Paris, Bamako and the Value of Active Shooter Training


The recent terrible events in Paris and Bamako illustrate the importance of active shooter awareness and response training for the average traveler. In the US active shooter training is frequently presented in the context of a workplace violence incident. This is just one possible scenario however. Even within the US there is a good chance if you encounter an active shooter it may occur outside the workplace in some other republic space like a shopping mall.

While Paris is not thought of as a high risk destination is has been the site of several notable terrorist attacks recently the Charlie Hebdo attack and the multiple target attacks of 13 November 2015. In these events as in the Mumbai attacks, the Nairobi Westgate Mall and the attack on the Radisson Hotel in Bamako there is an increasing shift by terrorists away from using explosive devices to team attacks using small arms and basic tactics. This has proven very effective for terrorist groups as the attacks are relatively low tech, can produce high casualty counts and can continue for a sustained period of time, especially in locations where law enforcement and security forces are less capable.

Therefore it’s important for travelers to understand and be able to implement active shooter response methods.

The basic model for active shooter response is the “Run-Hide-Fight” protocol. This is described in this video produced by the City of Houston:



We also discussed this here back in October 2012:

Additional resources are available from the US Department of Homeland Security and can be found here:

Reviewing and understanding these basic concepts can be the difference between living and dying in a violent event. While there are no ironclad rules that will keep you safe it’s important to have a framework and options for response should you find yourself in the middle of one of these events.


When Cultural Faux Pas and Inadvertent Rule-Breaking Lead to Detention


US citizen Shezanne Cassim and four other men are currently being detained in United Arab Emirates for making a satirical film about a fictional martial arts school in Satwa neighborhood of Dubai.  The 20-minute film, which follows the format of shows like Fight Quest and Human Weapon begins with the film makers visiting the fictional “Satwa Combat School” and meeting the instructor Saloom Snake to learn about his system.  A link to the New York Times article and the You Tube video is here:

Dubai authorities clearly didn’t think the film was funny and Cassim and his cohorts are facing charges of threatening national security and endangering public order.  While this may seem strange to many western observers, this incident really illustrates the risk of not knowing or unintentionally violating local rules.  This problem is particularly acute in locations where there may be mixed messages.  There is the Dubai that is known for its incredible shopping malls, indoor skiing, the Palm Jumeirah and its upscale nightclubs and bars.  Many visitors and expatriates have no issue in Dubai and most don’t even feel like they are in the Middle East.  This can create a dangerous complacency.  While the UAE is in no way as conservative as Saudi Arabia, there are conservative elements there and laws that may have been unwittingly violated can be enforced strictly.

This is true in many locations around the world.  Local laws and cultural mores may be very different from what western travelers and expatriates are accustomed to in their home countries of even in foreign countries that are more like their own.  Many of us have grown up in societies where questioning authority was completely permissible and often the norm.  This is not the case in many countries.  Insulting the king is a criminal offense in Morocco and Thailand for example.

Additionally actions you take and things you possess may also result in detention by local authorities.  Travelers in the developing world and in security-conscious countries need to be very careful about what they photograph.  One classic example is taking pictures at the airport, which will get you arrested in some countries or at least get the camera confiscated.  The same is true for photographing other critical infrastructure like ports, bridges, etc. as well government buildings, police & military personnel and political activity.  Carry a satellite phone is prohibited in some countries, requires special licensing in others and will draw unwanted attention in others.  This is not to say you should never carry one but check local laws and weigh the need before traveling.  We have two other articles that further address this issue:  Blending in and the Gray Man ( and Sanitize Yourself for Travel (

Other activities like promoted your religious beliefs or taking part in local political activities such as demonstrations and protests can get you arrested and detained.  Sometimes the enforcement come at the hands of local citizens and not the authorities, especially if the activity is not technically illegal.

Safe Travel Abroad is now available in Paperback


We are pleased to announce that Safe Travel Abroad – previously available as a Kindle E-book is now also available in a paperback version.  You can find it on or by clicking here:

The cover has a slightly different look but the content is the same.  The decision to come out with a hard copy version was based on several requests to use it as a training text, an on-the-shelf reference and by several people who just prefer a paper book or who don’t use e-readers.

The paperback version has a list price of $14.00 but is currently selling for $12.56 on Amazon.  In comparison the Kindle version is only $2.99 and is available for free loan to Amazon Prime members.

Below is a brief description:

Do you travel or live abroad? Do you know how to protect yourself from criminal and terrorist threats? How do you decide which hotel to use? What are the risks of taking taxis in some cities? What do you need to know about dealing with the police and your local contacts in foreign countries? How can seemingly innocent items you pack in your suitcase get you into trouble with local authorities? Safe Travel Abroad goes beyond what is usually found in travel security books and government issued travel information and includes new information on protecting yourself overseas. Learn about assessing the risks associated with your travel, applying surveillance detection techniques and route selection. Learn how to choose hotels and residences overseas. Discover the common myths and pitfalls associated with travel security and learn how to avoid them. Understand ways to reduce your risk through proper planning and preparation. Integrated Protective Concepts applies over 20 years of experience working and traveling in more than 50 countries on 5 continents to bring you usable information that you can apply immediately to protect yourself overseas.

Travel Security: Keeping it in Perspective – Part 2


Continuing with the theme of keeping travel security in perspective that we introduced in the last article I’d like to stress again the need to keep a realistic and practical view of your personal security when traveling overseas and to avoid alarmist perceptions that often follow incidents like the Sarai Sierra case and the sexual assault of the Swiss tourist.   Of course it’s equally important to avoid the rose-colored glasses and happy complacency exhibited by some other travelers who may have engaged in risky behavior and done foolish things yet got through it unscathed and then proceed to tell everyone who will listen how safe it is and how important it is not to be paranoid.

So how do we find the middle ground and get as realistic as possible an idea of the risks of travel to a particular place?  The first is by conducting open source research on your destination.  Corporations and their business travelers can usually access subscription services that specialize in providing travel security information.  They also have access to organizations like the US State Department’s overseas Security Advisory Council that provide guidance to the business community.  Individual travelers don’t usually have access to these resources so we will look at more available methods.  One place to begin is government issued travel advice.  For US travelers that can be found at .   Other nations also publish travel advice as well.  The UK Foreign office information can be found here:; Australia’s is here: ; Canada’s is here: .  By looking at several different nations travel guidance for the same location you can begin to piece together common themes and trends relating to personal security.

One thing that is important to keep in mind when reviewing travel security advise for a location – whether the advice is coming from a government agency or a private sector provider-  is that most of this advice is written for a wide audience.  That means the guidance is written for the backpacker to the business traveler and everyone in between even though their individual risk profiles may vary greatly.  This is why context is so important.  For example there may be a problem with buses being hijacked en route between towns in the country where you will be traveling.  Maybe the hijackers typically take the passengers off the bus and rob them and sometimes there may be gratuitous violence even when the criminals’ demands are met.  While that is a serious security concern in a general sense and may be very relevant to a backpacker or budget traveler if you are planning a business trip to the capital city of that country, will spend the entire time either in your hotel, at meetings or at dinner and you will not be traveling in rural areas, going from town to town or using the bus it may not be particularly significant for you.

When reading travel advice please keep the notion of context in mind.  Using the above example of the business trip to the capital city imagine there is also a significant problem with taxi-related crime in that city.  In particular there is a problem with the robbery or express kidnapping of travelers arriving at the capital city’s airport.  In that case it might be very relevant to your business trip and a risk that needs to be mitigated.  You might for example mitigate this risk by arranging for transportation from a known company in advance and establish recognition protocols with the driver (not just a sign with your name on it).

After reviewing several different reports from different governments you should have an idea of crime trends and similar security issues at the location in question.  You can pursue this further by conducting internet searches on key words at various news websites to pull up accounts of specific crimes and so forth.  This may also provide you more detail and help you to understand common modus operandi.  Keep in mind however that in many locations crimes go unreported or don’t appear in the press.

You can also look at various travel websites and forums and see what other travelers and expatriates say about a particular location.  CAUTION:  It’s very important to use critical thinking when reading or listening to anecdotal accounts from other travelers.  There is a great deal of misinformation out there and nothing should be taken at face value.  That said this can be a way of building on what you already know.  This is especially if you come across recurring themes.

How much effort should you devote to this research?  It should largely be dictated by the place you are going to and the circumstances of your trip.  A solo female traveler hiking or cycling through Latin America for three months should devote much more time than two business travelers going to Paris for two days.  As you begin your research it may also become evident that you need to go further to clarify or de-conflict information that you are finding.

Additionally you should go more in depth with this research when it comes to selecting accommodations, modes of travel and other aspects of your trip.  The more you know and the more you plan the less likely you are to encounter a problem and the better you’ll deal with a problem if one should arise.

The important aspect is to maintain perspective when considering security facets of your travel.  Understand what threats exist and look at them in the context of your trip.  Don’t become unduly afraid of things that don’t pose a real risk to you and don’t be complacent or blind to things that do.

Travel Security: Keeping it in Perspective



The dramatic disappearance and murder of US solo tourist Sarai Sierra in Istanbul and the recent gang rape of a Swiss female tourist in India have brought attention to the darker side of travel.  In the wake of these incidents, in particular the Sarai Sierra case there were numerous ill-informed comments by columnists and bloggers calling Sierra foolish for traveling solo as a woman to a predominately Muslim country.  Many of these comments were made by people with little or no experience traveling overseas.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Sarai Sierra incident here is a very brief synopsis:  Sarai Sierra a married mother of two from Staten Island, New York made a trip alone to Istanbul, Turkey to engage in her photography hobby.  This was Sierra’s first overseas trip.  While in Istanbul she stayed in a rented room in a less-desirable section of the city.  She made side trips to Amsterdam and Munich – these side trips caused much wild speculation in the early days of her disappearance.   Throughout the trip she kept in regular contact with her family in the US.  The day before she was supposed to leave Istanbul and return home she reportedly planned to take photos at the Galata Bridge, a prominent landmark.  She never made her flight back to the US and her disappearance got wide media attention in the US and Turkey.

There were many theories immediately following her disappearance, many of them ridiculous:  She had been snatched by human traffickers; she was a drug mule; she was a spy; she was being held by someone she met on the Internet; she had spent tens of thousands of dollars on the trip despite her modest background.   These stories were fueled by the side trips that she made to Amsterdam and Munich, the fact that the only camera she brought for her photography was a smart phone and the fact that she seemed very trusting of strangers she met on the Internet.  In the end the sad truth was much simpler.  It appears Sierra ventured into an area frequented by drug addicts and homeless people to take photographs of the city’s ancient walls and was attacked and bludgeoned to death.  Her alleged attacker, a homeless man was subsequently captured in Eastern Turkey trying to flee across the border to Syria.

While it’s true there were some things that Sierra did that were ill advised and she may have been too trusting of people she didn’t know well these factors did not directly contribute to her death.  The decision to go into a dangerous neighborhood by herself did.  She did do some things right like maintaining regular contact with her family and home and keeping them aware of what she was doing and where she was going.  While we don’t seek to blame the victim there are valuable lessons that can be learned from someone else’s mistakes and missteps so we owe it to ourselves to study incidents like these, to analyze them and determine how we might better protect ourselves by doing some things differently.

Istanbul is a city I am somewhat familiar with having done several security assessments and other tasks there over a period of years as well as vacationing there so I have seen it from several perspectives.  Like any other big city Istanbul has its share of crime and its share of scam artists who will take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.  There is a low level threat of terrorism from an assortment of leftist and Kurdish separatist groups which doesn’t pose much of a threat to the average traveler.  Istanbul does have a reputation as a crossroads for human trafficking but again this activity is unlikely to affect a tourist.  In the wake of Sarai Sierra’s disappearance there were plenty of derogatory comments in the media about her traveling to a hostile Muslim country alone.  Istanbul is actually a very secular city and while there are cultural differences western dress and behavior is accepted and the population can hardly be described as hostile.

In the India incident a Swiss woman and her husband were on a cycling trip in Central India and decided to camp overnight in a forest area in Madhya Pradesh.  Later that night the couple was attacked by a group of men with sticks.  The husband was beaten and tied to a tree and the woman was gang raped.   Indian police later criticized the couple’s decision to camp in that location.  While the police criticism was very insensitive it underscores both the need to consider security implications and also the problems with reliance or confidence in local police authorities.

The important thing to remember when thinking about travel security – whether it be as a solo traveler, a female traveler, a couple, a family or whatever is to keep things in perspective.  There are many misguided, misinformed people, albeit some with good intentions that are engaged in fear-mongering and exaggeration of the threat.  On the other side of the coin there are those who disregard travel security advice as paranoia.  It’s important to walk the middle ground.  Learn about the threats that exist at the location where you are going.  Look at them in the context of your trip and what you plan to be doing.  Take prudent and reasonable steps to mitigate the risk and plan for worst case scenarios so you are prepared should things go wrong.

Cultural Awareness — the Security Dimension

Being culturally aware is important for anyone traveling abroad or conducting international business.  It’s important to recognize that not everyone around the world sees things the way we do and understanding others’ perspectives and customs will allow us to better relate and avoid inadvertently offending someone.

Noted cultural trainer Dean Foster recently wrote a piece about doing business in Brazil where he discusses “why the okay sign is not okay in Brazil” (if signifies an orifice).  It’s an excellent example of a gesture that is perfectly acceptable in the US but considered very obscene or offensive in Brazil.

The security dimension of cultural awareness is that failing to be culturally aware can put you in a potentially dangerous situation if your behavior is offensive to others.  No where is this more true than in male – female interaction.  Activity that might be perfectly acceptable in western countries may invite confrontation and even violence.  For example a man “checking out” or flirting with a woman in some of the more conservative Muslim countries in the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia may provoke a violent response from the woman’s male family members or even other male members of the society who observe it.  Likewise a woman traveling alone and wearing suitably fashionable clothes may be perceived of as promiscuous and may attract attention and unwanted sexual advances.

Public identification of your nationality may also attract unwanted attention as well.  It’s not only Americans who carry a stigma in certain countries.  At one time being Canadian was considered to be relatively harmless but with the active role Canada had taken in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance  Force (ISAF) this is no longer true.  Likewise Scandinavians were once a “safe” nationality to be but after the controversial cartoons depicting Mohamed this has changed and Scandinavians are mire susceptible to being targeted.  French nationals have been targeted in Cote D’Ivoire and some other African countries.  For these reasons it’s important to adopt the persona of the “Gray Man” as we have discussed previously.

It’s important to understand that cultural awareness is important and the implications can be greater than just hurting somebody’s feelings or losing some business deal.  Failure to understand the local culture in the most extreme cases can get you beaten, stabbed or arrested.

Kidnapping Primer

One critical element when discussing personal security, especially in the developing world is to have an understanding of the various types of kidnapping that exist and the associated mitigation and prevention strategies that you can employ.

First off, it’s important to note that in the US in particular and most of Western Europe kidnapping for economic or political reasons is a relatively rare crime. One exception is “Tiger Kidnapping” which is prevalent in parts of Europe.

Furthermore an overwhelming number of kidnapping incidents are resolved and usually quickly. This is not true in developing countries so those who work or travel there need to be aware of the associated risks and the methodologies used.
First off let’s discuss the primary types of kidnappings in the US and then move on to the variations prevalent elsewhere in the world.

Parental/Custody Kidnapping: These incidents, which make up the majority of the kidnappings in the US arise from custody disputes where a parent or other relative abducts a child or children.

Predatory Kidnapping: An abduction where the victim is taken by a predator to commit a sexual or other violent crime where there is no economic motivation. These incidents are the reason why many crime prevention experts in the US warn about the risk of being taken to “crime scene 2”.

Other types of kidnapping which are more prevalent in developing nations:

Kidnap for Ransom: a traditional kidnapping where the victim is abducted and held while the victim’s family or employer is contacted and a ransom is demanded.

Express Kidnapping: Sometimes also called a lightning kidnapping. This is an increasingly prevalent crime where the victim is selected quickly and held for a short period of time usually from several hours to a day or two. Sometimes several days. The victim is typically taken to ATM machines and made to withdraw the daily maximum. In some cases the victim’s family may also be required to pay a small ransom.

Political Kidnapping: Kidnapping a victim or victims with the intent to exchange them for prisoners being held by the authorities or for some political concession from the government.

Virtual Kidnapping: Not really a kidnapping at all but more an extortion. The “kidnappers” identify when a potential victim is incommunicado for a particular period of time usually due to travel, being in a movie or similar event. They then contact the victim’s family and claim to be holding the victim and demand a small ransom to be paid immediately. The family typically panics and unable to reach the victim, pays the ransom.

Tiger Kidnapping: This is a bit of an exception to my comments above as this crime is somewhat prevalent in the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Typically the victim is a bank manager or other financial services manager with access to cash or other valuables. In these cases the victim’s residence is invaded and the family held hostage. While the family is being held by part of the kidnap gang the bank manager is taken to his place of business and forced to turn over cash or other valuables to secure the release of his family.

There are also some rarer types of kidnapping that most expatriates and travelers are unlikely to encounter:

Revenge kidnappings: these most often occur to persons involved in some type of criminal activity — often done by one criminal group against members of another in order to send a message. These incidents also occur occasionally in areas where there are family, tribal or clan rivalries but again are usually restricted to members of the rival clan.

Bridal kidnappings: In some parts of Central Asia this is still used as a mating ritual of sorts. A man kidnaps a woman as his prospective bride and holds her for several days. At this point her honor is called into question and her family agrees to her marrying the kidnapper.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but most other types of kidnap events could likely be classified as a subset of the above types or refers to a tactic for kidnapping such as miracle fishing kidnaps or mass kidnaps.