While this article focuses on international travel, there is a great deal that is applicable domestically.
International Travel Security
By Orlando Wilson
You should compile a threat assessment on any area, city or country that you are visiting be it for business or pleasure. These days with the internet itís easy to find crime rates and reports on nearly all countries and areas within them. With Google Earth and the like, you can get high quality aerial photos and street views on most places, which can be used to check out hotels, locations to be visited and select routes.
If possible, send an advance person or team or get a trusted local to check things out and make arrangements for you visit. If you are traveling in a group, consider sending a member or two ahead a few days in advance to check things out and make arrangements before the main body of the group arrives.
Below is a basic list of things that you will need to consider before traveling.
What is the threat level at the location you are visiting?
Compile threat assessments on hotels and locations to be visited?
Will you need any inoculations against diseases or need to take preventative medication with you?
Do you have trusted contacts at this location and how can they assist you?
If youíre traveling internationally do need visas to enter the country?
Where will you be staying?
Can you carry weapons, will you need permits and where will you be getting the weapons from?
What restrictions are there on carrying weapons and what are the local laws on use of force?
Will anyone meet you at the destination airport, if yes, do you know them. If not get a photo and arrange code words?
Will your phones work at the destination, if not where can you get a local mobile/cell phone?
Are there payphones at the airport and do they take coins or credit cards?
What international dialing codes are you going to need?
How will you get from the airport to your hotel?
Will baggage be secure and who will have access to it?
Are you taking local currency with you or are you going to need to change hard currency?
Will there be ATMís available and can you use your bank cards?
Will you be able to use credit cards?
Will you have internet access and is it secure, are there free hotspots?
What standard of medical facilities are available at the destination and will you need to take sterile or emergency equipment with you?
Will you need to take prescription medication with you and are there any restrictions on it within the country youíre visiting?
Is clean blood available in hospitals at the destination, if not, where is the nearest source or clean or synthetic blood?
Is medical insurance needed and is what you have recognized or do you need hard currency for ambulance services and treatments etc.?
Know the locations of hospitals or reliable doctors in your area that can treat trauma or any medical condition you or your fellow travelers may have?
What are the details of backup hotels and locations that can be used as safe houses or emergency rendezvous points?
Do you or any of those traveling with you have any special dietary requirements or allergies?
Is the tap water drinkable or will you need bottled water, if yes is it readably available?
How will you be traveling around; public transport, on foot or using a driver?
If you are renting a car make sure you know your routes, have a reliable break down plan and spare tire etc.., in the vehicle.
When driving around make sure you know where the nearest gas stations and emergency facilities, such as hospitals and possible safe locations.
Who locally knows your program, try to keep things on a need to know basis.
Make sure someone trusted knows your program and can alert authorities if there are any problems.
Arrange to make coded check calls to a trusted people within and outside of the country. Select words that can be inserted into a phone call that can mean things are OK or they have gone bad.
Put together contingency plans to cover any possible crisis situation be it kidnapping or a serious car crash.
Have several alternative planned routes by which to leave the country.
Always keep your travel papers and a reasonable amount of cash hidden on your person that can be used in the case of an emergency where it might not be possible or a sensible option for you to return to your hotel.
This is just a list of considerations that will hopefully get you thinking and help you put together plans and procedures for any future trips youíll be taking.
Advance security is a necessity in all security operations. It can take two forms and may be performed covertly or overtly. It is essential in the planning and operational phases and should be employed whenever the time and manpower are available.
Advance security in the planning phase
When planning an operation, it pays to have someone go to all the locations that you will be visiting in advance. Once there, they will need to make a threat assessment of all the potential threats that might occur and how to avoid them and, if necessary, counter them. If you are going to a foreign country, your advance person or team should make sure that the hotels are suitable, select routes between venues, make first aid arrangements, confirm your communications work, and arrange transportation. These daysí videos and photos can be e-mailed back by the advance person or team so the main body of travelers and get a feel for location before they arrive.
Advance security in the operational phase
Advance security in the operational phase of an operation is extremely important and should be employed if you have the necessary manpower. If you are traveling on your own you could possibly hire a local but, will you be able to trust them. If you are traveling in a group you should take turns at being the advance person. If there is a problem itís better to lose only one person rather than the whole group.
The job of the advanced person or team in the operational phase is to proceed you by 10 to 20 minutes and check the route and final location for potential threats and problems. If any threats or problems are detected, the advance person or team will inform you immediately, so that you can go to the secondary plan. For example: We were once working with a client who was going to a potentially hostile South American country, he initially wanted us to supply him with firearms for when he was traveling around the country. But when we made clear the problems that can come with carrying firearms / weapons in a foreign country he began to see the difference between the real world and Hollywood. We organized an advance man for him to arrange his hotel, pick him up from the airport and who would precede him on his travels in a vehicle that fitted in with those being used by the locals. Our operative would inform the client of any problems or anything suspicious along the routes. When he arrived at a location ahead of the client he would check for any threat surveillance personnel etc. Of course, our operative was Latin American in appearance, fluent in Spanish and trained by us.
It is best that all advance work is performed covertly. If a venue or location needs to be checked out, the advance person or team can always claim that they are representing someone else or that they want to hire the venue or stay in the hotel themselves. By performing this duty covertly, they will not give away your itinerary. When performing advance security, wear what helps you to blend in with the environment. There is a fixation in the security and business world that personnel must wear a suit, shirt and tie. This is OK in New York or London but in many countries you will just stand out from the crowd and make yourself a target. If you look like a business person everyone will think you have money and worth taking the time to rob or kidnap. Always try to dress down and blend in with the people around you.
Personal Security in Hotels
It is inevitable that, as a business person and traveler you will spend time in domestic and international hotels of some description. Always do your research online before booking a hotel, research crime statistics, ratings from others who have stayed there and check out the area with Google Earth. If your hotel has been booked for you by your company, still research the place and if you find potential issues get them to change it.
Over the years I have stay and worked in a wide variety or hotels from five-star to minus-star and boutique to roach house. The standard or security in most hotels is very low and it is not hard for non-hotel residents to go up onto the hotel floors. Itís concerning that most travelers expect and believe the hotels they are staying in to be secure, I tell my clients they should take the same precautions inside hotels as they would on the street.
A lot of hotels do not have security personnel, a lot of times they give the security job title to the concierge staff so, on paper they have security personnel and can keep the insurance costs down for the hotel. Even in large five-star hotels they usually only have one security person on duty at a time. In my experience, the standard of hotel security personnel can range from good to appalling. There is one large high profile London hotel where the only reason they have a security team is to keep their insurance costs down. The hotel has 14 miles of corridor, over 1000 rooms, multiple entrances and there is only one unmotivated security person on at a time - in a place like this you are on your own.
Security is usually low on a hotels managements list of priorities, as they are more interested in keeping their rooms full. Most hotels will only do the minimum to comply with local security regulations and keep their insurers happy.
One story that highlights the failings of hotel security happened in the late 90ís at a five-star hotel on the exclusive Sloane Street in central London. The hotel policy was that when the female maids were cleaning the guestís rooms they had to leave the room doors open for their own personal security. They were not supposed to be in a room alone with a guest.
An experienced hotel thief was in the hotel and walking the floors. He was dressed in a decent suit with a brief case and looked very corporate. He entered a room which was being cleaned and ask the maid to finish up as he wanted to take a shower. The maid thinking the thief was the guest who was staying in the room finished and left. In a lot of five-star hotels staff wonít challenge guests as it is not polite to do so, itís all about service.
Now the thief was in the room and took anything of value. This guy was a professional and he did not finish there. He telephoned the hotel reception from the room phone and told them he had forgotten the combination to the safe in the room; guests forgetting combinations and safeís malfunctioning is something that happens quite often. So, reception got the duty security guard to go up and open the safe for the thief. The security guard believed the thief was a guest as he was in the room semi-dressed and watching TV. The guard opened the safe and told the thief how to reprogram the combination and politely left room. The thief then emptied the safe and left the hotel. This happened during the day, professional hotel thieves usually operate during the day when hotel guests are out sightseeing or doing business. When the Japanese guests who were staying in the room returned in the evening, they found all their valuables were gone and were not very happy, especially when they found out that the hotel security staff had assisted the thief in the robbery.
It use to amuse me when I was working in the five-star hotels in central London how everything on the surface seemed to be of the highest standard but if you looked behind the scenes it was another story. Several of the top hotels were using a temp agency that was renowned for using illegal immigrants to supply them with back of house staff such as dish washers etc. This temp-agency was cheap and itís all about saving pennies right? There would be Royalty and Politicians upstairs eating Beluga caviar and undocumented workers downstairs opening the tins.
I was once talking with a hotel security manager in London who had just taken over the security for a very prominent five-star hotel. He was stressed because he had gone through the computer that was used for programming staff key cards and found there were over 50 master keys for hotel issued that were valid and a lot unaccounted for. There should only have been about four master key cards on issue for the general manager, duty manager, security manager and duty security. The reason there were so many master keys on issue was because it was easier to program a card for all areas rather than the specific floors and rooms the individual staff members needed. Most hotels use electronic key cards but how many reprogram locks and void lost key cards or those guests have not handed in when they checked out. So, combine the fact that anyone can walk into most hotels and they might have a valid key card they have found or bought from an employee, how secure do you think you are in most hotels, same as if youíre on the street.
Another example of hotel crime took place several years ago to my business partner in Caracas who was providing security for a lady who was visiting for several weeks. He picked her up from the airport and was escorting her around the city. She was staying in a very good hotel and when he was not with her she was in her hotel suite. After a week or so, this lady started to get threatening text messages on her cell phone from someone asking for a large sum of money. This was baffling to us as the lady had been keeping a very low profile so, an operation was initiated and the potential extortionist entrapped. It turned out the extortionist worked in the hotel, he was the Fed-ex man and got the ladies cell phone number and details from a package she had received. This wannabe criminal was fired from his job and the police would have been happy to arrest him but the lady thought him losing his job was enough punishment and did not press charges, he was very lucky.
So, hopefully you are beginning to see that security is not high on most hotels priority list. A lot of shady business takes place in hotels and they are choice locations for prostitutes, thieves and fraudsters. When selecting a hotel find one that provides you with comfort and security. I donít need five-star services so, I tend to choose the smaller and quieter places where it is easy for strangers and non-residents to be spotted.
Security considerations for a hotel stay
Complete a threat assessment on the hotel before your stay.
Check to ensure the hotel is not in or close to any high crime areas
Make sure the hotel is not near any other building that could have a threat against them such as police or military barracks, etc.
Have a security plan and make sure everyone traveling with you knows it.
Liaise with hotel staff and find out what security procedures they have in place, if they have cameras, where are they located, do they work and are they recording.
Try to check out other guests. You donít want to be staying near a high-risk VIPís, as if they are targeted, you might get caught up in the incident.
Your rooms should be above the second floor and at the end of a corridor. High enough so nothing can be thrown through the window but still within easy reach of fire fightersí ladders. And at the end of a corridor so you are close to fire escapes and will not have too many people walking past your room.
Locate possible criminal surveillance positions around the exterior of the hotel and monitor them.
Keep an eye out for suspicious people in the public areas of the hotel.
Search all rooms before occupation for electronic surveillance devices or contraband that could have been left by the previous guest.
If possible, let no one into your rooms unattended, use the do not disturb sign to keep out the maids.
Do not let anyone in your room without confirming who they are with the hotel reception. Think about it, if a man turned up at your door in a security uniform, with an ID badge claiming to be hotel security and needed to talk to you, would you open the door, most people would.
Anyone can buy a uniform and you can make ID cards on your computer, always confirm someoneís ID with the hotel reception.
Work out how you can secure the hotel room, check to make sure the windows are lockable. If there is a balcony, could someone climb or drop onto it. See if there is anything you can use to block the door such as a chair or table. If it wonít stop an intruder it should at least be able to wake you up.
There are numerous small and affordable security alarms on the market that can be used for a hotel room ranging from door and window alarms to motion detectors.
If there is an incident, are you going to fight or flee? Is there a suitable safe room such as a bathroom and how long will you need to hold out until help arrives?
Make plans for evacuating the hotel in the event of an emergency, remember do not use obvious evacuation routes as they could be booby trapped or ambushed.
Check that your mobile/cell phone works and you are not in a signal dead spot.
Will you have internet access and will it be secure.
Do not leave valuables in your hotel room; put them in the main hotel safe, if possible. Criminals can get master keys for hotel room safes.
Do not throw sensitive information in the trash cans, soak and throw it away outside of the hotel or flush it down the toilet.
If your room has a fridge, do not use any ice cubes, as they could be spiked or poisoned as can any snacks and drinks.
Always know where the nearest hospital is, what first aid equipment and first aid trained staff does the hotel have.
Try to blend in with the environment and make plans for every emergency.
If you have any questions let me know.
Risks Incorporated: http://www.risks-incorporated.com
"Stay low and keep moving"