Minimizing Travel Risk Exposure: Situational Awareness and Surviving Violent Events Abroad

Given the current security outlook for Western Europe and recent terrorist trend of targeting public venues, there is a growing need for all travelers—not just those headed to high risk environments—to understand safe travel behaviors and extreme event survival tactics. Most recently, the attacks in Spain reconfirmed the need to properly prepare travelers before they head overseas. To help accomplish this, On Call has partnered with the Center for Personal Protection and Safety (CPPS) to offer travel security training products that are easily accessible to organizations and their travelers.

Situational Awareness and Surviving Violent Events Abroad

Just this month, CPPS released a new training video entitled, When Lightning Strikes: How to Recognize and Respond to An Extreme Violence Event. The 10-minute video aims to provide critical guidance for extreme violence situations and help individuals deepen their understanding of the early behavioral signs that can indicate the potential for extreme violence.  With the release of this new video, we thought it was a good time to sit down with the Founder & CEO of CPPS, Randy Spivey, to talk about situational awareness and specific steps travelers and their organizations can take to minimize their risk exposure abroad.

Nick: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today Randy. I think a good place to start is, where and how does situational awareness fit in to an organization’s broader travel risk management strategy?

Randy: Well, when it comes to the organizational approach to risk management, what you’ll often find is that most companies will have some sort of travel intelligence capability, a medical evacuation provider, kidnap and ransom insurance, and other processes in place to mitigate risk. However, what is usually the weakest link in their plans is the individual traveler. So, when we talk about situational awareness, what we are really talking about is creating education and training for all of an organization’s travelers so that they understand what a significant role they play in whether or not they are targeted for a crime. A lot of people think that when they fall victim to a crime, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but we know with certainty that, in most cases, the individual plays a fundamental role on whether or not they are targeted by a criminal.

Nick: So to that point, do you recommend that organizations mandate some sort of situational awareness and/or travel training before their staff can travel abroad?

Randy: Yes, we do. Actually, what we recommend is that organizations have a baseline travel safety training that touches on an array of important topics. This training should touch on topics like situational awareness, best practices on travel safety, surveillance detection; and, even more basic things like how to pick a safe hotel and what to do when going through customs and border control checks.

Nick: How can travelers ensure they are situationally aware without appearing paranoid when they are in new environments or crowded public venues? In other words, how can travelers be situationally aware without it being the only thing that they think about?

Randy: Well, we say there are two extremes: being oblivious and being paranoid – we don’t want travelers to be either. What we want is for them to be right in that middle area where they’re paying attention, but not being fearful. I think education is key: educated travelers travel more because they’re removing fear and replacing it with knowledge. Here are a few actionable steps organizations can share with their travelers to help them be situationally aware without obsessing over it:

  • Step One – Pay attention: Criminals are looking for easy targets; travelers simply paying attention to what is going on around them and looking aware puts them at a much lower risk of being targeted compared to individuals who appear oblivious.
  • Step Two – Know what to look for: Often times before a crime takes place or a terrorist attack occurs, there are observable indicators that appear out of place with the environment. For example, consider the Manchester Arena bombing that occurred on May 22, 2017. In the immediate lead up to that attack, what you had was a number of young female fans exiting the arena while an older man was entering the arena completely alone and wearing a backpack. I think it is fair to say something just didn’t seem right about that situation. If a traveler pays attention and knows what to look for, there is a good chance there will be an opportunity to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Step Three – Trust your instincts: We all have some sort of “internal alarm system,” and often before something bad happens, people will sense that something is not right. They may not know what is wrong, and they may not even know exactly what logical label to give to it – but they just have this intuition that something isn’t right. What we try to teach people is not to ignore this feeling, because often, it is there for a reason. I’ve talked to a number of people throughout my career who have lived through major crises, and often they’ll tell me afterwards that right before the catastrophic event occurred, they had this feeling that something didn’t feel right but they ignored it.
  • Step Four – Don’t be alone: Individuals reduce their risk of being targeted for a crime by around 70 percent if they’re not by themselves. And, if someone is by themselves, they should try to blend in with another group or stay close to other people so they don’t look like a vulnerable target.

Nick: In regard to the more violent events, for example terrorist attacks, what are some precursors travelers may be able to observe before an attack occurs?

Randy:  You know, I think a lot of it just comes down to common sense, but unfortunately sometimes common sense isn’t so common. It all goes back to paying attention, knowing what to look for, and trusting your instincts. I’m sure many people are familiar with the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign, and the basis of that phrase really does hold true – if a traveler sees something or someone that doesn’t look right, they should mention it to the authorities.

Nick: What should travelers do if they do find themselves in the immediate vicinity of a violent event like a terrorist attack?

Randy: When a violent event occurs, individuals have to act as the immediate responder before emergency response officials arrive. Training really does play a fundamental role in responding successfully on the individual level. Preparing for these events can help individuals become capable of pushing through denial and fear and move in to purposeful action. We know the typical response among people that have not had training on how to respond during an extreme violent situation is to become startled, freeze up, and then rely on someone else for support. Training will help individuals understand what their options are during one of these extreme scenarios and become capable of recognizing the appropriate response to the situation.

Interested in learning more about situational awareness and violent event survival tips? Purchase the 10 minute When Lightning Strikes video by clicking here.

Administrators interested in holistic risk management and more safe travel training products for their organizations can contact us for more information.