A guest post – a six part series on travel security I came across at “Surviving in Argentina” - http://ferfal.blogspot.com/. I will add illustrations and comments when I feel it is appropriate.
Travel Security (as of 01 March 2009)
THE ENCLOSED RECOMMENDATIONS are a result of my travel throughout the world on business for 20+ years. These observations are offered as a helpful supplement to other sources on the web dealing with personal security issues while traveling. My apologies to those who do not find these observations pertinent to their particular situation. Allow me to say that these suggestions are offered freely and without restriction so they may be passed around with no obligation. Very little of this information is original to me, and I apologize if anyone has written anything similar. Also, I am not a security professional and make no claims of expertise. This stuff works for me... each reader's mileage may vary. Some of my ideas might actually get people in trouble with the authorities and/or cause physical harm. Please read this with an open mind and a critical eye. Comments are appreciated at email@example.com.
Lots of US Embassy staff, host country Federal Police and Army staff gave me input, horror stories and advice regarding personal safety issues while I was visiting and working in overseas markets... mainly, Latin America, but including trips to Western European and Pacific Rim countries. I also have input from international and US expatriates living and working there. I know that many people have a lot of experience in many different countries, and may honestly laugh at all these ideas and issues presented here as stupid and alarmist. How you take it is your business... it is submitted in serious concern for the safety of all international travelers.
It was necessary for me to learn this stuff because I have lived and worked outside the US most of my life. I first traveled internationally in the 1960s and retired in 2005 to live in Argentina. I hope you can understand that the world in post 9-11 has really changed. Radicals of the right, the left and the lunatic religious extreme and NarcoTerrorists all celebrated when the twin towers went down. You should also be aware that even pre 9-11, international travel was seriously more dangerous than it was in the 1960s. Now, bad guys all over the world have become more encouraged by their perception that bad guys can get away with bad stuff... hence, have become more aggressive.
This report is partitioned into several sections. The sections include...
. Things you may do to prepare yourself for the unfamiliar security issues in unfamiliar territory.
. Questions you may be asking and factors that may be considered based upon the situation in your area of destination.
. Items for which you may be alert that may indicate possible threats to your person or valuables.
. Travel Tips which include how to research the area, sources of information, planning ahead, blending in to your surroundings for safety, etc.
. Dressing for success. How to maintain an edge in your favor in dangerous areas. Potential weapons/tools to aid in your security efforts.
. Dealing with the stress of being a victim
. Dealing with Terror concerns, broken down by world areas.
. TRY TO FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF with the area you plan to visit. There are various aggregators of news that allow one to program their search “bots” to look for keywords involving your area of interest. I use Yahoo News, Dogpile News Search element and some others. I also look for the local news sources for the area in question on the web. Here are some questions you should consider when seeking information about your geographical area of interest.
. Are terrorist/organized criminal groups currently active in the area?
. Do they aggressively attack visiting foreigners? Or, is it more local-on-local crime?
. How active are they? How violent have they proven to be within the last 4 – 12 months?
. How sophisticated are they? Do they use military weapons and tactics?
. Are they predictable? Can you expect to be safer by staying out of known areas of operation?
. Will local citizens warn visiting foreigners? Do you have local contacts who can advise you?
Groups and individuals have demonstrated their willingness to employ terrorist/criminal tactics to further their agendas. While some threats have a regional focus, others have become international and affect multiple areas. Foreign visitors, military and diplomatic staff are seriously targeted in virtually every region of the world.
ALWAYS PLAY THE “WHAT IF... ?” SCENARIO GAME
Consider ways you might become a victim of a criminal/NarcoTerrorist attack. Several factors to keep in mind include:
. Location: Local terrorists may target locations frequented by foreigners or foreign military personnel such as certain hotels, apartment buildings, public transportation centers, and nightclubs. Avoid possible target locations. They often use the employees of foreigner frequented establishments, taxi drivers, airport staff (especially banking/money changing establishment personnel) and adult entertainment workers as associates or sources of information about possible lucrative targets.
. Opportunity: Terrorists and criminals look for "soft targets"... so, learn to avoid appearing so. It is difficult to over stress the need to maintain vigilance, practice good personal safety, and to alert the proper authorities of suspicious behavior. If you find yourself unable to avoid being outdoors at night, try to walk down the middle of the street (not always possible). Be especially watchful if passing a large van or a vehicle with people in it, courtyards and deep doorways near your path. Walk purposefully with strong, determined strides... shoulders back, head erect, head and eyes constantly moving. Use windows/mirrors near the street to check your surroundings. Under no circumstances allow anyone to engage you in conversation at this time. Criminals will try to slow you down while their helpers get into position to assault you. Keep moving, speak into your cell phone as if carrying on a conversation... preferably in a language you think the possible attackers don't know.
To attack you, terrorists generally must perceive you, your association, or your location as a target. Put serious thought on the subject of how to avoid appearing to be an easy target.
. BE ALERT FOR how criminals/NarcoTerrorists prepare and conduct attacks through predictable steps. Through vigilance, you might be able to recognize preparations for an attack before it is executed. Be alert to unusual behavior that may indicate intelligence gathering, surveillance, collecting materials for attack, dry runs, and rehearsals. For example:
• Taking photos or videos of potential targets
• Writing notes or sketching details about a possible target
• Showing abnormal attention to details of routine activities and security measures
• Using false identification
• Paying cash for items normally bought on credit
• Purchasing large quantities of items that could be used as part of an attack (e.g., chemicals or cell phones)
• If you see something unusual, report it immediately to security officials for further investigation. Make a note of the individual's description and activities, the time of day, and equipment being used.