The Safest Room in Every Hotel

You will find the safest rooms on the third and fourth floors away from the front of the building and at least one room away from elevators or stairs. Why? Simple – fire. The most common, fire truck carried, tallest, three-section ladder only extends forty-feet, and weighs 220 pounds. Fire can spread through stairwells and elevator shafts quickly so a buffer room is a good idea and high rooms cannot be reached with most ladders.

Unfortunately terrorism is another risk hotel guests face; room locations away from the building’s main entrance tend to offer better protection against blasts, overpressure shockwaves and projectiles. Blasts occur disproportionately on the street level in front of the lobby entrance. In high risk locations, it makes sense to keep your drapes closed (to catch broken glass), and sleep on the bed away from windows (when two beds are present). You should also remember to carry a small doorstop with you and secure your room when you’re in it.

It’s easy to remember to stay low in case of fire, but most people don’t understand how quickly the super-heated gas a few feet above the floor can cause severe burns to delicate lung tissue. Think about the heat you feel from an oven at 350°F? Now think about what one deep breath of air heated to 900°F could do? If you do need to leave your room during a fire, don’t use elevators and don’t leave skin exposed; put a wet, cotton t-shirt around your head, and a pair of cotton socks (not synthetic) on your hands as an impromptu pair of gloves. Touch doors and doorknobs with the back of your hand before you open them, and don’t stand in front of the opening until you know it’s safe to do so.

A few more hotel tips – it’s a good habit to make your first trips to the lobby via the primary and alternate emergency exits closest to your room (you’ll be familiar with them should you need to use them in the dark).

Never take metal keys with you when you leave the hotel – leave them at the front desk and have a staff member give it back to you when you return. And don’t leave room keys in sleeves marked with your room number or the hotel name. Always leave a note addressed to yourself or a colleague at the front desk when you leave by yourself. List your intended destination, who you’re meeting with and when you intend to return. This will give potential rescuers an enormous head start should something unplanned happen.

This isn’t a complete list, but adopting these habits will give you an advantage if you’re ever faced with an emergency or crisis while you’re away from home.

Risk Management Travel Management

Recipe to Riot: How the LAPD Keeps the Peace

The US Supreme Court recently upheld the right to videotape Police in action by denying an Illinois request to review a Federal Court’s decision to prohibit Cook County from prosecuting people for “eavesdropping” on Police. See more here. This is an important decision – it means that citizens and watch groups may monitor law enforcement through photographic methods and continue to disseminate their findings via social network sites like twitter, youtube, facebook and instagram – all with first amendment protection.

Videotapes and photographs showing Police in action have an important history. Sometime in early 2007 I became acquainted with William Bratton, Chief of Police, and his senior staff including Chief Earl Paysinger. A few weeks after our first introduction Chief Paysinger asked me to review the Police Departments’ customer service procedures and make recommendations about how they might improve service to the citizen’s of Los Angeles. Earl thought my previous law enforcement experience, combined with my experience dealing some of American’s best customers, the movie studios, offered a good backdrop to draw from. Over the following months and after a series of interviews and ride-alongs, including one with Sergeant Al LaBrada with the Gang Crimes unit, I felt comfortable that I understood the LAPD’s general operations, but I wrestled with actionable recommendations that could make a meaningful difference.

Service levels or satisfaction scores as defined by typical corporate surveys or ratings didn’t feel like the right metric to capture what Earl had asked for, but within weeks something happened that clarified the problem for me. On May 1, 2007, a large group of people marched in MacArthur park to protest for citizenship for illegal immigrants. The march and skirmishes between police and protesters have come to be known as the May Day Melee. There was clear videographic evidence that depicted excessive force by the LAPD against peaceful protesters and reporters. The tapes were aired repeatedly by local media and led to widespread criticism of the LAPD’s actions from a broad spectrum of Angelenos.

The LAPD manages thousands of public contacts each day and responds to millions of 9-1-1 calls per year, but only periodic incidents that lead to rapid escalation and threats to life and property. The “customer service problem” was not about how to say “please” or “thank you” during daily transactions. It was far easier. It could be distilled to a command problem about how to respond when Officers are involved in a long tail event. Moreover, it wasn’t just a ‘problem’ where Officers were involved. There were even more ingredients that could be isolated to help the LAPD identify and predict future events.

A review of the May Day events at MacArthur Park, combined with a quick look at previous flare ups and riots including the acquittal of LAPD Officers charged with assaulting Rodney King during a traffic stop in 1991 (the beating was videotaped and led to widespread anger at the LAPD) provide clues about the circumstances that lead to these events.

The May Day Melee was embarrassing to the City of Los Angeles, but it should be viewed as a bad situation that was defused successfully. Within days of the initial event William Bratton suspended senior Officers, and acknowledged what most people could see clearly on the evening news – the LAPD was wrong, they had overreacted, and they were going to change. Chief Bratton’s treatment of his organization wasn’t without complaint. There were Officers who criticized his handling of the department in the aftermath, but videotapes allow anyone with youtube access to question Ground Commanders’ actions – and sometimes Officers make the wrong call.

My recommendations to the LAPD follows: keep doing what you’re doing, but be alert for situations that include the following ingredients:

  1. Predisposition to mistrust the Police.
  2. Incident occurs that a majority of residents see as an abuse of police power or overreaction.
  3. A video tape or photographic evidence exists. The video removes all reasonable doubt about the facts in the case.
  4. The public views the recording repeatedly with quotes from community leaders that condemn the acts and call for justice or retribution.
  5. A muted/hollow or tone deaf response from the police.

When all five conditions are present Police, Military Commanders, and Government leaders must break away from the script and change number 5. They must get in front of problems – and leaders don’t make them better by ignoring public opinion.

Looking back at the acquittal on April 29th, 1992, is useful. The response was immediate and it triggered six days of rioting in Los Angeles, led to more than 50 deaths, and caused over $1 Billion in property damage. It’s worth thinking about – a careful plan, executed well might have minimized it.

Risk Management

Vehicles Are Deadly

Vehicles are Deadly. The distinction between Cover and Concealment is an important starting point. Concealment occludes visibility to a target, while cover provides material to protect the target from projectiles. Bushes, curtains and plastic garbage bags could provide concealment, but only eighteen inches of dirt, sand or rock will stop a .50 BMG or fragmentation from a 155MM High Explosive shell. Most homeowners underestimate how soft the drywall and studs are in contemporary homes. In fact, a standard 9mm full metal jacket (FMJ) round fired from a 4” Glock19 can pass through four walls before stopping in the fifth. Some rifles can do the same thing to cinderblock. These results do two things: first, prove that walls do not offer cover; and second, demonstrate that many gun owners are unrealistic about where their rounds will end up once discharged.

The Box-O-Truth Web site is a terrific resource to learn how ammunition really behaves after it leaves the barrel. The Author and host, Don, known to readers as “Old_Painless”, is a retired Police Officer and gun enthusiast. He spends a lot of time to create realistic situation to test ammunition against targets with real-world applications. You can find his work here: http://www.theboxotruth.com/. You should spend some time on his site.

Vehicles are Deadly. They offer the illusion of safety (since so many people think they provide cover – but they don’t), but vehicles are deadly for another reason. They concentrate fire. Let’s use a car with four occupants as an example. Each occupant merges to become one target in the vehicle. One or more shooters will engage a car before firing at a single dismounted target. Vehicle occupants are subject to accidental hits – if the driver is targeted, but rounds hit another occupant, the shot is still a “Hit” but it was accidental. If four suspects ambush a vehicle, all four weapons act to destroy it.

Dismounted targets are discrete and not usually pursued with the same concentrated fire. When an occupant dismounts they will simultaneously draw fire away from the vehicle, and offer a much smaller target. As they move farther away from each other they become separate targets and much less susceptible to accidental “Hits.” Distance is a good defense since people able to double their distance from a shooter will reduce their surface area by 75%.

Vehicles are not a substitute for adequate cover. They offer concealment only, and vehicles tend to draw heavy weapons. If disciplined aggressors have small arms and one heavy weapon – they will put heavy fire on a vehicle before engaging soft-targets. The proliferation of .50 Cal BMG rifles reinforces everything described here. To learn more check out Don’s review titled the “Buick ‘O Truth” a car that gave him a chance to examine damage from small arms fire and penetration by high-powered rifles. The results will encourage you to hide somewhere else, as any bullet can penetrate the car and even the engine offers little protection.

Risk Management

Safe Schools

In early January a 34 year old English teacher, and mother of three, was talking with two students as they left baseball practice at a public High School in a trendy neighborhood. A few minutes into their conversation the group was approached by two men. Both were in their early thirties, one had prior convictions for aggravated assault, while the other was released from prison a week earlier after serving nine years for kidnapping and rape. There was little the teacher and two students could do to defend themselves from the unexpected assault – a violent attack which left them unconscious in a parking lot until an assistant coach found them later and called 9-1-1.

Two days earlier I met with a school Superintendent to discuss the rationale and logistics to allow licensed teachers to carry their legal firearms to protect themselves and defend their students against an active shooter. It was instructional for me as I learned first-hand how this senior administrator sought to satisfy his constituent’s desire for security. He argued that since parents and residents had not asked to arm teachers, he felt it was his duty to provide security through other means. He pointed out the hundreds of cameras that were recently installed and funded through a bond issue. The Superintendent was excited about having a recording of any event. He was more comfortable telling parents there was nothing he could do than to deal with another “distracting program” or the possibility a teacher might lose control of a weapon inside one of his schools. He did not understand the difference between safety and liability, and although he acknowledged security could only be offered through an immediate response to danger, he chose to support solutions measured in minutes on a timescale that must be mapped to seconds.

This Superintendent preferred optics to action and logic and reason were wasted on him. Moreover when he asked us what data existed to show that armed teachers provided a safer environment he cut us off before we finished explaining that police stations and other offices where guns were frequently available had a much lower incidence of gun violence – his response was “Those people are trained.” That’s a lot of faith in a curriculum he’s never seen, but it also dismisses the possibility that Safe Schools could require the same level of training required for law enforcement Officers.

Gun Free Zones are a misnomer. They imply security where there is none. Most arguments in favor of gun free zones simply ignore that by definition a criminal will not follow the rules. Rules that in most cities prevent teachers from defending themselves, even while many of them are capable of maintaining the skills required to carry a concealed weapon and apply good judgment about situations where they may be needed. Safe schools would mean qualified teachers can carry without diminishing the educational environments administrators, teachers and students strive for. Let me show you how.

The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program is an excellent proxy for arming teachers. This is a cost effective program that places responsibility for safety with potential victims and recognizes that seconds count. Following 9/11 pilots were allowed to carry fire arms in the cockpits of commercial aircraft, as long as they met the training and licensing criteria to be an FFDO. This continues to be a voluntary program and at one point almost half of all commercial pilots flying for major US carriers were enrolled. The FFDO program has overwhelming support from passengers, Government officials, and the public. It serves as an existence proof that pilots can do their jobs and flights depart and arrive on time safely. Guns in the cockpit have not proven to distract pilots’ attention from their core responsibilities. What makes teaching so different? Do we view pilots as old marine corps fighter jocks – they’re men and they can handle a gun, while teachers are thirty year old Moms who drive mini-vans to work and don’t know the difference between a revolver and an AR-15? I suspect stereotypes play a role.

Members in both the FFDO program, and the Sky Marshals, those dedicated armed special agents in the sky, have lost or discharged firearms since 9/11, some inside security, but none of those situations led to disaster, and it’s unlikely that a voluntary program that allows teachers and administrators to carry concealed in school would have a different outcome, but it would put potential shooters on notice – This School is NOT a gun free zone.

Here’s a roadmap for real security:

  • Start with the goal – Allow capable teachers and staff members to carry concealed weapons in schools.
  • First, map your school districts decision-making structure: Principals, Superintendent, Board, City Manager, Police Chief, Security Manager or Security Consultant.
  • Next determine who understands the distinction between real security (responses measured in seconds vs. minutes or longer) and who has a desire to implement actual security measures.
  • Then determine who the decision-makers are, and what pressures (constituent, budgetary, human resources, etc) they are under. You must uncover how they are measured – graduation rates, test scores, etc.
  • Collect data about the number and percent of teachers and staff who have prior military or LE experience. Gather data about the number who have a CHL. Additionally, interview some of those teachers to get their opinions about an FFDO like program for teachers.
  • Meet with Superintendents and Board Members, but plan to “Teach” them how to “buy” from you.  Example: “we’ve met with other members of the board and a number of your teachers and parents and they support our position.” Share real stories from parents and teachers and the data you’ve already collected – these provide a great starting point for your discussion.
  • Continue to gather supporters until you have a security program that addresses the threats facing your kids.

There’s little cost to this program – unlike paid security guards (many unarmed), the teachers volunteer their time for a license and their money for equipment and training. You could even use a school fundraiser to donate ammunition for teachers’ quarterly qualifications, and the local police department should be engaged to conduct quarterly training and certification. All this is available immediately and places “first responders” where they’re needed – at the scene, without delay, and every school could do this without spending incremental funds.

The real story about the teacher attacked in the parking lot ended differently. In early January a teacher shot two attackers in a school parking lot. One of them died at the scene while another was transported to a hospital. How do you feel about this now? Does it matter that this seventy-year old teacher’s heroic actions actually enhanced the sense of security at his school?

He was walking two girls to their cars in the parking lot after Basketball practice when one of two attackers grabbed the chain around his neck. This took place in Detroit, and he was armed since he is a Reserve Police Officer.  Why should he be allowed to protect himself, while every other teacher in that school is prohibited from carrying a handgun? These are important things to think about and even more important to act on.

We’re anxious for your feedback – please share this article with your friends and tell us what you think!

Risk Management

Things Every Gun Owner Should Know

Things every gun owner should know.

  1. You are responsible to know the law; and to be knowledgeable about your gun’s operation.
  2. Treat every gun as if it is loaded at all times (only point it at things you want to kill).
  3. Your firearm must be stored in locked container or have a trigger lock engaged when it is not in your hands.
  4. Practice with your weapon UNLOADED to become familiar and comfortable with it.
  5. On semi-automatic handguns keep the slide locked rearward to prevent bad habits that ignore cycling action.
  6. Learn a two-handed grip that will allow you to walk with your hand gun and a flashlight.
  7. Do not conduct a search through your home or property with your gun in the lead.
  8. Use your free hand to open doors and keep your weapon close enough to prevent moving doors from knocking it away from you.
  9. Deadly force is justified only when undertaken to prevent imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent.
  10. You are responsible for everything your bullet hits so you must know where it will land.
  11. 9MM handguns with a standard full metal jacket projectile can penetrate both sides of at least six interior walls before they stop. Brick walls will usually contain bullets from a handgun, but after the first shot all bets are off.
  12. Keep a firm grip on your weapon at all times and never put your finger on the trigger unless you are planning to fire at a target in your sights.
  13. If you use your gun to defend yourself or someone else – you are a threat to the Police. You must remember that they will treat you as they would any armed subject until they determine you are unarmed and not a threat.
  14. Describe what you’re wearing to the 9-1-1 operator and secure your gun before the Police arrive.
  15. Do not continue to carry it around after the threat is removed.
  16. After you call 9-1-1 You or a friend or family member should contact a lawyer to represent you.
  17. Do not answer any questions until your lawyer is present, and make it clear to the police that you want to tell them what happened, but not until you are represented.
  18. Study the Box-O-Truth Website for a realistic view of your gun’s capabilities. http://www.theboxotruth.com/index.html
Risk Management

Knock the Rust Off IFR Approaches

IMC approach

For the pilots out there – this is a note to myself that I’ll use to “knock the rust off” the next time I have a layoff between flying IFR approaches in my local area. I just earned my IFR rating, but my flying occured in three periods, with six to nine month delays between each. Instrument Flight Rules flying requires good techniques and creates a high workload for single pilot operations. I found myself “relearning” each time – it was especially frustrating since I had mastered flying a stable final approach twice before. This list constitutes heuristics and guidelines for me to become proficient again quickly.  WARNING: I am not a flight instructor or a commercial pilot – just a private pilot who met the FAA standards to earn an IFR rating – so this may be wrong or not applicable to your situation and airplane.

Prepare for IFR flight:

  1. During preflight, setup NAVCOM radios for your approach.
  2. Call clearance delivery for a clearance. Follow the CRAFT format: Cleared to; Right after departure; Altitude; Frequency; Transponder
  3. Set altitude for departure airport, and adjust DG, AI for flight. Check-in with the local VOR/DME to verify VOR equipment operational.
  4. Set tower frequency as soon as you reach the departure end of runway before performing the pre-departure checklist.
  5. Once airborne, tune-in arrival weather, and reset altimeter as necessary.
  6. Before vectors to approach course, verify navigation aid by listening to the identifiers broadcast from the aid. Press the Nav 1 or Nav 2 button to listen, and turn up the volume on the Navigation radio to hear it.
  7. In straight, level, cruise-flight reset the DG to match the compass before ATC provides vectors.
  8. ATC will give you a vector that will put you on the final course – you must watch the needle when you make the final turn to capture the localizer.
  9. Verify minimum altitude prior to the Outer-Marker and brief the Final Approach Fix, altitudes and missed approach procedures.
  10. At the Outer-Marker power back and pitch down for a 500′ – 700′ FPM descent. The power setting is critical – too high, and the aircraft will not descend easily and need a lot of left rudder to remain on course. Use an initial power setting at 2150-2200 RPM’s for best effect. It’s much easier to flatten-out to recapture the glideslope, than to be too high above it… so power setting at the Outer-Marker at the correct “initial” altitude is the key to have a fighting chance at a low-workload approach.
  11. Instrument scan during the approach is the next battle – once a 500′ descent rate is established and the aircraft is aligned with the localizer, use left rudder to keep the Directional Gyro (DG) from turning, and use the Attitude Indicator (AI) and wing-leveler or Turn Coordinator (TC) to keep the wings level. Engine power, and nose-down attitude make the glideslope a non-event. Now – no matter how rough the air – keep the wings level with constant monitoring. Once the aircraft gets slightly off course, 3 degree corrections are the ONLY acceptable response. Use the localizer to verify position relative to the runway, and ensure wings are level. As you drift away from the localizer, make slight adjustments to recapture (let the wings turn towards your course, verify new course with the DG, and return to wings level) and verify or confirm progress using the localizer – alternatively, use the localizer indicated on the GPS to verify position relative to the centerline, but only use slight wing dips away from level to return to course.
  12. Your scan must be lightening-fast in the last 90 seconds before the touchdown point. Focus on keeping your wings level… and glance at the localizer to confirm you’re in the right spot, while looks at the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) allow corrections for altitude. In rough air you need to monitor the VSI more frequently to compensate for updrafts and downdraft effects. Downdrafts that require higher power settings are especially difficult since they increase workload. You need vigiliance and rudder inputs to keep the aircraft from turning. Once the desired altitude is achieved, re-establish the lower power setting and pitch down to maintain 500 FPM.
  13. Keys to a stable approach – persistence – use a rapid scan, and don’t give up: Reach the Outer-Marker aligned with the localizer and know the approach heading you must maintain on the DG, cross at the right altitude, immediately establish pitch and power for a descent rate, apply slight left rudder and keep the wings level.
  14. Go-arounds at the bottom require: 1. Full power; 2. Pitch up to 10 degrees nose up (use AI), and verify climb with a look at the VSI (This is the hardest step, since you will feel like you’re tumbling backwards – trust the AI, VSI, and Airspeed); 3. Apply right rudder as necessary for coordinated flight.

Have fun and let me know if you found this helpful.

Aviation

Security Considerations for Travel to the Sochi Olympic Games

If you’re planning to attend the Olympics in Sochi keep reading for tips to avoid becoming a victim while you’re there.

Several weeks ago I posted an article about rising crime in Venezuela and how armored cars provide exceptional security value. In the interim former Ms. Venezuela, Monica Spear, and her ex-husband, Thomas Henry Berry, were murdered by bandits after their car was disabled by flat tires. Although an armored car may not have prevented this outcome, the run-flat feature alone would have given them time to distance themselves from the road-block and may have saved them. Their five-year old daughter was also in the car, but survived the attack with a bullet wound to her leg.

Ms. Spear’s tragic death occured the same week I was planning a trip to El Salvador – a dangerous place adjacent to Honduras and relatively close to Venezuela. Although security is always part of my pre-trip planning, I decided to compare medical evacuation, legal, and security support providers. I contacted Travel Guard, International SOS and the Anvil Group to compare their products.

What I asked about – What they offer- What I need

When I think about support…I don’t mean a check to replace a lost ipad, or missing luggage. Insurance is not a substitute for 9-1-1, and most of the time travelers must be their own first responders. When I think about support I mean the lawyer who appears at the local police station after an impaired driver destroyed my rental car and shoved it onto a crowded sidewalk after running a red light. I mean the paramedic who runs into the local clinic to have my co-worker moved to a private clinic in the capital before someone makes a life-changing decision about his or her treatment. I am not interested in insurance coverage that pairs me with someone who met the minimimum standards for their profession. When it counts I want an expert. Money is not the limiting factor in the types of situations I want to avoid. I want Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction.

The providers (click to enlarge):

Security Providers lg

All three provide medical advice and support evacuation in an emergency. International SOS is the clear leader in this category globally, while Travel Guard seemed to have a stronger focus on insurance than as a care provider. The Anvil Group is the clear front-runner if you are looking for personal protection – from a driver through a VIP security detail. Medical care is integral to Executive Protection so the Anvil Group offers a range of products that fit my ideas about security.

At a minimum, travelers who don’t want to shell out cash before departure should be knowledgable about the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It offers many of the benefits available through for-profit providers, but emergencies that drive high contact volume (terrorism, typhoons, Earthquakes, Volcanoes) will put you in a long que so the private provider double your odds for support – and they’ll discuss your needs if you find a need for their services in-transit.

Back to the Olympics. Sochi offers a very real threat from extremist groups. Follow a few steps and you’ll minimize your exposure to that risk.

Extremists are drawn towards newsworthy, soft targets – western hotels, the main entrance to public transportation hubs, and any open-air venue where people are concentrated before they are funneled through security checkpoints.

  1. Use taxis and cars, but avoid buses and trains.
  2. Stay in a locally-branded hotel; if you must stay in a globally recognized hotel, always use a side entrance.
  3. When you leave your hotel leave a note to yourself at the front desk. Include your plans for the day and contact details for anyone else you may be traveling with.
  4. If you are staying at a globally branded hotel, avoid the hotel restaraunt.
  5. At sporting events, use less-crowded, side-entrances.
  6. Avoid spending more time than necessary in high-profile public spaces. Arrive to events well before the crowds or after they have subsided.
  7. Be alert.

Have fun and enjoy the games.

If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and enjoy your trips check out these posts on related topics:

  1. Trip Planning for India
  2. Travel Risk Management and Trip Safety
  3. The Safest Room in Every Hotel
  4. Vehicles are Deadly

You can follow me on twitter @paul_laherty, or find me on Linkedin.

Risk Management

A Venezuela Travel Warning and an Armored Car Primer

The US State Department issued a Venezuela travel warning on November 22, 2013. I rarely comment about these, but this one caught my attention since Venezuela is a short flight from CONUS and served by major US airlines including American, Delta and United. The US State Department offers a thorough description about the current risks to travelers in Venezuela – security managers and travel professionals should be familiar with it (Venezuela Travel Warning). The State Department requirement to use an armored car for travel in certain parts of the country or at night is what triggered this note.

Armored vehicles offer flexibility and options for travelers that conventional vehicles do not. Operational experience suggests business travelers employ low-profile vehicles – not up-armored Chevy Suburbans that Darth Vader would look comfortable in. Unfortunately the US State Department warning doesn’t direct readers to a source for these vehicles or provide advice about what you should look for when renting an armored car.

Corporate travelers need to blend in – and sophisticated executive protection companies with local knowledge and know-how can help you avoid trouble. Armored vehicles weigh much more than their stock peers so a professional driver is recommended. Local drivers are extremely valuable for their area knowledge and experience in different situations. They’re more likely to identify threats well before a traveler would, and they can use alternate routes with information your GPS doesn’t have. Finally, a driver provides a layer of indemnification and protectection from liability in case your vehicle is in an accident.

Traditional armored car manufacturers use steel plating and bullet-resistant glass to protect the people inside, while contemporarty construction replaces steel with polyethelene-based materials (Spectra and Dyneema are the most common – and are superior to Kevlar). A Spectra-enhanced vehicle is frequently 1,000 pounds lighter than the same vehicle protected from steel, so handling, acceleration and braking performance are much better. Unfortunately, duties and taxes on imported vehicles drive costs up and favor local manufactures who apply hardened steel. A $200,000 vehicle from industry-leader Texas Armoring would cost almost $400,000 in certain markets. You can check out http://www.texasarmoring.com/ for more information about their products and Spectra. Although Spectra vehicles are lighter, a trained driver is still a good idea; they can get the most out of any car through evasive driving techniques and features unavailable to the average driver.

A quick search and a phone call turned up diplomat armored rental as a source for vehicles in Caracas. See diplomatarmored.com to find cars available in many countries. They offer Chevy Suburbans, Ford Explorers and Toyota Prados (the Lexus GX460 platform) in Venezuela. Prices start from $1,500 per day and include an armed, high-security driver, trained to provide high-risk protection and drive a heavy, steel-plated vehicle. Diplomat Armored Rentals provide significant value to their customers. Plan ahead and be alert when you travel, don’t allow signs with your name on them at the airport, and insist on details about the car, the armor, the driver’s training, credentials, and a photograph before your introduction on arrival.

Featured Risk Management Travel Management

How Great Airlines Treat VIP’s

Several months ago a friend asked me to create a framework for a major airline’s Entertainment Desk to service Los Angeles-based movie studios and television networks. I had a few ideas – but first the background:

Transcon: The JFK<>LAX market is the most important air market in North America. Five airlines carry >11,000 passengers between these cities each day and host celebrities, bankers, tourists and high net worth travelers on sixty-four non-stop departures (thirty-two per airport). American dominates the market with the largest aircraft and highest frequency. They operate ageing twin-aisle 767-200’s with a three-class configuration and International Flagship Service. United caters to the same crowd and operates with more efficient three-class 757’s, while Delta, Jetblue and Virgin America offer two cabins on a mix of 737’s/A320’s.

Historically movie studio’s and other entertainment customers selected American or United as their primary carrier in this market since creative talent and executives are allowed to fly in the forward cabin (why pick a two-class aircraft when three-class is offered?) These corporate customers routinely achieved >90% share in the transcon market. More recently, Delta enhanced their two-class product to include a lie-flat International business-class seat and increased to seven daily frequencies while United pulled back to six. This competitive action has re-ordered the Transcon marketplace and Studio travel managers tell me that travelers prefer Delta’s Premium cabin to AA’s out-dated 767’s and United 757’s.

Delta’s progress may slow soon. United is rolling out a new product now, while American announced new three-class A321’s will roll out in January 2014, to replace their current product. This upgrade includes lie-flat seats in first and business-class. JetBlue also jumped-in and plans to launch A321 service in 2Q ’14, that will include private pods in first-class. Before it’s even started, 2014 is shaping up to be a disruptive year for the Transcon market.

The Desk: Superior airlines also compete on the ground and offer services tailored to their best customers. The Entertainment Desk is dedicated to a very specific group of clients, and should make a market in first-class seats between New York, London, Miami, and Los Angeles or offer access to private jets where feasible. The desk exists to expedite difficult and unusual requests. The Entertainment Manager facilitates requests to seat Talent, their Agents, Studio or Network Management, Publicists and others with the Talent – or create a plausible denial when discretion requires it. This function is not a discount mechanism to clear waitlists and upgrades – Airlines must offer a high-touch, guaranteed service.

Winning airlines create hope during every crisis – airlines should move mountains to support their customers. Clients should believe their Airline’s Entertainment Team will do everything possible to fix the problem or propose alternatives that will improve it materially. This group is not motivated by money or cost – service matters. The George Lucas expression – “do or do not, there is no try” applies. An Entertainment Desk is an airline’s service ER. Employees must be able to reach into a PNR to grab a torn artery – when the Entertainment Desk calls premium services at LAX, JFK, MIA or LHR, the response should not be, “Who is this?” Rather, “What can I do for you RIGHT NOW?”

Examples: Airline’s will solve requests like this on a daily basis: NBC called since Alec Baldwin’s Assistant booked late and needs the seat right next to him for his publicist or agent. The Entertainment team will call Sony, or Paramount or Fox, or AMEX or the owner of that seat to get it done – or suggest moving both of them to a pair of seats that are available. Great airlines block First-class in the transcon market one week each May to allow studios to grab space to attend the “Upfronts.” They empower their team. No one should recite policies designed for 99% of the 250K travelers you handle every day. Accept that these are special customers and start from that assumption. The team should be “accessible” 24/7 via cell and have GDS access from home. They’ll only receive 10-15 emergency, after-hours, calls per year… but it’s a gesture that sets winning airlines apart from their peers.

The Entertainment Manager must have an exceptional relationship with the airline’s premium service managers in LA, New York, London, Miami and Nashville, and should be known across your system and alliance – and that means they need to be included in global premium service meetings and updates when you have them. This person must be available at all times and have a back-up who can assign seats or clear space. Overbooking capabilities are recommended.

Entertainment Managers must be quick to challenge requests and propose alternatives when operational hurdles prevent the studio request from being granted as requested. A “customer focused” attitude should be real; once a carrier earns a customer’s trust and loyalty they will choose that vendor every time. In those rare cases when the carrier “burns” their customer – the most senior executive available should issue a mea culpa, in-person, and a offer a range of options to fix whatever it is they didn’t solve three days earlier.

Additional examples to work through now: On one flight the President of a network was removed to accommodate a Federal Air Marshal, while two subordinates, both top-tier frequent flyers were left on the flight. Revenue Management based their decision on the customer’s lack of a frequent flyer number. The customer didn’t have one for two reasons: 1. Security – to maintain anonymity; 2. She was authorized to fly private and rarely flew commercial  (the plane was not available that day). In this case the General Manager intervened and found a seat, but you can see how an airline’s policies are not designed around premium travelers in marginal cases. Airlines service customers who fly to NY Commercially, then to Miami by private jet, before they will discover that their MIA->LAX segment was cancelled because they no-showed the LGA->MIA flight. Great airlines step-up to fix it when a VIP is standing at the ticket-counter and flights are oversold all day.

This desk also makes “meet and greets” happen (not ‘space available’, they make it happen) and they treat airport assistance companies as valued partners. Great airlines speak in guarantees. This is hard for commercial airline managers to do, but it’s necessary to win. Great airlines are discrete – they don’t tolerate employees who call TMZ or tip-off the paparrazi. This desk can call flight ops and ask the Chief Pilot to introduce himself to the guest in 3A and to ask the VIP passenger if there’s anything they need. This desk says, “Sure, I’ll approve your oversize, outrageous pet in first-class (at the window), as long as the handler is seated next to it” No discount…this isn’t a discount desk – service focused. This person will need LHR to clear a closet in First Class on a 777 to accommodate the CEO’s spouse’s Cello. And you will need authority to offer 150,000 miles for an apology without advance approval.

Finally, I recommend a $100,000 TAC budget to invite agents and managers to take one or two trips annually to London or New York (and a thorough understanding of the Foreign Corrupt Services Act to keep you out of trouble). When offered a chance to show off your product – do. This isn’t a discount crowd, so treat them accordingly.

There’s more, but airlines that empower their teams with “authority and resources” to do anything the FAA, TSA, DOJ, and the DOT allow, to take care of their best customers, will have unlimited success.

Aviation Sales & Marketing Travel Management

Celebrating “Gus” Kaminski on Veterans’ Day

Robert Andrew “Gus” Kaminski, US Navy SEAL, and Commander of the US NAVY Leapfrogs.

I knew Gus and many of you saw him in action – an anonymous actor who jumped into a stadium or super-speedway to launch a great event. I was very sorry to hear that he passed away.

Gus was Alpha-500, my battle-buddy at Airborne school. We met in September, 1995, right before I moved to Korea. I was Alpha-501, the second senior student by date of rank. Gus had graduated from the Naval Academy the year before and had just finished his SEAL training. He needed to complete the Army’s basic airborne course before assignment to his first operational team.

Gus was a character – and he knew it. He had a highly developed sense of humor and perfect timing. Gus was also a physical specimen. He could do fifty consecutive one-armed pull-ups. This brought a lot of pain for me. Gus would mouth off to the Blackhats (Airborne Instructors) regularly so the rest of us spent a lot of time in the front-leaning-rest to pay for his sins. I remember vividly that my face hurt from laughing more than my arms did.

He led the way, but wasn’t the only one who would rib our instructors. Anytime Gus would take a break, Second Lieutenant Pendergast, from the Oregon National Guard, Alpha-503, and a recent Ranger school graduate, would shout, “I’d rather be a Leg-Ranger than a Tabless Airborne!” This insulted our Blackhats who would tear into a rage every time Pendergast said it.

We were bruised, tired, and happy in the 100 degree heat – Hurricane Opel had just trashed Fort Benning and we were covered in Georgia sand, pine needles, tics, sweat, dust, and god knows what else. Gus wasn’t even winded when he started yelling – “You can’t smoke a rock”. That got ‘em fired up again – I was between the two of them trying to get air between laughing and doing pushups. Now it’s my turn so the Blackhats are yelling at me (for laughing). Apparently I wasn’t taking my Airborne training seriously, that’s when Gus changed his tune again to “You can’t smoke a quitter.”

I was living through a moment I knew I would remember forever. Unbelievably I followed him out the door on his first jump. Kaminski is still the toughest guy I’ve ever known and one of the happiest. Although we never spoke again I enjoyed knowing him – and I’m confident there’s an entire country that will miss Gus. You can learn more here.

Aviation Coaching