Posts Tagged Travel Safety

Travel Safety and Security Awareness Tips: What is Blending In?

Blending In 101:

One of the cornerstones of personal safety is what experts refer to as “blending in.” This isn’t 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 whether in a group or traveling solo.

The basics of blending in rely on common sense.

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

Footwear: Wear shoes that are comfortable and allow you to move quickly.  Inmates participating in a victim selection study said they always factor in whether a potential target is wearing shoes that will slow them down or allow them to run.

Body language is very important – even more so where there is a language barrier. Projecting a relaxed and friendly – yet confidant –  presence is ideal. Walking “head up” and “shoulders back” are the cornerstones of a relaxed and confident person.

But what if I CANNOT blend in?

What can you do when you’re traveling somewhere where you don’t look like the local people?  I experience this a lot traveling in Southern Africa and Central America.

In this case, the “script is flipped,” as it were.  All of the above tips still apply, but now you have some additional steps.

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 make a point 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 possible as I go about my day.  Local people know who’s who and word travels fast.  If I’m somewhere more than a week, I get to know several cab drivers.

With friendly 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. Local people know who they are and can report very easily. Local people will also be more inclined to step in to help if they see you are in a difficult position.

Always remember that you are a GUEST in this neighborhood or country. Respect and honor the culture.  Showing gratitude and kindness goes a long way, as does warm and friendly eye contact where culturally appropriate.  Make a point to learn several courtesy phrases.

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

When abroad, I am sure to keep the contact information of friendly local people I get to know, such as cab drivers, pharmacists, an Airbnb owner, etc., in my WhatsApp (a commonly-used free international text and voice app.)

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 “backyards,” maintaining situational awareness and preparedness is always your first, best move.

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3 Simple Travel Safety Strategies for Spring Break

Communications – Cover Your Six – Buddy Up = “CCB

Spring break is here & for those of us with children, the thought of them going on vacation without us is often anxiety provoking.  Believing “less is more”, I have given my daughters three easy- to -remember strategies.

Communication Strategy-

  • Parents and children should always have their cell phones on their person and switched on!!
  • Sharing your plans with your parents puts them at ease.  If your plans change, update them right away. If you can’t call, shoot them a text message. Remember, if they don’t know where you are, they can’t get help for you if the need arises.
  • Check in with your parents at a scheduled time each day. This will give them peace of mind and minimize their calling you to find out if all is well.
  • Mom and Dad: If the kids are proactive and responsible with these communication strategies, reward them by hovering less.  That’s my agreement with my daughters.

Cover your Six

  • Young men and women:  do what all professional safety, security, military and law enforcement officers do. Remain aware of your surroundings at all times and most importantly, know what is going on behind you at all times.
  • This blind spot is known as your “Six O’ Clock” and it’s from where bad guys generally launch attacks.
  • The simplest way to do this:  look LEFT and RIGHT whenever you walk through a door, an entrance or exit, get on or off an elevator, etc. Remember, the direction you do NOT turn toward is going to become your new blind spot. Practice this now at home so it becomes a habit.
  • Put away the headphones. If you don’t see someone coming up on you, you need to hear them!

Buddy Up

  • The buddy system is one of the most effective ways to lower your risk of being a victim of crime.
  • It’s not always convenient to wait for someone to walk with you to your hotel or to your hotel room, but it is well worth it!  You should buddy up even when going to the bathroom at a busy mall. This is not being paranoid. It is being smart!!
  • Just because there are three or even four of you walking as a buddy team, you still need to COVER YOUR SIX and pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Smart buddy teams also avoid isolated areas and will take the long way around to avoid quiet places, especially at night.

CCB” – If your children remember to implement these three simple strategies they will be that much safer during their travels

More Travel Safety Tips

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Personal Security in a Post-9/11 World-Moving in a 360-Degree Environment

As seen in the November 2009 issue of Mobility Magazine, an article on travel safety and security considerations for employees undergoing transfer domestically and internationally.

Topics covered include the importance of

  • Blending into your environment
  • Route selection / carjacking
  • Predictability as a vulnerability
  • Hotel room selection…..and more

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“Express Kidnappings”- No just a Third World Problem!

kidnappingWhen we hear of a kidnapping we usually think of it in the context of extortion for some type of ransom. Politically, a kidnapping may take place in an attempt to gain leverage over a government or state entity. But what is an “express kidnapping” and why are we hearing that term more often of late?

“Express kidnapping” is a term typically used to describe the abduction of a person with the intent of holding them for just long enough to visit multiple ATM machines, in order to draw the maximum amount of cash allowed in any given time period. Most card holder accounts limit the amount of cash that can be drawn on any one transaction or in any 24 hour time period.

The Brazilians often refer to this as a  Sequestro Relampago which literally means “Lightening Kidnapping”

This type of crime is more common in Third World countries and may start out as a carjacking of an unaware citizen or traveler. Alternately the victim might be robbed and then thrown into the perpetrators vehicle in which the crime spree will continue. Rouge taxi drivers also take advantage of tourists day or night and especially if their fare is intoxicated. Alternately, an unsuspecting traveler may get into a rouge cab drivers vehicle upon arriving at the airport.

Although in most cases the victim is not held for very long, there is a risk that the victim will be murdered at the end of the crime spree so that they will not be able to ID the perpetrators if apprehended. Obviously female victims run the risk of sexual assault during this time period. As with any crime, the simple intent to rob can easily degenerate into violence if things do not go smoothly especially during the actual abduction phase.

While express kidnappings are seen more frequently in developing countries, there have been reports of an increase in the incidence of such crimes here in the United States. These are most often crimes of opportunity and avoidance always starts with good situational awareness and knowing who is around you and what they are up to.

If you are traveling on business familiarize yourself with the areas you will be staying and working. Be sure to know what parts of town to avoid and always use well vetted ground transportation especially when it comes to taxis. Dressing down and not wearing expensive jewelery helps you blend in. Laptops, cameras and electronics draw unwanted attention.

Traveling in groups always makes you a more difficult target. Avoid isolated or “fringe” areas and be wary of groups of young males who seem out of place. Also remember that recent FBI reports state that females continue to play a larger role in gang activity here in the United States.

Never approach a vehicle that has pulled up alongside to ask for directions etc. Keep walking, and move toward a busier area. Walking against the flow of traffic also makes it more difficult for a vehicle to pull alongside.

If you must use an ATM do so in a well light and busy area. Be aware that this is often where perpetrators do their surveillance from a standoff position then perhaps follow the prospective victim to a quiet or isolated area before striking. Although less convenient, try complete all financial transactions inside a bank branch.

If you get an uneasy feeling about using an ATM despite any tangible reason to be suspect, always honor your instincts and leave the area and complete the transaction elsewhere. Never deem your instincts to be irrational or silly, they are rarely wrong!

Whether traveling, or at home,  make yourself less predictable in terms of which bank branch or ATM you use and at what time of the day. Try vary the routes you walk and drive.  If you are aware of your surroundings and less predictable in your habits and patterns you present as a harder target in general.

If you will be traveling abroad, please visit the State Departments website during the planning phase of your trip and visit their Current Travel Warnings list.

Larry Kaminer

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Threats, Situational Awareness and Perspective- From Stratfor

With permission from

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

In last week’s Terrorism Intelligence Report, we said U.S. counter terrorism sources remain concerned an attack will occur on U.S. soil in the next few weeks. Although we are skeptical of these reports, al Qaeda and other jihadists do retain the ability and the burning desire to conduct tactical strikes within the United States. One thing we did not say last week, however, was that we publish such reports not to frighten readers, but to impress upon them the need for preparedness, which does not mean paranoia.

Fear and paranoia, in fact, are counterproductive to good personal and national security. As such, we have attempted over the past few years to place what we consider hyped threats into the proper perspective. To this end, we have addressed threats such as al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities, reports of a looming “American Hiroshima” nuclear attack against the United States, the dirty bomb threat, the smoky bomb threat, and the threat of so-called “mubtakkar devices”, among others.

Though some threats are indeed hyped, the world nonetheless remains a dangerous place. Undoubtedly, at this very moment some people are seeking ways to carry out attacks against targets in the United States. Moreover, terrorism attacks are not the only threat far more people are victimized by common criminals. Does this reality mean that people need to live in constant fear and paranoia? Not at all. If people do live that way, those who seek to terrorize them have won. However, by taking a few relatively simple precautions and adjusting their mindsets, people can live less-stressful lives during these uncertain times. One of the keys to personal preparedness and protection is to have a contingency plan in place in the event of an attack or other major emergency. The second element is practicing situational awareness.

The Proper State of Mind

Situational awareness is the process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it. Being observant of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more of an attitude or mindset than it is a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not just a process that can be practiced by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security countersurveillance teams it can be adopted and employed by anyone.

An important element of this mindset is first coming to the realization that a threat exists. Ignorance or denial of a threat or completely tuning out to one’s surroundings while in a public place makes a person’s chances of quickly recognizing the threat and avoiding it slim to none. This is why apathy, denial and complacency are so deadly.

An example is the case of Terry Anderson, the Associated Press bureau chief in Lebanon who was kidnapped March 16, 1985. The day before his abduction, Anderson was driving in Beirut traffic when a car pulled in front of his and nearly blocked him in. Due to the traffic situation, and undoubtedly a bit of luck, Anderson was able to avoid what he thought was an automobile accident even though events like these can be hallmarks of pre-operational planning. The next day, Anderson’s luck ran out as the same vehicle successfully blocked his vehicle in the same spot. Anderson was pulled from his vehicle at gunpoint and held hostage for six years and nine months.

Clearly, few of us are living in the type of civil war conditions that Anderson faced in 1985 Beirut. Nonetheless, average citizens face all kinds of threats today from common thieves and assailants to criminals and mentally disturbed individuals who aim to conduct violent acts in the school, mall or workplace, to militants wanting to carry out large-scale attacks. Should an attack occur, then, a person with a complacent or apathetic mindset will be taken completely by surprise and could freeze up in shock and denial as their minds are forced to quickly adjust to a newly recognized and unforeseen situational reality. That person is in no condition to react, flee or resist.

Denial and complacency, however, are not the only hazardous states of mind. As mentioned above, paranoia and obsessive concern about one’s safety and security can be just as dangerous. There are times when it is important to be on heightened alert a woman walking alone in a dark parking lot is one example but people are simply not designed to operate in a state of heightened awareness for extended periods of time. The body’s “flight or fight” response is helpful in a sudden emergency, but a constant stream of adrenalin and stress leads to mental and physical burnout. It is very hard for people to be aware of their surroundings when they are completely fried.

Situational awareness, then, is best practiced at a balanced level referred to as “relaxed awareness,” a state of mind that can be maintained indefinitely without all the stress associated with being on constant alert. Relaxed awareness is not tiring, and allows people to enjoy life while paying attention to their surroundings.

When people are in a state of relaxed awareness, it is far easier to make the transition to a state of heightened awareness than it is to jump all the way from complacency to heightened awareness. So, if something out of the ordinary occurs, those practicing relaxed awareness can heighten their awareness while they attempt to determine whether the anomaly is indeed a threat. If it is, they can take action to avoid it; if it is not, they can stand down and return to a state of relaxed awareness.

The Telltale Signs

What are we looking for while we are in a state of relaxed awareness? Essentially the same things we discussed when we described what bad surveillance looks like. It is important to remember that almost every criminal act, from a purse-snatching to a terrorist bombing, involves some degree of pre-operational surveillance and that criminals are vulnerable to detection during that time. This is because criminals, even militants planning terrorist attacks, often are quite sloppy when they are casing their intended targets. They have been able to get away with their sloppy practices for so long because most people simply do not look for them. On the positive side, however, that also means that people who are looking can spot them fairly easily.

The U.S. government uses the acronym TEDD to illustrate the principles one can use to identify surveillance, but these same principles also can be used to identify criminal threats. TEDD stands for Time, Environment, Distance and Demeanor. In other words, if a person sees someone repeatedly over time, in different environments and over distance, or one who displays poor demeanor, then that person can assume he or she is under surveillance. If a person is the specific target of a planned attack, he or she might be exposed to the time, environment and distance elements of TEDD, but if the subway car the person is riding in or the building where the person works is the target, he or she might only have the element of demeanor to key on. This also is true in the case of criminals who behave like “ambush predators” and lurk in an area waiting for a victim. Because their attack cycle is extremely condensed, the most important element to watch for is demeanor.

By poor demeanor, we simply mean a person is acting unnaturally. This behavior can look blatantly suspicious, such as someone who is lurking and/or has no reason for being where he is or for doing what he is doing. Sometimes, however, poor demeanor can be more subtle, encompassing almost imperceptible behaviors that the target senses more than observes. Other giveaways include moving when the target moves, communicating when the target moves, avoiding eye contact with the target, making sudden turns or stops, or even using hand signals to communicate with other members of a surveillance team.

In the terrorism realm, exhibiting poor demeanor also can include wearing unseasonably warm clothing, such as trench coats in the summer; displaying odd bulges under clothing or wires protruding from clothing; unnaturally sweating, mumbling or fidgeting; or attempting to avoid security personnel. In addition, according to some reports, suicide bombers often exhibit an intense stare as they approach the final stages of their mission. They seem to have tunnel vision, being able to focus only on their intended target.


We have seen no hard intelligence that supports the assertions that a jihadist attack will occur in the next few weeks and are somewhat skeptical about such reports. Regardless of whether our U.S. counterterrorism sources are correct this time, though, the world remains a dangerous place. Al Qaeda, grassroots jihadists and domestic militants of several different political persuasions have the desire and capability to conduct attacks. Meanwhile, criminals and mentally disturbed individuals, such as the Virginia Tech shooter, appear to be getting more violent every day.

In the big picture, violence and terrorism have always been a part of the human condition. The Chinese built the Great Wall for a reason other than tourism. Today’s “terrorists” are far less dangerous to society as a whole than were the Viking berserkers and barbarian tribes who terrorized Europe for centuries, and the ragtag collection of men who have sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden pose far less of a threat to Western civilization than the large, battle-hardened army Abdul Rahman al-Ghafiqi led into the heart of France in 732.

Terrorist attacks are designed to have a psychological impact that far outweighs the actual physical damage caused by the attack itself. Denying the perpetrators this multiplication effect as the British did after the July 2005 subway bombings prevents them from accomplishing their greater goals. Therefore, people should prepare, plan and practice relaxed awareness and not let paranoia and the fear of terrorism and crime rob them of the joy of life.

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