Travel and risk mitigation experts insist that, while we can’t predict the next crisis, preparing for the worst and taking charge of our own personal security are essential.
“Most of us are not going to end up in a terrorist attack,” said Chris Abbott, executive director of Open Briefing, a company that provides security and intelligence services to nongovernmental organizations. “Know the high-risk areas and where the threats are and know what you’re going to do when it goes down.”
Research before you go
Official government sites contain troves of analyses on most countries and the potential threats facing visitors, as well as advice on everything a traveler might need, from vaccines to insurance to crisis planning.
“There’s a lot of good information in those government sites if people haven’t considering looking at them,” said Evan Godt, the destinations managing editor of guidebook, Lonely Planet.
The travel advisories weigh factors like crime, terrorism and civil unrest and typically range from “exercise normal precautions” to “do not travel.” It’s wise to review multiple government sites, including the United Kingdom Foreign Office, the Australian Foreign Affairs department and the U.S. State Department.
Register your trip in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts on security changes and so officials can reach you in an emergency. The department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council also releases in-depth crime and safety reports on countries and major cities.
Do it yourself or book a tour?
Many travelers leave the front-end work to tour operators. Grasshopper Adventures, which runs most of its cycling tours in Southeast Asia, consults a variety of sources about its destinations, including government sites, cycling touring forums, and traffic and accident statistics, said its chief executive, Adam Platt-Hepworth.
When suicide bombers struck in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the company had two tours underway and they both finished without incident. In the coming weeks, several more of the nine-day rides were still a go.
“We thought everyone would cancel,” Platt-Hepworth said, “but a surprising number of people said, ‘That’s not going to mess up my holiday.’”
When the British government on April 25 advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka, tour operator TUI Group encouraged its 200 or so customers to leave, said Martin Riecken, head of corporate communications. Those who bought future trips to the island were offered free rebooking or a full refund, he added.
Consider the power of your phone
Many corporations and nongovernmental organizations enlist travel security and risk mitigation firms to help protect staff abroad, and some services are available to leisure travelers.
International SOS offers medical insurance and travel assistance that includes access to its app, with safety reports on each country, and advice by phone from its analysts. For two people traveling to Egypt for a week, for example, this package costs about $200.
There are a number of mobile apps that track users and send out alerts on security conditions. The Sitata app lets you enter trip dates and location and view reports by country on personal safety, extreme violence and political unrest. Sitata, which is free, and Safeture app, to be available to consumers this summer for around $40 a year, send users alerts for selected countries on flight disruptions, demonstrations and disease outbreaks.
Mobile apps Life360 and Apple’s Find My Friends, both free, share your location with people in your group, and send alerts when users arrive at a location.
Before and during your trip
Locate your country’s nearest consulate or embassy and keep their addresses and emergency numbers with you. Most important, experts say, is assess your surroundings and have a plan for getting out of harm’s way. That could mean using a bathroom for a panic room. If you’re in an open area or public place when violence occurs, “You go away from it, always,” said Matthew Bradley, regional security director for risk management firms International SOS and Control Risks.