It’s hard to predict when violence might erupt. But in light of what is happening in Egypt and other places around the world, it’s important to take a few preliminary precautions when traveling for business. Here are a few suggestions from Philip Farina, a member of the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service Overseas Security Advisory Council and former federal law enforcement training officer with the U.S. Department of Defense.
Check Your Hotel’s Background Investigations
Most hotel chains are running more background investigations on employees at every level. “It’s the garbage in, garbage out, philosophy,” Farina says. Check and see if the hotel you are staying runs background checks and has a security awareness program that everyone has to attend. The difference? If everyone at the hotel has to attend the security training program, everyone in hotel takes ownership. “The organizations that are doing it are becoming effective,” says Farina, who now runs Farina and Associates, which specializes in security and safety trends, including terrorism training, in the global hospitality and tourism industry. “We are definitely get a lot of requests from corporate meeting planners to meeting and convention centers that are requiring hotels and tourism agencies to prove they have certain level of security levels at hotels and at their destination.”
Ask the Hotel
Do they have a dedicated security department? This will help secure everything from room service to the delivery of pizzas, Farina says. What is their emergency evacuation plan and when was it last updated? That plan should be updated once every six months given the high turnover rate in the hospitality industry. Although most hotel properties have a video surveillance program, most aren’t manned 24 hours a day, so ask if someone actually watches the video cameras.
Check Safety Warnings and Register with the State Department
Go to the U.S. Department of State's website and check for travel warnings. Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that allows you to register where you will be staying overseas and emergency contact information in case someone in the United States needs to be reached in case of an emergency. You can also subscribe to travel warnings, alerts, and updates about the particular country you will be visiting.
Program Your Phone
In the case of an emergency contact the embassy or State Department, by dialing 1.888.407.4747 while overseas. Just make sure you have the phone number programmed into your phone.
Make a Copy
Just in case your wallet is stolen, make a Xerox copy of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards, both front and back side, and leave it at home with someone you trust.
Check Your Overseas Medical Coverage
Some US medical insurance companies will cover you, some won’t. Your company should know, but if you are traveling as an individual for your personal business, it may be a good idea to get traveler’s insurance to help pay for a hospital visit or an emergency flight back.
Know the Local Laws
This may seem basic, but knowing the local laws and customs will keep you safer. Plus, you are less likely to offend and get caught in a bad situation. Find country specific information here.
Check Your Cell Phone Carrier
Your cell phone may not work overseas, or, if it does, it could be extremely expensive. Consider buying a local pay-as- you-go phone, renting a phone, or purchasing a SIM card that can change a U.S.-based phone into one that operates internationally. Other options like Skype, which allows you to call free computer to computer or can be linked to a cell phone, may be cheaper. Ultimately, having access to a cell phone can keep you safer while traveling abroad.
Learn a Few Words of the Native Language
You may not know how to speak Arabic or Spanish, but learning a few basic words like "please," "thank you," and "where is," can be very helpful and help breakdown cultural barriers and make for a more peaceful trip. Remember: being polite goes a long way.
Image credit: Steve Jurvetson (Moscow’s Red Square. Proto-KGB agents, amidst preparations for Obama’s speech)