Good Advice Health and Safety abroad

How to cope with... Civil unrest

Ask the FCO

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( is the authority on civil unrest situations, and should be your first point of contact if you are travelling independently. Its advice is updated hourly during a crisis situation, and a consular assistance team in London is available around the clock for British nationals (tel +44 (0)20 7008 1500). Depending on the severity of the situation, it may assist with evacuations.

The FCO also provides a service called “Locate” whereby you register online whenever you travel abroad so it knows where you are and has your mobile number. “We always encourage people to register before they travel [anywhere outside the UK],” an FCO spokesman says. “It’s also never a bad idea to make a note of the local British embassy’s phone number.”

Contact security

If you belong to a large corporation with its own security department, get in touch – otherwise, your company may employ the services of a security organisation, such as Red 24 ( or Pilgrims Group ( Such companies will advise on the best course of action, including whether you should leave the country, and will communicate with locally positioned representatives who can take physical protective action for you – from driving you to the airport to saving you from a hostage situation.

Call your TMC

If your firm uses a travel management company, give them a call. They can offer advice, book you a flight out of the country and pass on a record of your itinerary if needed. “Make sure your [online] profile includes your mobile number and contact details so we can reach you even when we know where you are,” says Susan Lancaster, director of travel management company HRG’s International Business Group. “You’d be amazed how many travellers don’t do that.”

Check for updates

Situations can change rapidly so check regularly for news. The FCO has both a Twitter (@foreignoffice) and Facebook page (, which provide immediate alerts of when a country’s safety and security status has been updated, as well as useful weblinks for more information. If phone lines and the internet are down, try to find a TV news channel.

Stay safe from harm

If you are told it is safest to remain in your hotel room, secure your surroundings. Lee Niblett, head of corporate intelligence at Red 24, says: “Stay away from windows, close the curtains to prevent broken glass from entering the room, and seek an internal room for protection. Close and lock all windows and external doors.”

And know your next steps in the event the hotel itself becomes a target. Sam Mostyn, training manager at Pilgrims Group, says: “Plan an evacuation route, identify back-up buildings [to retreat to] and always have a clear idea of where the airport is, and how to get there.” Also, be prepared to move at short notice. “Prepare a grab bag that includes any required medicine, water, money, passports and visas,” Niblett says.

Keep people posted

Lastly, if you change your travel plans, make sure people at home, including your family and TMC, are informed. “If we’re being asked by your company where you are and our expectation is that you’re en route to somewhere and then you don’t arrive, [we can’t help],” Lancaster says.



  • Know your destination – be aware of any threats, trouble spots, crime and cultural issues so you can try to avoid them.

  • Leave your travel itinerary with family and colleagues.

  • Before you travel, sign up for scenario-based practical training. Many security organisations offer hostile environment courses relevant to business travellers.

  • Understand your company travel insurance policy. “The vast majority [of policies] try to avoid [covering] civil unrest because it’s so difficult to underwrite and put a price on,” says Jeff Rush, chief executive of Rush Insurance. Comprehensive cover does not mean you are protected in every situation.

  • Red 24’s free Travel Riskometer app for iPhones calculates the risk involved when travelling to any destination as a percentage. Or for about £120, you could invest in a satellite phone or pocket-sized tracker that can be used by security companies to track your whereabouts via GPS signal.

  • Assess the situation – is your trip really worth the risk? If the FCO advises you not to travel and you go anyway, you are putting a lot at stake.