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The Russia / Ukraine conflict was the defining security issue of 2022, highlighting how geopolitics and the threat of interstate conflict are back on the corporate risk agenda. 24 February 2023 marks one-year since the wider conflict began and in recognition of this milestone, International SOS has shared key lessons learnt from supporting impacted clients, exploring how this significant geo-political conflict impacts organizations’ risk outlook.

International SOS’ support for clients began before the conflict started. On 12 February 2022 International SOS advised clients to fully evacuate Ukraine and several months prior to this a team was deployed to the country to audit resources and gather information. This preparation was critical in preparing for the potential eventuality of conflict. It involved engaging with network of providers on the ground and providing information directly to clients on first-hand basis.

This ‘boots on the ground’ approach also included meeting with local clients, gathering and analysing information which included route, hotel, railway, and airport assessments. With disinformation remaining a constant challenge for many, verifying information was also part of this preparation enabling thorough, effective, and efficient planning for clients. Also ensuring critical lines of communication were fully functioning was key, particularly satellite phones and telecommunications.

Since the conflict broke out International SOS’ support has included conducting complex security and medical evacuations, advising on the security and medical situation on the ground and in the bordering countries, briefing clients’ crisis management teams and providing security advice, emotional and medical support for organizations with employees who remain in Ukraine.

Critical lessons learned

Having dealt with the pandemic for several years numerous organizations were not prepared or equipped to navigate such a significant geo-political conflict.

Lessons learned by clients which International SOS supported include:

  • The need for stronger and more robust crisis management processes and capabilities.
  • The ability to verify information and access to trusted, timely facts during times of crisis.
  • The importance of the systems and processes in place to be able to enable faster, better decision making.

The conflict will certainly continue to have an impact in 2023, so it is beneficial for organizations to learn how to effectively handle the shifting global risk environment. International SOS says that it is likely that geopolitical volatility will spread beyond Russia/Ukraine in the next 12 months, as increasing fissures between Russia and the West will impact other conflicts and exacerbate longstanding geopolitical tensions.

Sally Llewellyn, Global Security Director, International SOS commented:

“Considering the last 12 months’ events, security has proven to be key in geo-politics and is firmly on the corporate risk agenda. Many organizations did not anticipate the scale operations needed to effectively manage the impacts of the Ukraine/ Russia conflict. As best practice organizations need robust risk mitigation strategies which should include security awareness, understanding the risk environment, thorough preparation and ensuring that they have all the tools and resources they need.

“Ongoing education is key. Employees and employers need to be knowledgeable about risk and understand the steps necessary to keep their workforce as safe as possible. It is recommended that organizations consistently revisit the likelihood and possible impacts of security risks to understand potential implications for their business and people.”

Managing crisis management fatigue is key in moving from ‘perma-crisis’ to crisis resilience and organizations who effectively embedded learnings from the events of the last three years, particularly, the conflict in Ukraine, will emerge with more robust capabilities to manage challenges in the future.

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