Secure Transportation & Ground Truth; Key aspects of Business Travel Security In Mexico
National Risk Assessments Are Not Useful
The business traveler to Mexico is ill-served by a national or regional level risk assessment approach. Rather, Mexico travel risk must be viewed through the lens of locality. For example, risk levels in Cancun are not nearly the same as Monterrey. Corporate security organizations wedded to general travel advice for Mexican regions will not only find themselves saying “No” to business opportunities in safer towns but saying “Yes” to potentially life-threatening visits to villages that should be off-limits. More than ever before, business travelers unaware of the risk distinctions from district to district, and neighborhood to neighborhood are either placing themselves at unprecedented risk or missing out on closing deals in places where the risk is manageable.
Last year, the U.S. State Department issued strict “do not travel” advisories for five Mexican states because of violent crime and gang activity. While the State Department has long recommended travelers exercise “increased caution” in Mexico in general because of widespread homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, the new warning elevates the five states to level 4, the highest level of potential danger. This advisory puts the states of Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan, and Guerrero on the same level as battle-weary countries like Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. Yet, many businesses have chosen to interpret the “do not travel” advisories for those five states as precluding travel to even the surrounding regions adjacent to those states. In doing so, those businesses are foregoing opportunities by not seeking out the finer details of Mexican travel.
Security in Mexico, Questions You Must Ask
One question should be foremost in the mind of any business traveler to Mexico, whether pre-departure, upon arrival, and around the clock while in the country. That ever-present core query should be, “What’s the ground truth?” and ‘How can I get from A to B safely, commensurate with risk?”
Whether it’s Mexico City, Oaxaca, or Juarez, getting to the ground truth means asking the right questions designed to determine the specific risks. Mitigating and managing risks can only happen once you understand the distinct dangers of your locality. Specific and practical risk questions are those that are directly linked to the where, who, why, and when of your Mexico travel. For example, mapping the routes between your airport, hotel and business site allows you to learn if any of those routes are prone to incidents. Assessing the crime near a local hotel and dining options permits you to plan for possible overnights in alternate locations. Allowing security professionals to research known gang activity, robberies, and assaults at your destination over the last 30 days offer an understanding of the modus operandi of the local criminals and the potential to plan mitigating countermeasures.
Acknowledge and Understand Risks in Mexico to Better Overcome Them
Acknowledging the risks and planning for them is the first step toward enabling smarter business travel to Mexico. Remember, high-level security professionals, special forces and elite units around the world are not successful in their operations because of ninja-like capability. These professionals succeed in the harshest of travel environments due to planning and preparation complemented by a pro-active situational awareness. Learning of and thinking through every threat, assessing actual vulnerability to that threat based on hard data, and planning with professionals to avoid or manage that risk makes the difference between winning a contract or watching a competitor get the deal. A simple but important example is in the risk of Kidnap. In some locales in Mexico, Kidnap is high-risk, and most Kidnaps happen in or near a vehicle. Mitigation measures include pre-booking a vetted security driver with the right looking, low-profile vehicle, and varying travel routes each day.
In Mexico City, often non-armored vehicles with a security driver and a solid pre-travel safety briefing are commensurate with risk. In the other border regions, one may require a low-profile vehicle e.g. truck, and a covert advance asset to run the route and help fly under the radar. Alternatively, sometimes high profile armored vehicle convoys act as a necessary deterrent. One size definitely does not fit all in Mexico. The answer is to search out a subject matter expert advice.
Preparation for higher risk business travel must also include preparation for the possibility of the risk materializing despite mitigation measures. This is where vigilance and situational awareness combine to help answer the question “What if” question. For example, “What if that person watching me leave the hotel every morning has criminal links?” “What If my driver suddenly veers off route and says he is picking up a friend?” “What if a car screeches up beside me and two men run towards me?” The simple act of asking the “What if” question better prepares you to successfully and calmly react to the threat and survive it.
With planning and preparation, use of available data, and consultation with security professionals, business travel to Mexico can be both savvy and successful. But, with zero question two key pieces to the risk management plan must include Ground truth and solid secure ground transportation and journey management plan.
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The need for employers to meet their duty of care requirements to employees is a complex process to navigate for many organizations. Understanding what measures you can take to manage this level of risk remains a considerable challenge. Incorporating the use of secure executive transportation into your travel risk management plans is a prudent move to reduce this risk and keep your people safe. Now, more than ever the need arises as to how best to meet this legal obligation for staff and employees who are traveling overseas on company business. The constituent groups this affects are varied, ranging from executives, accompanying spouses and dependents, students, teachers, volunteer groups, contractors – the list goes on.
The broadly accepted definition of Duty of Care is: ‘is a legal obligation, which is imposed on an individual requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others. It is the first element that must be established to proceed with an action in negligence.’ Moreover there is now a growing recognition both in the courts and with potential plaintiffs that breaches of duty of care occurring abroad can be heard in U.S. courts. The number of cases being presented has increased and employment lawyers are particularly alert to the issue.
This sets an additional standard to be met by employers – in that the measures in place to meet the requirement at home may not suffice abroad. In fact, it is almost certain that it won’t. Your senior executives and traveling staff members will likely be most at risk and exposed to hazards when in transit – particularly when traveling by road or awaiting transportation outside of an airport, venue or business premises. If you are not paying attention to the additional safety and security services united states needs for staff on travel abroad then it is highly likely that you may be placing your own organization at risk – both in terms of their physical safety, but also of potential future litigation.
The much publicized case in 2015 of former NGO worker Steve Dennis provides an excellent example. Dennis, a former staff member of the Norwegian Re (NRC) is sued the agency, claiming gross negligence and failure in duty of care after he was kidnapped and shot in Dadaab, Kenya. Dennis was traveling in a convoy through the camp when his car came under attack. The driver was killed, Dennis was shot in the leg and he and three other colleagues were taken captive. Interviewed in 2015, Dennis stated that: “Like everyone going into a risky situation for work, I believe there’s a minimum level of training and procedures required and when it’s not there I believe there should be accountability for it.” This case absolutely highlights the need to have deliberate and sensible measures in place for employees traveling abroad – especially in an environment where there is an increased level of risk. Not only is transportation key, but also training employees – click here to learn about the Explore Secure® online travel safety training.
Employers and HR managers can help protect their staff (and indeed themselves) by reviewing their procedures and policies. Consider the use of pre-travel training packages or courses to prepare their people for the trips. Then, consider what can be done in-country to further reduce risk. As most issues and incidents tend to arise when people are in transit (especially traveling in vehicles on roads) a further consideration must be the use of secure executive transportation – with trained and vetted drivers. In higher risk environments with an increase likelihood of criminal activity, you may wish to use the enhanced services of a close protection officer in conjunction with secure transportation. It will keep you out of the courts – but above all will set conditions for a safer workplace abroad which in turn will allow your staff to focus on your organizational goals.