Every crisis offers lessons and the war in Ukraine is no exception. Overlapping emergencies especially put critical event managers to the test and expose program deficiencies. Julian Moro, an SVP and regional security director at International SOS, shares gaps observed during the past few years and ways to improve corporate duty of care.

Just over a year ago, the Russia/Ukraine conflict escalated dramatically, ending decades of relative stability in Europe. Uncertainty prevails as violence continues. The scale of the conflict and mass exodus of populations has compelled organizations to re-evaluate their duty of care programs to support those impacted, including family members of local employees.

When it came to relocating employees and dependents, whether domestically or internationally, organizations had to provide support, training and resources for their staff. These personnel movements were complex, frequently dangerous and often executed without a clear plan for what came next. As we reflect a year later, this conflict – along with the earlier draw-down and departure of coalition forces from Afghanistan and the more recent Gaziantep earthquake – has exemplified why it is crucial to stay prepared for once-in-a-generation level crises.

Despite every organization being in a perpetual state of crisis during the pandemic, most were not prepared for the wide-ranging implications of the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Over the course of the past four years, International SOS observed several gaps in duty of care programs, the most critical being:

  • The need for stronger and more robust crisis communication processes and capabilities, which are critical during an unexpected geopolitical shock. This means being aware of employees’ locations and having tools to facilitate open, clear and resilient modes of communication with employees on the ground, as well as clear policies about how the duty of care program applies across the entire workforce. 
  • Access to reliable, verified and timely information. Navigating a crisis rife with misinformation leads to poor decisions and unnecessary stress for employees. Obtaining information from trusted sources will ultimately help organizations cut through the noise and make decisions based on factual information.   
Julian Moro, International SOS
Julian Moro, International SOS SVP and regional security director, Americas

Quick decisions have been at the heart of many successful duty of care programs. Faster and better decision-making by crisis management teams can make all the difference when it comes to supporting a major security event like the Russia/Ukraine conflict. The key to success is ensuring that you have a well-oiled crisis management team and a plan in place, with deputies identified, that can remain effective over a sustained period. 

The conflict has also had a range of residual impacts on the global threat landscape, with resilience and crisis management preparedness efforts becoming an ever-greater focus for many organizations. In terms of resilience, one significant factor now includes understanding the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape and how the risk to your organization may have changed in light of the geopolitical context.

I recently attended a public-private briefing session and one speaker stated that in the cyber threat space, “most bad actors are based in Russia, and it’s not crystal clear how much of the threat is purely state versus criminality, but it is clear that it is a bit of both.” Organizations need to review their threat assessment and update their cyber resilience plans accordingly.

Another area that has been greatly impacted by the conflict is commercial travel. I spoke with my colleague Rich Davis, a senior advisor at International SOS who worked with United Airlines for 40 years, including as chief security officer, about how the loss of Russian airspace has impacted the costs of commercial travel. He mentioned that commercial air travel and associated costs are always impacted by geopolitical conflicts. Countries that regulate commercial aviation must consider overflight adjustments in impacted areas, while airlines must use alternate routes during active conflicts. Costs can be significant when the conflict is lengthy — an imperative business consideration for operations, corporate travel and overall resilience.

The conflict also has had a range of predictable outcomes globally due to the nature of Russia’s economy and the sanctions backlash it has faced. Volatility in energy and agricultural markets in the past year has been primary among these impacts, necessitating analysis and forecasting of comparative vulnerability to socio-political instability and associated security challenges. Security intelligence teams engaged in strategic analytical forecasting to support organizations’ resilience agendas by identifying Ecuador, Peru, Egypt, Lebanon and many parts of sub-Saharan Africa as being at risk from large-scale social unrest, especially due to rises in fuel prices. This important function allowed many organizations to adjust their posture, exposure and preparedness for these foreseeable knock-on crises.

Many of our clients across all sectors, from NGOs to professional services, now have national and international employees returning to Ukraine. As they do so, they have been seeking granular information and advice regarding the security and health situation on the ground, the security outlook, and an understanding of the depth and breadth of in-country security and healthcare capabilities.

With that in mind, organizations and crisis management teams should anticipate unexpected shifts in their duty of care plans as the conflict continues to evolve and should do their best to monitor and seek advice when needed to protect employees.

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