In Case of Emergency

Weather problems and terrorism fears have pressured companies to increase their use of travel-contingency programs.
Laura DeMarsNovember 13, 2006

When Tropical Storm Ernesto hit Florida in August, Bill Franklin, manager of travel for Mitretek Systems, was busy tracking how many of the company’s employees were in its path. With the help of an interactive database, Franklin could see their location and send them a group E-mail alert if necessary.

With recent terror threats and nasty storms putting kinks in travel plans, companies are increasingly looking to travel-contingency programs. The plans allow companies to track the position of their traveling employees and provide emergency services in response to events such as natural disasters, terrorist threats, and airline strikes. In a worst-case scenario, the programs provide rescue services to get employees out of harm’s way. “With all of the violence, Asian flu concerns, and weather threats around the world, we need to make sure that our travelers are not in trouble,” says Franklin.

The emergency programs are a fairly recent offering from travel-management companies such as Omega World Travel, Adelman Travel Group, and American Express Business Travel. Some provide real-time personnel tracking via GPS signals to devices issued to employees, as well as 24-hour assistance from travel agents. The most robust plans include the ability to evacuate employees by airlift, and emergency health-care coverage.

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Katharine Johnston, CFO of AlphaTrade, is considering plans that offer traveler tracking, evacuation help, and health services for all of the firm’s travel destinations. “We want to do whatever we can to help our employees stay safe,” she says. Most providers require an annual fee and then bill for any services beyond what the basic membership includes.