Global terrorism and international political conflicts are becoming increasingly exposed within the media and, with this growing public awareness, businesses are falling under more scrutiny than ever to provide their employees with comprehensive and reliable travel risk management plans when travelling abroad. However, knowing what plans to put in place and making the most of the technology available, when there are so many options available, can be a daunting task.

The rate at which technology has developed over the last decade alone means that businesses can utilise new tools and services rapidly. The period between design to when the product is available on the market is taking less and less time so we are now reaching a point where the market is saturated with products which all share a very similar promise - to help safeguard employees. Mobile tracking systems are one of the largest developing areas of technology for safety management but, at Anvil, we encounter frequent questions about exactly what they do and why an employee should use one.

Whilst mobile tracking technology can not reduce the potential risks facing employees, they do allow immediate and safe action to secure an individual, should a threatening situation arise. Preparing for and dealing with a dangerous situation is a complex undertaking, and requires the right tools to act swiftly, safely and decisively.

What is a mobile tracking system?

Even within the last six months, we have witnessed a series of global catastrophes affecting tens of thousands of lives – terrorist attacks, natural disasters and armed conflict to name a few. It was at one time a complicated, if not near impossible task for corporations to identify the locations of travelling employees. However, with the introduction of computerised traveller tracking systems, it became possible for management teams to quickly understand the scale of their human exposure to these events.

Mobile tracking systems provide a comprehensive solution to incident management with the incorporation of GPS technology, leading to a new generation of employee monitoring techniques that can offer more substantial support at all stages of the risk management process. Real-time intelligence on employee locations and individual contact information is vital in the event of an emerging or active security threat and mobile tracking provides instant updates.

Whilst these applications offer an immediate point of monitoring, many businesses think GPS technology and knowing an employee’s location alone will be enough to keep them safe. This, however, is simply not the case and when considering the rise of such applications it is important to remember that such devices should only ever be one part of a wider security strategy, designed for use at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.

How do mobile tracking systems work?

Mobile tracking systems most commonly come in the form of an ‘app’ and will track an employee’s location in real-time, provide live news updates about the location where the employee is based, and can also be used as a point of communication between the employer and employee. The applications also allow the employee to check-in and check-out of their scheduled itinerary, almost like a social media status feed.

The most reliable mobile traveller tracking systems are based on receiving travel itinerary information as soon as the business trip is booked. The systems capture vital traveller information which means that, in the event of an incident, the employer can immediately identify potentially impacted employees and contact them to ensure their safety and offer support. They can also contact others who are due to travel to the affected area and warn them of possible disruption or danger, so the trip can be postponed or cancelled altogether. In addition, knowing where employees are intending to travel before their trip begins gives the employer time to undertake a risk assessment of the trip and ensure that the corporate travel risk policy is being complied with.

Who needs mobile tracking?

Tracking is best suited to higher risk individuals, such as lone female travellers or those operating in risky or remote locations. With some tracking apps it is possible to set a safe area boundary and alert the team responsible for the individual’s safety if they stray into dangerous territory.

Most important is to capture vital traveller itinerary information at the point of booking any trip, so there is time for a risk assessment to be performed and any necessary risk mitigation resources to be put in place so that the trip can proceed safely.

When is the right time to use mobile tracking?

GPS and mobile technology becomes truly useful when you look at what is going on around the employee you are tracking, as well as the immediate location of where they will be based. Understanding the risk around employees can help a business deal with potential issues in advance, providing the ability to not only respond but to monitor and take steps to mitigate anticipated risks.

A crucial factor for corporations seeking to fulfil duty of care obligations, which is a legal requirement for employers, is the ability to evaluate and monitor the travel movements of their globally mobile workforce. Organisations should know where employees are working at all times, and do everything possible to protect their safety and security. Facilities managers have adopted a variety of tactics for keeping employees safe overseas, including the use of mobile tracking systems, which are continually evolving as technology advances.

The vital thing for corporations to avoid when arranging any overseas travel for their employees is a ‘laissez faire’ attitude. Technology does not guarantee an individual’s safety and smartphones are frequently lost or stolen. Mobile applications will therefore always need to be used in the correct context and with input from other forms of intelligence, including facility managers themselves.

By Matthew Judge, Group Managing Director, Anvil