THE MAGAZINE

Roadmap to a Safe Stay

By Matthew Harwood

 

Intelligence
To be forewarned is to be forearmed, as the saying goes. Forewarning employees with general security awareness training is important, but they also need specific intelligence both before and during the trip.
 
Many companies rely on outside private intelligence and travel security firms to provide location-specific briefs that explain the threats—whether man-made, medical, or natural. A pre-briefing packet for a particular location is usually sent once the employee books travel.
 
These firms, often the same firms that offer the tracking services, can also deliver breaking threat advisories to a traveling employee’s cell phone, smartphone, or e-mail. But companies on a budget can also get some intelligence free from open sources or the government, such as from the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories or the British Foreign and Commonwealth’s risk assessment for foreign travel, says Geddes.
 
No matter how a company decides to support its employees with intelligence before and during the trip, Anderson says, companies need to be aware of the flaws in each approach. He believes government travel information may downplay threats because of political concerns while private services may inflate threats. “You just have to find a balance there,” he says. The best approach, if feasible, is to collect as much detailed information from reputable sources as possible and present a useful balanced analysis to the traveler.
 
Good intelligence, says Donald Henne, associate managing director of Kroll, should also make worst-case scenarios like extractions or safe havens a very rare occurrence. Timely information, whether provided in-house or by another firm, can help a company assess when it should not send employees into dangerous locations or when it should call them home in anticipation of a worsening security situation.
 
Pressure Points
 
Criminals and terrorists intentionally target locations frequented by foreign visitors—transportation hubs, hotels, and city centers. There are the various stages of a trip where a traveler is at elevated risk, and employees should be especially attuned to the potential dangers in these situations.
 
Arrival. No matter where a business traveler is, there will be unaffiliated livery drivers vying for customers. Business travelers should never get inside an unlicensed vehicle, Anderson says. When in reasonably safe locations, they can take a licensed cab from the airport’s cab stand. But when business travelers arrive in moderate- to high-risk locations, it’s best for the company to arrange in advance for a driver to pick them up.
 
Levy says companies should have their security provider or indigenous employees hire the driver to make sure he can be trusted. There should also be a reliable way for the driver and traveler to identify each other, and it shouldn’t be the driver holding up a sign with the person’s name on it, says Anderson.
 
In Sao Paolo, Brazil, Ryder security found evidence that people were watching its employees and making their own company signs to lure the employee in. To ensure that the employee got in the right car, “each traveler would have a different password with the driver that was going to pick them up,” he says.
 
Ryder also has a local employee or trusted vendor meet the traveling employees at the airport in higher risk areas whenever possible. The local colleague then escorts the visitor to the hotel, says Anderson.
 
Hotel. The next point of exposure is check in at the hotel. Security professionals recommend that travelers exercise caution in the lobby where anyone can overhear what is said, such as the number of your room or the time a person may be planning to meet with you and where.
 
Additionally, the choice of a room deserves special attention. Security professionals recommend that travelers reserve rooms in the back of the hotel to avoid large-scale explosions targeting the front of the hotel. During the 2008 attack against the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, a suicide bomber detonated a dump truck packed with explosives at the hotel’s front gate and killed nearly 60 people. Of course, this would depend on the hotel configuration. A back that borders on a drivable, unsecured alley or roadway could be more at risk of a truck bomb. 
 
Travelers also should not book rooms above the seventh floor so that they can evacuate quickly if the stairs are the only option. That’s also the highest floor a fire truck’s ladder can reach in most cases, says Reynolds.
 
Travelers should avoid staying in rooms close to the stairwell, which has been described as “murderer’s alley,” Reynolds notes. “If I’m a person wanting to do harm, I can come out of the stairwell to the closest room and back into the stairwell quickly,” says Reynolds.
 
Once travelers are comfortably inside their room, Geddes recommends that they never open their room door if someone knocks, no matter what they say. If the person says they’re from the hotel, the guest should try and spy the employee’s name tag and call down to the front desk to doublecheck that the employee is who he says he is and has been sent up to the room. 
 
There’s one more part of a hotel that worries Ryder’s Bill Anderson. He advises business travelers to stay away from hotel restaurants, especially outdoor dining facilities. The two suicide bombers that attacked the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta last summer detonated their bombs inside one of each hotel’s restaurants, reported Australia’s The Age. If you’re a business traveler shuttling into a location where the risk is severe, “just order room service,” Anderson advises.
Ultimately, companies must trust their employees, and traveling employees must trust their gut. There’s a big psychological dimension to security awareness, says Falkenberg. People have a “subliminal or subconscious awareness of things that are wrong.” If something doesn’t seem right, a traveler should not proceed, regardless of whether anyone else might judge their reticence as paranoid, he says.
 
By arming employees with training and intelligence, companies increase the odds that employees will be able to navigate most situations safely. If problems do occur, travel tracking programs and contingency plans can provide employees with the assistance they need.
 

Matthew Harwood is an associate editor at Security Management.

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