Archive for category Travel Safety

Travel Safety and Security Awareness: What is Blending In?

                                      Travel Safety and Security Awareness

                  What is Blending In? What do I do when I cannot Blend In?

One of the cornerstones to personal safety is what experts refer to as “blending in.” Better stated, this is not attempting to “fit in,” especially in an environment that is clearly foreign to you, it’s just not drawing unwanted attention.

This may apply to social workers, home health providers and other lone workers when doing business in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

It also applies when abroad, and in general, a good practice to engage in whether in a group or traveling solo.

The basics on blending in are common sense.

Dress down. Don’t wear bright colors that catch the eye, and keep your phone out of sight. Jewelry and other valuables also attract attention.

Footwear: Shoes that are comfortable and that you can move quickly in are a plus. Inmates participating in a victim selection study said they always factor in whether a prospective target is wearing shoes that will slow them down or allow them nimble movement.

Body language is also key. Projecting a relaxed, yet confident and friendly presence is ideal. Walking “heads up” and “shoulders back” are the cornerstones of a relaxed and confident person.

But what to do when you CANNOT blend in?

For instance, when you’re somewhere that you don’t look at all like the local folks? I experience this a lot traveling in Southern Africa and Central America.

In this case, the “script is flipped,” as it were.

If you’re going to be somewhere for a while and cannot blend in, it is now time to “develop assets,” as the military likes to say.

In other words, it’s time to start getting to know people. For instance, I’m sure to get to know store owners, the fellows running the bicycle rental shop I walk by every day, the pharmacist, several produce vendors, and security guards outside banks and other businesses.

My goal: I want as many friendly sets of eyes on me as I go about my day as possible. Locals know who’s who and word travels fast. If I’m somewhere more than a week, I also get to know several cab drivers.

With eyes on you, people who are up to no good know you are seen and recognized by the solid citizens and are less likely to victimize you. Locals know who they are and can report very easily. Locals will more readily step in to help, if they see you are in a difficult position.

Build relationships over time. I try and remain vague on where we’re staying and for how long. As President Reagan once said, “Trust but verify.”

I am always cognizant that I am a guest in this neighborhood or country.  Always show respect and honor the culture. Warm and friendly eye contact goes a long way, as does showing gratitude and kindness. Learning a few courtesy phrases always helps.

When abroad, I am sure to keep the contacts of locals I get to know, such as cab drivers, pharmacists, an Airbnb owner, etc., in my WhatsApp (the free international text and voice app most of us are familiar with.)

As always, know where to go in an emergency. Find out where the closest medical facility and police station are. Have your country’s embassy phone number in your speed dial list.  Regardless of how comfortable we become in any environment, including our own “back yards”, maintaining situational awareness is always key.

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3 Things to Consider if Caught in a Vehicle-Ramming Attack

Security PostVehicle-Ramming Attacks: Personal Safety and Situational Awareness

Given how distracted drivers can be, I have always stood back from the edge of the curb, knowing a car could accidently drive onto the sidewalk and run me down.

In today’s world, unfortunately, this is done on purpose, in what have become known as ‘vehicle-ramming attacks’ that we see abroad, but now also in the United States and Canada.

So what can we do?

Situational awareness is key, but it is important to remember there is no reason to live in a state of fear over these very low-probability events. You are far better off remaining relaxed, yet observant, as you go about your business, with some knowledge of what to be aware of, and what you would do if such an attack took place.

Remember, for the most part, this form of attack is carried out where there are  lots of people to achieve the most harm, also known as a ‘target rich environment.’ Therefore, if there is a vehicle-ramming  while at a concert or farmers market etc, be ready to move away from the most crowded locations which the perpetrators are drawn to.

Environment: Regardless of where you are, ask yourself: if a vehicle-ramming was in progress or looked imminent, what structure is nearby that I could take cover behind? This could be a pillar, a tree, heavy planter boxes, or even just stepping into a store, lobby, or alcove.

Security and protective design has also been implemented. Many buildings have bollards as seen in the photo above. These sturdy posts are placed strategically, so a vehicle cannot get close to a building. Be aware of these and large concrete blocks and footers placed for the same reason.

Opening distance may also be an option if there is still time.

If you can, it is always best to get as far away as possible from the incident, in case the situation includes an explosive device or an armed driver and accomplice. Alert others, but do not let indecisive people slow you down.

Keep in mind, a larger ramming vehicle can push a car you are hiding in front of or behind over you and therefore is not good cover. Also be aware of seeking cover that could leave you trapped like  a service road between buildings or similar alleys that have dead ends.

 

Special Senses: As you go about your day, keep an ear and eye out. It is counter intuitive to hear or see a vehicle speeding up in an area where all others are slowing down.

Often, larger vehicles are rented for their mass and ability to do damage, and the driver may not be familiar with operating this vehicle. As a result, keep an eye out for a such a vehicle being driven poorly or bumping into parked cars as it progresses. If you hear a series of impact sounds, this may be that vehicle progressing toward your area, as it scrapes past parked cars and other structures.

Having said this, keep in mind, this attack may involve an ordinary car, as we saw in Charlottesville. Don’t always assume a fast-moving car is a police vehicle. Be sure to remain alert.

If you see a vehicle weaving and driving, including up onto the curb, again, seek cover.

If the incident turns out to be an accident or something non-malicious, there is no harm in a false alarm.

Always trust your instincts. If you get a bad “vibe” about your environment, move to another, or open distance. The military trains soldiers to be in tune with the “atmospherics” of their surroundings and to honor intuition. We should too.

Final thought……If you walk facing traffic you can not only see vehicles coming toward you, although in a vehicle attack, the rules of the road are not necessarily followed, but it also makes harder for a car or van to pull up alongside you and try abduct you.

Being Proactive versus Reactive

Having your action plan for this rare “What if?” scenario in your back pocket does not make you paranoid. It leaves you prepared.

Personal safety is key. Preparedness and awareness are two very intuitive, powerful, and protective tools.

Related: “Condition Yellow” The perfect state of situational awareness.

 

 

 

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Travel Safety and Security Awareness in an increasingly Turbulent World

This blog also includes personal safety and security consideration for corporate relocation.

 

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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Is Burundanga another predatory drug?

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I recently received an e mail warning about another predatory, or date rape drug.

It describes an account of a woman who was approached at a gas station by a man offering his painting services. She took his business card, got into her car a left the station. She states that the painter and a second man followed her out of the gas station.

She states that she immediately began to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath and also noticed a strong odor in the car. She apparently went a neighbors home and honked her horn for help at which time she says the men following her drove away.

She states she felt bad for a few minutes and then noticed a substance on the business card. She states she went on the Internet and found that a drug called “burundanga” can be used to incapacitate victims after being absorbed through the skin.

This e mail was accompanied by a link to an article written by Stephen Pittel, PhD a forensic expert and consultant’s site.

Doctor Pittel indeed describes Burundanga as “a potent form of scopalamine that has been used for decades in Columbia in native rituals, as a weapon and by criminals who prey on tourists.”

Doctors most commonly use scopolamine to treat nausea and motion sickness and often with a trans dermal patch. Scopolamine can cause dizziness, drowsiness and blurred vision even in lower doses, and delirium, unconsciousness and memory loss in large doses, three reasons it has been used as a predatory drug. As with many substances, alcohol has a compounding effect!

Some authors state that in recent years fifty percent of emergency room admission for poisoning in Columbia are due to overdoses of this agent.

Pitell and others note that the State Department has issued warnings to those traveling to South American countries to be aware of this potential threat given the number of tourist that have been robbed after unknowingly ingesting burundanga.

Although this substance is absorbed through the skin, most sources seem to question if one can absorb a large enough dose trans dermally from touching a card or travel brochure. The bigger threat is a large dose being put into a drink.

Whether or not the e mail account of the tainted business card is accurate and whether or not one can absorb enough of a trans dermal agent to become incapacitated is not the real issue.

  • This e mail account should however serve to remind us that we need to be cognizant of those around us any time we are out in public and especially when at parties or functions. Any number of substances can be slipped into any beverage, or food for that matter, anywhere and at any time.

My recent blog entry recounts the tragic story of a couple who were robbed after being drugged by someone they befriended at a coffee shop while traveling in Europe.

Substances commonly used as predatory drugs here in the States include Rohypnol, GHB and Ketermine. Even if you open your own sealed bottle of water or can of soda when out in public, be aware that these compound can be mixed into the ice cubes that a seemingly considerate person may offer you!

Always watch as your drink is prepared, even if it is a latte on a sunny day. Be wary of someone who prepares your drink below bar top level and out of sight. Also be wary of anyone who wants to keep pouring you alcoholic beverages at a party!

The most commonly used substance for predatory purposes, especially date or acquaintance rape, is alcohol!

The opioid analgesics such as Oxycontin and hyrdocodone, effective pain medications when used appropriately, are also dangerous when abused as are the anti anxiety medications and muscle relaxants. Alcohol combined with these medication can result in death as the person gradually looses their urge to breath also knows as respiratory depression.

Often time a “cocktail” of different substances may be used to incapacitate the victim.

Obviously avoiding predatory drugs is paramount. If you are in a public setting or attending a function and do start to suddenly feel sleepy, disoriented and “out of it”, especially accompanied by loss of motor control, it is best to assume you have ingested a harmful agent and seek medical attention immediately.

Waiting a while to “see if I feel better” only robs you of precious time, time doctors will need to be able to help you!

In closing, and back to the gas station where the account of the lady’s story began, the most important thing to remember is to keep distance between yourself and strangers. You should always be wary of a stranger closing distance on you regardless of the stated reason, and especially when in an isolated environment! If you are followed drive to a busy well light area, or a police or fire station but not home, to a friends house, your place of work or any location your children will be at.

  • The avoidance of the predatory drugs and safe dating are amongst the many topics we cover in our Mom Daughter and College Safety Trainings.
  • Predatory Drugs are also addressed in our Travel Safety Training.
  • Please visit the Resources area of our site for more information on these and other topics
Related: 

What is Situational Awareness ?

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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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