Terrorism and Travel: How to Stay Safe


As the recent attacks in Paris remind us, no place is safe from terrorism. Yet as travelers we can take precautions that can help to keep us safer and, in critical situations, there are resources to obtain crucial information and to communicate with loved ones.

Here are some tips:

1. Maintain perspective. The US State Department reports that the number of US citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. During the same period, 3,030 people were killed in domestic acts of terrorism according to CNN. That brings the total of terrorism deaths abroad and in the US to 3,380.

Although any number other than “zero” is too high, compare terrorism deaths with gun fatality deaths in the US, including homicides, accidents and suicides. That number for the same 2001 to 2013 period is: 406,496. “For every American killed by terrorism in the US and around the world, more than 1,000 died from firearms inside the US,” reports CNN.

While it’s not comforting to be reminded that we live in a violent society, use the crime statistics above to gain a perspective on the risk of travel.

2. Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Administered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, US State Department, the STEP program allows US travelers to register their trip abroad with the nearest embassy and to receive the latest updates on security.

You can enroll before a trip, providing information about whom to contact in case you have an emergency while abroad. Before any foreign trips, use the service to send the embassy your itinerary. “Enrolling a trip will provide you not only with Travel Alerts and Warnings but also specific, local safety and security information from the Embassy,” states the website.

STEP lists the 24 hour consular emergency line in the US as: 1-888-407-4747. When traveling outside the US, call 1-202-501-4444.

3. Make copies of ALL travel documents. The US State Department also advises that before departing the US, you should make two copies of all your travel documents, including the following: Passport ID page, foreign visa, itinerary, hotel confirmations, airline tickets, driver’s license, and any credit cards you are taking with you. Leave one copy at home with a trusted friend or relative. Take the other copy with you but store separately from the original documents.

4. Use social media and the Web. Let your friends and relatives know that you are okay by posting updates on Facebook and Twitter. Follow the US State Department on Twitter to get updates quickly and check the US State Department site for alerts and warnings

5. Consider using FireChat. A terrorism attack may cause Internet connections to go down. In that case, FireChat, available as a free app, may help you send and receive crucial information. FireChat creates a peer-to-peer network that allows smartphones to connect to each other to send messages when offline. The app pieces together a “mesh network” using phones that are up to 200 feet apart to pass along a message.

Formerly, all messages were public, but now you can create private messages. Originally designed for more social purposes, such as allowing attendees at a concert to communicate with one another, in times of crisis FireChat’s off-the-grid messaging could prove useful.