A few pre-trip planning steps will help keep you safer if you ever find yourself in a city that’s experienced an attack. (Photo: iStock/MundusImages)
By Johnny Jet
Friday’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris has the Western world on edge. Sadly, until governments around the world wake up and extinguish these barbarians, this could be the new norm. Fortunately, I’ve never been smack in the middle of a terrorist attack but I was in Manhattan during 9/11, in India during the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, and in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots that erupted after the Rodney King police brutality verdict was announced (not a terrorist attack but it was scary like one). I was also in France this past August when fortunately, three Americans thwarted a bloody train massacre.
If, God forbid, you’re ever in a city where’s there’s a terrorist attack or you’re about to travel to one, then hopefully you will find this information helpful.
Here’s what to do in a city where’s there’s been a terrorist attack:
1. Remain calm
Check in with your loved ones and your government to let others know you’re safe. (Photo: Johnny Jet)
Obviously this is easier said than done. But losing your cool isn’t going to help, especially when clear heads are needed. Remain calm and if you’re in a place that’s secure, then stay there. If not, then go to the closest one. Once the terrorists have been found, detained, arrested, killed, or have cowardly blown themselves up, realize that the city is way safer than it was before the attacks. The governments will likely bring in thousands of officers, agents, and military, so don’t panic.
2. Check in with loved ones
Social media is making it increasingly easier to let friends and family know you’re safe.
Naturally, your loved ones are going to be freaking out when they hear the news. If you are safe make sure to let your immediate family know, and if you’re on Facebook, then either post that you’re safe or mark yourself as safe using Facebook’s safety check feature. If your location is set to the city where the attack occurred or you recently checked in, Facebook will most likely send you a text or email asking to mark yourself as safe. The app also allows friends/family who have made contact with the person to mark them as safe.
3. Alert your government
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a service that will provide you with information while you’re traveling.
The U.S. government created the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to keep you updated on any relevant incidents or instructions in case something does go down in the part of the world where you’re traveling. It’s a free service for U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the State Department can better assist you in an emergency. STEP also allows Americans residing abroad to get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
FYI: My friend and travel expert Peter Greenberg says that if he was in a foreign country and there was an emergency, the last place he would go is the U.S. Embassy because it’s the first place that shuts down and goes into bunker mode. He suggests going to the Canadian, British, or Australian Embassy.
4. Use FireChat
During 9/11 all the cellular and land lines went down. The only phones working were pay phones but in this day and age, you will be hard pressed to find one. If the phones and internet go down, hopefully you and your loved ones would have already downloaded the FireChat app as it lets users communicate on their smartphones without internet or cellular connection by using “mesh networking”. According to Skift, FireChat uses your phone’s Wi-Fi or Bluetooth antennas “to pass a message to another phone running FireChat that’s located up to 200 feet away. That phone relays the encrypted message on, until it’s delivered. The process can take 10 to 20 minutes to travel across a dense metro area, assuming about five percent of the city’s population has downloaded the FireChat app—a big assumption.” My wife and I tested it briefly on a plane above France and it worked instantaneously, both when we were next to each other or when I was all the way down the aisle in the bathroom.
5. If you want to, get out of town
When airports shut down, dall your travel agent or an air travel assistance company like Cranky Concierge to help navigate the mess. (Photo: Johnny Jet)
Usually after terrorist attacks, governments close the borders, airports, and even roads. We saw this in Paris and in New York after 9/11 when the city shut down all trains, tunnels, and bridges for a few hours, so I was trapped on the island of Manhattan. FYI: Later that afternoon, I was able to take the train to Connecticut to stay with my family.
I’m sure your immediate reaction will be the same as mine — to get the heck out of Dodge. But don’t just head to the airport, train, or bus station. Stay where you are since it’s most likely going to be safer and save you from a wild goose chase. Instead, get on the phone (if they are working) and get online or call the airlines, train, and bus companies to see if you can get on or change a flight.
It might take these companies a few hours but they will most likely waive change fees and offer a refund. Better yet, contact your travel agent and have them do the work for you.
6. Get help
If you didn’t book through a travel agent, you can contact CrankyConcierge.com. For a fee (usually $150), they will help you make other flight arrangements, find a hotel or alternate transportation.
7. Get travel insurance
I highly recommend getting travel insurance and from a third party. You need to have the insurance before an incident takes place or a storm is formed so buy it as soon as you book your travel. But you have to read the fine print as some policies don’t cover terrorism. I use Allianz Travel Insurance (Full disclosure: They are a sponsor of JohnnyJet.com) since they are the giant in the travel insurance business. Allianz is competitively priced but even if they cost a little more, I would go with them because they have offices in 34 countries that span six continents so chances are they will have people on the ground no matter where you are in the world.
FYI: The reason you want to buy travel insurance from a third party is, let’s say you buy insurance for a cruise from a cruise line and they go out of business, then you are out of luck.
8. Stock up on food, water
Having extra food and water on hand is always a good idea. Shops can close down for a while in the wake of an emergency. (Photo: Johnny Jet)
Shortly after the planes hit the Twin Towers, I ran downstairs to stock up on food since I had nothing in my apartment (I was living in NYC at the time). The store shelves were practically barren in minutes, just like after the L.A. riots. If you’re renting an apartment, be sure to stock up when you get there. If you’re in a hotel, you should be fine.
9. Create an emergency kit for your car
Pack up first-aid items, flares, an extra phone charger, and a radio and keep them in your car. (Photo: Johnny Jet)
If you’re renting a car or on a road trip, then create an emergency kit for your car. Have a first aid kit, flares, bottled water, snacks, blanket, phone charger, a transistor radio, and a map. You’ll especially need the last two if there’s no cell service. If you’re in a hot location then sunscreen, a hat, and bug spray are also recommended.
10. Keep your phone charged and carry a power pack
Carry extra phone chargers so you’re never caught without power. (Photo: Johnny Jet)
After the Mumbai attacks, I became kind of neurotic about keeping my phone charged. I make sure it’s fully charged before leaving the house and I often carry a compact portable charger so I can juice up on the fly. Here are some on Amazon.com.
11. Have cash
In a crisis, cash is a more reliable bet than credit cards. Have some on hand. (Photo: Johnny Jet)
When I travel I almost always pay for everything with my credit cards so I can earn miles/points, but in emergencies, cash is king. It’s always a good idea to carry some U.S. dollars as well as local currency.
12. Stay up to date
Stay up to date by listening to the news or following reputable local and national agencies on Twitter. If you want to know what’s happening around you or around the world, you can download a free emergency radio app. This will allow you to listen to live police, fire, EMS, railroad, air traffic, NOAA weather, coast guard, HAM radio, and other frequencies all over the planet. There are thousands of live frequencies and you can tune in to help you stay safer in your neighborhood if you know something is going down.
I hope these tips are useful and if you have any other suggestions, please leave a comment below.