Terrorism and travel: Assessing the risk

Accidents, crime are more likely to be problems, consultants say


April 20, 2003|By Jane Wooldridge | Jane Wooldridge,Knight Ridder / Tribune

The possibility of terrorist attacks may keep parents up at night, but when it comes to family vacations, accidents are far more likely, says Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJET Travel Intelligence, an Annapolis-based travel risk management company.

In destinations outside the United States such as northern Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia, risks are greater since the war in Iraq began, says Kevin O'Brien, a director with Kroll, an international consulting firm.

Even within the United States, a terrorist attack may be more likely this year than in summers past. But, says McIndoe, "our assertion is that it's [far less likely than] winning the lottery" -- or even being struck by lightning. At home or abroad, he says, "the chance of an individual American and his family being caught up in a terrorist incident is one in millions, if not tens of millions."

Chances of a terrorist attack might be greater at a symbolic American place -- say, the Washington Monument -- than at a more obscure or rural place, say experts. But security measures at such sites are also heightened.

At Walt Disney World, for instance, increased security means steps that visitors can see -- such as bag checks -- and things they can't, such as tightened access to backstage areas. Disney is working closely with local and federal law enforcement, says spokeswoman Marilyn Waters, and varying many security routines so they won't be predictable.

On cruise ships, the strict security measures installed after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks have remained in place. Every bag and every person going aboard ship is now X-rayed, says Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines.

Most cruise lines also use a smart-card system embedded with the passenger's photo that notes every time each passenger exits and reboards the ship. U.S. ports have also increased security measures, and many foreign ports are doing so as well.

The real danger, says McIndoe: In worrying about such unlikely events, parents will lose sight of the greater risks of traveling with kids: crime and accidents.

Steps to consider

McIndoe and other risk experts recommend educating yourself about potential problems and considering assistance and insurance programs before you travel. Head off problems by knowing the potential pitfalls and taking steps to avoid them.

* If you're leaving the country, check for health recommendations (www.cdc.gov) and travel alerts (travel.state.gov). Get any recommended vaccinations, and take all recommended precautions. Find out the address and contact information for the nearest U.S. embassy at your destination.

* Leave copies of your itinerary and important documents, such as passports and tickets, with a friend or family member.

* On a subway or bus, wear your day pack in front and your purse with the strap over one shoulder and across the chest, with the flap turned toward you. Keep money in a pouch or belt beneath your clothes.

* Set your bags down in front of you, not off to one side, in public places.

* If you're flying with a child under 40 pounds, have an appropriate child safety seat.

* Survey the place you are staying just as you would your home, checking for unprotected electrical plugs and loose objects that children might swallow. Check borrowed or rental cribs for stability. Be sure you don't leave medicines or other loose items where children can reach them.

* Carry recent photos of your children, in case they get separated from you.

* Be sure clothing name tags are hidden inside clothes -- not on the outside where some stranger might learn your child's name.

* Have your health insurance card handy and know what your insurance will and won't cover.

* Check flight schedules. Some airlines have cut routes, and it's possible more changes are coming. Keep calling your agent or checking your airline's Web site to see if your flight is still scheduled.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said people should print out flight schedules from their departure city in case their airline suddenly alters its schedule and makes a flight home difficult.

* Take a cell phone. If you don't have one, rent one. If your cell doesn't work overseas, check with your provider; some rent international chips.

Or you can rent an overseas phone from International Cellular Services (www.international cellular.com) and WorldCell International Cellular Service (www.worldcell.com).

* Have access to extra cash in case of emergency. In most cases, that means bringing credit and ATM cards.

Having a formal policy in place to help you if things go wrong is probably most important when you're traveling overseas. But even at home, having someone who can help with arrangements should travel be disrupted -- such as a travel agent -- can be helpful.

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