Traveler Survival Guide: How to Prepare for and Handle Terrorism

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My dad turns into the ultimate worrywart whenever I announce plans to travel overseas. I always thought he was a bit overprotective, until I put myself in the shoes of every parent who has ever been slapped with the horrifying news that violence was unfolding in the city their child was visiting. Now I completely understand why my dad will never be at ease with me being a travel addict.

We all heard about the tragedy in Paris, and it shook many of us to the core. It’s a city that many of us have fallen in love with and even visited at some point in our lives. But, what about other countries we’ve barely heard about in the news? Egypt, Denmark, Philippines, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kenya, and Turkey might be among the many countries on your list of places you want to visit, and yet they are all on the list of places that have suffered from terrorist attacks in 2015.

Although the chances of this happening to you are low, you have to accept that whether you are traveling to a foreign country or engaging in your daily routines in the comfort of your own city, violence can happen just about anywhere. The world has become somewhat de-sensitized to the idea of people dying at the hands of terrorists in countries where most would expect these situations to occur—mainly due to the careless manner in which these attacks are reported in the media. While we absolutely cannot allow that to force us to live in fear, we should all be smart enough to at least think through a few worst-case scenarios before traveling, and have some plan of action to protect ourselves.

1. PREPARING FOR EMERGENCIES

How to Prepare Before Traveling
I Check Travel Warnings Before Traveling

According to U.S. Homeland Security, preparing for a terrorist attack now, provides you your best chance of survival, in the event of an actual attack. Here are steps to take before you leave and after your arrive.

BEFORE YOU ARRIVE:

  • Prepare Mentally

The first step to surviving any kind of emergency abroad is to acknowledge that one could happen, no matter how unlikely. Military survival instructor, John Leach, explains that all you need to ask is, “If anything goes wrong, what is my first response going to be?”

  • Research

Are there risks of terrorism or civil unrest in the country you are visiting? Get as much information as possible. I usually research travel alerts and warnings before I go anywhere.

  • Sign Up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

If you’re an American, take advantage of STEP, a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • Invest in Travel Insurance

I know—it seems unnecessary. I have a bad habit of not doing this. You should research travel insurance options and consider purchasing a plan, especially when traveling to high-risk areas. All plans are different, so read the fine print to understand what’s covered and what’s not.

  • Pack Items of Comfort

When packing for a trip, consider bringing something that could comfort you if you ever get stuck in a country during a national crisis. This could be a family photo, favorite music, or something related to your religion.

  • Alert Your Credit Card Companies

If an emergency situation happens in a country you’re visiting, the last thing you want is for your credit cards to shut off. Let your credit card companies know the dates and locations of your trip. Also, remember that cash is king. So it’s helpful to have some cash with you for emergencies.

WHEN YOU ARRIVE:

  • Avoid areas that may have been the target of terrorism in the past.
  • Always stay aware of your surroundings and the behavior of people around you.
  • Don’t go near large gatherings or demonstrations.
  • Know the telephone numbers of local police, hospitals and your Embassy.
  • If you are traveling with friends, pick a safe place to meet should there be an incident.

2. SURVIVING AN EMERGENCY

What To Do During a National Emergency
What To Do During a National Emergency

IF YOU GET ATTACKED:

According to John Leach, who studied life-threatening situations around the world, only about 15% of people typically react in a way that helps them survive. 75% are too bewildered to react at all, and the remaining 10% reacts in ways that reduce their chances for survival.

UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) summarizes their advice with 3 basic rules—“run, hide, tell”.

  • Run

Identify your security options and try to find a safe route, and they try to escape if you can.

  • Hide

If you can’t run, then make yourself a smaller target by hiding. If there’s cover from sight, then there is potentially cover from fire. Bullets can travel through glass, brick, metal, and wood, so hard cover such as concrete is the best option. Many survivors of the Paris attacks did this instinctively by hiding behind speakers or turning tables over to use as shelter. DON’T FORGET TO SWITCH YOUR PHONE TO SILENT MODE.

  • Tell

After you have escaped a violent situation, it’s important to remain vigilant! Former British soldier Ian Reed says, “Always assume there’s going to be a secondary device or action.” If you can find an authority figure, get advice from them on how to proceed since they will probably have more intel on what’s going on, but make sure to show your hands when approaching them to avoid being mistaken for an attacker.

IF YOU HEAR ABOUT AN ATTACK:

If you are fortunate enough not to be directly in the middle of an attack, but you are aware that a situation is unfolding in the country you’re in, you still need to react quickly.

  • Call home and your country’s Consulate or Embassy to let them know where you are and if you need any help.
  • If you need immediate assistance, call an emergency hotline. For Americans, use the resources on this page.
  • Stay within the confines of your accommodations and avoid public streets.
  • Pay attention to the latest news reports.
  • Adhere to any imposed curfews or security restrictions.
  • If you are situated near the site of a terrorist attack, stay away from windows.

Remember, the chances of an emergency situation happening to you, specifically a terrorist attack, are low. The odds are in your favor if you aren’t traveling to a place where incidents like these are highly likely to occur. But, if it does happen to you, taking a few safety precautions beforehand and having a plan for how you will react can drastically increase your chances of survival. It is my sincerest hope that none of you will ever have to be in a situation like this.

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