By: Guest Blogger, Sean Beech, Instructor/Adviser, Fenix Strategies
Preparation for Travels - Situational Awareness
Your hometown is a familiar place, for the most part its easy and predictable. Considering it being your primary place of living you know its variables, you most likely know which parts of town to avoid, and takes steps to reduce risk. It doesn't matter if you’re traveling local or abroad you should have a systematical approach to mitigating risk and that begins with a basic understanding of awareness.
When we talk about in-direct skills we are referring to awareness and observation; some basic elements of surveillance (so you can recognize if you’re are being observed), a comprehensive plan to your travels to reduce risk, and the basic skills to improvise a weapon if needed to defend yourself. Direct skills, as you guessed, are used when things get “real” – Skills such as shooting and hand to hand combat amongst many others.
Most likely your sitting there thinking these skills only pertain to places like Iraq or Afghanistan, which is false; they are critical in all your travels. I by no means drive my daily life around these possibilities, but I do have a solid awareness of them. Recent events both internationally and domestically have made this clear.
Take Advantage of the Internet When You Travel
First and foremost, understand that an attack can happen anywhere and at any time. Get as much open source information as possible. The internet offers a vast amount of information and usually the most underused asset. Take advantage of Google Earth and Google Street View, use this to plan your movement to your location. Where are the hospitals, embassies, or any other safe areas in relation to your location? Ensure your checking unbiased current news reports, such as Reuters. What’s local news reporting and whats social media trending in that area?
When on ground talk to the locals, they provide invaluable resources such as where to go, or if there are places to avoid. However, trust your gut, if you feel uncomfortable, break contact and move. This includes everything and anything, if you get to your hotel but something seems out of whack, don’t stay, why risk it? Trust your gut! Know where you’re at at all times, understand basic cardinal directions, specifically between points of travel. Technology will fail don’t rely on it, use methods such as key terrain features – for example, if you know the direction to the airport from the hotel, you’ll catch on quick if your driver deviates from the course. Don’t ever travel blindly in a vehicle, this can lead to bad outcomes, instead use a trusted source if possible.
How To Use Countermeasures When You Travel
Biggest mitigation to risk in my own opinion is to avoid creating patterns. If you’re actions are predictable that’s when bad things happen. Limit backtracking as much as possible especially when traveling internationally. On foot or in a vehicle, never take the same route if possible – vary all your movements to and from any location. Understand in the event you think you’re being followed that you have a planned cover spot, use this to confirm that you are indeed being followed.
I imagine you are staying at a hotel, book your room so it’s no higher than the second floor; this will ensure for a quick exit, even in the event you’re going out the window. Have a plan with someone back home such as a call window (expected times to communicate) and if it doesn’t happen and you must evacuate quickly, where you’re going and the expected time of arrival. This also is an early warning sign to those contacts and they can begin preparations if necessary.
If traveling with family or friends have designated rally points, for example if anything happens and we become separated we are meeting at A, four hours following that we will proceed to B etc.…
Recognize how the attack sequence works. Generally the attacker(s) have a list, collection of intel and information, and selection of their target. Once their target is identified, they begin more specific gathering of information, preparation and dry-runs (rehearsals), and lastly plans for escape and/or possible death. Having a basic understanding of this will make it easier for you in becoming a hard-target.
If traveling to an identified hostile area, there are numerous agencies and business including Fenix Strategies that offer familiarity classes. They provide you with the groundwork of situational awareness, how to mitigate attacks, improvised training, basic weapons and hand to hand training, restraints and how to escape them amongst many other areas of emphasis. Best advice if you’ve not received any training on a hostile environment you're traveling to, understand and accept when is a good time to go and when its not, don’t ever go to a hostile environment blindly.
Equipment Considerations When You're Traveling
If traveling internationally, understand that you may not have access to the traditional weapon(s) you would here in the USA. With that said you should have an idea and plan of how to improvise a weapon if needed. An example of a commonly used and referenced is your basic screwdriver. You can buy a cheap one almost anywhere in the world. It has all the cover and/or action needed and easy to explain if questioned about its uses. Attempting to be MacGyver and carrying an abundance of things could potential draw more attention to you, so use the old "KISS" motto “Keep it Stupid Simple” or “Simple Stupid”.
Ensure you keep two hefty doorstops in your baggage, these can provide precious time during a forced entry attempt. Ensure it can’t be seen from the outside, if so simply cut that portion off.
Carry a basic non-military looking medical kit/IFAK such as a North American Rescue - Eagle IFAK. While traveling separate the components and once through customs consolidate everything (military camouflage tends to attract attention and/or items get stolen). If in a group everyone should have their own and everyone should understand how it’s to be used. Ensure while traveling its easily accessible to you, last thing you need is for something to happen and you can’t render basic aid.
Wear footwear that’s comfortable and durable, to ensure this use wear them prior; more than once or twice. Trust me, last thing you need during chaos is for those dogs to start barking then things are bound to get ugly quickly.
Carry a light back pack, again nothing that looks military such as a Northface Router Transit. Keep your passport on you always, keep it in a spot that a pick pocketer can’t gain access to. Keep everything with you that’s needed, meaning in case of an event you’re not forced to go back to the hotel to recover anything. Keep all Items on you such as your electronics, laptops, travel documents, personal identifiable information, or anything else you consider a necessity. Keep originals on you and copies in bag.
Some basic points to understand and hopefully adapt to your lifestyle. In closing, take every opportunity you have, to learn and train, and attempt to master the basics don’t get caught up in the hype. I can assure you, if you become a master at the basic in anything, you will be successful. Ensure its realistic, stressful, and scenario-based.
Fenix Strategies Instructor/Adviser