How to Assess Security Risks While Traveling

While we can’t predict the next crisis, preparing for the worst and taking charge of our own personal security are essential steps.

Tourists walk past a security checkpoint at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka days after the attacks.CreditCarl Court/Getty Images 

By Patrick Scott

Tourists who researched security conditions in Sri Lanka before the Easter Sunday terror attacks would have found that travel advisories ranked the threat of terrorism as low.

The church and hotel bombings on the island shattered that outlook, underscoring how attacks increasingly occur in presumably safelocations, and raising questions about the value of due diligence with so much uncertainty in the world.

But travel and risk mitigation experts insist that, while we can’t predict the next crisis, preparing for the worst and taking charge of our own personal security are essential.

“Most of us are not going to end up in a terrorist attack,” said Chris Abbott, executive director of Open Briefing, a company that provides security and intelligence services to nongovernmental organizations. “Know the high-risk areas and where the threats are and know what you’re going to do when it goes down.”

Official government sites contain troves of analyses on most countries and the potential threats facing visitors, as well as advice on everything a traveler might need, from vaccines to insurance to crisis planning.

“There’s a lot of good information in those government sites if people haven’t considering looking at them,” said Evan Godt, the destinations managing editor of guidebook giant, Lonely Planet.

The travel advisories weigh factors like crime, terrorism and civil unrest and typically range from “exercise normal precautions” to “do not travel.” It’s wise to review multiple government sites, including the United Kingdom Foreign Office, the Australian Foreign Affairsdepartment and the United States Department of State.

Register your trip in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts on security changes and so officials can reach you in an emergency. The department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council also releases in-depth crime and safety reports on countries and major cities.

Ciara Johnson, a 26-year-old solo traveler who has visited some 40 countries and shares safety tips on social media, gets her global view of travel advisories from the State Department’s color-coded world map. She also sometimes looks at International SOS’s travelriskmap.com, which ranks countries by health care and security risk.

 

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