Many companies rely on corporate security consultants and comprehensive travel insurance policies to protect their employees who travel overseas, and to get them out of harm’s way quickly when necessary. A first step in a security review might be to familiarize yourself with your own company’s strategies and programs for keeping you safe. If you’re not satisfied with what it offers, or if you are self-employed, it might be time to upgrade your own insurance to cover things like evacuation flights from countries where you’d rather not be hospitalized in an emergency, and perhaps even kidnap-and-ransom coverage if you’ll be visiting dodgy areas.
You might think the Middle East poses the greatest security risk for corporate travelers, but a recent survey of 570 corporate security experts, travel managers and other professionals, conducted by International SOS, found that the greatest number of them – 40 percent – cited Latin America as the most dangerous region, followed by the Middle East (31 percent) and Asia (20 percent). What were the greatest dangers for travelers? Some 44 percent ranked terrorism and civil unrest as the number one threat, followed by natural disasters (21 percent), crime/petty theft (17 percent) and kidnapping (16 percent).
Even if your firm provides first-class security programs and insurance, the primary responsibility for your safety and security rests with you. Do you have a good mindset for travel security, or do you tend not even to think about it? According to Christopher Falkenberg, a former Secret Service agent who now runs New York-based consulting firm Insite Security, international business travelers should “work on developing a keen sense of situational awareness.” What does that mean? “Think in advance of what types of emergencies could arise when you travel and have a plan in your head on how to act on that plan. Don’t make assumptions that someone else is providing a safe environment for you, meaning hotels, airlines, trains and so forth. Think about your personal security plan for when things go bad, and what you would do to escape that situation. What do those plans rely upon – like cellular communication, shelter, water source, et cetera, and how would you go about building that kind of redundancy into your travel plans?”
If your firm doesn’t contract with an international security consultant to provide intelligence on threats to travelers, you can easily do your own research through the U.S. State Department. Go to http://travel.state.gov and you’ll find a wealth of information about safe overseas travel. In the lefthand menu, you can find the latest country-specific travel alerts and warnings; or simply select a country from the pull-down menu and see the current security report as compiled and updated by on-site U.S. embassy and consular staff. The “International Travel” section of the website also includes valuable tips for persons traveling and/or living overseas, and a section that explains what the U.S. Government can – and can’t – do for you if you get into trouble in a foreign country.
When you’re overseas, you no longer have to go to the U.S. Embassy to register your presence – you can do that online now, with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/. You only have to sign up once, then add and delete information on your upcoming trips, and State will automatically send you current updates about security and safety issues in those countries. Signing up also makes it easier for embassy staff to contact you during emergencies – a vital link in the event of a major calamity like the Haiti earthquake, after which the State Department evacuated more than 16,000 U.S. citizens.
Selecting a safe place to stay can be a challenge, since there is no agency that rates hotels from a security standpoint, and since the hotels most likely to be considered safe – those of major international chains, many of which are western-based – can sometimes serve as a preferred target for terrorists. A Marriott security executive told a travel conference in Houston recently that in the decade after 9/11, there has been “an exponential rise in attacks against hotels.” As a result, he said his company has taken special precautions at its properties in dangerous countries, like installing a security officer at the entrance, making all persons entering the hotel go through a metal detector, installing shatter-proof windows, inspecting luggage, and checking IDs of everyone parking in the hotel’s lot. Another Marriott exec told the conference that the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, “is as close to a bunker as anyone has ever seen.” You can improve your own safety in a hotel by following some common-sense rules about selecting an appropriate room location and protecting access to your room whether or not you’re in it. Security consultant Chris McGoey has a security checklist for hotel guests at www.crimedoctor.com/hotel.htm.
Besides protecting yourself, you’ll want to make sure any sensitive data or company information that you take along with you is secure as well – not an easy task in these days of hacking and corporate espionage. According to the FBI, corporate espionage is “one of the most serious threats facing the executive traveler. The perpetrator of this type of espionage can be a competitor, opportunist, or foreign intelligence officer.” The agency has put together a comprehensive guide for corporations and executives that details the steps they can take to protect company secrets from predation by foreign interests during business trips. You can find it at http://nebraskainfragard.org/links/CSPvol1_iss2.pdf
For general security purposes, there is a huge inventory of products designed to keep the traveler and his property safe while on the road – everything from TSA-approved luggage locks to money belts, laptop cables, hotel door alarms and many more. You can shop for security at places like www.corporatetravelsafety.com, www.packinglight.net/Security-Products/3015/3014-3015/dept, and http://traveloasis.com/travel-safety.html.