Thousands of Travelers Face Extreme Weather Every Year. This Firm Comes to the Rescue.
(Bloomberg) -- It was a desperate situation. A team of National Geographic Society scientists was in Bangladesh in late 2019, attempting to sail up the Ganges. Their craft had hardly made it out of the Bay of Bengal when they realized they were on a collision course with Cyclone Bulbul, which was gaining steam over the Pacific. Like many storms lately, it had grown bigger and stronger faster than anyone had predicted, thanks to higher-than-normal water temperatures. The team suddenly found itself in harm’s way.
When National Geographic called Global Rescue LLC, onetime Navy SEAL Harding Bush was on duty at the group’s Lebanon, N.H., command center. His team located the explorers via GPS and assessed their danger level, which was, indeed, very high. He told them to dock at the other side of the river, where the ground was higher, then contacted a local crisis service to meet and escort them to safety. His team checked in every hour until they were out of jeopardy.
“There is a huge need for command and control in these kind of crises,” says Bush, the company’s associate manager of security operations. “We act as an operations center. … We maintain communications for however long it takes with the affected parties, our local partners, and with worried family members.”
Global Rescue was founded in 2004, mainly to serve travelers with medical and security challenges. But extreme weather spurred by global warming has enlarged that mission, says Dan Richards, Global Rescue’s chief executive officer.
“We’ve been involved in every major natural disaster that occurred in the last 17 years,” he says. “And certainly the frequency and severity of events is increasing. You don’t have to be a scientist to know the arrow is going up and to the right.”
The company has contracts with tour operators as well as governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations. Its 200 employees stationed around the world handle thousands of cases in a typical year, Richards says. Some of these are fairly easily resolved. During the flooding in Belgium and Germany in early summer, “national emergency services were handling the crisis,” he says. “We couldn’t get our own helicopters up if we wanted.”
But at other times a response requires boots on the ground. Global Rescue will send in personnel such as paramedics and security experts to areas where they anticipate problems — for example, before climbing season on Mount Everest. It will also lend support to a particular mission and respond to disasters in areas where local partners either can’t or won’t be found. Bush has been deployed to South Korea for the Winter Olympics; to Beirut to support a corporate client with security requirements; to Doha for emergency evacuation planning; and, most recently, to Mexico, to ensure the feasibility of an international Covid-19 conference.
Bush says the company also has helped with emergency preparedness and business continuity plans related to climate change.
“Not long ago, people might not have had a hurricane plan. Or they might have had only an evacuation plan,” he says. “Now they want an entire vulnerability assessment. They want to know how to deploy personnel after the storm.”
Days after Hurricane Ida, which left a million people without power in Louisiana, state officials were pleading with residents not to return. That kind of dislocation can crush a business that doesn’t have a backup plan. It also makes contingency planning a growth industry.
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