“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” Psalms 118:8
IBEC consultants, coaches, Subject Matter Experts, friends, and clients are often in travel mode and find themselves in airports or in situations with less than desirable security standards. This may be a reminder of some of the things to be thinking about when planning a trip away from your city of familiarity. They could save your life.
Awareness (before travel)
- Become familiar with the country or region by reading about it and interfacing with others who have traveled or lived there. In this way, you will become aware of the probable risks and consequences if you are in trouble. For example, it is common knowledge that pickpockets are very good in Colombia; therefore, be ready to avoid that risk.
- Good places to visit to learn about your destination include:
- Study the “Dos and Don’ts” and cultural distinctive for that region.
- Study some key phrases in the local language before you go.
- Try to develop these helpful personal characteristics:
- Tolerance for ambiguity
- Low-goal task orientation
- Being non-judgmental
- Being communicative
- Flexibility and adaptability
- A sense of humor
- Ability to fail
- Harden yourself as a target, using survival principles based on common risks. Criminals look for soft targets (people with little travel savvy). For example, there are training materials on how to keep your valuables safe, how to watch for cybercriminals and everyday thieves and safe places to sleep. There is no excuse for jogging with new expensive sneakers, alone, while listening to your iPod in a north African country, as someone I know did – and she paid the price. Several websites are helpful: Maintaining Posture as a Hard Target (https://survivalblog.com/maintaining_posture_as_a_hard_target_by_ak/)
- Always make sure somebody, someplace, knows where you are and be sure to have your contact numbers in a safe secure place. Let your credit card company know where you are traveling. Have copies of important papers accessible but somewhere off your person.
- Become aware of any policies which relate to your trip; policies of the host company you are visiting, or the host nation policies, or IBEC guidelines. For example, IBEC has a “Checklist for Consultant Travel Overseas” and it includes things like “be sure to register with the US State Department upon arrival”.
- Make contingency plans before you leave. This includes a plan of action if something bad happens and assures you of a way to communicate (in many countries I recommend a SAT phone in addition to regular cell phone), an evacuation plan and extra supply of things you don’t want to be without (such as batteries, medicines).
- There may be release forms you will want to sign before you go. The most serious of these types of things is what to be done with your body if you die over there. There are other less drastic things to be aware of before you go.
- If you can, get some basic training. For example, Crisis Consulting International has a great 3-day seminar. See cricon.org. Others which I have used or know of fortsherman.org and mortonsecure.com.
Avoidance (once you are on your way)
- Risk can be mitigated by choosing low-risk airlines, hotels, regions of cities and ground transportation means. For example, I recommend not traveling on regional airlines in Nepal or local bus lines in Bolivia.
- Determine to stay away from areas of civil unrest or known crisis. I once received a phone call from an acquaintance in a former Soviet republic who was taking pictures and when I asked about the gun shots I overheard, he said he was downtown in the midst of a coup – not good!
- Learn what to say when being interrogated by foreign authorities. We recommend an STS (Short Tenable Statement). This is a one-sentence statement of what you are doing that is authentic, verifiable, consistent, plausible, and creates a clear understanding; and results in a satisfied inquirer.
- Be a learner and listen! listen! listen! Stay clear of political conversations or sharing your opinion. Remind yourself that someone is always listening. In some countries, hotel rooms may be “bugged” with listening devices watching for religious or political biases. Be respectful of everyone and everything you see, and determine to never disparage the host culture. Train yourself to say, “Oh, that is interesting!” and never, “Oh, that is dumb!”
- Even though your country may claim to have “freedom of religion” they likely do not have it in the same sense that we think of it. Respect their laws (you should have studied them at least a little before you leave) even if you consider it inconsistent or discriminatory.
- Have a supply kit which may be resourced before you leave or purchased immediately upon arrival. This will be things like first aid materials, cash, a whistle etc. (see such lists online).
Appropriate action (if something happens when you are there)
- Be ready to “work the plan” (think Apollo 13 movie) according to how you prepared beforehand. Crisis management is as simple as the outline for the scientific method which we all learned in junior high school. But though the thought process is simple, it is also far more complex in its implementation. During a crisis is NOT the time to make plans for what you are going to do. For example, during a political crisis in Haiti, everyone on our team knew the escape evacuation routes because we had decided ahead of time and prioritized them.
- Know exactly the protocol for who to call for help and how. There are several options and the organization which may have sent you abroad such as your church, company or IBEC should have arranged these emergency numbers for you. I once received a call because I was the “go-to guy” when a crisis was going on in Yemen, which kicked off a process for implementing evacuation plans.
- Always know who your friends are and how to contact them for help. Know who will be a crisis management team leader and learn to trust him or her. Remember also that there are professionals to handle negotiations (see websites above) if you are in a hostage situation or something similar. I was once responsible for someone who was doing a water dam project in his country when he was imprisoned. Professionals were able to help me gain his release, even though it took five months.
“Security is not a product but a process.” Bruce Schneier