Travel Security – The Basics!
“As far as personal security goes, prevention is priority because somethings can’t be cured!” – OW
These days the vast majority of people travel for business or vacations on a regular basis, but few take into consideration what to do if they encounter security issues. When considering security issues when on holiday most think about street robberies or these days terrorist attacks but there are many other things that can go wrong and fall under the category of security threats. What if someone is taken ill, what if someone gets lost, what if someone gets arrested… I could go on with the “what if’s” for a few hours and most people would respond “It won’t happen to me, It won’t happen to me, It won’t happen to me” for a few hours… My best clients are those that have had serious problems and, they all tell me before their problems they never thought it would happen to them. As far as personal security goes, prevention is priority because somethings can’t be cured!
You should compile a threat assessment on any area, city or country that you are visiting be it for business or pleasure. These days with the internet it’s easy to find crime rates and reports on nearly all countries and areas within them. With Google Earth and the like, you can get high quality aerial photos and street views on most places, which can be used to check out hotels, locations to be visited and select routes. On the courses I run it never ceases to amaze me when I ask my students where we are and they look at me confused, most scramble for their phones to check their GPS but what if there was no phones service… They would be lost with no idea how to get to their hotels, safe areas, direct emergency services etc. In most first would countries your fine, people will help you but even in parts of Miami if you go asking for assistance and directions in the wrong neighborhoods you will be lucky just to get robbed…
When traveling, it is important that you plan your trip in detail from start to finish. For example, when planning the trip from the airport to your hotel, make sure that you use a reputable taxi company, such as one which is recommended or supplied by the hotel. Then, when being picked up make sure to verify it is the real taxi that has been sent by the hotel, also check the routes from the airport to the hotels via google earth etc. to ensure you are being taken in the right direction. Airports such as Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas, Venezuela are very dangerous places and the starting point for many express kidnappings. Think about it: would you let close family members or friends get into a car with a complete stranger where you live now? So, why do it in a foreign country, carrying a suitcase full of valuables? In many countries, the taxi business is unregulated and often associated with criminal activity- taxi fares are a source of hard cash and as long as someone can drive, they are qualified to be cab drivers. Licenses can be bought or copied. Many tourists have found themselves left on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere watching their luggage, passport and travelers checks being driven off into the night. The lucky ones just get robbed and not raped, beaten senseless or murdered.
Most people rely on their travel agents or tour guides for their security and emergency procedures but are they qualified for this task? Most travel companies are just interested is selling vacations, booking flights and hotel rooms, there is no money for them in security and most down play any threats as they do not want to put off potential clients. This is understandable from their business perspective, so you need to understand that your personal security is your responsibility!!!
Below is a basic list of things that you will need to consider before traveling.
- What is the threat level at the location and surrounding areas you are visiting?
- Compile threat assessments on hotels and locations to be visited, check online reviews and local crime reports!
- Will you need any inoculations against diseases or need to take preventative medication with you?
- Do you have trusted contacts at this location and how can they assist you? By trusted contacts I mean people you know personally, not someone you met online….
- If you’re traveling internationally do need visas to enter the country?
- Where will you be staying, is it secure, is the area secure, who will you get there?
- Can you carry weapons, will you need permits and where will you be getting the weapons from?
- What restrictions are there on carrying weapons and what are the local laws on use of force?
- If possible, send an advance person or team or get a trusted local to check things out and make arrangements for you visit.
- If you are traveling in a group consider sending a member or two ahead a few days in advance to check things out and make arrangements before the main body of the group arrives.
- Will anyone meet you at the destination airport, if yes, do you know them. If not get a photo and arrange code words?
- Will your phones work at the destination, if not where can you get a local mobile/cell phone?
Are there payphones at the airport and do they take coins or credit cards?
- What international dialing codes are you going to need?
- How will you get from the airport to your hotel?
- Will baggage be secure and who will have access to it?
- Are you taking local currency with you or are you going to need to change hard currency?
- Ensure that if you are changing cash you are not targeted when leaving the bank or bureau de change.
- Will there be ATM’s available and can you use your bank cards?
- Will you be able to use credit cards?
- Will you have internet access and is it secure, are there free hotspots?
- What standard of medical facilities are available at the destination and will you need to take sterile or emergency equipment with you?
- Will you need to take prescription medication with you and are there any restrictions on it within the country your visiting?
- How will you replace lost prescription medication or if you need extra supplies?
- Is clean blood available in hospitals at the destination, if not where is the nearest source or clean or synthetic blood?
- Is medical insurance needed and is what you have recognized or do you need hard currency for ambulance services and treatments etc.?
- Know the locations of hospitals or reliable doctors in your area that can treat trauma or any medical condition you or your fellow travelers may have?
- What are the details of backup hotels and locations that can be used as safe houses or emergency rendezvous points?
- Do you or any of those traveling with you have any special dietary requirements or allergies?
- Is the tap water drinkable or will you need bottled water, if yes is it readable available?
- How will you be traveling around; public transport, on foot or using a driver?
- If you are renting a car make sure you know your routes, have a reliable break down plan and spare tire etc. in the vehicle.
- When driving around make sure you know where the nearest gas stations and emergency facilities, such as hospitals and possible safe locations.
- Who locally knows your program, try to keep things on a need to know basis.
- Are the locations used for socializing safe are the bar staff etc. trusted, consider tipping them well to help keep an eye on your group.
- Make sure someone trusted knows your program and can alert authorities if there are any problems.
- Arrange to make coded check calls to a trusted people within and outside of the country.
- Select code words that can be inserted into a phone call that can mean things are OK or they have gone bad.
- Put together contingency plans to cover any possible crisis situation be it terrorist attack, kidnapping, false arrest or a serious car crash.
- Have several alternative planned routes by which to leave the country.
- Always keep you travel papers and an reasonable amount of cash hidden on you person that can be used in the case of an emergency where it might not be possible or a sensible option for you to return to you hotel.
This is just a list of considerations that will hopefully get you thinking and help you put together plans and procedures for any future trips you’ll be taking.