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.

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Trip Planning For India

Planning your next adventure? Consider these suggestions and best practices before you leave home, and let me know if you have other ideas I should add to this list.

  1. Negotiate all itineraries, fees and prices upfront.
  2. Demand no add-on’s while touring (you should have control over every place your guide will take you and your time-line; this includes planned restaurant stops).
  3. Always have a copy of every confirmation number, hotel address and phone number. You will need it at some point. Paper beats digital in most places, especially India.
  4. Insist that your tour company provide a bio and photo of your driver and every guide before you arrive. You will have a much better experience if you use mature, experienced local guides. Veteran guides are more likely to have a good relationship with the Army or Police guarding historical sites and may be able to get you access to areas and features that are off-limits to the general public or help you navigate through heavy crowds quickly via staff entrances or other secured areas.
  5. Always carry 2X more local currency than you think you will need.
  6. Always make change from big bills into useable denominations at your hotel – never change large bills at street vendors or other locations.
  7. Insist that your driver keep doors locked, and leaves separation from the cars ahead of you in traffic and at stops.
  8. Sit behind and opposite your driver. You must be able to make eye-contact with him while riding together. And always wear a seatbelt.
  9. Keep medicine (aspirin, visine, chapstick)/glasses/socks/earplugs/sunscreen/insect repellent/sunglasses/iphone charger/spare headphones/extra pens in your personal bag.
  10. Never take physical keys from a hotel off property – leave them with the hotel staff when you leave. Consider leaving a note for yourself that includes where you’re going, who you will meet and when you plan to return.
  11. Assume insects are harmful – don’t let them bite you. Use insecticide and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  12. Always ask hotel/restaurant staff to provide mosquito coils if you’re dining outside.
  13. Do not use deodorant and if you must, use a fragrant-free version. This will reduce your attractiveness to many insects.
  14. Stay dry.
  15. Cover open cuts.
  16. Do not drink anything that was not opened in front of you or boiled. Wipe or rinse bottle tops before opening.
  17. Arrange your room to make a clear path to your door in case of darkness/power loss.
  18. Stay hydrated/rested and avoid heavy alcohol consumption.
  19. Be polite, but firm.
  20. Do not accept drinks from strangers.
  21. Do not wear jewelry, fancy watches, etc.
  22. Never have both hands full.
  23. Be aware of your surroundings.
  24. Women should not travel alone.
  25. Women should never use public transportation.
  26. Always keep two extra water bottles with you for emergencies – buy more when you get down to the last two.
  27. If you’re approached by a stranger, expect them to have a partner. It’s not usually the person who approaches you first who is your greatest threat.
  28. Do not spread out your belongings in your hotel or vehicle. Keep your belongings organized and packed as much as possible in case you need to make a fast exit. Additionally – when you keep your room neat and organized, you’re making it easier on the hotel staff to make up your room. They’ll reciprocate – it’s especially helpful when you forget an item and leave it in your room – they’re much more likely to “find” it.
  29. Don’t fall in love with anything you own – be prepared to leave it behind.
  30. Keep immodium accessible (you’ll know when you need it, and when you do speed will make a difference).
  31. Share the same safe combination with your group – someone else may need you to collect your valuables for you.
  32. Carry several “chip clips” in your luggage to keep stubborn drapes closed in your hotel room, or to hang wet laundry.
  33. Never keep all your cash, ID’s, and Credit Cards in the same pocket. Use multiple pockets and spread things around.
  34. Never store your full data cards with your camera, put them somewhere else (but never in checked luggage).
  35. Pack using 1 gallon Ziploc bags. They’re great for all kinds of things, and water-proof.
  36. Carry a number 2 kit: Toilet paper (1 roll); wet wipes (1 pack); baby powder (1 10oz container) – keep it in a single 1 gallon Ziploc bag.
  37. Stow your overhead luggage across the aisle from your seat, where you can see it.
  38. Never set anything down at airports, taxi stands, train stations that isn’t between your legs.
Risk Management Travel Management

Travel Risk Management and Trip Safety

thumb_pauls passport

Originally published at Cornerstone Information Systems’ “In Your Corner” blog.

Duty of Care is the idea that Corporations are responsible for the security of their employees during travel and when engaged in activities that support the company’s interests. The European Union’s Duty of Care Act is the most prominent regulation in Europe to codify this requirement. The EU spells out how companies should behave regarding employee safety and security, but the United Kingdom took this a step further with the UK Manslaughter Act that allows companies to be held criminally liable for harm that come to their employees. The regulation applies to UK employees abroad, or the non-UK Company employees while they are in the UK to conduct business. These regulations jump-started the Duty of Care industry in Europe and North American Corporations are still playing catch-up.

Duty of Loyalty is the concept of employee compliance with their employers’ efforts on their behalf, while Duty of Care describes the set of behaviors, planning, and actions companies must take to safeguard their employees. When a company makes a car service available, or requires employees to meet minimum safety guidelines, Duty of Loyalty is the force that compels an employee to meet those standards. Companies that go out of their way to create a high quality of life during employee travel and are proactive about serving travelers on the road will generate much higher loyalty. Companies undermine their employees’ loyalty through cumbersome or overly-restrictive policies and should strive to strike a balance that rewards loyal behavior while not driving the employee to another company.

Personal security in the real world starts with your employees. It’s great to have Navy Seals and Special Forces consultants demonstrate the latest hand-to-hand combat techniques, and defensive driving in up-armored Suburbans with run-flat tires. But…security designed for the CEO does little to help the intrepid sales person walking through the commercial district in Buenos Aires or London with a Starbucks coffee in one hand and the latest smartphone in the other.

There are simple principals that, when followed diligently, can increase your employees’ safety hundreds of percent.

1. Pay attention to your surroundings. Make eye contact with people around you. Do not text, read email or walk down the sidewalk while participating in a conference call via a Bluetooth headset. You must appear alert.

2. Never read a map in public. Find a hotel lobby, retail store or restaurant to determine where you are and where you’re headed.

3. Do not wear jewelry or flashy watches. Men should avoid cufflinks. Your shoes, hairstyle, and clothing will already set you apart during international trips so reduce the other signs that mark you as an easy target.

4. Tell others where you are going and about your daily plans.

5. Before your trip, or as soon as you arrive, send a note to your corporate travel team to let them know which hotel you’re staying in (if you didn’t book it through your corporate booking tool).

6. If you walk, don’t walk alone, especially after dark. Leave a note to yourself at the front desk that contains information about where you are going or who you will meet. This will give investigators a head start if you don’t return.

7. Never leave a hotel with a metal room key. Leave it with the concierge or front desk to let them hold it for you while you’re out. Don’t let the staff give you a keycard sleeve with your room number printed on it to hold your keys.

8. Check in on foursquare periodically to give your friends & family location information (do not do this if you are at risk for a targeted crime).

9. Keep your passport, credit cards, and other ‘chipped’ items in a faraday cage (a special wallet or bag designed to remove their ‘electronic’ signature so they are invisible to card readers).

10. Know local customs and signs that will get you in trouble. Some well-known advice includes carrying a “mugging” wallet with at least $100 USD in Argentina and Brazil, but in China you should increase your cash to >$300 in case you need to pay for emergency medical care.

11. When you use cabs, always sit diagonally from the driver so you can see his eyes in the mirror. If he notices something behind you that doesn’t look right you’ll pick up on it immediately.

12. Never ride in a cab or car at night with the interior lights on, and always lock the doors.

13. For trips where you will use the same driver or in high-risk areas, you should insist that the driver leave ½ car length between you and the car in front of you at stoplights or stop-signs; on wider roads, the driver should stay in the outside or curbside lane, but never the middle (the driver should always have enough room to maneuver around other vehicles – in an emergency sidewalks and medians are fair game).

14. In high risk locations you should also insist your driver use a “box” maneuver instead of making turns in front of oncoming traffic. In countries with left-hand drive (US, Germany, France) when you want to turn left, the box method requires you to cross your intended road, then execute three right-hand turns around the next block. This will put you on course without exposing your side of the car to oncoming traffic while it increases the probability that you will identify anyone who is following you.

Steps for travel management teams:

1. Establish policies to protect travelers in high-risk locations or mission essential personnel anywhere. Distribute information about potential threats several days before travel.

2. Publish and disseminate information about after-hours service to support medical or travel emergencies and include phone numbers for international access. This could include a twitter account and hashtag travelers should use when they need help. Example (@YourCompany911, or #YourCompanytravelassist).

3. Publish your security team’s phone number and distribute it with every itinerary.

4. Develop an easy way for travelers to add passive segments (hotels booked outside your booking tool or agents). Use this as a KPI to measure Duty of Loyalty.

5. Every manager is responsible for employee safety, including trips between sites that don’t involve the travel management group. Travel Management and Corporate Security should work together to provide reports and business reviews that cover travel risk, employee health, on-duty accidents and ‘near’ misses to a steering committee that includes representation from HR and Legal and other operating divisions as necessary.

Call us if your program needs help to implement pre-trip approvals, reporting, notifications and agent and employee training.

Risk Management Travel Management

Duty of Care and Duty of Loyalty

Duty of Care is the idea that Corporations are responsible for the security of their employees during travel and when engaged in activities that support the company’s interests. The European Union’s Duty of Care Act is the most prominent regulation in Europe to codify this requirement. The EU spells out how companies should behave regarding employee safety and security, but the United Kingdom took this a step further with the UK Manslaughter Act that allows companies to be held criminally liable for harm that come to their employees. The regulation applies to UK employees abroad, or the non-UK Company employees while they are in the UK to conduct business. These regulations jump-started the Duty of Care industry in Europe and North American Corporations are still playing catch-up.

Duty of Care describes the set of behaviors, planning, and actions companies must take to safeguard their employees. Duty of Loyalty is the concept of employee compliance with their employers’ efforts on their behalf. If a company makes a car service available, or requires employees to meet minimum safety guidelines, Duty of Loyalty is the force that compels an employee to meet those standards. Companies that go out of their way to create a high quality of life for during employee travel and are proactive about serving travelers on the road will generate much higher loyalty. Companies undermine their employees loyalty through cumbersome or overly-restrictive policies and should strive to strike a balance that rewards loyal behavior while not driving the employee to another company.

Risk Management Travel Management