Personal Security Abroad: How not to get killed, taken host...

Personal Security Abroad: How not to get killed, taken hostage, or mugged!

Entering the arena of international business today is a risk not just to your company’s capital or resources but also to the personal security of you and your employees if frequent travel abroad is required. 

In the not too distant past, this dictum applied only to hostile third-world environments fraught with insurgencies, terrorism, or political upheaval. 

More recently, personal risk to life and limb can just as easily apply to a picturesque European city, suddenly wrenched into a hostile environment because of a terrorist attack.   Quite often, CEOs must dispatch their employees, or even themselves, at very short notice to a foreign location where they must live and do business in a milieu that is at best unfamiliar, and at worst quite dangerous and acutely unforgiving of mistakes or complacency.

Or, with little notice one’s routine business trip is suddenly diverted to an unknown country or regional capital, with no point of contact at the receiving end.  A third possibility is that the traveler is in an allegedly safe, secure environment that is suddenly thrown into chaos.  Such is the reality of the world in which we live today. 

Most large corporations ought to have adequate journey management programs designed to address travel security issues, which include briefings for executives or employees traveling into dangerous areas of the globe.

Unfortunately, most corporate security programs focus their perennially limited resources on physically securing overseas facilities and (perhaps) executive protection of senior executives traveling to a high-risk region, and little else. If there is a corporate journey management program for all employees, it may be limited to travel security awareness briefings or tracking the employee’s travel. Should an incident occur—assuming  that the employee’s contact and tracking information is up to date—remediation measures are typically reactive “Emergency Response” rather than proactive personal protective measures. 

A more proactive and effective approach is to put greater emphasis on inculcating personal security concepts and principles on the front end of the security cycle—preparation, detection, and deterrence elements…with an eye to having the response and recover elements available for you or your employees if needed.

The result is a tailored personal security program that leaves one less of a victim of circumstances, and more a master of one’s own fate.   A journey management program that emphasizes good personal security as well as tracking/response, is ultimately more responsible to its employees and more apt to avoid the liabilities that can arise from unexpected security incidents. 

It is important that business travelers have a “portable set of security wisdom” committed to memory.  While security checklists are useful, they are impractical as a security program because when the information is needed most it cannot be remembered.  Having a simple context for security details goes a long way towards resolving this problem.

An effective personal security program is built around three overarching concepts.  They are the concepts of effectiveness, the concepts of risk (unique to personal security), and that of time.  “Effectiveness” translates to the ability of a good plan of security to be available for immediate recall in memory.  “Risk” in the context of personal means being capable of anticipation as well as reaction.  If one is self-aware and also understands and knows the “enemy,” he or she are much more capable of identifying adversary patterns and anticipating tactics, and reacting quickly to avoid them.  In personal security, threat actors and threat events are external – a kidnapper, a mugger, a thief, a terrorist.  However, the idea of vulnerabilities is more complex – they are dynamic and multi-dimensional, in the sense that they can be both external and internal.  For example, if one is paralyzed by fear, that is an internal vulnerability that will be exploited by an adversary.  If one is in the wrong place at the wrong time, he or she becomes vulnerable to an adversary through external circumstances.  Unlike other security disciplines, the concept of time is at a premium.  The time required to identify, react, and mitigate a potential or validated threat event happens very, very quickly.  Individual travelers and journey management programs need to be educated about each locality’s issues, from gang tattoos to graffiti, and always need to be sensitive to, and aware of, behavioral traits or even something that seems as innocuous as broken windows.  Sensitivity to detail on the street and in one’s surroundings gives one the skill to anticipate threats quickly. 

The many details needed to have an effective personal security design are “layered” in through  five key principles.  These are Preparation, Detection, Deterrence, Delay, and Defense.   I cannot emphasize enough that just as in the world of physical security where principles are developed to design layers of security around a facility, in the world of personal security these principles design layers around YOU – the principle asset.  By extension, a well-designed personal security plan can be used to protect those for whom the company is responsible – fellow businesspersons or team members – or an executive security program.  It is much easier to remember what security tool is needed, in your program, by applying the principle to the situation at hand.  The checklist of items becomes internalized and remembered as a result.  

Ultimately, a set of special skills is needed to assess risk on a very personal level and business travelers need to live with those skills day in and day out. I do not believe enough time or thought is given to the development of quality programs.  The easy work is the design and development of security within the gates of the “corporate castle,” –  so to speak.

Once outside those gates, security planning gets much harder and more often than not defies disciplined engineering—it is a world that does not sit still for drawings and blueprints.  It requires the development of good instincts, judgment, habits, and preparation.


Have you read?

Understanding Personal Security and Risk: A Guide for Business Travelers by Charles Goslin.

Charles Goslin

Charles GoslinVerified account

Senior Advisor, security and intelligence consulting at Butchko, Inc
Charles Goslin is author of “UNDERSTANDING PERSONAL SECURITY:A Guide for Business Travelers.”He is a retired Central Intelligence Agency operations officer who served throughout the world in a wide range of capacities that bridged covert technical and human intelligence operations.
Goslin continues actively consulting on international intelligence, security, and risk issues faced by multinational corporations operating in some of the world’s most hostile regions.He has published numerous white papers on security threats and business risk issues, and lectures regularly on terrorist radicalization and the threat of jihadist groups to Europe and the United States.
Charles Goslin

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Charles Goslin is author of “UNDERSTANDING PERSONAL SECURITY: A Guide for Business Travelers.” He is a retired Central Intelligence Agency operations officer who served throughout the world in a wide range of capacities that bridged covert technical and human intelligence operations. Goslin continues actively consulting on international intelligence, security, and risk issues faced by multinational corporations operating in some of the world’s most hostile regions. He has published numerous white papers on security threats and business risk issues, and lectures regularly on terrorist radicalization and the threat of jihadist groups to Europe and the United States.