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.

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention Now Available in Paperback

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Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention from Integrated Protective Concepts is now available in paperback format from  The book was previously released in E-Book format for Kindle and compatible readers.

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention is a 70-page book that covers proactive measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of falling victim to a kidnapping.  Here is a little bit about the content:

A confused tourist gets into the wrong taxi and is expressed kidnapped. A businessman is lured to a bogus meeting and held for ransom. An expatriate consultant is kidnapped after being stopped at an impromptu roadblock. A journalist goes for an interview that turns horribly wrong. A bank manager’s family is held hostage to force him to access bank funds. Kidnapping is a pervasive crime that takes many forms around the world. Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention will help you understand the different types of kidnappings, how they occur and how to identify ways you can better protect yourself, your family and your personnel. In this book you will learn:

• About different types of kidnappings

• How kidnappers select their victims and the process and methods they use • How to assess your vulnerability

• How to recognize potential ruses and traps

• How to limit information about yourself and your movements

• How to recognize surveillance and other pre-incident activity

• How to use OPSEC principles to protect yourself

 • How to use force multipliers to mitigate risk

• Where to find additional resources

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention doesn’t discuss hostage survival or how to handle a kidnapping event; rather it concentrates on proactive measures that can be used to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a kidnapping.

Both paperback and Kindle versions are available here:

Both versions are also available on many international Amazon sites such as France, UK and Spain.

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention

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Protective Concepts is pleased to announce the release of  the new book Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention.  Originally planned for first or second quarter 2013 it got a bit delayed but is now available as a Kindle E-book.  A paperback version of the book is in production and should be available in January 2014.  Please see a brief description below:

A confused tourist gets into the wrong taxi and is expressed kidnapped. A businessman is lured to a bogus meeting and held for ransom. An expatriate consultant is kidnapped after being stopped at an impromptu roadblock. A journalist goes for an interview that turns horribly wrong. A bank manager’s family is held hostage to force him to access bank funds.Kidnapping is a pervasive crime that takes many forms around the world. Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention will help you understand the different types of kidnappings, how they occur and how to identify ways you can better protect yourself, your family and your personnel.

In this book you will learn:

• About different types of kidnappings
• How kidnappers select their victims and the process and methods they use
• How to assess your vulnerability
• How to recognize potential ruses and traps
• How to limit information about yourself and your movements
• How to recognize surveillance and other pre-incident activity
• How to use OPSEC principles to protect yourself
• How to use force multipliers to mitigate risk
• Where to find additional resources

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention doesn’t discuss hostage survival or how to handle a kidnapping event; rather it concentrates on proactive measures that can be used to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a kidnapping.

Some additional administrative notes:  The Kindle E-Book version sells for $4.99 USD.   The paperback version when it becomes available will sell for around $14.00 USD.  The original formatting was done for the paperback version so there may be some awkward sections in the E-Book version depending on the particular reader you are using.  Regardless any version should be completely readable.
Questions and comments are welcome and should be emailed to

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.

Probability: Looking at Likelihood When Assessing Personal Risk


There is a tendency to be drawn to the more exotic, spectacular or exciting threats when considering personal risk rather than the more likely but more mundane threats.  In many parts of the developing world your greatest risk is a vehicle accident.  Poorly maintained vehicles, lack or total absence of professional driver training and licensing, bad roads and sometimes a lackadaisical attitude towards safety in general make this a real concern many places.  This is often compounded in places where modern medical care is severely lacking and all but the most minor medical issues require evacuation.  In an environment like this injuries sustained in a traffic accident that might be very manageable elsewhere in the world can be fatal.

While conducting a recent threat assessment in East Africa following the Westgate Mall attack, it was difficult to get the consumers of the report to appreciate the full spectrum of threat that exists apart from terrorism.  Yes, terrorism is a very real concern and the relative success of the Westgate attack (a low tech attack using limited numbers that produced high casualties and went on for days capturing worldwide media attention) may encourage further, similar actions.  Any further attacks will likely occur at soft targets where visitors and expatriates are likely to be such as hotels, transit hubs, shopping venues and so forth.  That said, Nairobi is a city racked by violent crime and for the average visitor or resident this is a much greater risk than terrorism.  There is a much greater chance of being carjacked, and possibly murdered in the process than there is of being present during a terrorist attack.

When assessing your personal risk in a particular location and perhaps basing whether or not you will go or what mitigation measures you will put in place, it’s important to consider the full threat spectrum and consider the likelihood or probability of each type of threat so that you don’t get so caught up with the more spectacular threat that is receiving massive coverage on CNN that you ignore the more probable threats that might be right in front of you.

Situational Awareness & Technology


We have often discussed the importance of situational awareness and its role in keeping yourself safe.  This pertains not only to personal security but to general personal safety as well.  The massive use of different handled devices has had a demonstrative effect on the situational awareness of most of the public.

The other day while running on relatively remote trail I passed a young lady walking with ear buds in her ears listening to music.  She seemed to be totally oblivious to what was going on around her and didn’t notice me until I was within a few feet of her.   This encounter is a good example of the degree of vulnerability that many people put themselves in on a daily basis.   At the risk of sounding like a male chauvinist this vulnerability is particularly acute for females who for several reasons may be a more attractive target than a male.

While this phenomenon is not new – and my example of the girl with the ear buds could be equated to people zoning out with Walkmans in the ‘80s – it’s definitely intensified with the proliferation and popularity of a variety of devices.    Personal computer sales are down and hand held device sales are up.  New technology has brought us great advantages, from increased productivity to increased mobility and in some respects increased freedom.  Not only are we no longer tied to a desk but there are also benefits for personal security in the form of increased communication ability, GPS and others.

However these devices have a way of commanding our attention that can be unhealthy.   One only has to look at the tragic accidents that have occurred when drivers who were focused on texting rather than the road collided with another vehicle or a pedestrian.  This same concern applies to personal security.

Most criminals give off some indicators before they act.  Sometimes it may be more subtle than others but there is almost always some kind of target assessment that occurs and usually a final check – often a glance over the shoulder or a “9-3-6” head movement to check for potential interference and maybe for escape routes before the attack.  These actions are detectable, especially if you know what to look for and….if you are looking.

Respected combatives instructor Kelly McCann describes the issue of a victim not noticing the attacker prior to the attack in the following quote:

“Criminals physically occupy space before they attack.  They have to see their victims so they’re usually in the victim’s line of sight.  They’re just not noticed by their victims who are preoccupied, disinterested or disinclined to believe any violent crime could possibly happen to them”

That sums it up pretty well.  You can only notice these signs if you are paying attention to your environment. You can only pay attention to your environment if you are not distracted by something else.  While we should never be in Condition White in public we need to be particularly attentive at certain times as we have discussed before:  Chokepoints, arrivals, departures and identified high risk areas.  These are times when the devices should be put away and we should focus on the world around us.  Even when we are not at these critical points we should attempt to use our devices in a light Condition Yellow if we are in public.  Don’t get totally absorbed in what you are doing.  Lift your head regularly and look around, keep some level of awareness about your environment.

Back to the original example of the girl with the ear buds.  Hearing is one of our senses that we use for survival and we should think carefully before effectively shutting it off with earphones and depriving ourselves of that sense.  They are times when it is safe to do this, maybe working out in a gym or running on a track during a busy time when other people are using it or sitting in an airport waiting for your next flight.  Should you use earphones running on that same track by yourself at night?  Walking down a city street?  I wouldn’t do it.  Good situational awareness will keep you out of many if not most problems so be careful not to handicap yourself and use technology smartly.

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.

Human Behavior & Personal Security

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In the article “3 Neglected Skillsets for Security” we mentioned one of the most over looked and least appreciated aspects of personal security is the study and understanding of human behavior. In most cases security threats will come directly from human beings. This may not be totally true in certain environments – for example where IEDs may be the predominant threat – but even in those locations reading human behavior plays an important role which we will touch on shortly.

Behavioral analysis or profiling focuses on identifying human actions that are aberrant or out of context with the environment or situation. A criminal about to carry out an armed robbery or an assault will exhibit behavior that is different from a person walking to the store or going to work. Intelligence professionals often use the term “demeanor”. Demeanor is something you should pay attention to when evaluating a situation or person. Do the person’s deportment, activity and so forth fit the location and situation they are in? If not, why? There may be many reasons that a person’s behavior is out of context or out of place and many of those reasons may be benign but they are still worthy of your attention.

These same principles come into play when practicing surveillance detection. The ability to interpret human behavior and decide whether it fits the environment or not can play a key role in detecting surveillance. A surveillant will frequently need to remain in place for an extended period of time trying to appear “normal” and this attempt to be inconspicuous and maintain his cover will actually make him more suspicious if you are aware of your environment and understand the fundamental of reading human behavior.

As we mentioned earlier, even in environments where the primary threat may be IEDs there is an important role for reading behavior. While the IED itself is inanimate if it is command detonated there will be human beings involved in identifying the target and remotely detonating the IED and the opportunity may exist to detect these spotters based upon their behavior. Additionally someone will need to emplace the IED which provides another opportunity to detect behavior.

The first component is to establish what is normal in the environment – this is known as the baseline. This is a fluid component that may change based on the hour of the day, day or the week and so forth. The key is to get a sense of what is normal at that particular time and then look for aberrations or anomalies. The next component is to develop a basic understanding of body language to more readily interpret the behavior of the person in question.

We have just scratched the surface of this topic here. I recommend for those that are interested in more information on this topic that you check out \. The folks at are much more knowledgeable than I am and do a great job explaining the subtle nuances of behavior detection and analysis as it relates to security.