A NEW survey suggests that Singapore company Pestbusters is in the minority when it comes to planning for emergencies abroad.

In early 1997, initial signs emerged that political instability was on the rise in Cambodia, which did not bode well for the company's staff based in the country.

A year earlier, the company had sent two local employees there to set up a franchise to break into the market, but when it was clear that things were going to turn ugly, Pestbusters founder, Mr Thomas Fernandez, decided to call them back.

Within a few days, the two Singaporean managers, who had family with them, packed their belongings, handed the office over to the Cambodians and flew back to Singapore, just weeks before the political coup in Cambodia took place in July 1997.

'The embassy started to warn us to send people back, and we did,' Mr Fernandez said.

'From that experience, we learnt that it was crucial to make sure the staff know where to look for help, what the number of the insurer is and who to contact in an emergency.'

But the new survey, released by KPMG yesterday, suggested that few companies make specific plans for their staff overseas. The survey found that just one in seven firms worldwide had contingency plans for staff posted overseas, which was down from 21 per cent nine years ago.

This is surprising, given that companies are increasingly operating in a world fraught with risk, KPMG said of the survey, which polled 577 human resource professionals.

Mr B.J. Ooi, KPMG partner and head of international executive services, said that given the rise in geopolitical turmoil in recent years and natural disasters, 'one would expect this practice to have dramatically increased rather than diminished'.

'Based on the high cost of reactive evacuation and assistance services in times of crisis, it would seem that this would be a prudent area of focus for companies with overseas assignees under their care,' he said.

The survey found that energy companies were better equipped with an emergency plan compared with firms in other sectors.

It also showed that more companies were providing overseas programmes for employees with unmarried partners, with the number rising from 24 per cent in 1999 to 55 per cent today.

Likewise, 49 per cent of companies now said they had overseas programmes for employees with same-sex partners, compared with 17 per cent that did in 1999.

Mr Ooi said: 'Expanding the definition of family could help companies become more attractive for new employees and help with retention of existing staff.'