Editor's note: This article is as pertinent to HR now as itwas just before last year's hurricane season. These tips are worthreviewing in light of Hurricane Harvey and 2017's storms tocome.

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Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis — savvy organizationsrealize that, although rare, natural disasters pose a businesstravel risk that can’t be ignored. For HR managers overseeingbusiness travelers, an earthquake or other catastrophic event canleave employers scrambling to ensure their employees’ whereaboutsand safety.

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Read: How HR can help following adisaster

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Recent earthquakes in Ecuador, Japan, and Nepal have shown just how essential preparingfor the right travel risks can be for HR managers who overseebusiness travel.

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When employers begin their risk management preparations, thestakes are high: They’re morally and legally obligated toprotect their employees from the risks associated with travel.However, by taking a proactive — not reactive — approach toaddressing these risks, employers can improve response times andemergency protocols.

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This not only helps reduce the risks employees are exposed to,but also helps safeguard both the traveler and the organization inthe process. As 90 percent of recent major disasters are beencaused by weather-related events, the time to begin formulating aproactive natural disaster plan is now, before it’s toolate.

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Read: CEOs relying more than ever onHR

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Each organization will have unique concerns during a naturaldisaster, but the following guidelines should be addressed in anytravel risk management strategy:Photo: Getty Images

Be aware of potential risks

Travel risks are not static. They frequently change depending onseason and natural events.

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In 2015, for example, El Niño wreaked havoc on weather patternsthroughout the world, and experts predict 2016's fall and winterweather is likely to remain unstable.

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Additionally, weather conditions like flooding or severe droughtcan lead to more dangerous situations like mudslides or wildfires(especially in drought-ridden locations like California) — allpossibilities must be considered.

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Before employees are dispatched to their travel locations,employers should review the State Department’s alerts and warnings tally, which keeps arunning tab on risks throughout the world.Photo: Getty Images

Educate employees on emergency procedures

As always, the best preparation for managing a crisis is acomprehensive, proactive plan. But, this plan doesn’t rest onemployers’ shoulders alone. By engaging employees in riskmanagement protocols, employers are proactively ensuring theiremployees are cognizant of potential dangers and the actions theyshould take if disaster strikes.

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One of the simplest, most effective emergency proceduresemployers can teach their traveling employees is the “near/far”protocol:

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Near
When anatural disaster strikes, travelers should perform an immediate,360° intake of their surroundings and situation.

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Are you injured? If so, is it safe toleave your current surroundings? Is your location secure? Do youhave access to immediate necessities, like food, water, andmedication? Remember, when a disaster happens, travel routes areoften the first disruption to occur and public transportation willlack security and safety.

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When travelers find themselves in adisaster situation, the first priority should always be ensuringtheir immediate safety and health.

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Far
After takingstock of immediate surroundings, travelers should focus on the“far” concerns that await. Where is the closest embassy orconsulate?

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Assess the lines of communication — is the power out, and arephone lines down? If there is still access to phone lines or aninternet connection, can travelers reach their employers to updatethem on their safety and location? One of a traveler’s first callsshould be to their travel risk management provider, who can offeron-the-ground help and resources.

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Is there a way travelers’ employers will attempt to contactthem? If communication is impossible, is there a trusted localassociate who can provide assistance? Look ahead to the next 24hours to determine the most responsible safety and communicationsteps to take.

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Before an employee leaves for a trip, he or she should bebriefed on the above procedures, and should have the tools andinformation needed (such as contact information for emergencyresources — both at their destination and the company/travel riskmanagement provider) to answer key near/far questions that willarise during an emergency.Photo: Getty Images

Understand on-the-ground capabilities

When a crisis erupts, be prepared to activate the beston-the-ground resources. In the aftermath of a disaster — naturalor otherwise — time is of the essence. Do your safety researchbefore an employee travels, so your organization will be preparedto act quickly and efficiently.

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What resources does your travel risk management program offer?Are there NGOs or other organizations your company can contact?Does your organization have any local contacts who are in touchwith travelers? Planning ahead not only helps protect yourtravelers and fulfill duty of care responsibilities, but can alsohelp prevent emergency situations from becoming even more serious.Photo: Getty Images

Educate employees about today’s technology

Even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry during a catastrophicevent. If a company is unable to locate an employee, then it’s timeto crowdsource your intelligence. While traditional methods andavenues are effective, HR managers should educate employees on howconsumer technology and social media can be utilized during acrisis.

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Facebook, for example, activates the “Safety Check” feature in response to manmade ornatural disasters: users in affected areas are prompted by Facebookto mark themselves as “safe,” a reassurance that is then sent tothe individual’s network. It proved to be an invaluable tool during lastyear’s Nepal earthquakes.

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Additionally, Twitter is a great tool for employees to keep up-to-dateon the latest breaking news and info surrounding a crisis byfollowing the hashtag around a specific event. For example, withthe recent devastating floods in Sri Lanka, employees who might betraveling in that area can follow #SriLankaFloods to stay informedon the latest news.

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Additionally, open source mapping platforms, such as OpenStreetMap,has become one of the most useful new tools for aid-workers,providing emergency responders with timely and accurate geospatialdata to make important planning and prioritization decisions.Informing internal crisis response team members and employees ofthese tools beforehand could help remove emergency planning andresponse barriers in the heat of the moment.

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Natural disasters can be chaotic and unpredictable, but withsome proactive planning and communication strategies in place,you’re well on your way to protecting both your travelers and yourorganization from these risks.

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