Safe travels: Awareness is key
U.S. European Command (EUCOM) has nearly 100,000 people living and working in Europe, and the current security environment is rapidly changing. New threats are emerging on a daily basis, and here’s what you need to know about safe travels in 2016.
In November 2015, the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert due to increased terrorist threats in response to multiple terrorist attacks in Paris. Current information suggests various terrorist groups continue to plan these types of attacks throughout the European region.
Threats of terrorism, whether substantiated or not, negatively affect the security environment of Europe and reinforce the need for increased situational awareness and well-rehearsed responses to these threats. As Department of Defense personnel, you and your family should remain vigilant; off-duty U.S. personnel and family members could be at greater risk of becoming victims in off-post assaults or attacks.
The risk to U.S. personnel stationed in Europe can be substantial due to the large number of routine travelers, popular tourist locations and general ease of transportation across borders in the European Union. These dynamics can be viewed from multiple perspectives; the viewpoint of greatest concern is a person or organization with malign intent that seeks to exploit these factors and has the motivation to harm others.
Take the time to understand and explain potential threats to those traveling with you, elaborate on possible indicators of suspicious activity or behavior, and know how you would respond with individual protective measures. A step-by-step approach to these protective measures is recommended to prepare for your time in transit and at each location.
The step-by-step approach enables travelers to plan their entire trip prior to departure, factoring in arrival times, travel routes, accommodations or reservations at each location. Be sure to have a plan to respond if an incident occurs during those times. Accomplish pre-departure checks before leaving each location to account for all travelers and important items, such as passports, electronics and other valuables. This step-by-step approach will also give you the opportunity to address possible risks, vulnerabilities or weaknesses that could make you more susceptible to potential threats at each location.
“DOD Personnel traveling through Europe should develop personal security plans in addition to remaining aware of their surroundings to reduce the risk of being targeted or inadvertently entering locations where demonstrations and large gatherings could turn confrontational or escalate into violence,” said Scott Smith, from EUCOM’s Antiterrorism Office.
When traveling to popular tourist locations, resist the temptation to post any location data on the internet or social media sites until after you’ve completed your travels. Review your security settings for all mobile phone apps and computer based programs to limit unintentional broadcasting of your adventures to potential adversaries. Social media platforms routinely update security settings; this should be a red flag to complete a full review of your current settings. Posting geographic data at each stop on the way to your destination, itinerary details or other information about those traveling with you could provide the right information to the wrong people.
It’s important to remember that travelers should be alert to the potential for violent acts that may occur with little or no warning when traveling throughout Europe. The recent attacks in France remind us that terrorists aspire to conduct attacks at soft target venues, as well as at sites frequented by tourists, according to Smith.
If you or your party is victims of a crime or attack overseas, contact the nearest local law enforcement for immediate help and get a copy of the police report. Next, contact your supervisor or local chain of command to provide relevant information such as who was involved, what happened, where the incident occurred, and the date and time of your return. Lastly, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate. Consular officers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have the ability to coordinate with local government agencies and resources to provide translation or support services for physical, emotional or financial injuries.
To help identify potential threats at your destinations, visit the U.S. Department of State website for the current travel warnings. Also register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or STEP. STEP is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. To register your trip, create an account as a single traveler or as an organization or group; streamline the registration by having all travelers’ passports handy.
Tourist travel is one of the greatest benefits of being stationed in Europe; get out there and enjoy the best this continent has to offer. But remember, awareness is the key to safe travels.