In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), the largest public-private partnership of security professionals, has scaled its response to the virus from the country-level, to the regional level, and ultimately to the global level; and facilitated the sharing of information within its sector-specific groups.
Since its founding in 1985, OSAC has demonstrated the value of public-private partnership with coordination around the current pandemic an outstanding example. During the first several weeks of the pandemic, OSAC increased and accelerated communications with the private sector, doubling communications with its more than 18,000 members compared to 2019 statistics. The highest number of inquiries involved border closures and flight cancellations for affected U.S.-national employees, students, and other travelers abroad. There was also a nine-fold increase in the number of Consular Alerts posted to the OSAC website ( ), with some of those alerts getting more than 1,000 hits each.
The rapid spread of the virus challenged OSAC, the Diplomatic Security Service and Embassy staff to provide rapidly evolving information on a regular basis. Sean McClanahan, Regional Security Officer in Beijing developed a daily situation report (Sitrep), which became a hot commodity in the international community in China and then East Asia. McClanahan created the situation reports to help manage the quick pace of information flow and help posts respond to the thousands of calls from U.S. citizens and OSAC members seeking information on the crisis. With the growing demand for these reports, the audience quickly expanded beyond the several hundred members of OSAC’s Country Council in China to more than 2,000 people across Asia holding membership in OSAC’s Pan-Asia Regional Council. From mid-February through March, Beijing sent more than 50 Daily Sitreps, reaching more than 1,000 U.S. companies and organizations, including 340 U.S. businesses operating inside China.
OSAC’s response scaled up dramatically as the virus became a global pandemic. Regionally-focused Google Groups organized by Country Councils shared country-specific information in real time. When the virus continued to spread and demand for information exceeded the reach of the Pan-Asia Regional Council (PARC) Google Group, OSAC established a COVID-19 Resource Hub on OSAC.gov. It provides a one-stop shop for worldwide resources focused on the outbreak including:
- Benchmarking surveys that collect and share the knowledge and best practices of OSAC members on topics like staffing, operations and cleaning procedures;
- Daily reports providing updates with g the latest information on health conditions, closures, and travel restrictions.;
- Links to other U.S. government and third-party resources, like Consular Alerts and Centers for Disease Control notices;
- Travel/repatriation information from consular sections for U.S. citizens seeking to return home. As of May 14th, the Department of State had facilitated the return of more than 85,000 U.S. citizens.
OSAC analysts supplemented the Resource Hub with personalized assistance, through hundreds of phone calls with OSAC members around the world. OSAC drew on the resources of the Diplomatic Security Service – with Regional Security Officers in more than 250 posts around the world – and the entirety of the Department of State and All-of-America government response to ensure OSAC members received timely, responsive and accurate information that helped American companies keep their people and property safe. The public-private partnership serves as a model of excellence, underscoring the importance of well-established relationships, collaboration and coordination between the government and industry professionals.
But OSAC also worked simultaneously to ensure specific sectors received the latest information, activating specific sessions of the Aviation Security Working Group, the Academia Working Group, and the Hotel Security Working Group to share specialized information to meet the unique needs of their members. Over two months, OSAC’s Regional and Sector-Specific Groups hosted 14 COVID-19-related informational webinars and virtual meetings with expert speakers, reaching more than 1,200 members who tuned in to participate. The are also posted on OSAC’s website for members unable to tune in at the designated time, and upcoming webinars are actively promoted through our website and social media channels.
OSAC members praised the Council’s response. Scott Vermeer of Apple said:
“When Apple’s operations suspended in China due to the coronavirus, the Regional Security Office supported our crisis management team and provided timely OSAC updates that were key in assisting us with employee messaging, personnel security, and helped manage business continuity in China. You all provided Apple with reliable open-source information and connected us with other key security stakeholders in the region.”
A new member, Matthew Demaris of FC Americas Corporate brands wrote:
“I made the decision to move forward with [becoming an OSAC member] and it’s really paid off in dividends during this crisis. We had staff in regions all throughout the world who simply weren’t getting the information they needed from their own local government’s resources and benefited greatly from some of OSAC’s health updates. Your benchmark reports were also something that helped and continues to help drive how we plan to assist our customers when they’re ready to return to travel.”
During a time of great difficulty, OSAC highlights the tremendous importance of people working together – industry, government and individuals – to overcome and mitigate global challenges of the pandemic. As Executive Director Jason Kight put it, “In difficult times, you find out who you can count on. During the pandemic, OSAC has again demonstrated the value of its longstanding and deeply-rooted model of public-private partnership. I am tremendously proud of how our members, partners, and staff have responded in the face of this unprecedented crisis.”
OSAC is the largest US public-private partnership connecting the total security experience abroad – a community of peers that embraces every corner of the world and every kind of organization. Its 5,400+ member organizations represent a cross-section of the US economy, from corporate, non-profit, academic, and faith-based groups of every size. Each has overseas operations and people who are exposed to ever-evolving security issues.
OSAC’s 18,000+ members include security and operations personnel at every level. Together these members collaborate in councils and working groups to produce high-value reports, seminars, and networking. This work enhances the OSAC community’s ability to manage complex security challenges. OSAC’s research and reporting services monitor a wealth of security issues, regions, and industries. This intersectional visibility helps offer multi-faceted insights that members can use to make informed security decisions, allowing their organizations to operate confidently in more places. OSAC is broadly supported, with resources from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and a presence in nearly every country.