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Preparing execs for overseas travel

The 2018 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Russia, is under way and during the event many executives will be traveling overseas. Security can often be an afterthought, especially for seasoned execs who travel regularly, writes Dillon Twombly, Senior Vice President of Corporate Sales at Dataminr, a New York-based company using machine learning to classify public information.

Traveling overseas comes with risks, especially during high-profile sporting events. Consequently, due to complacency, lack of knowledge, or just bad luck, an executive may find themselves in danger. Yet whilst there’s a widely held assumption that the corporate security department constantly monitors developments at home and abroad, that’s not always true, as most organisations simply lack the necessary tools and resources. Without a real-time appreciation of events taking place thousands of miles from the company’s headquarters, the CSO remains one step behind the pace, which often leaves executives on their own and scrambling to secure their safety and security.

TV news is often late

Absent an up-to-date picture of local conditions, many CSOs depend on TV news channels to alert them to problems requiring their attention. However, it takes time for news crews to arrive onsite and gather accurate information about breaking events. Developing situational awareness prior to an overseas trip, and maintaining an in-depth understanding of the threat landscape whilst in country, requires the ability to identity and monitor news relevant to a travelling executive’s security in real time. Furthermore, events change quickly. Agents on the ground with principals under their care need up-to-date information on the security situation at every stop on the itinerary. Thankfully, there’s an alternative to TV news.

See what others see, in real-time

The need for an accurate view of events as they unfold is why CSOs increasingly turn to real-time social media to inform their security plans and keep executives safe abroad. Long before executives leave for their trip, real-time social media alerts provide CSOs and their teams with the ability to gather insights regarding local conditions to justify and inform personalised security plans. Instead of playing catch up, real-time alerts help the corporate security department monitor for risk proactively and react to breaking events quickly. When coupled with historical data, CSOs can develop contingency plans, including the deployment of executive protection agents, increases to existing security, or, in extreme circumstances, the evacuation of company personnel.

A new perspective

Real-time alerts play an important role in helping business travellers respond to unpredictable events as well. Consider what happens when an earthquake, hurricane, or a volcanic eruption strikes. Business travellers marooned in airports or hotels often feel frustrated and powerlessness because of their lack of understanding of the events taking place around them. Similarly, for those about to embark on a business trip, doubt and uncertainty swirls around their itinerary and whether the trip can go ahead as planned, requires changes, or ends up being cancelled.

Thankfully, since many of those impacted by natural disasters turn to social media to share their experiences and learn from others the extent of the damage, real-time posts help fill in the gaps between the information forthcoming from airlines, hotels, and TV news channels, with firsthand experiences of those bearing the brunt of the disaster. In this respect, social media alerts help CSOs and the business travellers they support make intelligent decisions regarding their travel plans, while also helping to minimise the stresses, strains, and uncertainty triggered by Mother Nature’s wrath.

Minimising the strain

Be that as it may, assigning corporate security analysts to monitor unfiltered social media feeds for events relevant to the company, without the tools to make sense of relentless data deluge, is a recipe for failure. Such scouring is labour intensive and distracts analysts from their primary responsibilities. Further, it’s not scalable, since analysts cannot monitor social media around the clock. Monitoring social media alerts in foreign languages is particularly problematic for security teams with analysts who only speak English.

In addition to the sheer volume of social media posts, the breadth of issues with the potential to derail an executive’s travel plans or threaten their safety also presents challenges. Effective monitoring of social media in-house means analysts must possess the means to capture information pertaining to minor and major developments, ranging from mundane road closures to extreme natural disasters, without becoming overwhelmed or missing critical developments. Few, if any, corporate departments possess the resources to do so.

Technology as force multiplier

Distilling a constant stream of data into actionable alerts requires the use of purpose-built technology to filter, add context, and deliver timely, relevant alerts in a digestible format. Access to social media alerts also allows agents to fuse human judgement with the latest developments on the ground. Agents don’t need to wait for a significant event to fully develop. Instead, the event timeline created by filtering software allows them to predict how events may progress. This makes it easier for agents to adapt on the ground, and for executives to support changes to the travel itinerary. Since agents in the field see the same alerts as the analysts in the company’s operations centre, they can develop contingency plans together as a team.

Companies expect their CSOs to to see around corners for potential threats to a firm’s people, assets, and ability to operate. Embedding social media alerts within corporate security operations provides CSOs with unparalleled visibility of events with the potential to impact the safety and security of executives and the agents assigned to their protection. In fact, given that technology exists to help make sense of the chaotic world we live in, there’s no reason for the corporate security to fall short for the company and the executives it supports.


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