You know the risks of backcountry exploration but, now that pandemic protocols have eased, are you prepared for the hazards of city travel? Global Rescue security expert Harding Bush maps out six essential safety tips for travel in urban environments.
While nature or weather may be more of a threat in the backcountry, cities have their own unique risks. An elevated level of crime may threaten personal safety. Roadways with more vehicles mean more chances of a traffic accident.
“Even the character of commercial, industrial and residential sprawl can increase the effects of a natural disaster, such as a flood, fire or earthquake,” said Harding Bush, manager of operations at Global Rescue.
Being prepared will give you the confidence to concentrate on your business trip or enjoy the sights as a tourist — rather than worrying if you’ll be a victim of a crime.
“Your ability to reduce the overall risk level relies on your ability to recognize and avoid threats. In other words, always be aware of where you are and what is going on around you, and be able to avoid an escalating security situation,” Bush said.
Here are six essential steps for safe travel in the city.
Step #1: Conduct a Self-Assessment
Before visiting a city, think about how familiar you are with the area. Have you been there before? What resources do you have there: friends, family, business colleagues? If it’s a foreign city, does your home nation have a consulate?
Use multiple sources for your research: local and foreign news reports, travel reviews and social media. Ask friends and colleagues who have traveled there before what went well and what could have gone better during their travel.
Large cities can be challenging enough with their expansiveness. Now throw in cultural considerations, a language barrier and perhaps an unstable government or infrastructure. Risk grows as the complexities build. Here are some questions to consider as you are planning your trip to the city:
- How reliable is the infrastructure? Learn about transportation, road and vehicle safety.
- Are there any cultural considerations? Are the local laws different?
- What is the economic situation? Research crime in the city and the capabilities of the police.
- What if you become ill? How are the hospitals? If it is a foreign city, will your health insurance cover you in that location?
“The answers to those questions are the foundation of your safety or security plan,” Bush said. “Once these questions are answered, you can begin to prepare for a specific level of risk.”
Step #2: Choose Your Transportation
Think carefully before driving in an unfamiliar or foreign city.
“Vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of travelers being injured or killed abroad,” Bush said.
If you decide to rent a car, get the appropriate insurance. Ensure the vehicle has all the required safety equipment. Take several minutes to familiarize yourself with the car before setting out on the roads. Preprogram destinations in your GPS, have and review maps, and understand the basic layout of the city.
A car service with a local driver is nearly always safer and more efficient. You know you’ll get where you need to, and you don’t have to worry about parking or the car being stolen. Discuss safety considerations with the driver and have a point of contact at the car service company.
Legal and registered taxis are the next best thing to a car service, and you can likely arrange these through your hotel for the safest and most reliable options.
Step #3: Research Your Hotel
Choosing a hotel is a balance of safety and convenience. The higher the risk, the more weight you should put toward safety.
“The less safe the city, the more research you need to put into hotel research and selection,” Bush said.
He suggests researching your hotel online, reading multiple reviews and taking a look at the hotel on Google earth.
“Observe if access to the hotel is controlled. Can anyone walk in and access the floors with guest rooms? That’s bad. If there is basement parking, can all the hotel floors be accessed from the parking garage? Again, bad,” Bush said. “Good secure hotels require a room key to access the guest floors. Ideally, only the lobby or function floors can be accessed from the garage.”
Step #4: Recognize Surveillance
Nearly every sort of crime requires surveillance, which is when criminals observe and select potential victims for characteristics that make an easy target. If you can recognize the surveillance, you can avoid crime by presenting the traits of a difficult target.
A quick way to determine if you are being targeted is if you see the same person multiple times in different locations and they are at a distance: across the street, other side of the lobby, at the bar when you are at a table. Ask yourself: what is their demeanor? Why are they there?
Be aware of people who are asking too many questions — and questions that are outside of polite first-time conversation. A waiter asking you questions about where you are from is everyday conversation, but what time you leave for work and come home is not.
There are two ways to thwart this tactic. The first is to be vague; answers like “It varies,” “I’m from all over,” or “the north” are best. The second way is to start asking about them: where are they from? How long have they worked there? Do they have kids? If they continue to bring the conversation back to you and ask for specific time and location information, they may be paid by criminals to pass it along.
“If you recognize surveillance, don’t confront it,” Bush said. “Be aware and avoid the situation.”
Step #5: Be a Difficult Target
Crimes are planned just like a military or terrorist operation. Surveillance and target selection are key elements.
You must present yourself as a “hard target” to counter criminal activity.
“Don’t fumble around with your bags or documents, especially in crowded areas with many travelers, like city centers. Be heads up and organized,” Bush said. “Criminals like confused and inattentive targets. Have a purpose and be confident; make the criminal look elsewhere.”
Step #6: Avoid Multiple Mistakes
It is not usually one single significant event that gets travelers into trouble. It’s a combination of more minor mistakes, both in and out of their control.
Here’s an example. You get in a traffic delay, and then it gets dark, and you don’t recognize where you are. You try to call someone, but your cell phone is dead. You are offered a phone to use but you don’t know any numbers to call, because they are all on speed dial — not memorized or written down.
Take the extra steps to stay safe while traveling in urban areas. “Think of the contingencies around transportation, hotels, avoiding crime, and staying healthy. Research the area with multiple sources and have a plan,” Bush said. “You will have the confidence to feel and remain safe so you can enjoy the travel.”
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