#Feesmustfall, JHB bridge collapse: What October taught us about risk management

It is unfortunate that many companies do not put emphasis on a risk management programme until something traumatic happens to one of their travellers. As a result, going into 2016, we as travel managers are going to need to be more vigilant by developing a specific process flow of what should transpire and who should be involved in this process, whether it involves just the travel team or travel, HR, procurement and senior management.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, was a prime example of this – when riot police were called upon to disperse hundreds of students protesting on the steps of the National Assembly against university increments for next year. We had quite a few travellers and staff near parliament that day for the mid-term budget speech. My phone rang non-stop for hours as the chaos started because I think it was the first time a lot of people in our company had been touched personally – either those who were at parliament or at our office in Cape Town, which is very close to the National Assembly. It was a real eye-opener, and when you get phone calls at that time of the afternoon saying ‘this change needs to be made’ and ‘please be on standby because everybody needs you to arrange shuttles home’, processes are the least of your worries.

In those circumstances, you don’t question. Processes can be sorted out afterwards, you just do what needs to happen.

This incident, coupled with the possibility of what could have happened when the scaffolding over the Grayston Bridge in Sandton collapsed on October 14, have highlighted the following points, which I find are extremely important in regard to risk management:

  1. We, as travel managers need to be the travellers’/employees’ first point of contact in the event they become aware of anything untoward that may affect them. The sooner you know about an incident the quicker you can respond.
  2. It is paramount that we urgently alert any other travellers who may be going to the same destination.
  3. If your travellers are involved/caught up in the incident, you must have someone on the ground-zero point who can keep you continually updated if they are okay as and when the events are taking place.
  4. We must remember to entrust service providers/emergency teams with our travellers’ safety without distracting them so they aren’t able to assist.
  5. Never forget to notify senior management so they are aware of who is involved, what has transpired and where, and giving them regular updates until the situation has stabilised.
  6. We must constantly review social media content for up-to-the-minute updates.
  7. If necessary, depending on the incident and how many travellers are involved, dispatch a relevant person from the organisation to assist/support the travellers, as long as it will not endanger their own safety/health.
  8. We should follow up with travellers afterwards to ensure they are all right/until they have recovered,  and enable counselling sessions in the event they have been traumatised and require professional support

Thus ultimately, I cannot stress enough that we as travel managers will need to be more vigilant than before and establish an efficient risk management programme