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by Senior Editor

Travel Security: What to Pack to Survive a Natural Disaster

Mar 02, 20106 mins
Business ContinuityDisaster RecoveryIT Leadership

Secure travel plans often consider kidnapping or terrorism. But what about natural events like the recent quakes in Haiti and Chile? Chris Falkenberg has advice on what travelers should pack for the best chance of surviving a disaster

Security directors and CSOs are often responsible for devising secure travel plans for the employees in their organization. Preparation often includes education, training, and perhaps even a counter-surveillance program. But what about iodine pills and a satellite phone? If you ask Chris Falkenberg, founder and president of Insite Security, all travel plans should also include certain items that can be invaluable in the event of an unforeseen natural disaster (Also see: 4 Steps Security Can Take to Prevent Kidnapping).

According to Falkenberg, the 8.8 earthquake in Chile, coupled with the 7.0 Haitian quake, has made the issue of travel security more important than ever. Insite, a United States-based security and risk management firm, advises corporations and high-net-worth individuals.

“Much thought is given to man-made disasters such as terrorism, but relatively little to natural and unpredictable catastrophes,” said Falkenberg. “It is important for the corporate security manager or other c-level executives to embrace a holistic approach to risk mitigation including natural disasters and their results.” (See also: Charitable Risk: Security Challenges of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Falkenberg spoke with CSO about the variables organizations should consider, and the items they should pack, when traveling, particularly in the developing world or politically unstable regions.

CSO: You think these recent earthquakes have really brought to light the importance of secure travel plans that consider not just man-made security challenges, but natural ones. Why is that?I think the issue of travel preparedness is one that has to incorporate a broad area of risks. What usually happens in a security department is a great focus on man-made events; a great focus on terrorism, a great focus on crime. There is much less of a focus on natural disasters. That is probably because in some cases they are easy to avoid and also they are so rare. But it’s very valuable for travelers to think about what happens if they are off the grid for a few days and really have to make it by themselves, staying healthy and getting out and to a place of safety. That is something that both Chile and Haiti underscore: If you’re responsible for travel security and travel safety, it’s important to prepare travelers to be able to fend for themselves for 72 hours. That, in my view, is the story of these earthquakes. It’s not only the bad guy down the hallway or the bad guy with a truck bomb, it’s also fires and earthquakes, and other sorts of bad stuff that can happen.


So what kind of advice can security folks give travelers? What should they advise them to pack and be prepared?satellite phone. I think they are very valuable, even in the U.S. In the event of a big U.S. crisis, like a black out, or even some kind of crisis where cell towers are still up, they will be deluged with calls. And in some municipalities, cell phone providers prioritize calls from police and public service, so you might not be able to get a line. We are told to use SMS messaging to get information through, but if a cell tower is down, you’re stuck. A satellite phone is totally independent. And if you don’t want to carry a satellite phone, there are satellite-based beacons that people can carry that are designed for back up use but are applicable to people are in a city as long as they are outside.

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The second thing is the issue of pure water. One of the most valuable things we could send to Concepcion (Chile’s largest city impacted by the quake) now is one of a variety of water-treatment mechanisms. All of them are very small and intended for backpackers and hikers and so therefore easy to put in suitcase. There are clean water straws, there is a UV-electric device, there are iodine pills, there are a number of ways in which you can take unsafe water and make it safe. I think that’s really important to consider packing something like that when you are traveling in a developing country.

The next thing is flashlights. I can’t imagine a more valuable security or emergency tool than a flashlight.

And N-95 masks. They would be very useful in Haiti and Chile because it enables you to breathe in dusty environment. A mask would also be helpful if you found yourself somewhere in a flu pandemic and you want to protect yourself form airborne contaminants.

Lastly: A good medical kit. We work closely with a group of emergency doctors who send their clients off with pretty robust medical kits and access to a physician. You may not have access to physician immediately, but if you have a medical kit with prescription medication you are just so far ahead of where you would be otherwise. If you have an injury with tremendous pain, you can take prescription pain medication and hold it together until you can get out to a medical facility.

All of this equipment is not small, but it doesn’t take up a ton of space either and can be very valuable if you get into a situation.

Have the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti had an impact on your clients travel or business continuity plans?

We had a number of clients in Haiti, so after the quake in Port au Prince, we were busy ensuring safe transportation of supplies from the Dominican side to the Haitian side. But so far in Chile, we’ve had nothing. It’s only Monday and that may change, but so far we haven’t heard of any client needs related to what’s going on in Chile.

The tsunami warning created a significant problem because it was such a wide, potentially-affected area that it caused a ripple in a lot of logistics problems for clients as far as landing locations for refueling and other positioning issues. We had to work around that. For instance we had a client who was supposed to land in Hawaii to refuel an aircraft, so that required a whole bunch of re-routing of airplanes from there to Anchorage. Obviously you can’t have airplanes flying into airports that may be subjected to flooding. So you have to think quickly in cooperation with flight planners to move stuff around.