Archive for category Travel Safety

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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Burundanga – Another Predatory Drug

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I recently received a warning about another predatory, or date rape, drug.

It was the 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 and left the station. She states that the painter and a second man followed her.

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

She noticed a substance on the business card.  Later, she went online and found that a drug called “burundanga” can be used to incapacitate victims after being absorbed through the skin.

This warning email 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 transdermal patch. Scopolamine can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and blurred vision even in lower doses.  In higher doses, it can cause delirium, unconsciousness and memory loss – 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 tourists who 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 transdermally from touching a card or travel brochure. The bigger threat is a large dose being put into a drink.

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

  • This should 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  in the United States include Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. Even if you open your own sealed bottle of water or can of soda when out in public, be aware that these compounds can be mixed into the ice cubes that a “considerate” person may offer you!

Always watch your drink being 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!  Remember, the most commonly used substance for predatory purposes, especially date or acquaintance rape, is alcohol!

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

Opioid analgesics such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone, are anti-anxiety medications and muscle relaxants.  Although they are effective pain medications when used appropriately, they are quite dangerous when abused or combined.  Alcohol combined with these medications can result in death, as the victim gradually loses their urge to breathe, also knows as respiratory depression.

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

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-lit area – or even a police or fire station – but not home, to a friend’s house, your place of work, or any location where your children will be.

  • 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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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 mitigate against 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

Related: What is Situational Awareness?

More commonly seen forms of attack: Vehicle-Ramming Attacks: Personal Safety and Situational Awareness

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