Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Developing Safety and Security Worldwide

At People to People Ambassador Programs, the safety and health of all delegates and citizen ambassadors is our top priority. We strive to have a solid working knowledge and understanding of the current state of affairs in all corners of the world, especially the countries we visit. In order to stay current with world affairs, we use multiple resources to ensure we have the latest information.

Utilizing Worldwide Partners
First and foremost, we rely on our worldwide partners. These organizations are incredibly well connected within their respective areas and are in a unique position to pass along current and relevant information. We also rely on our past experiences. We have been operating programs around the world for more than 40 years and we have many proven safety and health procedures that provide the greatest opportunity for a positive experience for our students. In addition to these sources, we rely heavily on the U.S. Department of State and their available resources. One of these resources is the Overseas Security Advisors Council (OSAC), which employs highly skilled regional coordinators who collect and analyze the most current intelligence from all corners of the world.
One example of how OSAC supports People to People Ambassador Programs happened in late March. Each morning, I receive a summary of current events from around the world. On this day in March, I received a report of a young boy who reportedly had contracted H1N1, or swine flu, as it is commonly known. Within a few days, another alert reported the first death in Mexico. These alerts allowed our organization to start making preparations for our summer season in the event the disease spread, which it soon did. By the time we received reports about the first U.S. case, our organization was already planning communication with our delegate families and preparing to prescreen travelers.
Thanks to the information we received from the OSAC and our worldwide partners, we successfully traveled thousands of students to countries with sophisticated screening processes at airports, such as China, New Zealand, and Japan, and we did not travel one student with the virus, nor did any student traveling on our programs come down with the swine flu. Based on these results, I have now been asked by organizations such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the Student Youth Travel Association to share our practices at their conferences to reduce the chance that other students contract the virus. We clearly would not have been as successful without the early intelligence provided to us by the OSAC.

Keeping Up with Safety and Security
As a federal advisory committee, the OSAC promotes security cooperation between the U.S. Department of State, American businesses, and private sector interests worldwide. Essentially, the OSAC comprises government specialists who collect and share safety and security information to businesses around the world.

On November 18, the OSAC hosted their 24th annual briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., and I attended as a representative of People to People Ambassador Programs. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to open the conference, but she had to attend a meeting in China the night before with President Obama, and was unable to return in time. Daniel Weber, the OSAC executive director, opened the conference instead. I was pleased to spend some time with him during the two-day event. Jeffrey W. Culver, director of Diplomatic Security, also presented at the conference.

In addition we heard from Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security for the U.S. Department of State.

After hearing from these individuals, I am confident we walked away with the most current and accurate information available, which will help us continue to achieve our safety goals.

The presentations gave us current intelligence on conditions in all parts of the world. Participants also had opportunities to hear and share best practices that we can incorporate into the People to People Ambassador Programs' safety, health, and security processes to ensure the continued safety of your child.

The conference theme was "Confronting Global Risks." Each presenter was highly specialized in their area of focus, and the subjects ranged from hotel safety to global finances' impact on security.

Among the attendees were some of the top corporate security specialists in the nation. For example, I was able to share many stories and ideas with Michael A. Mason, the chief security officer at Verizon Communications. Mason served as a public servant for 28 years, first as a military officer, and then in the FBI prior to joining Verizon. When the conference ended, Mason attended a meeting with the newly established Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), a domestic version of the OSAC. In this group, the FBI serves as the chief liaison with businesses, instead of the State Department as with the OSAC.

As this group develops, People to People Ambassador Programs will stay involved to help ensure the continued success and safety of our domestic programs, such as our World Leadership Forums held in Washington, D.C., and our Leadership Summits at high profile universities including Harvard, Rice, and Stanford. The information gained from the DSAC will also help us develop safety practices for our "Leadership Summit: Remembering Hurricane Katrina" in New Orleans this summer.

Next year, the OSAC will celebrate 25 years of providing critical information to U.S. businesses that enables us to travel the world safely. We thank them for all they have done, and wish them the best during their 25th anniversary. We plan to attend their annual conference to continue to develop our safety and security practices at People to People Ambassador Programs.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Introducing a Few Outstanding Worldwide Partners

I just returned from London, where I toured with some of our outstanding worldwide partners. At People to People Ambassador Programs, we carefully select partner organizations around the world to arrange and deliver our specialty programs under the watchful eye of our own program manager for each location. We have an extensive history and work so closely with these organizations that we tend to view them more as an extension of our own organization than a separate entity. Mike Clark, the owner and operator of Educational Cultural Exchanges Int. Ltd. (ECE), is an excellent example.

Last week, Senior Director of Travel Services Nicola Balmain and Charity Hakes, our Europe manager, sat down with me and my team to review the past season and to plan for the years to come. One of the key topics covered in this meeting focused on an enhanced listing of Service Excellence Standards. This extensive document outlines in explicit detail every expectation of hotels, restaurants, and safety practices at all venues we visit during these amazing journeys. This document is not new, nor is the practice of clearly reviewing these expectations with our partners. In fact, after each season the five program managers always debrief with our worldwide partners, sometimes on site in their countries, and sometimes in our program office here in the United States. We believe this is time well spent ensuring there are no questions left unanswered and that everyone associated with any given program we deliver is on the exact same page in terms of expectations. The enhanced standards are just another example of our passion for continued improvement and constant enhancements in the methods we use to ensure your child’s safety and health while traveling on one of our life-changing programs.

During the week, I was also able to spend some quality time with Deborah and Terry Newman, the owners and operators of Clarkes of London, our motor coach provider. I was able to spend much of the day touring the property that is home to over 51 state of the art motor coaches.

The Clarkes of London Story
The company’s roots go back to Deborah’s grandfather, ‘Snowy’ Clarke, back in 1958. Mr. Clarke was a coal miner by trade but purchased his first motor coach to provide trips to the seaside for local children. The business soon developed into providing coaches for the local schools and clubs.
In 1972, the control of the company passed to Snowy’s eldest son, Bill Clarke, who together with his wife began to broaden the services. Bill has since retired and his eldest daughter, Deborah, now runs the day-to-day operations of the company with the help and support of her husband, Terry, and an excellent staff of professionals. You won’t see any elaborate presidential office for Deborah. She prefers a modest desk located on the floor in the operations center where she can hear all and keep a watchful eye on every facet of the operation.

During my visit and review of the equipment maintenance schedule and driver qualifications, I heard multiple times from Deborah and Terry that they do the things they do not because they are required, but because it is “the right thing to do.” That is why this organization continues to strive for excellence by providing additional training above what is required by law for their drivers. In fact, each driver on their staff has completed an advanced course, which is just one of the many extra steps they take that led to their organization being selected as the 2009 Large Coach Operator of the Year at the Route One Operator Excellence Awards. This is an award they have received many times, but this year, it seemed to mean even more to them, as the nomination came from someone in the industry who is not affiliated with the company. Among other things, the judges cited their use of technology to improve services. I had the opportunity to view a sample of this technology called the tachograph. This unit prints out on a tachodisc the speed in which a driver has gone and the duration for which he has operated the motor coach. Several people in the Clarkes office are dedicated to monitoring this information, which clearly helps ensure a driver never works outside of the legal standards of safety for drivers.

I was able to view each of the motor coaches on the lot and all of them were in pristine condition. It was almost impossible to tell the older models apart from the brand-new arrivals. The four older models (7 years old) were in such great shape that other operators are competing to buy up Clarkes’ used equipment. Deborah and Terry take such good care of the equipment that you could hardly blame the other companies! This year, they plan to purchase another six 2010 models, which will replace the last remaining 2002 models. This past year, they purchased some custom motor coaches. In fact, the week prior to my arrival, the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a scheduled National Football League game in London, and guess who won the contract to transport the team? It was, of course, Clarkes of London!

High Standards
Having managed many regional Ground Support equipment shops for several airlines, and knowing of the rigors involved with tracking each piece of equipment and ensuring that every unit is inspected on tight intervals to assure the safety of its operators, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the on-site maintenance shop the Clarkes have. You could literally eat off the floor in that shop, as its condition is maintained as well as the motor coaches themselves. They even have a body shop and a paint booth to remove the occasional scratch so that their motor coaches always remain in like-new condition. The shop is limited to touch-up paint and scratch removal, as the Clarkes report that they have yet to have been involved in any major accident with any of their vehicles. With the additional training their drivers get and the highly trained staff on site to watch out for their every move and to steer them away from any traffic issues, it’s not hard to see why.

This is truly a first-class operation, which is why Mike Clark of ECE (no relation to Clarkes of London) ultimately selected them to safety transport our students around the London area while on a People to People Ambassador program. And just one more reason why we value Mike Clark and his outstanding staff in the London office that look out for our every need and those of our valued Ambassadors.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.