Business Travel After Terror Alert
On October 3, 2010 the State Department alerted all citizens traveling in Europe of potential terrorist attacks. Current information, as stated on the State Department’s website “suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks.” The Bureau of Consular affairs reports that the United States is working closely with our European allies on any ongoing threats and that “information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.”
Currently, the alert lacks specific descriptions. It states “U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure...U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.” And, “terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests.”
But what does this mean?
The Media’s Take on the Terror Alert
The alert is not specific as to time or place, which makes it difficult to ascertain what exactly the threat might be. It was issued today (October 3, 2010) and does not expire until January 31, 2011 – after the holidays. It seems the State Department is not discouraging travel to Europe, but is asking that U.S. citizens be careful if you choose to go.
ABCNews.com is reporting that “strong concerns that terrorist teams in Europe have selected their targets, completed their surveillance, eluded capture and are now ready to strike at airports and tourist attractions… intelligence and law enforcement officials have information that the teams could at any time launch a "Mumbai style" terror attack that targets civilians for death or hostage taking… the current concerns are for scenarios that include opening fire at airports in Europe as well as executing similar attacks at "soft" targets like tourist attractions or hotels.”
In reality, we business travelers will likely not cancel our European travel plans over the next several weeks (including myself). It’s our livelihood, not a vacation, and the threat is not being reported as imminent. However, there are a few things we can do in the interest of safety.
Report Suspicious Behavior
If it seems weird, report it. Lord knows that airports and transportation stations are full of weirdness and people watching opportunities. Business travelers make up the majority of the population that moves through major airports and potential transportation targets. We know when something isn’t quite right, simply based on experience. If you sense suspicious activity, report it immediately.
Try Out a New, Lesser Known Hotel
Large popular hotels are often targeted due to the potential for inflicting large scale casualties, and the likelihood that Americans will be present. If you haven’t already booked, consider taking the opportunity to stay in a smaller, lesser known hotel. If nothing else, these opportunities help us find alternatives to popular lodging for traveling in the future.
Register with the Local Consulate
Whether you travel abroad often, or are headed for your first overseas trip, establish an account online with the State Department and register each trip with their simple online software. You can create a profile that notifies State Department officials of those individuals with whom they may share information if something should happen to you while abroad. You will have the options of selecting family, friends, medical and legal representatives who may receive information about your status, but you can also fill in the “other” option to specifically name colleagues with whom you travel. You will also receive travel alerts via this service.
Use Caution When Using Public Mass Transportation
Although subways and trains are certainly the most convenient and usually the quickest way to commute in large cities, maybe choose to take cabs now and again and avoid large stations that could be targeted. Obviously this isn’t always possible. If you can’t avoid modes of mass transit, be aware of your surroundings, in fact, make an effort to shut off the iPod or pay less attention to your Blackberry and actually observe the people around you.
There likely will be all sorts of heightened security measures taken in the upcoming weeks and months that we will know nothing about. Airlines are most likely increasing screenings, and may have received special instructions based on the latest information. Be patient. Get to the airport earlier to deal with what we business travelers perceive as “the usual hassles”. The lines will likely be longer and interruptions more probable. My experience is that patient people can colonize others and lull them in to being patient too. In this sense, be colonial. Be a luller. Patience always makes the journey easier.
Avoid Becoming Complacent
As business travelers, we often become immune to heightened security efforts because of the mere fact that we travel so routinely. However, these alerts remind us not to become complacent. It has been two years since the attacks in Mumbai, and almost a year since the bombing attempt that resulted in a man lighting himself on fire on a Christmas day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The timing of this alert shouldn’t come as a surprise, because it has been a while since the last widespread terrorist attack, and we are headed into the season for holiday travel. Hopefully, this alert will pass as a cautionary tale, and we won’t think about it again…until the next one.
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