Fear of the Ebola virus
poses a considerable threat to global security and to the travel industry, according to John Rose, COO of iJet, the Annapolis, Md.-based global risk-assessment company. "I've been saying since May, this is what keeps me awake at night," he said. "I'm not worried about my family contracting the disease. I'm worried about the security situation in a much broader sense: closure of schools, people afraid to travel, panic."
Public fear intensified considerably last month, after the positive diagnosis of two Dallas health-care providers who had attended to the first Ebola patient to die of the disease in the United States, followed by the positive diagnosis of a doctor in New York who had treated stricken patients in Guinea.
"People fear what they don't understand," Rose noted. "And Ebola is so horrific, it spreads fear quickly."
In the previous months, said Rose, most U.S. companies that weren't doing business in the three West African countries most affected by Ebola -- Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia -- were not all that concerned about it with respect to their travelers. The U.S. diagnoses were an abrupt wake-up call.
Although the chances of contracting the virus while traveling are extremely small, acknowledged Rose, it is vital that companies address in their business-continuity plans the possibility that a traveler might be exposed or subject to a quarantine. "It's a plausible situation," he noted, "just like a fire in the building. Rare? Absolutely. But we've got to have a plan."
As of mid-October, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
advised against nonessential travel to the three West African countries. Additionally, the agency posts up-to-date information about the symptoms and diagnosis of the virus as well as guides for health-care and airline personnel concerning how to deal with possible cases.
In addition, the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association now offers an Ebola Toolkit online,
providing talking points, updates, links to CDC resources and more.
According to Rose, it is incumbent upon travel and meetings industry professionals to share procedures and protocols with their constituents as to what actions should be taken in the event of an Ebola-related incident. To that end, Rose, who is co-chair of the Risk Committee for the Alexandria, Va.-based Global Business Travel Association, has been working with the organization to issue daily Ebola-related tips.
"We want people traveling and going to meetings and events," Rose said. "We don't want the industry hurt; we just want them going with the right level of vigilance so that bad things don't happen."