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Travel Security and Situational Awareness
June 2nd, 2017 Van Bethea
A close friend of mine recently told me he was traveling to the Middle East in the next few weeks and asked if I thought he would be safe and what risks he should be aware of. I get these questions a lot these days.
Most business and leisure travelers plan how they will get there, where they will stay and what they will do without giving any real thought for security. Considering the number of business and leisure travel trips that occur each year, the fact is that a serious security related incident rarely occurs. Because of this, travelers develop a sense of complacency when it comes to security and tend not to have a backup plan when a crisis does occur.
Unfortunately, when things go wrong, unexpected events develop very quickly that can turn into a full-blown crisis resulting in serious injury or death. One very recent and tragic example is the Manchester Arena attack in England that targeted young concert attendees exiting the venue.
The lack of an action plan when something does go wrong greatly increases the risk that you could be negatively impacted or worse, become a victim. If you are a top corporate executive or high profile VIP, the chances are that a risk consultancy company like mine has already been contracted to create a critical incident response plan that covers proper advance work, robust protection services, counter-surveillance and rapid response extraction as a part of your travel risk management program.
However, what if you are not a high-level corporate executive or a VIP like most business or leisure travelers? What can you do to become less vulnerable if a crisis event occurs when you are traveling? The answer is to take the time to pre-plan the same way protection experts do. Following a few basic travel security protocols can go a long way and significantly increase your safety when you travel globally.
Everywhere you go these days, people are looking down at their cell phones and not paying attention to their immediate environment. Practicing the basics of situational awareness is the process of being cognizant of what is going on around you. Travelers must take care of themselves because, when push comes to shove, we are ultimately responsible for our safety.
My best advice is to practice being observant and aware of your surroundings to stay ahead of potential threats until it becomes a routine. For example, when I first entered my career in law enforcement, my training officer would spontaneously ask me, “if someone shot at you right now, could you communicate your exact location, what the person looks like and describe what the threat was?” I cannot tell you how much that training became very useful.
This does not mean that you need to constantly be paranoid or neurotic everywhere you go or at every moment of the day. However, when traveling, you may be in an unfamiliar area with unfamiliar people. The best advice is to trust your instincts, be cognizant of people around you and where you are at any given moment.
This should sound familiar to you because you practice this every time you drive your car. You choose which route you will take based on the flow of traffic, time of day, etc.
If something does not seem right, chances are, they are not. Consider the following when developing your potential action plans:
- Where am I? What is the area like around me?
Evaluation: When entering a public place, scan the area and identify exits and note obstacles that would be in your way if you needed to escape from the area quickly. For example, whenever I enter a restaurant, I take notice of the exits and try to choose a seat with my back to the wall so I can see who enters the area.
- Are the people around me acting in a normal manner? What is their behavior?
Evaluation: Before people commit acts, there are usually several advanced warning signals. Be prepared to leave the area if you see someone acting or communicating in a suspicious or hostile manner.
- What are people around me wearing? Is their attire typical for the area or weather?
Evaluation: Is someone wearing a heavy jacket when it is 85 degrees outside? What could be concealed in the jacket?
- Have I seen the same person or vehicle more than twice during my travel?
Evaluation: Individuals with criminal intentions engage in some form of surveillance before committing a crime or act of violence. If you scan your surroundings and see the same vehicle or person, there is a good chance you are being targeted. Recognizing this will afford you the time to take protective steps such as changing routes, locations or notifying authorities
- What are my instincts telling me?
Evaluation: Many victims experienced a sense or feeling of danger just before an incident and chose to ignore their intuition. It is best to follow your ‘gut’ instinct. If it is wrong, you may only be inconvenienced a bit, but it is still better than being a victim.
Being cognizant of your surroundings and having a responsive action plan will greatly reduce the chances of becoming a victim and allow you to help others when it is needed the most.