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The Biggest Travel Week of the Year: Top 7 Ways to Stay Safe While Traveling in Midst of Terror Threats

The Biggest Travel Week of the Year: Top 7 Ways to Stay Safe While Traveling in Midst of Terror Threats

 

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Holiday travel is already under way as Americans prepare to gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. At a time where people are preparing to rest, feel contentment, and be safe, there is a looming cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the holiday season, leaving people to ask the question whether it is safe to travel, how to travel, and what to do if a violent attack occurs.

The Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, exploded over Egypt killing 224 Russians two weeks ago. Russian and U.S. Intelligence now support ISIS as the perpetrator. Friday, a hotel in Mali was under siege killing 21 people and 170 people were taken hostage. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility. Last week two Air France planes, in the United States, received terror threats causing them both to make emergency landings. A Spirit Airlines flight, out of Florida, also received a threat forcing the plane to return to the airport minutes after departure. A Turkish Airlines flight was also diverted to Canada because of a bomb threat.

As an International Safety & Security Advisor, I have completed a lot of research on international travel, including polls and focus groups, to learn what is most important to people, when traveling. I am often asked for advice as someone is preparing for an international trip. Here are some practical key learnings anyone traveling this holiday season can adopt to help stay safe when in familiar, or unfamiliar, locations. The goal is always prevention; here are tips for traveling during the holidays domestically or internationally:

  1. Be prepared for delays at the airport: As you may know, this is the busiest time off the year to travel in the U.S. Expect longer wait times, random baggage checks, hand swipes when going through security and expanded screening on airplanes traveling to the U.S.
  2.  Arrive early to airports:  If you are reading this article, I know your priority is to be safeArrive 2 hours early, or earlier, when flying internationally. Be prepared for unexpected delays. With lower oil prices, 25M people are expected to fly on U.S airlines, 3% more than last year.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to your environment. Do you see an unattended bag? Are your bags with you at all times? Don’t get so caught up in a conversation, reading, etc, that if someone took your wallet off the table, or brushed against you, you wouldn’t notice. Alert law enforcement when appropriate.
  4. Travel in groups when outside the U.S.: This may seem very basic, but when traveling alone it can be very noticeable to others. When in line at a store have “small talk” with the person next to you. It’s a great way to learn the local area, meet new people, and to learn about the culture.
  5.  Are you traveling alone?: If someone you don’t know asks you if you are traveling alone always say “no.” State you are “meeting someone” or “waiting for a friend”. This is especially important for women. I did this while vacationing by myself in the U.S. Virgin Islands and it was very helpful. I was amazed how often I was asked if I was alone.
  6. Understand being an American can make you a target: Not always, of course, but this is a fact that can’t be escaped. It is part of the politics of today’s world. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s nothing to fear; taking precautions are important. Review the U.S. State Department warnings for the country in which you are traveling. Use sound judgment, avoids large crowds of unknown origins, minimize your profile when in public, and always have a cell phone. Yes, if traveling out of the country this is tricky because perhaps you don’t plan on taking your phone to avoid accruing international charges. You can always change your phone plan for the duration of your trip, or purchase a temporary phone prior your trip or when you arrive to the country.
  7. Be aware of daily changing threat alerts: Know what’s happening each day. Despite threats to NYC and Washington DC, the threat alert has not been elevated. The government of France just voted to keep the country as a state of emergency, and in Belgium, the government raised the terror alerts in the Brussels area. The elevation, or de-escalation, of threat levels could change at any moment. Make a point to know what is going on each day while you are traveling.

Despite the fluid, and constantly evolving, environment we are living in today, I encourage you to travel, have fun, and continue to experience cultures this holiday season!

Jessica Robinson, is a writer and Founder & CEO of PurePoint International. She has worked with a top 40 company and with the 2015 US Open. As a security & risk management expert and outsourced CSO (Chief Security Officer), she advises and consults with small and medium sized businesses on threat prevention and response. Learn more at www.the-purepoint.com.

Top 4 Tips for Shopping Safely Online – CYBER MONDAY

Top 4 Tips for Shopping Safely Online – CYBER MONDAY

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I am sure your top question today isn’t what you will purchase online, BUT how to purchase safely! Here are a few tips below for today and the rest of the week!

  1. Use credit vs debit card – very important and be sure to check your statements when you receive them! 
  2. Limit public Wi-Fi usage – big deal! 
  3. Use store apps (Macy’s, Target) versus going through a search engine! You will want to ensure the store apps you use have a secure checkout. There is usually a picture of a lock at the bottom of the page.
  4. If you are really ambitious, apps such as: 
    1. Keeper – prices vary, but you can get a 30 day free trial 
    2. PassKey – (requires a thumb print versus your regular password) this can be great to use in the future especially as the world starts to move away from passwords to biometric readings (facial recognition, thumbprints). I think that app is only applicable for Amazon for right now. This app is my top recommendation for today.
    3. – Password Secure Manager Pro (3.99) – great for securing personal information. Not sure how user friendly it is for shopping online.

Shop safety today!

Jessica Robinson, is a writer and Founder & CEO of PurePoint International. She has worked with a top 40 company and with the 2015 US Open. As a security & risk management expert and outsourced CSO (Chief Security Officer), she advises and consults with small and medium sized businesses on threat prevention and response. Learn more at www.the-purepoint.com. Need a speaker? Click hereHoliday Lecture Series. Did you like this article?   Sign up for our Newsletter

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Violent Extremists, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Al-Shabaab War on Humanity: Top 5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Violent Attack

Violent Extremists, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Al-Shabaab War on Humanity: Top 5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Violent Attack

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Violent Extremists, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Al-Shabaab War on Humanity: Top 5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Violent Attack

As President Obama said on Friday after the Paris attacks, “This was an attack on all of humanity.” What was once a “war on terror” by Western counties has become a “war on humanity” by violent extremists where no one is safe.

President Obama wasn’t just talking about the three horrific attacks in Paris killing 132 people, the worst attack in France since World War II, but the bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 43 people on Thursday, in a Shia community. The worst attack since the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990. In both cases ISIS has claimed responsibility. The Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, exploded over Egypt killing 224 Russians two weeks ago. Russian and U.S. Intelligence now support ISIS as the perpetrator. Though it is not confirmed, ISIS was also suspected in Turkey’s equivalent of the 9/11 attacks that occurred last month by twin suicide bombers. It’s the deadliest attack to occur in the nation’s history killing 97 people in the capitol Ankara.

In his statement, I believe President Obama also referred to the 14 people killed in Maiduguri, Nigeria at a mosque by Boko Haram in October, and an additional 30 individuals killed at a market and infirmary in Cameroon in September. In July, in Cameroon, three female suicide bombers, at least one of them a teenager, killed 31 people in a matter of days at a crowded bar, market and nearby neighborhood, respectively. Boko Haram is most known for the kidnapping of over 200 girls from a school in northeastern Nigeria and the Baga Massacre in January where 2,000 people disappeared. They have been a potent force for six years and is responsible for displacing 2.5 million Nigerians and killing 17,000 people in Nigeria and Central African countries according to the Guardian.

While Western allies have not launched a joint offensive attack against Boko Haram, like ISIS, the African Union countries, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger have responded to Boko Haram incidents. President Obama has recently sent 300 military troops for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance to the region as support against Boko Haram.

These attacks beg the question what can people do to protect themselves? In Kenya, Al-Shabaab, has claimed terrorist attacks at Garissa University College, killing 147 people in April, and at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, in 2013, killing 67 people. Overall, Islamists attacks have gone from 41 attacks in 2011, in Kenya, to 115 in 2014. The U.S. recently announced a $27M reward for information on the leaders of Al-Shabaab. Pope Francis who is planning an upcoming visit to Kenya, and other African nations, later this month said in response to recent terrorist attacks, “Such barbarity leaves us dismayed, and we ask ourselves how the human heart can plan and carry out such horrible events.”

The problem with non-state actors, like ISIS, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram, initiating violent conflict is that they are instigating clashes in the territory of sovereign states. Meaning there is no choice, but to target innocent civilians. When sovereign states find themselves in combat, they are governed by “rules of war.” It’s usually armies fighting other armies, and when innocent civilians die it’s called “collateral damage.” In the case of violent extremists, or non-state actors, there are no rules. Therefore, all violent attacks are collateral damage for sovereign states, and simply murder for violent extremists.

Whether we are taking about mass shootings in a school, a church, or a movie theatre in America, or another terrorist attack on bar or coffee shop in Pakistan, Benin, or Chad, it isn’t just scary, but psychologically terrifying because is it a reminder that there are no boundaries and that no one is safe.

The question remains, how can individuals protect themselves from these attacks? The truth is there is no 100% answer to keep anyone safe, but here are a few tips to help you respond in case of an emergency:

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings: Paying attention to your environment, don’t text AND walk (yes!), or walk and look at a map. Good rules of thumb are: don’t get so caught up in a conversation, or reading, that if someone took your wallet or purse off a table, or brushed against you, you wouldn’t notice. How many times do we sit next to someone, but once we get up, if someone asked us for a description of the individual we wouldn’t be able give one. Training yourself to consciously pay attention when walking down the street or in public places is a great first step. You may be surprised at what you see that could help you or someone next to you.
  1. Have a plan: If an incident occurs don’t panic (this takes mental training)! When in places that are unfamiliar to you take note of stairwells, hallways, entrances and exits in case you need to make a move to a safer location. If a violent altercation occurs call 911. Stay low and look for cover below, or behind, a solid object, assess whether you can move to a more secure location, and check yourself and others for injuries.
  1. Use your intuition:  You know that feeling you get when you know you should make a left instead of a right?  How about when you “feel” there is someone behind you yet you don’t hear anything? Yes, that’s your intuition, your inner knowing or reasoning that causes you to take a specific action. Pay attention to it, especially while traveling alone. In many cases, it will help steer you out of a challenging situation.
  1. Keep updated with law enforcement communication: Living in New York City, the New York City Police Department and the Metro Transit Authority are constantly engaging New Yorkers with their campaign “If you see something, say something.” Have the same mindset wherever you are. Share information that you think would be important for law enforcement to know. Stay current with local law enforcement or Department of State updates. Follow them on social media for the most current information.
  1. Be Resilient: In writing this article and The ISIS War on Soft Targets, my work, and my life’s mission, to help others live a more consciously secure life, is not trumped by the need to live a life so secure that it becomes a life of anxiety. This information is meant to inform, not evoke fear. I love traveling more than anything. My advice to you is live life, travel, experience cultures, and use this information as you see best to make informed decisions for yourself and your family.

Jessica Robinson, is a writer and Founder & CEO of PurePoint International. She has worked with a top 40 company and with the 2015 US Open. As a security & risk management expert and outsourced CSO (Chief Security Officer), she advises and consults with small and medium sized businesses on threat prevention and response. Learn more at www.the-purepoint.com.