Country Risks Influence Security Levels

Aon Interactive Country Risk Map_2014


Being exposed to different countries with varying risk levels, I’ developed a keen sense of the proper security layers that should be implemented. The most often asked question by company executives is as follows: Why are more resources invested in essentially identical business operations in different geographical locations?

The short answer is this, a country’s risk level is a fundamental external catalyst which added to the risk analysis enables decision making on the proper security layers to implement in the protection of people, assets and the well-being of all stakeholders. A number of different strategies are intertwined forming an effective protective fabric.  For instance, depending on your business activities (considering the difference between transporting valuables and commodities which require different mitigation strategies) in terms of duty of care for a broader geographical spectrum, few resources are allocated to staff protection in Alberta, Canada where the country risk level for violent criminal activities is relatively low, as opposed to Cairo, Egypt where political instability may trigger violent criminal acts (also considering the absence of or overreaction by state authorities), thus requiring more resources to assure the integrity of staff for on-going business operations. Even more resources would need to be invested if the risk levels reach a climax forcing business operations to be either temporarily or permanently interrupted.

Think of it as the layers and various fabrics that should be worn to protect yourself against the climatic elements. For instance, you’d be ill advised to don a heavy wool sweater or goose down jacket to the hot desert climate of Cairo for a business trip; just the same as you would not be fitted in a fashionable light linen shirt for a similar trip to Alberta at the height of the winter season. If traveling back and forth between these regions, care would be taken to wear the right clothing based on the prevailing climate. Equal permutations should be considered when tailoring the proper security strategies for these regions respectably and as mentioned before, based on your particular business operation.



Natural Disasters: Stay Ready!

I’m not a climate researcher, I only know enough to make informed decisions. But, even I would be derelict to brush aside clear evidence that our climate has shown consistent signs of dramatic change. I think back to my early years in the Caribbean, back in the 80’s when major hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters occurred on rare occasions. I recently spent a few years there and in that time span I witnessed more natural disasters than all others my parents, grandparents, uncles and similar wise elders have seen over their long lives in the region.

In fact, I’ve observed the same trends around the globe. Since last year massive snowstorms in the United States, floods in Australia, record drought in China and Russia (leading to massive wildfires) have put people’s lives at peril, as well as threaten our global food supply.

Since climate conditions don’t show any signs of improving over the coming decade and the global community don’t seem to agree on clear goals for tackling its effect, we as individuals should take the logical best option; which is learning as much as we can about the risks we face and preparing for unpredictable situations. With that in mind I would preface a number of preparedness tips by sharing information from cutting edge studies on root causes for the wild weather gyrations we’ve been experiencing.

Climate Tipping Points: (Source:

Scientists know from the geological record that the Earth’s climate can change rapidly. They have identified a number of potential tipping points where relatively small amounts of global warming caused by human activities could cause large changes in climate. Some tipping points, like the losses to the Amazon forests, involve positive feedback loops and could lead to runaway climate change.

Arctic ice cap: The white ice cap is good at reflecting the Sun’s warming light back into space. But when it melts, the dark ocean uncovered absorbs this heat. This leads to more melting, and so on.

Tundra: The high north is warming particularly fast, melting the permafrost that has locked up vast amounts of carbon in soils for thousands of years. Bacteria digesting the unfrozen soils generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leading to more warming.

Gas hydrates: Also involving methane, this tipping point involves huge reservoirs of methane frozen on or just below the ocean floor. The methane-water crystals are close to their melting point and highly unstable. A huge release could be triggered by a little warming.

West Antarctic ice sheet: Some scientists think this enormous ice sheet, much of which is below sea level, is vulnerable to small amounts of warming. If it all eventually melted, sea level would rise by six metres.

I’ll introduce a new slogan for this blog, which is “Protect People First”. That said, below are a few tips on protecting yourself when natural disasters strike.

If there are only moments to spare, you need to know how to react to everything from an earthquake to a tornado and a flood to hurricane. Study up on the basics so you can be decisive during the destruction:


Heed evacuation orders, first shutting off utilities. If you stay home, turn off gas lines and fill your tub with water. Secure shutters. During the storm, move to an interior room and close all doors.


If a flash-flood warning is issued, move to higher ground immediately–don’t wait to gather belongings. In any flood, avoid downed power lines and moving water. Six inches of moving water can make a pedestrian fall, while a foot will float most vehicles.


Once you hear a storm warning, tune to a weather radio (or similar emergency information source) for tornado alerts. If an alert comes, seek refuge in a basement–either your own or a neighbor’s–or go to an emergency shelter. As a last resort, stay on the lowest floor of your home. If you’re in a car as a tornado approaches, get out and seek shelter indoors. If you’re caught in the open, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.


Crawl under a sturdy table and cover your face and head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large bureaus or bookcases that could fall. If you become trapped under debris, cover your mouth with a cloth or shirt, and tap against a pipe or other object to make noise. (Don’t yell for help unless you have to; you risk inhaling dangerous quantities of dust.) If you are able, leave the building once the shaking stops–aftershocks can bring down a structure compromised by the initial quake. Finally, if you’re outside during the quake, steer clear of buildings and utility wires.


Contact your local fire department, health department or forestry office for information on fire laws. Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Plan several escape routes away from your home – by car and by foot. Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it’s kept.  Keep handy household items that can be-used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel


Respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, are spread by coughing, sneezing and unclean hands. Because of this, one of the most important things you can do to stop flu transmission is to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm, clean water for 10-20 seconds. If running water is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if your hands are not visibly soiled.  Since employees often spend up to eight hours a day in an office, breathing the same air and coming into contact with the same surfaces, the office can be a breeding ground for viruses and bacterial infections to spread. Pay close attention to personal and workplace hygiene.  During a flu outbreak, disinfecting is critical! Give special attention to highly touched environmental surfaces in your work area and office such as desks, keyboard/mouse, phones, printers, doorknobs, light switches, etc.

Last word on natural disaster preparedness: Do not undermine the power of social media as an early warning source of information. I personally use twitter to gather and forward information on risk conditions around the world. My experience has been that I ramp up intake of local and global developing situation faster and more accurately than any other media source. So, whatever your preference for staying connected, learn to harness the power of crowd-sourced information as your own miner’s canary.



Bulletproof Apparel

In previous posts I’ve layout my travel security recommendations. They have basically been focused on influencing behavior and modifying habits to gain a more secure posture.  I try not to recommend other self defense tactics because other sources offer plenty of marketing for a variety of gear. Quite frankly 90% of them are not worth your money. Looking at the bazaar of violence going on in some areas of Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the globe got me thinking about one set of gear that at face value may offer real benefits to keep you secure while you visit certain hotspots.

I’m talking about bulletproof apparel. These are innovative products first developed in Colombia, which have gained popularity in Latin America as the level of violence has been reaching unprecedented levels.  When violent shootouts can break out anywhere and anytime, defense against collateral damage may be a worthy investment.

The Truth About Hotel Safes

This information is top security. When you have read it, destroy yourself. – Herbert Marshall McLuhan

Hotel safes entail keeping your valuables protected through your stay at facilities where this convenience is offered.  But the security of the boxes themselves is not completely fool proof, as there are a number of known vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities range from physical to logical attacks.  Yet many travelers and even hotel staff are awfully unaware about their susceptibility to the schemes.

One of these schemes is surprisingly simple to pull off. It’s favored by international thieves because they can easily obtain a hotel guess’ name and room number (possibly fake ID); while using elements of social engineering, they simply act as a distressed hotel guess locked out of his/her room and save. Hotel security services always ready to assist a customer and unaware of these sophisticated plots, would comply and open room and safe both.

Other attacks go after the digital safes’ electronic panel, cracking the code if given sufficient time.  It is important to look into the safes UL ratings to weight the risk of storing irreplaceable valuable objects.  These attacks are less commons as the skills required to successfully attack new models becomes less common.

The Historical View

Both hotels and safes have a long history, dating back thousands of years. There are some precursors to the modern safes for instance the Egyptians sought to protect their possessions by burying their scrolls deep in the pyramids; the Assyrians buried duplicates of important documents at separate locations and at the height of the Roman Empire Julius Caesar filed his records in strong, iron boxes. Hotel safes came into existence out of similar concerns when innkeepers sought to protect their patron’s belongings from theft. As far back as the eighteen hundreds lodges and inns where known to advertise safes as part of the security amenities offered to potential clients.  One could say that security is one of the intrinsic benefits included in the lodging industries’ offering since their inception. Since the modern concept of hotels has been modeled after the English and Dutch Inn models many the concepts are imbedded in Common Law. Such is the case of the “duty of a hotel to provide safe premises” from which offering hotel safes branches out from.

Today as in the old days hotels offer safes both to minimize liability and for the peace-of-mind and convenience of guest who often bring valuables into their facilities. The truth of the matter is that these safes are only as secure as the procedure used at any given hotel.  That is because many hotels have a backdoor access into the safe in case the guest forgets the code or loses the key. This fact can create a number of vulnerabilities starting with the fact that hotel staff can be easily deceived as stated above, as well as the fact that they can also be tempted into surreptitiously entering a guest room to steal values in the safe they have indirectly been entrusted with.

As a hotel guest you’re left with limited options as to how to protect your valuables.  Some of the best options are ingenious, but required some knowledge of how the thieves would go about trying to rip you off.   What ever your strategy is remember that your best option is prevention.  It means that you should probably limit the irreplaceable, valuable items you bring with you to a hotel. Also check your travel insurance coverage for some valuable items in case they’re stolen. Lastly heed the security advice offered throughout this site.  A hotel safe is a convenient way to store valuables, but remember the adage about placing all your eggs in one basket.

How To Be The Ultimate Security-Aware Road Warrior

By Francisco Mateo

So you’re a venerable road warrior, but have you mastered the art of staying safe and secure during your international travel? If you want to practice security awareness like the pro’s do, always keep in mind that “the best security protocols are based on common sense and real world experience.” Below are few additional tips to get you ready to protect yourself like the pro’s do:

  • Consult the travel security guidance for your destination from your country’s Foreign Service. Generally it is also a good idea to seek advice regarding extreme climate conditions from reputable weather services.
  • Be aware of the financial and labor issues of your chosen airline as this would impact aircraft maintenance.
  • Scan and make two sets of photocopies of all your identity documents and be mindful of their expiration dates: passport, ID card, driver’s license, vaccination certificates, credit cards, Customs papers for imported material (portable PC, camera, satellite phone, etc.) leave one copy at home and take the other with you.
  • Use luggage that is solid and has a reliable combination lock; airport security approved locks are a good investment.
  • You’re destination country has a reputation for luggage theft shrink wrapping it is a good deterrence.
  • If the risk of loosing your bag is high consider buying Travel Insurance; using a secure identity tag on your bags and don’t pack your bag too tightly.
  • Record the content of your luggage with picture or video to serve as documentation in case it’s lost or stolen.
  • If you need to take confidential/valuable documents or objects (diskettes, money, etc.) on your trip, store them in your carry-on luggage.
  • Some countries reserve the right to scan the contents of your laptop and other portable devices; so if you want your information to remain confidential either encrypt it or take a Clean Laptop with you.
  • Keep your id papers, credit cards, money and tickets on you at all times.
  • It’s good practice to keep a set of extra clothing and footwear in your carry-on luggage.
  • Do not leave your luggage unattended at the airport
  • Never trust an unknown person with your luggage.  A stranger can either steal or manipulate your bag.
  • At the hotel, ask for a room between the second and fifth floor, not overlooking the street (for ease of emergency exit and for protection against bombs)
  • Lock the door fully; use the door-chain or other door safety device.
  • Establish the identity of visitors before opening the door
  • Deposit valuables and documents in the room safe
  • Read the safety instructions and check out the evacuation routes
  • Be CAUTIOUS and observant as to who handles and serves you beverages. Be aware that drinks can be laced with substances such as GHB, a drug that is odorless, colorless and tasteless.   It renders the victim euphoric and susceptible to suggestion.
  • Overall, maintain a low profile. Try to avoid looking like a tourist (e.g. consulting a map in public);
  • Always keep your relatives or emergency contacts aware of your travel itinerary and any changes;
  • Keep your contact list up-to-date;
  • Always keep your mobile phone charged and switched on (make sure you bring a charger and possibly an extra battery)

Remember that these tips amount to a simple philosophy called: maintaining “Situational Awareness”. Practiced often enough and they become habit, which is the state of mind all road warriors should seek to sustain.

Travel Security & Weather Statistics, Modeling and Predictions

In light of the Hurricane Season which affects both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean from June to November, I wanted to share more information I’ve researched on the subject of weather modeling as a tool to augment travel security.  I recently wrote an article, which in part, describes the importance of being aware of trends in weather events that might give rise to disasters.  In recent years these unpredictable, deadly events have been occurring with greater frequency. Our means of prevention are there, but must be harnessed through technology.  Learn how:

Plan Your Summer Travel Using Climate Statistics

Smart Phone Hotel Room Key – A Hack Waiting to Happen?

You know the old bit about how security is about trade-offs (convenience for a bit of your privacy) as soon as I saw this headline alarm bells started to flash about possible exploit of the smart-phone hotel room key option. That’s because data stored in smart-phones has become notoriously unsecured, therefore, in the name of convenience you could potentially be rendering access to hotel room burglars. Any time you hear that new high tech solution has been implemented for your convenience take it with a grain of salt. Time and time again we’ve seen how new software is written and implemented circumventing traditional low-tech solutions that took years (even decades) of security innovations to get to where it is at. I’m not saying that this is not a promising innovation, old hotel room keys have had their issues (personal data stored on magnetic stripe, including credit card info used to create clones), but users must ensure that proper safeguards would be put in place to prevent unauthorized entry  to your hotel room using your stolen data.

Smartphones to be used as hotel room keys: