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I'm a retired marine who helps expats survive sudden conflicts and natural disasters. Here are 5 proactive steps you should take for your safety if you live abroad.

Matthew Loh   

I'm a retired marine who helps expats survive sudden conflicts and natural disasters. Here are 5 proactive steps you should take for your safety if you live abroad.
  • Jeremy Prout is a retired marine and director of security solutions at International SOS.
  • He helps expats in over 1,000 locations across 90 countries deal with sudden wars and crises.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jeremy Prout, a retired marine and the director of security solutions at International SOS, a health and security risk management company that works with expatriates and their employers.

As director of security solutions at International SOS, I'm often deployed abroad to help our teams across 90 countries with extraordinary crises.

When war broke out in Ukraine, for example, my colleagues and I traveled there to facilitate more than 50 land evacuation missions involving two to nine expat clients at a time.

We also offer support like air ambulances and medical escorts, but a key part of our business is helping expats understand risks in the part of the world they're staying in.

Here are five key steps I think any expat should take for their safety while staying abroad:

1. Research the local region's biggest threats — and best solutions.

Being well-informed about the local context is the first step toward effective crisis preparedness.

While you may not know when a crisis will occur, you should be aware of potential threats and how they could impact you and your family.

Make an effort to learn about the potential risks and vulnerabilities specific to the region you live in, such as natural disasters, political instability, or health concerns. Research local emergency services, evacuation procedures, and healthcare facilities.

2. Get to know someone who understands the local system.

When a major escalation occurs, everyone is heading for the same door, or in this case, for the same resources.

Knowing someone in emergency services, community organizations, or with the local authorities can make a difference. In times of crisis, these connections can provide critical support, information, and resources.

They can also help you understand the cultural nuances and specific challenges that may arise during a crisis in the region, which is very important.

3. Build your emergency plan, and make sure everyone knows what it is.

Develop a detailed emergency plan that addresses various potential crises. This plan should include evacuation routes, emergency contact information, medical protocols, and a communication strategy.

It should also include a list of local resources, such as a nearby hospital, medical facility, and local shelters if you need to evacuate. Include a local meeting spot that everyone knows too; this will become helpful if you are separated from your group.

You should share this plan with family members and ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

Regularly review and update the emergency plan to account for changes in your organization and local conditions. Planning proactively can help to reduce stress when a crisis hits too significantly.

One of the most important parts of an emergency plan is a means of communication. Some people create a chat group on WhatsApp or another platform so everyone can update their whereabouts. Try to keep communication consistent when possible.

It's also helpful to create a chat with friends and family at home so they know you are safe should a crisis ensue.

4. Maintain essential documents and prepare a go-bag.

Keep important documents, such as passports, visas, medical records, and insurance information, in a secure and easily accessible location.

Create digital copies and store them in a cloud-based platform to ensure access from anywhere, and make sure these documents are valid and be aware of the expiration dates.

Additionally, maintain a supply of essential resources, including non-perishable food, water, medications, and basic first aid supplies.

You should also ensure your insurance policy gives you access to emergency rescue services for evacuation. Ensure you know what level of support you have available at all times, even before a potential crisis.

5. Stay informed and flexible.

Keep up with local news, government advisories, and global developments that may impact your location, because a proactive approach to information will help you make informed decisions in uncertain times.

A great way to do this is to sign up for alerts and notifications from the authorities if there are any.

But in times of crisis, flexibility is key. Be prepared to adapt your plans based on the evolving situation. Stay calm and focused, and encourage open communication within your support network.

I believe this adage holds true: Those who prepare today can confidently face whatever challenges tomorrow may bring.

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