Traveling is stressful and can be dangerous if the traveler is not properly informed, especially amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.
When ESOC clients travel to any location in the world, analysts can provide a full scope report on the location that can be tailored specifically to the client with personal preferences and itinerary items.
For example, a resort town in Mexico may seem like a safe haven on advertisements and paper, but cartel activity, crime, scams, all on top of a global pandemic may change a business or leisure trip into a security crisis. In the popular Mexican resort city of Mazatlán alone there were 49 homicides in the six-month period of March to August of 2019 one of which in April, a US citizen was found murdered while staying at a beachfront rental located on the Isla de la Pierda which is South of Mazatlán proper. While it is uncommon for crime to be targeted at travelers, it is important to know the context and criminal history of the area visited. Crime rates can change quickly due to cartel activity.
Since the arrest of El Chapo, cartel activity experienced a rise in turf wars resulting in an increase of violence. The rapid growth of various cartels is leading to an increase in violence as the groups fight to gain more “territory.”
Apart from crime, ESOC looks closely at infrastructure and government. In Mexico, there have been frequent reports of collusion between government officials, police, and drug trafficking organizations that have eroded public confidence in law enforcement capabilities. Roughly two out of three crimes go unreported, according to one report, and four out of five reported homicides go unsolved. In some cases, communities have turned to drug cartels for protection. In other cases, the absence of effective law enforcement has led to the formation of local “self-defense” militias.
Road conditions and maintenance across Mexico vary with many road surfaces needing repair. Spotty cell phone coverage and delays in receiving roadside or medical assistance can be expected in rural areas. ESOC analysts can create a route analysis on roadways to evaluate the condition before your travel.
Travel Risk Assessments (TRA) are vital resources for executive protection teams and their clients to conduct a safe and productive journey. They offer insight into the locations’ unique threat profiles and offer familiarization with destinations before the trip. Topics covered in an ESOC report include safety and security, civil unrest, terrorism, health, infrastructure, recent incidents in the area, and COVID-19 information. ESOC’s TRAs are customizable depending on the client’s needs and preferences. Risk assessments should change from client to client depending on the reason for their trip, itinerary items, age, and gender.
A COVID-19 section added to the TRAs informs our clients about the pandemic situation and statistics at the destination to inform the reader before they travel. Each government entity has responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic and has implemented different rules and different capabilities to handle the crisis. ESOC analysts will inform the client of the different regulations, responses by citizens, and the availability of resources and the location of them. Encapsulating a full understanding of the situation as well as the client’s own hometown.
It is vital for safety and overall awareness to conduct rigorous searches into the risks and threats associated with a destination. Some travel destinations have elusive and sometimes non-existent crime data and that information needs to be found through a meticulous search. Beyond an open-source intelligence search, contacting experienced security professionals in the area contributes unique and accurate perspectives to the assessment. PFC ESOC has an extensive global network to contact and officials in the U.S. Department of State.
Every destination has a unique set of security risks, but most fall under the backdrop of safety and security, civil unrest, terrorism, health, cybersecurity, and infrastructure concerns. It is important to recognize the framework of threats so executive protection professionals can rely on their knowledge and training to identify the nature of any immediate threat they face. Knowledge of civil unrest and previous instances can change the outlook from a crowd gathering to viewing it as a potential protest or riot. Included into a search on safety and security concerns is kidnapping for ransom, an elevated threat for high net-worth clients, common scams, and other unique area threats that are essential to identify. Another location-specific concern is illegal items in a country that differs from the client’s country of origin. For example, India has strict guidelines concerning bringing satellite phones into the country, a popular communication device among security professionals.
TRAs utilizes a Location Risk Assessment Tool to assign a numerical value to the location as a guide for security professionals and clients. The numerical value coupled with human analysis can inform what level of physical security and personnel is advisable on the trip. Also ranked for risk level are assassinations, kidnapping, civil unrest, crime, and terrorism for an easily digestible location risk information. Knowing the highest threats in the area will ensure the client is well prepared to handle that threat. TRAs include actionable steps to take to mitigate the threats, and if more informed training is needed, additional solutions can be arranged through ESOC.
To make a TRA more valuable, itinerary information can enhance the whole report. Analysts can contact hotels, building managers, and airport officials. Risk differs between a business trip and a family trip. While it is difficult to generalize, activity risks will present unique threats past the overarching threats included in a report. Travel Risk Assessments are integral to make smart decisions while outside of the normal confines of daily life.