Global Guardian CEO Dale Buckner takes stock of 2021 and offers advice on how to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.

 

The past 22 months—since the COVID-19 pandemic first erupted in March of 2020—have shown the importance of having in place tried and tested systems and using the right providers who can execute the last mile of service, according to Global Guardian Chief Executive Officer Dale Buckner.

Noting that the world has changed in material ways since 2020, Buckner said corporations and individuals need to “ask yourself have you made appropriate changes in how you’re doing business… Have you changed materially in your structure of how you are protecting people and infrastructure?”

Buckner spoke in a webinar hosted by Global Guardian on December 1. Global Guardian Chief Operating Officer Mark Post moderated the conversation.


Global guardian's response

The past year has been marked by unprecedented challenges including the collapse of the government in Afghanistan, the breakdown of the healthcare system in India under the weight of the pandemic, a deep freeze in Texas, wildfires on the U.S. West coast, a record Atlantic hurricane season, and a coup in Myanmar—all challenges to which Global Guardian’s teams have responded. “What is blindingly obvious to everyone is that the last mile is the most important in these responses,” Buckner said.

Intelligence alerts and tracking employees on business travel—offered as duty of care services by most companies—are not enough to bring people home safely and in an efficient manner, Buckner said.

The service provided by Global Guardian is further enhanced by on-the-ground, locally networked teams in more than 130 countries that are supported by a 24/7 operations center.


Healthcare system collapse in india

In India, the Delta variant of COVID-19 claimed thousands of lives and overwhelmed medical facilities and services in India. Buckner said there were two reasons for the failure of the Western model of insurance during this time. First, the model dictates that patients be sent to a hospital—possibly the least safe place to be during a pandemic when services have been crippled and supplies have run out. 

Second, it is impossible to provide services in India from the outside, whether it is telemedicine or the delivery of medicines. “If your provider did not have boots on the ground in India, you were bound to fail,” Buckner said.


Texas Deepfreeze… Redux?

In February 2021, a major winter storm walloped Texas causing millions to lose power for days in subfreezing temperatures. More than 200 people died in the freeze.

Global Guardian’s teams deployed to Texas where they provided relief supplies and assistance to clients. Buckner said the state has “not materially improved its situation since the freeze in 2021.” He warned that “if there is a major storm in Texas this year, they will be right back to where they were” in 2021.


Living with the Pandemic

Since March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives across the world. More than 5 million people globally have died, many more have been sickened. Employees have been forced to work from home as workplaces shut down and travel ground to a halt as countries closed borders to manage the spread of the virus. Variants of various lethality have emerged. Across the world, vaccination rollouts have been uneven slowing the pace of a return to “normal.”

The concept of a dispersed workforce is here to stay at some level, said Buckner. He acknowledged, however, that each business is going to have a different experience with reopening and, especially, how they deal with vaccine and mask mandates for employees who do return to the office.

Buckner noted the growing political polarization in the world and differences over vaccinations and mask mandates. “Corporations,” he said, “will have to make hard decisions when it comes to mandates. I don’t think you can hide from this.” Similarly, he advised corporate leaders to tackle head on prickly topics like race, religion, diversity in the workforce, and the environmental effects of a business. Hiding from these issues will only lead to criticism from both outside as well as inside the company, he explained. “Ultimately, you can’t make everyone happy,” he added.

As employees work from home, companies should be thinking about how to support this dispersed workforce, Buckner said. This involves thinking about providing employees with:

  1. cybersecurity so vulnerable home networks can be shored up and made more secure,
  2. mental health and medical support, and
  3. a stipend so employees can cover expenses such as electricity and phone/internet bills.

“The simplest advice that I give clients today is think of [your employees] almost the way you would treat them if they are on travel to a foreign country,” said Buckner.


A Return to Travel?

The fluid nature of COVID-19 continues to put a question mark over the future of travel which had begun to show signs of picking up. Buckner advises clients to carefully consider the following steps before a business trip:

  1. Can the goal of a business trip be achieved through a video teleconference or an email, or do employees need to be physically present onsite to build trust or execute a project?
  2. If a decision is taken to send the employee on a work trip, the company needs to consider travel restrictions along the entire route of the journey as well as at the destination, as well as all the medical requirements such as vaccinations and testing.
  3. The company must also consider whether it will be willing to cover the costs of ensuring medical care for an employee if they get sick in a foreign country and need to be evacuated back to their home base for treatment.

The Next Global Disruption: Dale’s Top 5 Predictions

As if 2021 has not been hard enough, experts expect more global disruptions in 2022.

Buckner listed a few areas of concern:

  1. China: Buckner worries about the sharpening geostrategic competition between the United States and China, which he believes could lead to conflict; one potential flashpoint he cited was the fate of Taiwan. Beijing claims there is only “one China” and suggests it could eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland, by force if necessary. The United States, on the other hand, is committed to the defense of Taiwan. Buckner said the United States will also need to address its great vulnerabilities—cybersecurity and the security of the supply chain—when it comes to addressing the threat posed by China.
  2. Cyber security: Cyber incidents have increased exponentially due to a number of factors, including the rise of bitcoin and cryptocurrency and the fact that much of the world has been forced to work from home on unsecured networks as a result of the pandemic. Global Guardian experts describe 2021 as the year of ransomware, and Buckner doesn’t expect these cyber incidents to decrease. “The government is behind, corporate America is behind. We’re all rushing to catch up” on cyber security, said Buckner. Going forward, he said, companies will be judged on whether they have “real cyber defenses.” Buckner added: “The problem is we are all 20 or 30 years behind where we should be. We are playing catch-up.”
  3. Terrorism: Buckner predicted a major terrorist attack could happen in Europe within the next year once travel resumes and bad actors locked down in war zones begin to move again. “All of those things that were hot spots before COVID really went to ground for about six to eight months,” Buckner said. He predicted that as people start to move freely once again global disruptions will come “roaring back.”
  4. Climate change: Natural disasters—storms, wildfires, flooding—have steadily increased in intensity over the years. The past year provided ample evidence of this trend. More intense wildfires burned in California and the Pacific Northwest to Greece, Turkey, and Siberia; the Atlantic hurricane season had so many storms that meteorologists ran out of names for the second consecutive year—a record; and record flooding took place in Europe and British Columbia. Buckner said corporations will need to take into consideration local environmental conditions before setting up a business—is the business too close to the coast, is the location vulnerable to wildfires or storms? “Ultimately, global disruption is going to affect all of us… and I think you have to recognize that, and are you changing moving forward?” Buckner said.
  5. Weaponization of information: Buckner said the rising levels of tribalism both in the United States and in other parts of the world is fueled by misinformation spread on social media. In the United States, he contended, this has led to a “low-grade civil war” starting to materialize in the information world raising the danger that it could spill over into the physical world. “The contract between the citizens and the state in the United States and other democracies is being tested because of this tribalism,” he said.

Ask the Hard Questions

To best prepare for these challenges, Buckner advises asking the hard questions of insurance providers. He emphasized the importance of knowing who will come to help in a crisis—who will provide that last mile of service—and where a provider’s assets and people are located.

“If you had vendors or insurance platforms that failed you, have you made change,” Buckner asked. “As we are restarting, now is the time to make changes and/or mandates.”


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