International SOS emergency evacuations from Egypt

Posted on Feb 3, 2011

International SOS has evacuated over 800 people from Egypt – primarily expatriate employees and families of 40 clients from private corporations, non-profit organisations, as well as students.

Regional Managing Director of International SOS Dr Ian Cornish, says passengers were transported to Frankfurt, Paris and Dubai, using seven different flights where International SOS reception teams were meeting them.

“Operating flights in and out of Egypt has been very difficult, with significant delays and last minute cancellations.”

In the immediate wake of the uprising, International SOS activated a crisis management team at its London alarm centre, coordinating operations with its Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva and Dubai alarm centres.

Managing Director of International SOS Assistance UK, Kevin Duffey says this crisis team, whose initial members left within a few hours of the start of the unrest, consists of medical, security, aviation and logistics experts.

“In addition, another team consisting of security specialists representing a joint venture from International SOS and Control Risks is working from Cairo, Alexandria, Asyut and Suez.  The security specialists are providing real-time reports to assist members seeking information on colleagues in Egypt and on the ground conditions.

“Some of our security specialists who were in Tunisia following recent political unrest, are now in Egypt.  They are able to deliver first-hand information and coordinate operations with our locally-based partners.

“Calls to our alarm centres have increased by an estimated 180 percent over the past weekend.  We are using our pre-established network in Egypt to provide transportation, security and medical care for clients. In addition, we and Control Risks have activated TravelTracker, a proprietary system to help identify members in the affected areas, responding to calls at our 28 alarm centres,” says Duffey.

Cornish says the overall situation remains highly fluid, although the large deployment of troops at strategic locations, including in Cairo, will go some way towards controlling the situation.

“In-country personnel should remain in a secure location if it is safe to do so and wait for the situation to stabilise.  There is a risk of further violent anti-government protests, particularly in Cairo. People should avoid all gatherings because of the risk of violence and should not stop to watch or photograph these.  If a crowd or large group of security personnel begins to gather, vacate the area immediately. In the unlikely event of a confrontation with local nationals, do nothing to resist or antagonise the assailants.”

Cornish says due to uncertain telecommunication services, personnel should plan overland travel carefully, ensuring sufficient fuel and support in the event of a vehicle breakdown or security incident. Travellers should prearrange a check-in procedure to confirm arrival at their destination.

“International flight connections and domestic transfers via Cairo are still possible.  Travellers should however, check for delays with their airlines before travelling.  People wishing to leave Egypt by air should be sure about transfers to the airport and should allow additional time for road movement and check-in procedures. Only depart for the airport if reservations have been reconfirmed. If possible, have a physical copy of your ticket.

“Monitor developments closely via the international news media and local contacts prior to and during your stay. Use all available resources like hotel staff, local colleagues and hosts.  Register with your embassy and ensure that you receive regular updates prior to and during your visit.”

He says the security forces’ sensitivities may be heightened at this time.

“Do not cross military or police cordons without the express permission of the authorities and treat members of the security forces with patience and respect. Carry photographic identification and follow all instructions promptly.”
International SOS is an international healthcare, medical assistance and security services company.  Through its worldwide network of alarm centres, clinics and health and logistics providers, the company offers local expertise, preventative advice and emergency assistance during critical illness, accidents, or civil unrest.

“Removed from familiar working environments, business travellers may encounter increased and unfamiliar threats to their health, safety and security. During severe political upheaval and other situations that may impact travel, companies need to look after their employees who are abroad.  Crisis plans as well as systems to track and communicate with their travellers are crucial in helping organisations fulfill their duty of care.”

“The increased threat to business travellers heightens the liability of employers, who have a legal and moral duty of care for their employees, wherever they are based.

“Many organisations are operating across borders without fully understanding the obligations that surround duty of care, or are not providing the right level of care. Travel seems to be a blind spot when it comes to duty of care, compared to the health and safety procedures in the permanent workplace.

“The services we provide to clients are tailor-made for each individual organisation’s specific needs. This approach has again proved successful for our clients in Egypt,” says Cornish.

Written by Muzi Mohale