Ease Your Fears With Practical Awareness

Spencer Coursen Safe Haven

You’re marching in a peaceful protest when you suddenly hear shots & screams.

What do you do? Where do you go?

Police Shootings Protests Dallas
Protesters march during a Black Live Matter rally in downtown Dallas on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Multiple media outlets report that shots were fired later Thursday during the protest over two recent fatal police shootings of black men. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Learn to ease your fears by empowering yourself with awareness.

A safe haven is anywhere you can go to be protected, so take a few minutes every day — wherever you are — to identify the nearest safe place.

For most of us, the best Safe Haven will be our homes…but what about those times when home is too far away?

When moments matter most, you want to have a plan, you want to know where to go, and know how to get there.

The same things goes for your children.

No one fears that which they know well which means children are at their best when they are empowered to overcome to overcome their fears. Instead of burdening children with “what if” fears, empower them with “If this” solutions.

The following are three simple solutions for parents looking to empower their children with a positive personal safety strategy.

Traveling somewhere new? When in doubt: “Run to a Restaurant.”

Restaurants make great safe havens!

  • They are easy to describe
  • They are easy to identify
  • They can accommodate large groups of people
  • They will have food, water, and bathrooms
  • They are staffed by locals who know the area
  • And they will have hard lined phone an internet so you can still let your loved ones know you’re ok even if the cell towers go down

Make identifying safe havens a regular part of your family emergency plan so that everyone knows where to go and everyone knows where to be found if your family should get separated.

Identifying Safe Havens is a lot like wearing your seatbelt; most of the time you won’t need it — but in those unexpected times you do — you’ll certainly be glad you did.

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Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert | Washington, DC

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Should police screening require Harvard’s IAT?

I’ve fielded a lot of calls today about the recent police shootings.

You’ll be hearing a lot about Harvard’s ‪#‎ImplicitAssociationTest‬ in the next few days. I first learned about it reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s book ‪#‎Blink‬ (a must read.) The IAT measures racial prejudices that we cannot consciously control.

It’s the test every police officer should be required to take as part of the selection process. Regrettably, too few do.

Race IAT

Read this to learn more:  http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/science-of-racism-prejudice

www.SpencerCoursen.com

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

British politician Jo Cox dies after being attacked at public meeting

British politician Jo Cox dies after being attacked at public meeting

“Cox was attacked outside the Birstall library after holding a regular public meeting with constituents, said Robert Light, a Conservative councilor from nearby Birkenshaw.” via CNN

British politician Jo Cox dies after being attacked at public meeting

While most executives, politicians, and public figures are able to go about their daily lives without a protective detail following their every move, their lives do become become inherently more complicated whenever they agree to a planned public appearance.

Regardless of circumstance or scenario, whenever the general public has a reasonable expectation of a time and place public figure can be found, protective considerations should always be employed as preventative measure.

It is important to understand why these events have an increased level of risk. Unlike an off-the-record, or impromptu appearance (think President Obama making a pit-stop at Shake Shack) where the likelihood of an attack would be considered “Low” — events that are publicized in advance give a would-be-attacker critical information like dates and location, and most concerning, time to plan.

The chances of something happening? A statistically low percentage. But if it happens…it’s 100%

For the violent offender, the single most significant factor in targeting an individual for attack is likelihood of success. Without a high-likelihood of success, a would-be-attacker will transfer their efforts to someone who is more exposed and easier to approach. Eliminating those small windows of exposure when approachability is most likely to occur by unknown and un-vetted persons is of critical importance.

Securing transportation, leaving airports, checking into hotels, arriving/departing events, and partaking in public engagements all present variables of uncertainty that can be drastically minimized with effective planning and logistical coordination.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety


Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

www.SpencerCoursen.com

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

5 Myths About PickPockets

Security Expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 common myths about pickpockets

Many travelers are concerned about identity theft, worried about a thief using an RFID reader to get their passport info or watching an ATM to steal a pin code. But what about pickpocketing, one of the world’s oldest crimes? It may not merit headlines, but it’s still a threat to tourists in many parts of the world. The old-school “lift” approach can be as devastating to a traveler as the new-school “tech” approach. Here’s a look at five myths about pickpockets.

1. I only travel to countries where pickpocketing isn’t an issue

Those countries don’t exist.

“Pickpocketing is one of the most widespread crimes in the world,” says Spencer Coursen, founder of the Coursen Security Group. “Anywhere goods and services are exchanged for currency is an area of pickpocketing appeal.”

Preparation for theft is a good idea regardless of where you’re heading. That starts with making photocopies of key documents, such as passports, vouchers, rail passes and even prescriptions, making sure to leave a copy with someone at home. Having a couple of extra passport pictures is also a good idea in case your passport needs to be replaced. You might also want to think about your choice of wardrobe.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that when you think about traveling somewhere, there will also be someone who thinks they can take advantage of your visit,” confirms  Adam Rapp, founder and designer of  Clothing Arts, which makes pickpocket-proof pants and other travel clothing designed to foil common thieves.

2. I’d feel it if someone stuck his hand in my pocket or bag and tried to remove my wallet

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel anything.

“It is a practiced profession, and like any sleight-of-hand demonstration, employs distraction, misdirection and even compassion to enable success,” Coursen says.

Coursen adds that “a skilled practitioner will use their environment to their advantage. Subway cars, busy crosswalks and crowded elevators are all normal ‘bump’ environments where we willingly participate with an expectation of normal crowd dynamics. In this environment, it’s very unlikely you would think twice about someone pressing up against your purse or pocket. “

Rapp agrees that pickpockets are very hard to spot and that the theft is almost always discovered too late. There’s every chance that the pickpocket is far more skilled at theft than you are at observation.

“Working pickpockets, the key word being ‘working,’ train to be very good at stealing from you and doing so without you noticing,” Rapp says. “They’ve done it to many before you and will continue to do so long after they’ve taken your wallet. Thinking that you’ll be sure to catch them trying to steal from you is like saying that you can predict when it will hail.”

Rapp’s product was inspired during a trip to Xian, China, in 2007, a much-touristed city “where theft is a major problem and where signs says ‘Beware of Pick-Pockets’ everywhere.” Walking in a tunnel beneath the giant Drumtower, a major tourist destination, “my companion felt a tug on her backpack. She turned around and spooked the team of pickpockets who were going for both of us at the same time. They disappeared into the crowded mass of people behind us. This is when I looked down at the wide open pockets of my chinos.” So he decided to create a product that puts “security right into the pockets of my travel pants.”

Security Expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 common myths about pickpockets
Security Expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 common myths about pickpockets

3. I always keep my money and passport in an inside pocket

Inside pockets of jackets and front pockets of jeans are all commonly thought of as more difficult to access. But to a trained pickpocket, that won’t make much of a difference. If they target you, it’s more than likely that they’ll get at your valuables.

“Pickpockets know exactly what you keep where,” says Coursen. “A good pickpocket will ‘mark’ their target in order to determine the likelihood of success. Many pickpockets will surveil retail shops, hotel lobbies, and popular areas of attraction to identify targets of opportunity. “

What are they looking for? Coursen says that ideal targets “are not local, alone, paying in cash or have recently visited an ATM, displaying an inherent vulnerability such as talking on the phone, wearing headphones, or carrying items in their arms.”

Old-fashioned money belts can be useful, says Rapp, since accessing them is difficult for both you and the pickpocket. They can be unwieldy, but offer a level of protection against pickpockets you can’t get with standard pockets.

4. I always avoid crowds, so there’s not much of a chance that I’ll get pickpocketed

While crowds certainly offer a pickpocket a better chance at anonymity, pickpockets don’t limit their activity to crowds alone, Coursen notes. “Pickpockets often work in teams and will orchestrate a scenario to engage their mark. A common scenario may employ a ‘pick and roll,’ a ‘sandwich,’ or a ‘stall,’ where the target will be forced to stop suddenly and then be accidentally ‘bumped’ from behind by the ‘lift.’”

5. When I visit a new city, I avoid bad neighborhoods

“Avoiding a neighborhood is not exactly going to prevent a good or bad experience from happening,” Rapp says. “Pickpockets will go where the tourists go. Planning your visit and being aware of your surroundings is the best way to not look like a tourist, plus make the most of your visit. “

Many of us know our home neighborhoods very well, Coursen points out, but it’s not so easy to be so certain of unfamiliar environments. Street signs don’t say “Bad Neighborhood Ahead.”

“In most cases, it’s an individual’s own actions that make them a target,” Coursen observes. “Like lions in the wild, predators don’t target the strongest among us, they target the weakest. Being aware of one’s own environment is important. But acting with a positive protective posture is more so:  Awareness + Preparation = Safety.”


This article by Everett Potter originally appeared in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/advice/2016/05/11/pickpockets/84179812/

 

www.SpencerCoursen.com

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

Protect Your Data…And Your Privacy

Spencer Coursen | Security Expert | Protect Your Data and Your Privacy | Coursen Security Group | Surveillance camera peering into laptop computer

“The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home,” says Spencer Coursen, President of Coursen Security Group based in Austin, Texas. “So long as valuable data remains unsecured or poorly protected, there will always be those who are willing to take advantage of inherent weakness for personal gain. Protect yourself accordingly.”

security expert spencer coursen discusses privacy and protection of information
“The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home,” says Spencer Coursen, President of Coursen Security Group based in Austin, Texas. “Protect yourself accordingly.”

Steve Burgess recalls a friend who had just returned from a long trip to India. Six months in a monastery, and he had yet to link back to the hustle of an airport. Turning his back for a moment, he found his tote bag pinched.

“Total wipe out,” says Burgess, a computer forensics specialist who owns his own firm, Burgess Forensics, in Santa Maria, California. “Macbook, iPad, lots of cash … passport, ID etc, credit cards, hundreds of hours in work, hard drives (including backups), variety of tech instruments and devices, India iPhone, personal items and gifts.”

Cash, passport—even gifts are painful to lose. But they’re replaceable. Data? If not backed up, that’s gone for good. Think baby pictures, personal writing, even family histories carefully recorded and stored. Not surprisingly that many experts suggest you keep a second copy of important details and documents.

“Fires and flood, there’s so many things that can happen,” says Matthew Harvey, Communications Manager for IDrive, Inc, an online back up service located in Calabasas, California. To protect your digital Harvey suggests “a two-tier hybrid back up approach…back it up locally onto an external drive, and in the cloud.”

Good news for consumers? Recent price wars in the cloud storage industry have driven the average cost of a year’s storage in the cloud down to $59.95. For that price IDrive backs up every device in a subscriber’s home. Boston-based Carbonite, for the same amount, provides unlimited backup, according to its site. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo also have services that allow consumers to protect and encrypt their email and data off-site in the cloud.

Lock your data down

Once you have a backup system in place, consider encryption to protect your data from hackers. Many laptops, for example, come with automatic full-disk encryption so that if someone steals the laptop, they can’t get to your data. However, that can be inconvenient, plus full-disk encryption stops working once you log into your laptop. At that point, a hacker spying on what you are doing has full access to everything on the device. Of course there are also applications available to encrypt individual folders on a computer, so that even if someone does break in, they can’t get to your most sensitive data.

“Encrypting is a good idea, but you’re not going to talk people into that,” says Burgess, adding that really the only way you can be 100 percent safe is not connecting to the Internet at all.

That’s hardly practical either. Instead, Burgess suggests storing sensitive data and even credit card information separately from any computer that’s attached to the Internet. Instead keep that information on a portable thumb drive and physically transfer it from one device to another when you do go online. “Then nobody can get at it unless they steal your hardware,” he says.

Lighting, Battery Burnouts and Fido

Once you’ve taken some protective steps against digital thieves, it’s time to start tackling other potential disasters. Like your dog. Fido? He’s a shedder. And those hairs get into much more than your rug and couch. Leaving your computer sitting on the couch where your dog or cat also likes to nap can cause computer malfunction—and data loss.

“The biggest enemies of computers are heat, and one of the biggest things that generate heat is a blanket of dust or fur,” says Burgess. “So you want to vacuum that out from time to time. Also, keep the computer off the floor, out of the sun, and away from whatever you are drinking, he says.

Sure, your battery surge protector will cushion your computer from a spike in voltage. But from a direct lightening strike? Hardly. Again, backing up data is key here—particularly into a cloud and an external hard drive that you can keep unconnected to the computer.

Plus, backing up data doesn’t just protect you against natural disasters but man-made ones as well. Computers can get infected with ransomware, a type of malware such as the virus that recently attached Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, encrypting all the system’s files. Hackers demanded, and got, a ransom payment of $17,000 worth of bitcoin to decrypt the hospital’s patient files. Regularly backing up to the cloud instead could have said them not just money—but time.


This article first appeared in GearBrain: http://www.gearbrain.com/protecting-your-data-from-hackersand-your-dog-1652741180.html 

Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help large corporations, small businesses, schools, and private families to ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

www.SpencerCoursen.com

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

Is it safe to travel to Paris and other European cities?

Spencer Coursen discusses safety tips for traveling to Europe.

Jocelyn Holgado knew that her reservation at the Hôtel de Varenne in Paris was nonrefundable. But then the terrorist attacks on Paris happened, and the world suddenly felt more dangerous, and she figured the Varenne might make an exception.

Holgado, a nurse anesthetist from Burlington, N.J., figured wrong. Even though she was scheduled to check in only two days after the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 129, and even though her online travel agency, Expedia, tried to negotiate a refund, the hotel responded to repeated requests for an exception with a firm “Non.”

“Out of concern for our safety and the fact that France had closed its borders and major attractions, we elected to postpone our trip,” Holgado says.

Many travelers are faced with the same questions. Is it safe to travel, particularly to Europe? If I go, what should I know? If I cancel, what will I lose?

Travel may seem riskier, particularly in light of the worldwide U.S. State Department alert issued last week, which cautioned of a “possible” risk to travelers from the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. The government warned that the groups are planning terrorist attacks in multiple regions.

Spencer Coursen discusses safety tips for traveling to Europe.

“While the new terrorist attacks in Western Europe are troubling, it remains one of the safest areas in the world,” says Scott Hume, associate director for security operations at Global Rescue, a travel risk and crisis management firm. “Statistically, car accidents and illnesses are still the greatest threats to travelers — not terrorism.”

Still, experts say you should pay closer attention to the news before and during your trip. At a time of heightened security alerts, travelers should review the State Department’s Alerts and Warnings page. Better yet, sign up for the government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan (STEP), which allows the government to track your whereabouts and warn you of any potential dangers.

Don’t rely exclusively on the government for information, however, says Robert Richardson, author of the book “Ultimate Situational Survival Guide: Self-Reliance Strategies for a Dangerous World.”

Richardson advises travelers to do their homework. “You can learn a lot about potential threats just by researching areas that you plan on traveling through,” he says. Terrorists sometimes make specific threats that they subsequently carry out, he says, “so be aware of what’s being said and take it seriously.”

Travel insurance doesn’t always cover terrorist attacks. Experts say you should check for a terrorism-related clause before purchasing a policy. Some allow you to cancel and receive a refund, but the incident must happen within a specified time period and close to the place you plan to visit. “Cancel-for-any-reason” policies are more expensive but guarantee that you will be refunded a percentage of the cost of your trip.

Timing is important when it comes to terrorism and insurance. A covered event has to happen after you buy the insurance. “Even though Brussels was recently under a high terror alert, no terrorist acts have occurred, so travelers with plans to visit the city are still eligible to purchase travel insurance with terrorism coverage,” says Rachael Taft, a spokeswoman for Squaremouth.com, a travel insurance site.

10-Common-Travel-Mistakes-You-Can-Avoid

Of course, it’s too late to buy travel that will let you cancel existing reservations on the basis of the November attacks. “However, a future attack would most likely be covered under most policies,” Taft says.

It’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to be injured in a terrorist attack. But knowing the resources at your disposal in the worst-case scenario can give peace of mind before your trip.

Travel insurance should take care of any medical expenses, according to J.C. Lightcap, who runs the websiteTravel-Safer.com. Most travel insurance policies “should cover you for medical and evacuation expenses in the event of a terrorist attack,” he says. “Some will even fly out a spouse or significant other if you’ll be hospitalized for a week or more.”

More danger requires better planning. That would include identifying a safe haven outside your hotel. “A safe haven is any place where you know you can go to be safe, like a restaurant,” says Spencer Coursen, an expert security adviser and private protective strategist with Coursen Security Group. Restaurants usually have land lines, too, so you can make phone calls if cellular service is disrupted. Decide with members of your party on an agreed-upon place to meet if there’s an incident that separates you. Keep the number of the U.S. Embassy’s 24-hour hotline in your cellphone, and be sure to test it, because international dialing codes can be tricky.

Airline policies can vary in the wake of an attack. Mary Hall, a business manager from Lakeville, Minn., contacted Icelandair after her daughter’s school trip to Paris was canceled. “We had no say in this decision,” she explained. “The reservations had been made by the teacher coordinating the trip, so we were not even aware of the cancellation policies.” Icelandair sent her a form response, offering either a 50 percent refund or a rescheduled flight within four months, as long as she booked before her original flight was to depart.

After the attacks, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines waived some change fees for flights to France for a limited time. They didn’t offer refunds, except for canceled flights, and there’s no assurance that they will waive change fees for a future attack.

“The statistical probability of your getting caught in a terrorist attack while traveling abroad is minuscule,” said Ronald St. John, the co-founder of Sitata, a travel safety website. “If you’re simply uncomfortable traveling, remember that it’s your vacation, and you need to do what makes you happy.”

This article first appeared in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/is-it-safe-to-travel-to-paris-and-other-european-cities/2015/12/03/9bd541d2-8a54-11e5-be8b-1ae2e4f50f76_story.html

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United.
E-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

 

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Spencer_Coursen_Website_Bio_Color

Five myths about State Department travel warnings

Security expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 myths about travel warnings.

When the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert in November, it left many travelers wondering what they should do, where they should travel and what it all really meant. With the alert in effect through February 2016, confusion still reigns, so here is the reality behind U.S. State Department alerts and warnings.

Security expert Spencer Coursen discusses 5 myths about travel warnings.

 

1. Travel warnings and alerts are practically the same thing.

Actually, they are quite different and distinct.

“Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts are different, and they are issued based on the nature of the security situation in a country,” says William Cocks, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. “We issue Travel Warnings when we want U.S. citizens to consider very carefully whether they should go to a country at all because of a chronic threat.  We issue a Travel Alert for short-term events we think U.S. citizens should know about when planning travel to a country.  Travel Alerts are always issued for a defined period.”

Both travel alerts and travel warnings can have a huge impact on the business of tour operators like Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours. Geronemus says that the “warning for travel to Iraq makes sense given the significant and prolonged nature of the security threat, whereas the recent alert for Myanmar focused on a slightly elevated, shorter term concern surrounding the country’s recent election.”

If you’re planning on going abroad, visit the State Department’s website, travel.state.gov, where you can search, country-by-country, for the most up-to-date security information on every travel destination in the world.

2. If there’s a warning or alert, you should avoid the entire country

Not true.

“That’s analogous to saying that you should wear a raincoat in Philadelphia when you see that it’s raining in Miami and Los Angeles,” says Geronemus. “Much like the climate, security levels can vary from region to region, and it is critical to read warnings very closely to understand the specific nature of the security threat.”

In fact, they should be read with a good map at hand, before making a sweeping generalization about a country.

“Countries generally don’t fit in a one-size-fits-all category,” says John Rendeiro, vice president of global security and intelligence at International SOS. “Variable levels of risks exist within countries, as there are safer and more dangerous parts of the United States as well.”

In short, unless there’s an ongoing war or a government in deep turmoil, it’s unfair to simply dismiss a country out of hand. This seems especially apt for Americans who are thinking of going to Mexico but are fearful of reports of drug-related violence. Or maybe contemplating a trip to a shaken France.

Spencer Coursen, a former Army Ranger, U.S. Marshal and president of the Coursen Security Group, says that “Mexico’s outbreak of drug violence in areas like Juarez andTijuana are well-known, but the recent government warnings do not affect popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. While Paris may have been targeted by a recent terrorist attack, the rest of the country remained perfectly free from harm.”

Cocks clarifies that “our Travel Warnings clearly state if they apply to a country or a particular area within a country to provide clear and specific information to keep U.S. citizens overseas safe. U.S. government employees are sometimes restricted or prohibited from traveling to a certain part of a country because of security conditions.  In those cases, our Travel Warnings always warn U.S. citizens of travel to those areas as well.”

3. There’s currently a worldwide alert from the State Department so travelers should stay at home.

“Absolutely not,” says Scott Hume, associate director, security operations, at Global Rescue.  “Get out, travel, explore.  This worldwide alert is published to inform citizens about risks that they may encounter during their travels.  The alerts and warnings should be used as a tool to help travelers make informed decisions about their journey or allow them to make important changes to their itinerary while on a trip abroad.”

So pack your bags and choose your destination wisely. Even the State Department takes pains to explain that such a sweeping warning is not to turn us into a nation of fearful couch potatoes.

“We do not issue Worldwide Travel Alerts to stop U.S. citizens from traveling,” confirms Cocks. “The Travel Alert informs U.S. citizens of the current threat level and reminds travelers to maintain a high level of vigilance and exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at sites frequented by tourists. “

4. If I still want to travel despite the State Department’s warning, I’m left to fend for myself.

You’re not alone. The State Department and leading security experts recommend enrolling in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) , which makes it easier to receive security messages and to be located by the U.S.  government in the event of an emergency. As a part of your personal security plan, you should make note of emergency telephone numbers abroad that may be needed, such as police, fire, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

The government aside, Steve Loucks, chief communications officer of Travel Leaders Group, a consortium of travel agencies, says that this “is one of the major reasons why consumers should give serious consideration to using a travel agent professional to book their travel, particularly one who specializes in a particular destination. Travel agents do more than book your travel. They act as a safety net for you until the time you return home safely by keeping abreast of ongoing issues that might impact your trip as you’re traveling. While the need to get a client out of a volatile situation abroad is thankfully rare, it does occur.”

Then there’s the financial protection that a good travel insurance policy can offer. Mark Murphy, founder of TravelPulse.com, advises “buy travel insurance that allows you to cancel for any reason.  It costs a little more, but let’s you off the hook should your travel plans change.”

5. Travel warnings issued by other countries don’t affect Americans.

On the other hand, they just might. The United Kingdom, the Canadian and theAustralian governments all have websites similar to the U.S. State Department’s, where they offer their own citizens country-by-country advice on security.  It can also help you get a clearer picture of where you’re going since some observers, like Geronemus , say that warnings and alerts “should both be taken with a grain of salt, especially in light of the biases that are inherent in State Department decisions, namely whether or not a foreign country is an ally of the U.S.”

Whether you agree with that observation or not, the sage advice is to look at several of these government websites and then make a decision that you’re comfortable with.

This article by Everett Potter originally appeared in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/advice/2016/01/18/state-department-travel-alert-warning/78637736/

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Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert who has an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, domestic and global security operations, investigations, policy authorship, and protective strategy.

Spencer Coursen | Threat Management Expert | Washington, DC

Credit Union Security: 4 Ways to Beat the Bad Guys

Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group provides expert commentary to credit unions looking to beat the bad guys.

Matthew Yussman, CFO for the $122 million Achieve Financial Credit Union who also doubles as the Berlin, Conn.-based cooperative’s security training officer, was a victim of an unusual criminal plot that he never saw coming.

Last February, Brian Scott Witham and Michael Anthony Benanti took Yussman hostage, duct taped a bomb to his chest and forced him into a failed attempt to rob his own credit union. They targeted Yussman, as well as two other credit union employees and their families, via social media sites and used portable cameras to case their victims.

Although executives and employees who work in the financial services industry may be at a higher risk of becoming targets of criminals, security experts say credit union employees can take steps to protect themselves and reduce their risk of becoming the next victim. Security experts also shared what employees can do to survive a hostage situation.

1. Don’t be a soft target.

A soft target is someone who is distracted or not paying attention to their surroundings, even in their own neighborhood.

In Yussman’s case, for example, he parked his car in his driveway and unloaded some stuff to place in the garage. While he was doing that, he was rushed by Benanti and Witham.

Yussman acknowledged that if he had driven his car into his garage and closed the garage door, he may have been able to prevent the incident from happening.

Randy Spivey, CEO and founder of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety in Reston, Va., said his company will watch executives and their daily habits to determine if they are soft or hard targets and make recommendations.

“A hard target is going to be somebody that is not paranoid but they’re not oblivious,” he said. “When they’re walking around town or they’re coming out of their house at night, they are aware of their surroundings.”

distracted-walking

 

2. Take simple security steps.

Spencer Coursen, president/CEO of the Coursen Security Group in New York City, said even the most basic safety and personal security precautions can significantly reduce an employee’s vulnerability.

“Something as simple as modifying your daily movement, taking alternate routes to and from work, school or the gym, or even every so often driving around your block before pulling into your driveway sends a clear message to anyone taking notice that your actions are not overly predictable,” Coursen said.

If you suspect someone is casing your home, call the police, Spivey said.

Spivey also recommended that in addition to a home security alarm system, you should consider installing security cameras around your home. For a couple of hundred dollars you can invest in a basic camera system that can make your home a hard enough target for criminals to avoid, he said.

home-surveillance-camera

 

3. Ask yourself, “Is somebody following me?”

If you believe someone is following you, Spivey recommended that you don’t confront the person.

Instead, stop and look in the general direction of that person from a safe distance of about 20 or 30 yards away.

“I’ve seen people who sense that somebody is following them and they look at them and pretend that they’re dialing their phone as if they are reporting it to somebody, which can be a deterrent,” he said. “That makes you a hard target versus a soft target.”

Keep an eye out for safe havens such as police and fire stations. Restaurants, hotel lobbies, public libraries, community centers and hospitals can also be safe places where you can get help.

4. Restrict your social media information.

It’s also important to limit the information you post about yourself onsocial media sites.

“We’ll see individuals that sometimes will have two different profiles. They may have one that’s open to the public and the information that’s on there is very generic and very controlled,” Spivey explained. “Executives also may have very private social media sites that they use only for very close friends and family members.”

Spivey said executives need to understand that if they post information on social media, criminals may be able to use it as an opportunity to commit a crime.

“Think about your teenage daughter and what information you’d want and wouldn’t want her to put on social media,” he said. “Think about all the guys who might be looking at that information and how you’d want to control that.”

In addition to changing your passwords every quarter; updating software, security and privacy settings; and never opening unsolicited links or connecting with someone you don’t know, Coursen said it may be a good idea to protect your online browsing habits from being tracked or monitored.

Coursen said software exists to assist with this effort, including free options that provide access to a network of anonymous proxy servers. It was originally intended to help journalists, spies and students who live in regions of online censorship, he said.

It’s also very important to regularly run virus scans on your computer and update the security features on your wireless router at home.

5. Surviving a Hostage Situation

To survive a hostage situation, it’s important to remember the three C’s: Calm, connect and capitalize.

“The first C is that you want to be a calm influence, because it’s going to be a very nerve wrecking experience,” Spivey said. “The reality is that most hostages survive.”

What Spivey means by connect is to help the criminals see you as person, not as an object.

“You don’t want them seeing as you as the CFO of a credit union. You want them to see you as a dad, a husband, a brother, something that connects you as a person,” he said. “The reason is, it’s easier to kill an object than a person. You want to engage them in a way that makes you seem like a likable person. You don’t want to be rude. You don’t want to be arrogant.”

And then capitalize, which means to encourage the criminals to a peaceful solution that is going to meet whatever they want.

“If they want money, then you may say, ‘OK, well, let’s see what we can do to help that,’ Spivey explained. “Whatever you do, you don’t want to argue with them. You want to be a calming influence as best as you possibly can to encourage a peaceful resolution.”

Although it is risky, the opportunity to escape from a hostage situation may be another option depending on the circumstances.

“The best opportunity for escape may occur in the first moments of a kidnapping,” Coursen said. “Kidnappers will sometimes let down their guard momentarily or do something that can afford the victim the opportunity to escape. The kidnapper may not have considered that a victim may react by fleeing or taking a chance. If circumstances permit, try to get away.”

 

This article by Peter Strozniak originally appeared here: http://www.cutimes.com/2016/03/14/credit-union-security-4-ways-to-beat-the-bad-guys

www.SpencerCoursen.com

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.

 

Safe Havens: Have a plan, Know where to go, Know how to get there

Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group discusses The 3 F’s of “Family, Food and Flags” are good reminders for where children can go to get help

A Safe Haven is nothing more than a place you can go to be protected.

For most of us, the best Safe Haven will be our homes…but what about those times when home is too far away?

When moments matter most, you want to have a plan, you want to know where to go, and know how to get there.

Anywhere you can go to be safe will serve your purpose. So take a few minutes of your day today to identify those places between home and work or home and school where you know you could go in an emergency.

The same things goes for your children.

No one fears that which they know well. From turning of all the lights at night to jumping from the diving board in the backyard pool, children are at their best when they are empowered to overcome that which frightens them. In that spirit, the following are three simple solutions for parents looking to empower their children with a simple personal safety strategy.

When in doubt: “Run to a Restaurant.”

Restaurants make great safe havens!

  • They are easy to describe
  • They are easy to identify
  • They can accommodate large groups of people
  • They will have food, water, and bathrooms
  • They are staffed by locals who know the area
  • And they will have hard lined phone an internet so you can still let your loved ones know you’re ok even if the cell towers go down

Make identifying safe havens a regular part of your family emergency plan so that everyone knows where to go and everyone knows where to be found if your family should get separated.

Identifying Safe Havens is a lot like wearing your seatbelt; most of the time you won’t need it — but in those unexpected times you do — you’ll certainly be glad you did.

www.SpencerCoursen.com

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Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

Security Expert Spencer Coursen on ABC7 News
Spencer Coursen ABC7 New York News

Empowered, Fit, and Free

Alexia Clark, Celebrity Trainer and Reebok One athlete , at her gym in Arizona

The tattered, taped, and corner-torn box that once held a favorite pair of shoes, now stored the harrowing reminders of a wished-forgotten past. The box was kept stowed away in a darkened corner of a hallway closet. There were days she considered burning the contents to ash. On others, she found solace in knowing they were there. Like her shrouded memories and faded scars they were reminders her past was real. There was comfort in knowing they were under her control. She commanded the key. The memories and remnants kept out of sight were hers to reveal, regardless how easily they could be retrieved.

She didn’t share this side of herself often. Only a few knew. Sometimes, those who had fallen like she once fell, needed to hear her story. Sometimes, they just needed to see.

Inside were the photos. The journals. The court records documenting a history of violence she had been forced to endure. Before she had grown strong. Before being kicked-in-the-ribs out of her boyfriends apartment left her broken and crying in a high-rise hallway. Before she mustered the strength to stand up, walk away, and never look back. Before she had discovered the inner strength to reclaim her childhood dream.

To watch her now, one would never suspect she was a survivor of unimaginable harm. It would be difficult to envision her curled up and crying in the middle of the floor. Fearful of a fateful end. Because, those days were behind her now. She was a victim no more. She would never be again. Today, her story is one of empowerment, and strength, and capacity of character that exemplifies her limitless potential.

Like all eventual triumphs, she first had to travel an unrelenting road to recovery. There were trials (yes, courtroom trials) and tribulations (of varying degrees,) but in the end, she emerged victorious. It wasn’t easy. Mustering the strength to do a single push-up. Nurturing the emotional willingness to say “no” without negotiation. Learning to once again walk away without regret.

To look ever-forward to the promise of tomorrow. To embrace a maturity of mind that affords one to endure disappointment without the corresponding demotion of self worth. She was a survivor. A winner. And as all winners know: Winning requires work.

It all started with a morning run. At first it was just around the block. Then down the street. Each day further than the day before. She could feel herself growing physically stronger and mentally tougher with every step she took. Every stride she stretched. Every breathe she released. Until one day she ran so fast and far that she finally broke free. Free from the guilt. Free from the pain. Free from the worry of harm her soul had worn too long.

Women of wonder walk among us. Women who never quit. Women who’s passion and strength raise roofs, build bridges, and give rise to new worlds. Real women, living real lives, with real struggles who utilize their own “fitness mindset” to promote a positive empowerment throughout all aspects of their life. Their reflections tell an overarching narrative of empowerment, intelligence, and strength from a fitness-centric and empowerment-minded perspective.

These are their honest, raw, and relatable contributions that help to inspire a desire to rise up, push back, lean-in, and run free. They drive others to discover their own inner-strength hidden behind the false walls in their own souls. Women who motivate others to be more than they are. Who set ablaze the kindling of achievement to accomplish nothing less than what they dare to dream.

These are their stories:

“We can all do a little better each day to improve our health physically, mentally and socially,” says Alexia Clark, an Arizona-based celebrity fitness trainer and nutritionist. “Fitness is not only about how we look, it is also about how we feel, love and inspire each other.”

“A 1 hour workout is 4% of your day that will change 100% of your life.”

“There is a difference between having a fitness mindset and being a ‘gym junkie.’ What I’ve noticed most about being a fitness trainer is the positive affect fitness has on my clients. To watch as their overall outlook on life becomes more optimistic with each workout. Setting a fitness goal is a journey of self discovery. It doesn’t matter if you’re working toward doing your first push-up or training for your first marathon. When you set a fitness goal, you learn about how to overcome obstacles. You discover the secret to inner strength that’s been hiding in your soul… just waiting to help you become a better you. We start small. Then we build. Slow and strong. Having a fitness mindset is about setting a realistic goal, and then not stopping until you get there.

What’s also great about training clients is watching as their fitness goals help promote their life goals. I see how their fitness mindset empowers them in their relationships. I see how it helps them aspire to be better at work. Most incredibly, I see how their workouts help them to work through those darker times. The ones we all sometimes face. The breakups. The struggles. The things we wanted so much to go our way, and for whatever reason, don’t go the way we planned. In both workouts and in life, we have bad days. But having a fitness mindset is about having control over our minds and our bodies. It means knowing that just because we had a bad experience, it doesn’t mean we’re a bad person. These obstacles are just another challenge for us to overcome. Because everyday we step out of bed we are one step closer to reaching your goals. That’s why I encourage my clients to focus on right now. Today, you are stronger than yesterday. You are stronger this week than you were last month — and tomorrow — you’ll be even stronger. As long as you dedicate some time everyday toward working out on you, I promise you will get to your goals.” (Instagram:@alexia_clark / Twitter: @alexiaBclark)

Alexia Clark, Celebrity Trainer and Reebok One athlete , at her gym in Arizona
Celebrity Trainer and Reebok One athlete Alexia Clark at her gym in Arizona (Source: instagram.com/alexia_clark)

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“The Miss America Organization gave me two gifts: a platform to bring a controversial issue to center stage; and the courage to advocate for domestic violence prevention in front of a larger audience” says Amelia Wolf, a DC-based political professional and a second year Masters Candidate at The George Washington University. “I realized that winning the Miss District of Columbia crown came with the opportunity to reach out to a lot young men and women with my story of dating violence. My hope was they could learn from my experience and gain a greater understanding of how violence can sneak into a young relationship. The truth is, domestic violence can and does happen to everyone. I wanted to dispel the common misconception that violence doesn’t happen to the “seemingly pretty and perfect people.”

“The stronger I became physically, the more I felt like I had the mental fortitude to excel in the other areas of my life.”

“My outreach combines social media and fitness to empower women to overcome domestic violence.

I wanted to use my love of fitness to inspire other survivors. In my own life, I found that being active and dedicating myself to getting physically stronger in the midst of my break-up helped me to redevelop my self-esteem. Fitness helped to elevate my sense of purpose. The stronger I became physically, the more I felt like I had the mental fortitude to excel in the other areas of my life. I chronicled my journey on Instagram and on my blog, and now use the hashtag #StrongerThanDV to post inspirational messages and inform the public about domestic violence. My life advice? Do your squats; eat your vegetables; wear red lipstick, and don’t let boys be mean to you.” (Instagram: @WolfOfDC / Twitter: @WolfofDC

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#SrongerThanDV

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“Running has always been a big part of my life. It’s a major contributor to not just my physical health, but also my psychological well being,” says Colleen Scoles, a Talent Acquisition Manager with the Philadelphia Eagles.”

“I value my runs as a time where I have complete control

over where I am going”

“In a world where there are so many things out of our control, I value my runs as a time where I have complete control over where I am going with the added value of making my body stronger. The feeling of accomplishment after finishing a race or running a long distance on my own is one that has boosted my confidence tremendously.”

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“We are not born beautiful. We are not born strong, powerful, of brilliant,” says Alison Gaul, a patent attorney, philanthropist, and startup supporter in Washington, DC. “We, all of us, women and men, short and tall, black and white, are born soft, gentle, infants; a blank slate upon which the world may imprint wonder, knowledge, fear, hate, and love. We must develop beauty, strength, knowledge, and even power.”

“We can build our own beauty, one sit-up, one article read,

and one confident breath at a time.”

“Strength is built one sit-up at a time, one minute of meditation, one yoga pose, one mile pedaled on a bike. Knowledge is built one page of a book read, one class attended, one discussion engaged. Power is built from knowing enough to know yourself, your strengths, and all the obstacles you can overcome. Beauty isn’t bought at a make-up counter or a clothing store, it’s the glow of self-confidence that radiates from the powerful, the brilliant…the strong. We can build our own beauty, one sit-up, one article read, and one confident breath at a time.” (Twitter: @AllisonGaul)

These stories are not one-time tales. They are the ties that bind. The common threads woven through the many lives of similar struggle and cultured circumstance. At some time or another, we will all fall. Some falls will hurt more than others. Some falls hurt us to our very core. But the darkness by which we are all sometimes embraced, instills within us the very measure of who we are. For it is in those moments we see with newfound clarity, that the strength it takes to truly heal comes not from a willingness to climb our way up, but in reaching our own hands down to where we once hung below.

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For Becky’s Fund in honor of the work they do, the path they forge, and the light they shine to lead the way.  By Spencer Coursen

This article first appeared here: http://www.beckysfund.org/empowered-fit-and-free/

Becky's Fund

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.