The Problem With Yesterday’s Emergency Alert In NYC

Spencer Coursen discusses NYC Emergency Alert with Refinery29
In the past, your phone has likely emitted a hideously blaring, horn-like sound to indicate you were receiving a flash-flood warning from the national emergency alert system or an Amber Alert for an abducted child — emergencies everyone should be alerted to. Yesterday, phones in New York City rang with that same sound, but with an unfamiliar, alarming message about the suspect wanted for Saturday’s bombing.
According to The New York Times, this alert — a digital wanted poster of sorts — was the first of its kind. The alert was part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which, the Department of Homeland Security says, “are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.”

These kinds of alerts require the support of your smartphone’s operating system and your carrier. All iOS phones have built-in support, but you can choose to turn the alerts on or off simply by going to your Settings and scrolling down to the bottom of the Notifications tab.

The only notifications that can’t be turned off are presidential alerts. According to CNN, yesterday’s alert went out to everyone, including those who didn’t have notifications turned on. But was it a real emergency? Should, what The New York Times has termed a “wanted” alert, be issued to phones at all?

Some took to Twitter saying that the message ignited unnecessary panic. Others noted that the inclusion of the suspect’s name — but not his photo — introduced racial profiling and put anyone of a similar ethnic background in danger. Both are fair points.

Emergency alert said “see media for photo,” but what they MEANT was “see Facebook for unfounded panic” & “see Twitter for knee-jerk racism.”

Shoutout to my fellow brown persons who originally planned on taking the subway to the airport today with luggage

And of course, there won’t be any “stop feeling like a hero for glaring at brown men” alert now that the guy is caught.

But it’s also worth noting that smartphones are far and away the primary source of how we communicate today. Local news viewership has dropped substantially (when was the last time you turned on the 7 a.m. broadcast?) and texting is the 21st century word of mouth. So, how else will people know about a pressing issue of national security?

Nevertheless, there is a “cry wolf” risk involved. “When used sparingly — when there is a clear and present threat to the life of a known victim — they help engage the public into a ‘heads up’ or ‘see something, say something’ mindset,” says security consultant Spencer Coursen. “What we don’t want is for them to become the everyday car alarm blaring from a random city street, heard but discarded, or just one more push notification that is seen but too easily deemed irrelevant.”

Coursen believes that ultimately, we’ll see more options around turning on and off certain kinds of alerts, especially as the Wireless Emergency Alerts system broadens the types of alerts it pushes to our phones.

Yesterday’s alert ignited a call to action that worked — the suspect was apprehended. But it could have been handled better. In issues that concern national and international security, push notifications are a reasonable and necessary way to ensure citizens are informed. But those notifications need to follow parameters to ensure that they are not sent too early in an investigation — or too often — and should make an effort to include a photo, in addition to text. Otherwise, these calls to action could elevate situations to even more dangerous proportions and, scariest of all, create a culture of fear.

Read more by Madeline Buxton <here>  and follow her on Twitter @MadelineBuxton
Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.
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“No Problem Sneaking Past Security”

Harmless breaches and successful stunts serve as a planning guides for those who intend serious harm. The jacket-wearing stadium staffer is an antiquated approach to a modern-day concern. Their colored jackets are a psychological barrier. Nothing more. It’s window dressing. Security “theater.” This recent breach should serve as a warning cry to the complacency stadiums put toward safety. The chance of something happening? A statistically low percentage. Like driving your car. The accident isn’t likely. But when it happens , you know your seatbelt works. Stadium security is still buckling-up after the crash.

successful-stunts

Remember this: Taken as a whole, event staff is largely undertrained, underpaid, and lack any social accountability. There is almost no incentive for them to do their job particularly well. Why? Because they have a built in excuse: “I’m a $10/hr staffer. What do I know?” The result is a very diluted focus on safety. Rather than rising to the level of your expectation, they falter to the standard of their training. This means they’re more likely to watch the event than the crowd while they stand around and simply wait for something to happen.

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

Staying Safe on the Trail of Pikachu

Spencer Coursen discusses safety tips for privacy and safety while playing pokemon go

If you are among the millions of users who have already downloaded the Pokemon GO application, stop what you’re doing right now and download the new update which is available now in the App Store. In addition to fixing a few programming bugs, the update changes the scope of the application from allowing administrators to view everything you do on Google and will now protect your privacy by limiting access to just your User ID and email address.

For those not in the know, Pokémon GO is a gaming application that fuses augmented reality with real life interaction by placing virtual creatures and items in real-world locations. This means game play has brought people to places they don’t normally go.

There have been a few mishaps along the way:

A Wyoming woman found a dead body. The Holocaust Museum has had to ask people to leave, and police are warning the public to be aware that muggers can “add a beacon to a Pokéstop to lure more players.

Security expert Spencer Coursen offers safety tips to help users protect their privacy and stay safe while playing Pokemon GO

Any game that takes you from inside the safety of your home and into the realities of the outside world is going to require the user to employ a higher level of situational awareness. Pokemon GO warns users right when they start to: “Be aware of your surroundings,” but the University of Maryland has already had 3 students robbed while being unaware of their surroundings during gameplay and a 28-year-old man crashed his car into a tree after being distracted by the game.

After all, while you’re tracking down Picachu in his world, it’s important to remember that you’re actually playing in ours. Here’s a few tips to keep you safe on the trail:

  • Be careful when crossing streets, using public transportation, driving, riding a bike, or walking down the street. Keep your head up and your eyes open;
  • Do not go onto private property, dark alleys, or remote areas you would not typically go if you weren’t playing the game;
  • Identify safe havens in nearby areas…those places where you know you can go for help if you feel unsafe;
  • Respect private businesses; museums, and memorials;
  • Consider playing in groups so you can look out for each other.

Awareness + Preparation = Safety

www.SpencerCoursen.com

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

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

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.

Security experts discuss the shooting on UCLA campus

Spencer Coursen discuss the shooting on UCLA campus

“We can no longer afford to live in a world where we simply hope that nothing will happen, and then solely rely on the first responders to save us once something does.” ~Spencer Coursen, President Coursen Security Group

 

Spencer Coursen discuss the shooting on UCLA campus

via instagram.com/coursensecurity

 

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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