Travel security fears in an evolving global threat climate.
March 23, 2016
In recent months, Paris, Istanbul and Brussels have all encountered shocking attacks that have resulted in the murders of innocent people by Islamic terrorists. Additional attacks carried out in Tunisia, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mali and the Ivory Coast have seen both tourists and business travelers killed and seriously injured. While the threat exists on a global level, there is currently a specific risk to Europe, a continent under a high level of alert and one that will remain under a high alert for the immediate future. The atrocities in France and Belgium have again brought to our attention the growing need to remain vigilant both at home and while traveling. Our thoughts go out to those killed, injured, and affected in the attacks in Brussels yesterday. It is frustrating that for some years now we’ve had to look over our shoulders, and we continue to do so no matter where we go, whether for business or pleasure.
In light of these recent attacks, the threat of international terrorism again raises fears for those traveling abroad. Since the devastating attacks in Paris, now yesterday in Brussels, many travelers are understandably concerned and are feeling apprehensive about visiting Europe. The threat levels in the United States, Australia, the majority of countries in Europe as well as throughout Africa and the Middle East are all at a high state of alert. They have been for some time and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Also concerning is that we are not only in fear of an incident while traveling but also at home where the threat of a domestic attack is equally of concern to many. In Europe, we’ve all watched how the influx of refugees has grown substantially in recent months, which has greatly contributed to the current threat climate and has been proven to include some with ulterior motives under the pretense of escaping for a better life. Quite simply not enough has been done to counter the growing threat of radical terrorism across the globe, and now we live in a world where the question has gone from “will another attack happen?” to “where and when the next one will take place?”
RAISING YOUR SECURITY AWARENESS AND REDUCING RISK
Prior to visiting Europe, you should conduct pre-trip research on the current security situation for the country or countries you are visiting. You may also consider consulting with a travel security specialist. Despite rising risks; Europe continues to be a popular destination for business and holiday travelers from around the world. Many of those travelers are choosing to include a security element to their pre-planning and coordination phase. Both the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office and U.S. Department of State websites are valuable resources for obtaining information. You can sign up for the The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with a nearby U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The service includes important information such as areas to avoid, any travel alerts, cultural do’s and don’t as well as emergency points of contact.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict acts of violence; you could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maintaining a heightened sense of awareness while you go through airports, ride public transportation, visit tourist locales and dine at restaurants is a fundamental part of personal security. Try to resist the temptation of constantly checking your favorite travel app; instead plan your route before you leave the hotel, so you can stay alert to what is happening around you. It isn’t just technology that distracts us from our general level of awareness so make a mental note to periodically assess your location and plan accordingly. Part of the pre-planning process should include relevant medical, safety and security addresses and information with emergency points of contact to call upon to help you.
You should always remain vigilant by paying close attention to protecting your belongings and limit the exposure of valuables and money, especially in crowded areas such as trains, metro stations, and popular tourist spots. Do not leave your bags or valuables unattended at anytime. Not only do you risk theft, but also an unattended bag may be considered a security threat and immediately destroyed by security officials, culminating in your potential detaining, under the present security climate.
SEE SOMETHING…SAY SOMETHING
It’s important to adopt the attitude of “see something, say something”. It may be an individual who looks suspicious or is wearing clothing that looks bulky for no reason; it could be a package or luggage that has been left unattended. Now more than ever is the time to alert the authorities should you see something out of the ordinary, it could save lives including your own. Travelers should also take precautions by adopting a low profile and refraining from wearing highly visible and expensive jewelry or clothing. Border control measures throughout Europe are understandably being stepped up in light of the airport and metro attacks in Brussels. Security controls at airports, train stations and ferry launch points have understandably been tightened, so you could encounter delays during your travel and should plan accordingly.
Taking effective precautions both before and during a trip, will go a long way to ensuring your security and safety and provide you with peace of mind.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TRAVEL
For business travelers, international travel is an essential need and high-risk locations are at times unavoidable. For corporate organizations that have internal security directors and teams, their job is to analyze a particular location that executives are planning to visit, provide pre-travel security briefings, organize local asset support such as drivers, and if need be, implement physical security measures to accompany their executives during the trip. Not all businesses have this luxury, and so reaching out to an external and reputable security company to request a travel security report is essential. Likewise, bringing in a travel security specialist to conduct a travel security briefing tailored to the country or countries they are visiting and potentially provide operational support consultants, can go a long way to providing key information, and peace of mind. It would be prudent for those who have the means to do so to hire physical security to conduct their advance work when visiting Europe for the foreseeable future as well as having on the ground security support. All companies share a duty of care towards ensuring the health, safety and security of their employees at home and abroad.
We can all play our part however vigilance is the start and raising your awareness without walking around paranoid is a balance we must find. There is no need to walk around on edge, just simply raise your awareness and implement some basic personal security protocols. If you see a backpack or suspicious package on the ground for example, ask those nearby if it belongs to them, every one of us should be asking that question from now on. Threats from Islamic terror groups, whether from a foreign or domestic perspective, are growing, and we need to all play our part to contribute in mitigating this threat. See something, Say something, should be a focal point in your mind in everything you do and it’s better to err on the side of caution.
There are a number of things that you can and should do in your every day life to heighten your level of awareness.
Always remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings in all settings and environments, no matter your familiarity.
If you see a suspicious individual, make a note of it in a notebook or on your cellphone and include their appearance, location and time, and report it immediately, likewise if you see a suspicious package, or vehicle, inform the authorities immediately.
If you see something suspicious in a trashcan, it doesn’t mean it is trash, report it.
Always have in your mind a contingency plan in the event of the “what if”.
- If you see something, say something.
Tourist hotspots in Europe with terror threat levels:
With a host of tourist destinations now listed as being at high risk, Europe is a growing concern for the international traveler. Now in line with all of Europe, Germany is the latest nation on the continent to have its risk rating increased by the U.K. Foreign Office and U.S. State Department. Nations surrounding the Mediterranean also face major warnings, with Morocco receiving most severe rating. That decision was made in November after the African nation helped raid an ISIS terror cell. Winter sun favorite Egypt is also among the danger zones, with many families choosing to dodge Sharm el-Sheikh after the Russian plane crash that killed all 224 people on board when it plummeted into the desert in Sinai. The Mediterranean coast, although a beautiful and popular tourist destination, has a number of dangerous zones. The Foreign Office changed its risk levels for Tunisia, advising people not to travel to the south and western areas, following the killing of 37 on a tourist beach in June 2015. France was already at a high-risk level since the January and November 2015 attacks. Spain has also had its threat level heightened, the terror threat was put to maximum after Spain's security forces disrupted a number of groups who were recruiting people join terrorists in Syria and Iraq last June.
Spain, Belgium, The United Kingdom, Germany and France join African nations Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt as well as a number of other countries on a high level, while Libya - embroiled in civil war - is sandwiched in between. Turkey, which neighbors war-town Syria, is another popular tourist destination on high alert. It has recently seen a number of attacks in Istanbul and Ankara as recent as March 19, 2106 where a high number of fatalities occurred. Other holiday hotspots are currently on a general threat level, these include Greece, which receives thousands of American, Canadian and British visitors each year, as well as Italy.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO INCREASE YOUR TRAVEL SECURITY & SAFETY:
Prior to your trip:
- Analyze the current threat level for the country you are visiting. Both the U.S. Department of State Travel website (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html) and the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice), are good resources for destination specific security information.
Speak to friends or colleagues who may have recently visited the same country you are planning to visit. Gaining an understanding of their thoughts will provide you with a more personalized opinion of your destination
Speak to a specialist travel security company to determine what measures if any you could and should take. Obtaining a real world assessment of where you are going and what you can do to counter any potential threats will go a long way to provide you with peace of mind.
Enroll in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
- Leave a photocopy of your passport, itinerary, and important phone numbers with a family member, friend, or coworkers so that they can quickly access the information and get it to you in the event that your passport or other valuables are stolen or lost.
- Become familiar with local laws and customs.
- Check for vaccine requirements for your destination.
- Learn some basic emergency words such as “help” and “call the police” for any non-English speaking countries you may be visiting.
Compile an emergency contact list in the event of an incident or emergency, this list should include:
Local points of contact (if any known).
Home nation Embassy telephone number in country.
Suitable medical facility (Level 1 trauma center).
Direct line to a reliable security resource (in home country).
During your trip:
- When you arrive at your hotel, make a point to familiarize yourself with it including locating emergency exits, fire extinguishers and alarms, who the Director of Security is and if possible obtain his direct numbers.
- When going to a restaurant or event location, identify where the access and exit points are, if they have security on site and the location of their medical equipment.
- Maintain a low profile but ensure awareness of your surroundings is continuous. Regular crime and pickpocketing does occur especially throughout a number of European countries.
- Check in daily with someone from home so they know where you are as well as your plans.
- Always carry a local area map with emergency locations highlighted.
- If something doesn’t feel right, walk away from it and report it immediately.
- If you see something or someone suspicious, say something to a local law enforcement officer.
Should you require any security or travel planning assistance contact us directly at any time:
Toll Free 1.844.224.9940
Local +1 281.974.1692
24HR +1 281.709.2619
UK +44 (0)208 185 7796
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Glen M. Burton served for 10 years in the British Army throughout the 1990’s and conducted 7 operational tours during that time as part of an Infantry unit. For the past 15 years he has been involved in the international security industry and is a trusted subject matter expert in personal and travel security who is relied upon by global media organizations. He has worked in 85 countries in support of a number of the world’s largest corporations from a wide range of sectors. In addition, Glen has developed and led protective programs for families both at home and while traveling.
ABOUT 360 WORLDWIDE SECURITY
360 Worldwide Security is a privately held security risk consultancy based in Houston, Texas. We are dedicated to helping individuals, families and corporations proactively solve critical security challenges both at home and overseas. As a privately managed security firm, we recruit, train and hire individuals who share our values and company culture. At 360 we serve our client’s needs and do not provide cookie cutter solutions, We go beyond our client’s expectations and deliver exceptional service in a low profile manner. 360 Worldwide Security provides security management, embedded and operational support, threat and vulnerability assessments, travel security briefing and reports as well as specialist training and education. Having worked within a variety of cultures, we have built a global network to deliver unparalleled, tailored results.