US travel alert: Now what?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: The travel alerts regarding travel to Europe keep on coming. Today Japan and Sweden warned their citizens of a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in Europe. This after similar travel warnings were issued by the US and Britain. These warnings are reportedly based on credible, but not specific, intelligence regarding the threat in Europe. Glenn Schoen is a security advisor with the accounting firm Ernst and Young. He's based in Amsterdam. Schoen has some advice for travelers to follow during this alert.

GLENN SCHOEN: A couple of the big standards of to, while overseas, of course to stay informed. Don't go completely out of touch even, as maybe you'll be trying to relax on vacation, but try to tap into local news at least on a daily basis and preferably a few times a day. Second, I would say in general terms try to practice what we know as personal awareness. Trust your intuition if something doesn't look right. Take action on it. In addition, before you go it's always a smart thing to let people know where you're going and make sure you live an itinerary at home, but also preferably at work. That way people who might want to relay or reach out to you can get in touch.

MULLINS: Now let me interrupt this one. I'm going to go back to I think the second one that you mentioned. You mention personal awareness. When somebody's travelling overseas, especially a place where you've never been before, everything can look unfamiliar. People's mannerisms can be different. Lots of people carrying backpacks. What does it mean in practical terms for an American to be personally aware of what's around them?

SCHOEN: Well, I mean it's, in this kind of situation where it's always better not to say they overreact, but to be extra careful. If you think something is not right, if you're worried about three or four people standing together at the entrance to the airport with long coats in sunny weather, act on it. Be proactive in terms of your contribution towards other people.

MULLINS: Meaning what do you do? How do you act on it?

SCHOEN: Well, go up to a policeman and say hey, look, I'm just observing this and I thought that's strange, or I saw this bag abandoned. It's an easy way to be able to reach out and get the local authorities or get appropriate assistance in whatever the situation is you may be confronting. What it means is act on it. Don't just say, ooh, that looks kind of funny and walk away. Help other people.

MULLINS: Now, a lot of the recommendations that your making are things that we often here, in fact, you can find them on the State Department's website as well. [OVERLAPPING] general things now especially post 9/11. Are there any basic safety behaviors that you are advising people right now to adopt and would they be any different this week from last week or the week before, previous to this latest security alert?

SCHOEN: Well, what you want to listen to is what's in the alert. And if people are talking about indiscriminate attacks taking place, think about what are the implications of the information given me? If people see what's being called a Mumbai-style attack as a possibility, what does it mean? Well, it should mean for instance that you avoid any downtime in, for instance, transportation hubs. Or if you have to spend time there, try to do it in secure areas, for instance, in the airport.

MULLINS: Well, when you talk about potential Mumbai-style attacks we're talking about kind of random gunfire, but through a large swath of territory, I mean through a general area, people kind of roaming around looking for targets. That's a tough thing to avoid, to try to think that that may be�

SCHOEN: Absolutely. It's absolutely a very difficult situation to avoid. But in general terms one of the things, of course, that if you stay informed and there is a situation that develops and local media will normally be reporting on it, so pretty quickly these days people will be informed about what's going on. And then it becomes a measure of okay, if this is occurring in the city, avoid going into the city center.

MULLINS: The kind of vigilance that you're recommending, that the US State Department recommends as well, does it pay off?

SCHOEN: I think in general terms yes. I mean what it's meant to do, in part of course, is bolster the confidence of people who do go. If we look at activities such as terrorism, it remains a truism that statistically speaking the chance of it happening to you on your trip is quite low. Therefore, if you feel as a person that you've been strengthened with some advice and information, you're in a much better off position in feeling I can't do anything about this, this is all forces beyond me. 100% security doesn't exist, so we have to accept the fact that we can't control everything, but you can control certain things and by doing that you can limit the chances of you becoming a victim.

MULLINS: Alright, thank you very much Glenn Schoen, security advisor with the accounting firm of Ernst and Young. Thanks a lot.

SCHOEN: Thank you.