When Do You Need Travel Security?

BY Harding Bush TIMEMarch 20, 2022 PRINT

Traveling? Do you need emergency travel security protection? The pandemic raised awareness among travelers of the importance of obtaining medical emergency evacuation travel protection that includes COVID-19. But what about travel protection for nonmedical emergencies?

A travel security protection plan provides evacuation and advisory services for events like earthquakes, insurgent attacks, and social disorder when you are in danger.

Border closures can be sudden and impact thousands of travelers. (SB Arts Media/Shutterstock)

What can you do when an emergency unfolds in a foreign country from civil unrest, an unpredicted natural disaster, or terrorism? What if a government issues a declaration that you should evacuate the country for nonmedical reasons—and you cannot evacuate on your own?

Traveler security protection provides advisory and evacuation services for nonmedical emergencies when you are at imminent risk of grievous bodily harm and you cannot evacuate on your own from the country you are visiting.

The military conflict in Ukraine is rightfully worrisome to any traveler. The United States advised all Americans to leave several weeks ago, on Feb. 12, and at that time, you could still get out on your own via commercial air.

The Russian military is conducting a coordinated combined arms invasion of Ukraine with a combination of ground, tanks, artillery, and cyber combat forces. The government of Ukraine has imposed martial law throughout the country, and the air space is completely shut down to commercial and charter aviation. There is extremely heavy traffic on the roads west to Poland, Slovakia, and Romania.

People often wait too long and then they can’t get out. Any opportunity to safely depart Ukraine has passed. If you are stranded in Ukraine—a war zone—you must shelter in place until you determine it is safe to move.

What if you’re traveling or working internationally? The possibility of civil unrest, unpredicted natural disaster, or terrorism is always present. If you’re near a war zone, the potential spikes for a government-issued declaration to evacuate. What should you know, and what can you do?

First, you need to decide whether to stay or go. It’s a major decision. Experts recommend staying put, but, if you decide to go, you’ll need a commercial flight. If that’s not available, your next best option is a charter. If flights are unobtainable, then ground transport with a private car service is your final option—but only if bridges and tunnels are open.

What if you get stuck due to sudden border closings? Border shutdowns occur at a moment’s notice. If you get stuck at the airport due to a sudden border closing, you won’t be the only one. The closure will impact thousands of travelers. Those stranded during the COVID-related border closings in March 2020 discovered it was much faster to change travel arrangements at the airport ticket counter than on the phone or online.

The first thing to do is immediately contact your embassy and register if you haven’t already; if the embassy doesn’t know you are in the country, they won’t be able to book you on a scheduled repatriation flight. The days of returning from an international vacation one day and returning to work the next are over. Travelers should always have a contingency buffer of time planned in. Also, ensure not to back other important events against your planned travel days.

Next, be prepared to move quickly and have cash on hand. Be certain your passport, ID, and travel documents are up to date and easily accessible, including COVID-related test results or vaccination proof. While traveling in distressed regions, local support services will be increasingly inadequate. You must assume a higher level of responsibility for your own safety.

Third, stay in regular touch and keep your communications device charged. It’s essential to let family, friends, and colleagues know where you are. Make sure you have a charging device and spare batteries. Reliable communications capability is key. If cell phone networks go down, you will need to rely on a satellite communications device. Keep in mind satellite phones are illegal in Cuba, India, China, regions of Nigeria, and other countries.

Fourth, keep a low profile. Stay away from rallies, protests, marches, processions, and military sites. If you encounter unrest, exit the area as quickly as possible or seek shelter until the situation stabilizes. Avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Finally, trust your gut. If something or someone seems out of place, you’re probably right. Situational awareness is being alert to your immediate environment. Keen observation abilities will provide the necessary insight to mitigate risk. It’s about training your eye to actively observe your surroundings. This might mean, at the very minimum, putting your cell phone down. Regardless of where you travel, it’s critical to be prepared for the travel safety risks involved.

Nobody wants to imagine a security emergency abroad. Being proactive—instead of reactive—and preparing for the possibility of a security emergency could mean the difference between a safe evacuation and being trapped in a dangerous situation out of your control. When do you need travel security? All the time.

Harding Bush
Harding Bush, Global Rescue security operations manager, is a former Navy SEAL with extensive expertise in mountain and cold weather operations. He is a graduate of several U.S. and NATO Mountaineering courses, including the Slovenian Mountain Warfare School. Before entering the military, Harding served on a mountain rescue team in Vermont.
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