly open platforms like Twitter – are public forums that anyone can access, and that fact must remain at the forefront of risk managers’ thoughts after disasters.
Duty of Care
Eighty percent of employees and a majority of the general public believe their employers are responsible for their welfare when they travel on behalf of their organizations. As risk managers and business leaders, you are undoubtedly familiar with this concept of duty of care. Failure by a company to adhere to these responsibilities can result in serious reputational, financial, legal and people-related consequences.
There’s also another factor at play: duty of loyalty. While traveling for business, employees have an obligation to avoid reckless and irrational decisions contrary to their employers’ best interests. Understanding the insecurities of #PorteOuverte, employee use of it could be risky. However, there will be times when there may be no other choice, which is why employers should discuss their protocols for approaching risky situations with their employees. In cases like Porte Ouverte, you could encourage employees to first try options such as buddying up with a co-worker and only accepting a stranger’s hospitality when there are no other safe options. Preparing your employees for a range of crises through proactive preparation and training is the most important action you can take prior to travel to help encourage clear thinking during emergencies.
Proactive Preparation and Training
Preparing a comprehensive and proactive crisis plan is essential before any employee travel takes place. When sending employees to “safe” locations such as major cities, companies could easily become complacent. For example, Paris is one of the largest cities in the world, seeing millions of visitors each year. For all intents and purposes, it is generally viewed as a safe location. The Paris attacks emphasize that even in seemingly safe destinations, disasters can strike anytime and anywhere. It is, therefore, imperative for risk managers to prepare for a variety of outcomes for each of their business travel destinations.
Because each city is unique, it stands to reason that there may be unique emergency protocols for every location. There is no catch-all plan to prevent or reduce disasters, and there are a number of steps and resources that make proactive preparation possible. For example, the State Department offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which provides real-time updates on travel warnings and alerts and helps the nearest embassy get in touch with employees in the event of an emergency.
Emergency planning with your organization’s crisis response team is a great way to develop in-depth problem solving specific to your organization’s unique needs in a safe, low-stress environment before an emergency occurs. Even if such planning has taken place in recent years, conducting a refresh to introduce new phenomena like Porte Ouverte is an important step. These exercises should be formally noted, not only so they can be used for additional training, but also so they can serve as an audit of your company’s travel risk management procedures. Through this process, organizations can identify bottlenecks and correct anything that could potentially cause delays or communication gaps during a real emergency.
Communication should be at the forefront of any proactive crisis plan. Details, such as ensuring employees know who their emergency point of contact will be, are key to helping eliminate confusion during and immediately after a disaster. The panic that results during a disaster can be diminished when employees know where to go for help. It is also important to establish and communicate protocols for worst-case scenarios. When it is necessary for employees to utilize an outlet such as Porte Ouverte that poses some measure of risk, they should be aware of the steps their employers want them to take to best ensure their safety.
Immediate and Eventual Concerns
In a life or death situation, employees also need to have a firm understanding of what they should classify as immediate concerns and eventual concerns and prioritize them accordingly. Immediate concerns include taking stock of one’s surroundings and determining any immediate dangers to be overcome. Another immediate concern is contacting the employer and/or travel risk management firm and taking care of the logistics of returning home should that may be necessary. Finding safe shelter, be it via one’s existing network or through open platforms such as social media, is clearly an immediate concern that requires careful thought.
Eventual concerns are anything that could be classified as nonessential — for example, packing up belongings and getting in touch with concerned friends and family. The key for employees in the midst of a crisis is to find appropriate times to address eventual concerns and not allow adrenaline and recent experiences to affect the actions they need to take to stay protected in the long run.
Social Media Success
While the Porte Ouverte movement was a great concept, there were risks associated with it that could make business travelers, and by extension their organizations, vulnerable. The best way to approach these risks is to actively educate employees on these issues before trips. Sometimes the safest option for an employee is a potentially insecure one, like accepting the hospitality of a stranger. In preparation for these situations, the primary responsibility of risk managers is to ensure there are company protocols in place and that employees understand these protocols and the personal safety measures they can take to protect themselves.
It’s especially important to communicate these protocols to employees early and often through a drumbeat of communications and training. In the end, the objective should be to protect your employees by providing the right resources and improving their decision making when things are at their lowest ebb. Overall, while the Porte Ouverte movement was an admirable one, business travelers and their employers should consider this approach as an emergency measure only — not to be confused with the choices and various options an employee has in the new “sharing economy.”