Archive for category Travel Safety

Travel Safety and Security Awareness in an increasingly Turbulent World

Travel safety and security awareness are vital in our fast changing and turbulent world. travel-safety

Security experts say that we should take a common sense approach to our personal safety, regardless of where we live, whether it’s New York City or Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Nairobi, Kenya or London, England.  Safety strategy should not be situational or regional when you choose to employ it. It should be a proactive mindset that you live all the time, not unlike defensive driving—recognize the possibility of a problem regardless of how improbable, and having response options tucked away in the back of your mind.

Companies often task security or executive protection teams with briefing employees moving abroad.   However, valuable information can be found at the State Department’s website, www.travel.state.gov. You can find information on current regional crime trends such as “express kidnappings”, extortion scams and the use of predatory drugs for purposes of personal and property crimes.  Access to real time information is especially helpful if you are moving to a part of the world known to harbor people with hostility against our government or to a developing nation experiencing political unrest.

Here are things to keep in mind as you get ready for your move.

Blending into your new environment is very important.  Avoid wearing expensive, flashy jewelry or clothing.  Cameras, electronics and laptop bags also draw attention.  Exchange currencies upon arrival and do not flash dollars when doing transactions. Avoid carrying any military or law enforcement membership or association identification cards unless required. Driving an understated vehicle commonly seen in your new hometown is recommended. If you can, alternate the vehicle you use from time to time.  Knowledge of customs, culture and common courtesies help you understand how to conduct yourself in a manner that conveys respect and consideration for the people of the community you have just joined.

Map out the best routes to get to and from work, store, schools, hospitals, police stations and other safe havens.  Be aware of any weak or dead cell phone coverage areas along your routes.  It is best to stay on busier streets where traffic flows at a brisker pace. Do not stop to interact with street vendors or pedestrians.  Quiet side streets, routes that require a lot of stopping and starting and those that are poorly lit leave you vulnerable to anything from a “smash-and- grab” of a purse or wallet to a carjacking. These are primarily crimes of opportunity that occur more often when people are in or around stationary vehicles. Make a habit of locking your vehicle and getting underway immediately.  Other tips include backing into parking spaces whenever possible; never letting your gas tank fall below half full; leaving maneuvering room between you and the vehicle in front of you; and keeping a flashlight and charger for your phone in the vehicle. And don’t forget to check if your car key remote has a panic button.

Clayton Consultants, Inc. (www.claytonconsultants.com), experts in global risk and crisis management, reminds us that most kidnappings for ransom take place on weekday mornings on public streets between the victim’s home and a known destination such as schools, coffee shops or the office. This is why being less predictable in our habits and patterns are so important. Be sure to vary your routes and times of travel, whether on foot or vehicle. If you have the option of varying your entry and exit locations, do so. Be wary of a person or vehicle that you see twice, separated by time and distance. If you see that person or vehicle for a third time, you are being followed. This is not a coincidence and you must move to a high traffic, well lit area immediately.

Good strategy also includes running “what if” scenarios through your mind and determining the best response options to any situation you might be visualizing. One example is what would you do if an intruder was in your home?  Exiting the dwelling might be an option but it is always best to have a “safe room” ready. This is a room with a sturdy door, and preferably no windows, to which you can retreat with your cell phone if you absolutely need to. Be sure that you receive a cell signal in this room. Keep a flash card with your home address, a flash light, bottles of water and a fire extinguisher in the safe room. You can easily read your address to the emergency operator from the flashcard if you are in a state of fear and then wait for help to arrive. Safety, disaster and communications kits are available on the Internet and can be stored in a safe room or taken with you during an evacuation.

Regardless of the situation, your strategy will only be as good as your personal communication plan.   Have your primary and secondary contacts’ mobile numbers programmed into your cell phone’s speed dialer. It is always best to share your schedule with your contacts, check in with them during your day, and brief them on what to do if they lose communication with you.  Examples of business and family emergency communication plans can be found and downloaded at www.ready.gov

Your contact list should include local law enforcement, company security personal and the U.S. Embassy.  The State Department also recommends you create a profile through their Travel Registration page so they know where you are and how to contact you. The State Department can only help you during political turmoil, a natural disaster, a disease outbreak or even an act of terrorism if they know where you are.  If you travel from your new hometown on vacation or business, it is worth logging on and registering that trip as well.

The cornerstone to any safety and security strategy is being aware of your surroundings.  The late Jeff Cooper, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel, described the ideal state of mental preparedness as one in which you are relaxed and observant of your surroundings and therefore, more difficult to surprise. He called this “Condition Yellow”.  Those oblivious of their surroundings were described by Cooper to be in “Condition White” and criminals very easily recognize this lack of attentiveness—daydreaming, multitasking, walking “heads down” and in general, not being “present time” aware.

The military reminds us that we live in a “360 degree world”.   Remember to look up especially in urban environments. Criminals like to “perch” and do their surveillance from high ground like balconies and upper stories in a mall, knowing that most of us never look up!  The most important area to monitor in your 360 degree world is the blind spot just behind you from where most attacks are launched known as your “six o clock.”

As you casually scan your surroundings, your instincts will let you know if there is someone in your midst that warrants closer attention. Over 50 percent of communication is via body language. Shifting, darting eyes, fidgety, clenching hands and a shifting stance are some of the telltale signs of a suspicious demeanor. Fred Burton, a counter terrorism and corporate security expert with Stratfor Global Intelligence (www.stratfor.com) reminds us that even the most sophisticated criminals are not able to completely hide these and other telltale signs of someone trying to “fit in” while doing surveillance.  This is why Burton states that the best opportunity to identify and to react to a prospective problem is during the perpetrators surveillance phase, when there is still time to do so on our own terms.

It is best to avoid high-profile tourist destinations, any location that is iconic of American culture and five-star western hotels. Similarly, avoid any planned rallies, protests or large public gatherings. If you do travel regionally, be sure to use well-vetted ground transportation. Hotels with a high visibility security personnel presence are preferred. Regardless of you location, a hotel, business meeting, school or at an airport, always know where the primary and secondary exits are located.  If in a public place you hear gunfire or if police or military personal were to arrive in force you need to take cover immediately. If evacuating is your best option do so and drop anything that will slow you down. If instructed to evacuate with a group of people, try and position yourself in the middle of this group.

If the mind is our most powerful weapon, then our instincts are our ever-present guardian. No discussion on personal safety is complete without revisiting and reinforcing the topic of intuition and instincts. We often deem our instincts as silly or irrational, many of us not wanting to “cause a scene” or embarrass others or ourselves. In fact, many of us, who have good instincts and “Condition Yellow” mindsets, are often accused of being paranoid. Most often this accusation comes from someone who quite obviously lives in “Condition White”, hardly a credible source.

Gavin DeBecker, a world renowned safety expert, describes our intuition as “knowing without knowing why”.  Remember, it is okay to know something is amiss without staying around to find out why.  Honor your instincts, stick to your safety strategy, cover your six o’clock and enjoy your new destination.

 

Larry Kaminer- Personal Safety Training Group

 

 

 

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Lone Worker Safety and a Communications Plan Outline

It is common sense and well understood that any safety plan is only as good as its communications plan.

Having a lone worker safety and communications plan outline in place is critical for any agency that has staff in the field.  This includes those that work from home part or full time.

Your office based employees may have the benefit of a secure facility. Your lone workers face a completely different set of personal safety and security issue.

I’ve invited Kevin Dogen, Executive Director of SafeTeam, a technology leader in this space, to a write a guest Blog that illustrates the importance of including an Emergency Notification System in any Safety and Communications plan you devise.

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A lone worker in the field (we’ll call him Jim) is confronted with a situation that compromises his safety.  He’s in a difficult spot and doesn’t have time to call for help.  Since his company’s safety procedures are based on human communication, his supervisors have no idea he’s in trouble and won’t for some time… while Jim’s need for help is immediate.

With an Emergency Notification System in place to alert Jim’s supervisors, his lone worker safety  scenario is quite different:

It starts at 9:00 AM with Jim “Checking In” to the system via cell phone upon arrival at his destination.  It’s a 2 hour visit.  The system prompts him to provide details on where he is, what client he’s visiting, and the color and make of his vehicle.  Once completed, it stands by for him to call no later than 11:00 AM to “Check-Out”.

When 11:00 AM comes and he hasn’t “Checked-out”, the system calls his cell phone but he doesn’t pick up.  The system waits 5 minutes and calls again. Again he doesn’t answer.  This raises a potential red flag where the system triggers as escalation procedure by contacting 3 designated contacts.

They’re able to listen to Jim’s Check-In call so they know his location.  One of the designated contacts places a call to the client.  They don’t answer.  He next calls the police, providing the address.  In an instant, the response time has been dramatically reduced in what might be a serious situation.

While the odds of this happening are slim, you need only do a quick Google search to see how often it does occur.  The question then is whether to presume that it won’t happen to your people or be pro-actively cautious by including an ENS into your Safety and Communication Plans.

In some ways, it’s like an insurance policy and without it, not only are your employees exposed, your company is as well, based on the financial implications that come into play.  The National Center for Victims of Crime notes that the average cost for a single episode of violence in the workplace is $250,000 in lost time, medical expenses & legal costs.

Having an ENS in place not only reduces your company’s legal exposure, it also sends a strong message to your field workers that their safety is your primary concern.

In the end it’s a numbers game.  You can consider that because you’ve never had an incident in the field, the probability is too small to be concerned.   On the flipside, you might count your blessings, recognize that the risk is ever-present and take your Safety and Communication Plans to the next level.

To see Safe Team’s Emergency Notification System in action click here

Kevin’s Contact information appears below

Kevin Dogen

Executive Director

SafeTeam

650-560-9934

kevin@safetyinthefield.com

 

Related:

Lone Worker Personal Safety Training

 Social Worker Personal Safety Training (6 Hours NASW Continuing Education Units)

 

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Am I being followed by that vehicle?

The key point to remember is that you are much safer in a moving vehicle, even a slow moving vehicle, than when in or around a stationary vehicle.  So if you think you are being followed keep moving and consider the following strategies.

If you are able to, make three left (or three right) turns in a row.  You have essentially just driven in a “square circle” as it were, and the likelihood that you are NOT being followed is now almost zero; anyone who is still following you after this route detection / evasion maneuver should be considered a serious threat. A less brazen person would probably terminate their pursuit knowing they have been spotted.

Now proceed at safe speeds to the closest busy road, preferably a well light boulevard or even a highway.  Drive below the posted speed limit and turn on your hazard lights. This will draw attention to your vehicle.(In this situation you want to be pulled over by the police!) Slowing down also will allow you to get your bearings while operating the vehicle safely. While doing so initiate a 911 call. Try maintaining a consistent heading and make note of the cross streets. Most states require a hands free headset this making talking to the operator easier and safer.

Let the operator know you are being followed and then let the operator ask the questions. If you see a red light ahead, slow down and try time arriving at that intersection when the light is green so you don’t have to come to a full stop. If you have to come to a stop, leave a car length between you and the vehicle in front of you giving you space to maneuver if you have to. (You should make this a habit even if not being followed)

The operator will keep you on the line and he or she will direct a police car to intercept you.

This scenario is one reason it is always good to have more than half a tank of gas and to be always be generally aware of your location. A report in Seattle several years ago indicated that 25% of cell phone callers to 911 did not know enough about where they were making it almost impossible for emergency services to respond. Situational awareness is key.

In a situation like this it goes without saying you should not drive to work, home, your child’s school or any destination you frequent. This includes a friend’s house. If you will drive to a fire station or police station, let the operator know to which one you are heading so that a first responder can be curbside when you arrive. There have been cases where the person being followed has pulled into a busy grocery store lot in broad daylight and the perpetrator was brazen enough to still have tried to cut them off as they made their way on foot into the store.

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You are not Paranoid. You are in “Condition Yellow”

I wrote this blog entry some time ago. I did so because so many people that tell me they get accused of being paranoid when in fact they are merely practicing good awareness of their surroundings. The accuser? Usually someone they know well.

Given the continued frustration over this, I thought I would re-post below. Thanks.

Jeff Cooper was a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who developed a color coding system, each descriptive of a person’s state of awareness of their surroundings and mental preparedness.

Condition White-

This is a person that is oblivious of their surroundings. In this condition, the first time a person realized they are in trouble is when it’s too late. They “never saw it coming” since they were not paying attention. Petty thieves and predators alike are very good at identifying those who are in Condition White since they make much easier or “softer” targets. Being preoccupied, day dreaming, text messaging while walking in public, walking head down and never looking around are all sure signs of Condition White!!

Condition Yellow-

Tom Givens a weapons expert and trainer describes Condition Yellow about as well as I have ever heard it articulated

“This is a relaxed state of general alertness, with no specific focal point. You are not looking for anything or anyone in particular; you simply have your head up and your eyes open. You are alert and aware of your surroundings. You are difficult to surprise, therefore, you are difficult to harm. You do not expect to be attacked today. You simply recognize the possibility.”

Below is another succinct description of Condition Yellow

“In Yellow, you are “taking in” surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360 degree radar sweep.”

Condition Orange

Here you are in a heightened state of awareness and very focused on a potential threat or a situation that you feel could become more serious. You are not in “fight of flight” mode yet, but ready to shift gears to “fight or flight” also known as Condition Red, if need be.

You will remain in Condition Orange until you are satisfied that the potential threat no longer exists, has been adequately dealt with or you have removed yourself form the situation.

You may well feel anything from a mild to moderate “adrenaline dump” which will elevate heart rate and blood pressure, dilate your pupils and shunt oxygen and energy rich blood to you skeletal muscles prepping them for action if need be.

Law enforcement specialists and military trained personal may not experience any physiologic reaction due to their training and how many times they have been in a Condition Orange situation.

Condition Red-

Here you are in “fight or flight” mode and you are ready to do either. The potential threat is now very real and needs to be dealt with. In this state we will experience a full “adrenaline dump” which will dramatically enhance blood flow to large skeletal muscle groups and sharpen our special senses.

This is the situation we do not want to find ourselves in.

This is the situation we can avoid by maintaining our Condition Yellow!!!!

Condition Yellow is Not Paranoia

If you are one of those people who “instinctively” pays attention to your surroundings, know what’s going on behind you at all times and in general take inventory of who is around you and what they are up to, you are gifted with being able to “live in Condition Yellow”

You might have developed your Condition Yellow out of need. Perhaps you grew up in a threatening environment. One of your parents might have been in law enforcement or the military, or perhaps you just “have it” period? Either way you do so with such ease the process is almost subconscious. You read peoples body language and your “gut” tells you what situations to avoid.

You might live with or know someone who lives in Condition White who actually accuses you of being paranoid!!

You are not paranoid. You are merely following your instinctive drive to remain alert. You are the person who also runs “what if” scenarios through your mind. You engage in what safety experts call “pre- incident visualization”

You understand that having a strategy tucked away in your data bank will allow you to react if a situation did arise, knowing that there would be no time right then and there to come up with a solution. The thinking must have already been done and warehoused in your mind for instant retrieval.

Your Condition Yellow is such an asset that I encourage you to share your mindset with friends and loved ones.

Randy LaHaie, safety training expert and SWAT specialist says it best. He states that if we work on becoming more aware of our surroundings, it soon becomes “part of our essence”

Visit Randy’s site for great reading on many safety topics at: http://www.protectivestrategies.com

And remember, awareness of our surroundings is our first and best line of defense!!!

Larry Kaminer

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A Look at Kidnapping through the Lens of Protective Intelligence -By Stratfor

“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

By Scott Stewart

Looking at the world from a protective-intelligence perspective, the theme for the past week has not been improvised explosive devices or potential mass-casualty attacks. While there have been suicide bombings in Afghanistan, alleged threats to the World Cup and seemingly endless post-mortem discussions of the failed May 1 Times Square attack, one recurring and under-reported theme in a number of regions around the world has been kidnapping.

For example, in Heidenheim, Germany, Maria Boegerl, the wife of German banker Thomas Boegerl, was reportedly kidnapped from her home May 12. The kidnappers issued a ransom demand to the family and an amount was agreed upon. Mr. Boegerl placed the ransom payment at the arranged location, but the kidnappers never picked up the money (perhaps suspecting or detecting police involvement). The family has lost contact with the kidnappers, and fear for Mrs. Boegerl’s fate has caused German authorities to launch a massive search operation, which has included hundreds of searchers along with dogs, helicopters and divers.

Two days after the Boegerl kidnapping, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) posted a message on the Internet claiming to have custody of French citizen Michel Germaneau, a retired engineer who had previously worked in Algeria’s petroleum sector. Germaneau was reportedly kidnapped April 22, in northern Niger, close to the border with Mali and Algeria. The AQIM video contained a photo of Germaneau and of his identification card. The group demanded a prisoner exchange and said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be responsible for the captive’s well-being.

Also on May 14, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a high-profile attorney and former presidential candidate, was kidnapped near his ranch in the Mexican state of Queretaro. Fernandez had left his home in Mexico City to drive to his ranch but never arrived. His vehicle was found abandoned near the ranch on Saturday morning and the vehicle reportedly showed signs of a struggle. It is not known who kidnapped Fernandez or what the motivation for the kidnapping was.

At the moment a kidnapping occurs, the abduction team usually has achieved tactical surprise and usually employs overwhelming force. To the previously unsuspecting victim, the abductors seemingly appear out of nowhere. But when examined carefully, kidnappings are, for the most part, the result of a long and carefully orchestrated process. They do not arise from a vacuum. There are almost always some indications or warnings that the process is in motion prior to the actual abduction, meaning that many kidnappings are avoidable. In light of this reality, let’s take a more detailed look at the phenomenon of kidnappings.

Types of Kidnappings

There are many different types of kidnappings. Although kidnappings for ransom and political kidnappings generate considerable news interest, most kidnappings have nothing to do with money or political statements. They are typically kidnappings conducted by family members in custody disputes, emotionally disturbed strangers wanting to take a child to raise or strangers who abduct a victim for sexual exploitation.

Even in financially motivated kidnappings, there are a number of different types. The stereotypical kidnapping of a high-value target comes most readily to mind, but there are also more spur-of-the-moment express kidnappings, where a person is held until his bank account can be drained using an ATM card, and even virtual kidnappings, where no kidnapping occurs at all but the victim is frightened by a claim that a loved one has been kidnapped and pays a ransom to the alleged abductors. Some of the piracy incidents in Somalia also move into the economic kidnapping realm, especially in cases where the crew or passengers are seen as being more valuable than the boat or its cargo.

Since kidnapping is such a broad topic, for the sake of this discussion, we will focus primarily on kidnappings that are financially motivated and those that are politically motivated. Financially motivated kidnappings can be conducted by a variety of criminal elements. At the highest level are highly trained professional kidnapping gangs that specialize in abducting high-net-worth individuals and who will frequently demand ransoms in the millions of dollars. Such groups often employ teams of specialists who carry out a variety of specific tasks such as collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family and establishing and guarding the safe-houses.

At the other end of the spectrum are gangs that randomly kidnap targets of opportunity. These gangs are generally far less skilled than the professional gangs and often will hold a victim for only a short time, as in an express kidnapping. Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for the duration of their ordeal, which can sometimes last for days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit. Other times, if an express kidnapping gang discovers it has grabbed a high-value target by accident, the gang will hold the victim longer and demand a much higher ransom. Occasionally, these express kidnapping groups will even “sell” a high-value victim to a more professional kidnapping gang. (On a side note, most express kidnapping victims tend to be male and are most frequently abducted while walking on the street after dark, and many have impaired their senses by consuming alcohol.)

In the United States, it is far more common for a relatively poor person to be kidnapped for financial motives than it is for a high-net-worth individual. This is because kidnapping groups frequently target groups of illegal immigrants, who they believe are far less likely to seek help from the authorities. In some cases, the police have found dozens of immigrant hostages being held in safe-houses.

Between the two extremes of kidnapping groups — those targeting the rich and those targeting the poor — there is a wide range of kidnapping gangs that might target a bank vice president or branch manager rather than the bank’s CEO, or that might kidnap the owner of a restaurant or other small business rather than an industrialist.

In the realm of political kidnappings, there are abductions that are very well-planned, such as the December 1981 kidnapping of Gen. James Dozier by the Italian Red Brigades, or Hezbollah’s March 1985 kidnapping of journalist Terry Anderson. However, there are also opportunistic cases of politically motivated kidnappings, such as when foreigners are abducted at a Taliban checkpoint in Afghanistan or AQIM militants grab a European tourist in the Sahel area of Africa. Of course, in the case of both the Taliban and AQIM, the groups see kidnapping as an important source of funding as well as a politically useful tool.

Understanding the Process

In deliberate (as opposed to opportunistic) kidnappings based on financial or political motives, the kidnappers generally follow a process that is very similar to what we call the terrorist attack cycle: target selection, planning, deployment, attack, escape and exploitation. In a kidnapping, this means the group must identify a victim; plan for the abduction, captivity and negotiation; conduct the abduction and secure the hostage; successfully leverage the life of the victim for financial or political gain; and then escape.

During some phases of this process, the kidnappers may not be visible to the target, but there are several points during the process when the kidnappers are forced to expose themselves to detection in order to accomplish their mission. Like the perpetrators of a terrorist attack, those planning a kidnapping are most vulnerable to detection while they are conducting surveillance — before they are ready to deploy and conduct their attack. As we have noted several times in past analyses, one of the secrets of countersurveillance is that most criminals are not very good at conducting surveillance. The primary reason they succeed is that no one is looking for them.

Of course, kidnappers are also very easy to spot once they launch their attack, pull their weapons and perhaps even begin to shoot. By this time, however, it might very well be too late to escape their attack. They will have selected their attack site and employed the forces they believe they need to overpower their victim and complete the operation. While the kidnappers could botch their operation and the target could escape unscathed, it is simply not practical to pin one’s hopes on that possibility. It is clearly better to spot the kidnappers early and avoid their trap before it is sprung and the guns come out.

Kidnappers, like other criminals, look for patterns and vulnerabilities that they can exploit. Their chances for success increase greatly if they are allowed to conduct surveillance at will and are given the opportunity to thoroughly assess the security measures (if any) employed by the target. We have seen several cases in Mexico in which the criminals even chose to attack despite security measures such as armored cars and armed security guards. In such cases, criminals attack with adequate resources to overcome existing security. For example, if there are protective agents, the attackers will plan to neutralize them first. If there is an armored vehicle, they will find ways to defeat the armor or grab the target when he or she is outside the vehicle. Because of this, criminals must not be allowed to conduct surveillance at will. Potential targets should practice a heightened but relaxed state of situational awareness that will help them spot hostile surveillance.

Potential targets should also conduct simple pattern and route analyses to determine where they are most predictable and vulnerable. Taking an objective look at your schedule and routes is really not as complicated as it may seem. While the ideal is to vary routes and times to avoid predictable locations, this is also difficult and disruptive and warranted only when the threat is extremely high. A more practical alternative is for potential targets to raise their situational awareness a notch as they travel through such areas at predictable times.

Of course, using the term “potential targets” points to another problem. Many kidnapping victims simply don’t believe they are potential targets until after they have been kidnapped, and therefore do not take commonsense security measures. Frequently, when such people are debriefed after their release from captivity, they are able to recall suspicious activity before their abduction that they did not take seriously because they did not consider themselves targets. One American businessman who was kidnapped in Central America said upon his release that he knew there was something odd about the behavior of a particular couple he saw frequently sitting on a park bench near his home prior to his kidnapping, but he didn’t think he was rich enough to be targeted for kidnapping. As soon as he was abducted, he said that he immediately knew that the awkward couple had been observing him to determine his pattern. He said that he often thought about that couple during his two months in captivity, and how a little bit of curiosity could have saved him from a terrifying ordeal and his family a substantial sum of money.

The same steps involved in a deliberate kidnapping are also followed in ad hoc, opportunistic kidnappings — though the steps may be condensed and accomplished in seconds or minutes rather than the weeks or months normally associated with a well-planned kidnapping operation. And the same problems with lack of awareness often apply. It is not uncommon to talk to someone who was involved in an express kidnapping and hear the person say, “I got a bad feeling about those three guys standing near that car when I started walking down that block, but I kept walking anyway.” This frequent occurrence highlights the importance of situational awareness, attack recognition and proper mindset maintenance.

Potential targets do not have to institute security measures that will make them invulnerable to such crimes — something that is very difficult and that can be very expensive. Rather, the objective is to take measures that make them a harder target than other members of the specific class of individuals to which they belong. Groups conducting pre-operational surveillance, whether for an intentional kidnapping or an opportunistic kidnapping, prefer a target that is unaware and easy prey. Taking some basic security measures such as maintaining a healthy state of situational awareness will, in many cases, cause the criminals to choose another target who is less aware and therefore more vulnerable.

Also, most people who are kidnapped in places like Afghanistan or the Sahel know they are going into dangerous places and disregard the warnings not to go to those places. Many of these people, like journalists and aid workers, take the risk as part of their jobs. Others, like the European tourists abducted in the Sahel (and some of the pleasure boaters kidnapped by Somali pirates), appear to naively disregard the risk or to be thrill-seekers. In the recent Germaneau case in Niger, due to the number of highly publicized kidnappings in the Sahel region over the past eight years, and Germaneau’s personal history of working in Algeria, it would be hard to argue that he did not know what he could be getting himself into (though we are unsure at this point what motivated him to run that risk). After Germaneau’s kidnapping, his driver was subsequently arrested, raising the possibility that he was somehow complicit in the abduction. This is a reminder that it is not at all unusual for kidnapping gangs to have inside help, whether a maid, bodyguard, interpreter or taxi driver.

In retrospect, almost every person who is kidnapped either missed or ignored some indication or warning of danger. These warnings can range from observable criminal behavior to a consular information bulletin specifically warning people not to drive outside of cities in Guatemala after dark, for example. This means that, while kidnapping can be a devastating crime, it can also be an avoidable one.

“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

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