Mobility Rising: How my Duty of Care Kicks in During Natural Disasters 01.31.2020 | Karina Alvarez

Statistics show that the amount of death from natural disasters have decreased dramatically in the past decades due to better contingency plans and communications technology.

However, natural disasters are still a very unpredictable and concerning event. According to Our World in Data, natural disasters kill on average 60,000 people per year, so being well prepared to respond to them in our industry, where we have duty of care in place for our assignees, is vital.

While natural disasters can be very worrisome for an assignee in a new country who is far away from family, resulting in stress and panic for them, there are several challenges they need to be prepared for when facing natural catastrophes from infrastructure-related problems to life-threatening situations. As a best practice, I believe that all companies who have relocation programs should have a contingency plan which includes information and awareness around risk management and decision-making process mechanisms to mitigate the effects of disasters in their policy for unpredictable situations.

From my experiences as a Workforce Mobility Counselor, some of the most prominent challenges when managing a move to or from an area impacted by a natural disaster are:

  • Communication with assignees;
  • Household goods delays affecting the families on the move;
  • Finding resources and temporary accommodation after buildings and houses are destroyed;
  • Dealing with general goods inventory supply scarcity.
In these instances, having an organized emergency and evacuation plan creates a big advantage for me as a counselor. As professionals in the mobility industry, we recommend clients include in their relocation policy, strategies and plans in case of emergencies or disasters to minimize the negative outcomes and unexpected events caused by man-made and natural disasters.

For me personally, I recently experienced the impact Mother Nature can have interfering in an employee’s plans. A recent scenario was an employee that signed her lease expecting that her stuff was arriving from Toronto, Canada to Bogota, Colombia, considering historical transit time. Unfortunately, a strong snowstorm fell in the Halifax Port and a state of emergency was declared. To avoid any damage to her cargo, the moving company had to keep the container in Toronto and relocate it on another ship that sailed from Montreal. Even though, the employee was going to have an unavoidable delay on her shipment, we knew in advance and reacted with enough time, so that she would have a furniture rental in place to enjoy her new location while the household goods arrive.

It is true that we can do very little to stop, say an earthquake from destroying someone’s house, but as a subject matter expert in relocation, you have to be ready to assist our assignees no matter what situation they encounter.

In my role, I am here to alleviate the trauma by proactively supporting the relocating employee, provide temporary living options to ensure the expatriate and their family are safe and not exposed to any preventable risk.

Learning from experience is key in urgent situations and being informed and having a plan to minimize the lack of certainty and mental preparedness is essential. This is part of our mission in this interesting and challenging industry.


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Written by Karina Alvarez

Karina serves as a Senior Workforce Mobility Counselor in our Miami, LATAM office. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in International Business with an emphasis in LATAM Studies from Florida International University and is licensed in Real Estate in Florida.

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