You mean you don’t have your own jumbo jet with fighter escorts, and a bunch of bald “badasses” to come pick you up in an armored limo?? No worries… OPS Security Group’s got you covered! I mean… we aren’t sending you a plane or picking you up in anything armored (unless you want us to, then I’ll have my sales team call you), but we have put together a little list of knowledge gleaned from the same people and training that is given to the guys protecting THE guy.
This is the first installment in a series of safety and security tips and “hacks”. During my time in the Secret Service, these tips and techniques were provided as a part of my training. It is my goal to tailor these to provide you with as many tools and as much knowledge as I can to help ensure you and your “first family” are as secure as top government officials.
At OPS Security Group, we know how exciting the thought of traveling to see family, visit new places, and experience new cultures can be. Before you book those flights, pack beach towels, and surprise the kids with the news of a holiday time vacation, take a second and review these simple and effective tips to help ensure that your time away is filled with holiday cheer, not holiday fear.
Tip #1: Take care of your home while you are away.
White House operations don’t simply stop because the first family is away, there is a small army of staff that care for the house all year long. While we can’t all be that fortunate, here are some simple ways to ensure your residence is cared for while you are gone:
- Before you travel, arrange with a family member or a friend to check in on your house, pick up the newspapers and gather mail. Criminals will look for easy targets. Uncollected newspapers or mail spilling out of the mailbox are clear signs that your house is vacant. If there is no one available to help, the US Postal Service offers “hold mail” service. This will allow you to enter the dates of your travel and your mail will be kept secure at your local post office. Use the link provided to enter your address to see if you qualify.
USPS Hold Mail Service: https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/
- Installing motion sensor lights on the exterior of your house, and timers for your interior lights can be a very cost effective way to give the appearance that your house is still occupied. With the new apps available, these things can be controlled from wherever you get cell reception, making it easy to keep your lighting unpredictable to anyone who may be watching for patterns (timers).
- If you maintain your own lawn, and you will be gone for an extended period of time, arrange for a landscaper or lawn service (or a generous neighbor) to come and take care of your lawn while you are away. It seems trivial, but if you keep a well maintained lawn, and suddenly it has become overgrown, this might appeal to a criminal that has been eyeing up your neighborhood.
- If you have an alarm monitoring service, be sure to notify them of your travel time. They may have a travel policy in place in terms of notifications and police response, or you can work this out with them. For those that do not have an alarm service, stop by a your local hardware store and get an alarm yard sign and post in a visible area in your front yard. Remember, criminals want to find the path of least resistance, and will most likely pass up a home with this type of sign as it is not worth the chance to find out if it is really alarmed or not.
Tip #2: Do Intelligence Gathering.
The US Secret Service Presidential Protective Division will send individuals out weeks in advance of a Presidential trip to scout out the local area, investigate potential threats, identify the local hospitals and other important locations, and meet with local law enforcement to make sure the location is as secure as possible. While you may not have a team of agents at your disposal, you can still provide this “travel advance” for yourself and your family. Here’s how:
- Two to three days prior to your departure, type the address of your hotel into google maps or another map program, and find out where the local police, fire, ems, and hospitals are. Also check out where local banks, atm machines, convenience stores and pharmacies are. *Be sure to make a written list of these locations and directions to them from your hotel in the event that cell service goes down and your cell phone is unavailable.
- If traveling abroad, take a minute and log on to the US State Department website. Here you can search for the country you will be traveling to. This will provide valuable information such as visa requirements, local laws and customs, and any area specific travel advisories. Additionally, you can find the location of the nearest US embassy, which is crucial to know in the event of a major incident or if legal issues arise. Again, make sure you have a hard copy of the address and the directions to them in case cell service is not reliable.
- Keep your passport safe. If your hotel has a safe, keep it in there. Make a photocopy of your passport and carry the copy with you, as well as a picture of it on your phone. If something happens while you are abroad, this will be the most important thing you have with you, and will be necessary to gain entry into the embassy.
Go to https://www.state.gov/travel/ for more.
- The most important thing to know regarding international travel is to stay in or near the areas of interest. Most popular areas of travel have an economy built around tourism and rely on visiting travelers to be happy and return or refer to others. The local people in these areas will usually be very friendly and helpful. However, the further you travel away from the area of interest, the higher the potential becomes for a dangerous situation to present itself. If you get the urge to travel off of the beaten path, make sure you check in with a relative or friend and let them know where you are intending to go, and a time you expect to be back. Give as many exact details as you can as to your plans and destination points, so that if the worst is to occur, they can give that information to the agencies that will come looking for you. If you get a guide, make sure it is provided by a reputable company, usually through the hotel you stay at, and never use anyone that approaches you on the street or in the hotel lobby.
Tip #3: Have a plan for where you stay.
The hotel. It seems so simple, point.click.stay. With convenience sites on the internet built to get you the best room for the cheapest price, it is easier than ever to secure lodging. However, from a safety and security point of view, calling and making the reservation yourself can have many benefits. Here are some things to consider:
- It’s okay to be easy……….to rescue. When reserving your room, request a room that is on a floor below the 7th. Most rescue trucks cannot reach higher than this, so if you are trapped in your room, the higher you are will only delay your rescue when minutes and seconds count. All hotel rooms have an evacuation plan / route placard on the door. Take a picture of this on your cell phone, and it is highly recommended to make this your home screen photo. In the event of a fire or terrorist attack, this evacuation plan will be at your fingertips by simply activating your phone.
- “Know when to walk away, know when to run”. Not just words to a country classic, words that can save you. Request a room that is no more than 5 doors away from the emergency exit. When filled with smoke, even your own house can become disorienting, and it becomes easy to get turned around and lost. Think about how impossible it could be in a strange hotel with multiple floors and winding hallways. Knowing that you are only a few rooms away from the exit can save your life when you can’t see your hands in front of your eyes. Most importantly, STAY CALM and SLOW DOWN. No, that isn’t a typo, SLOW DOWN. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when you need to move and move fast. But when the smoke has filled the room and you can’t see, the last thing you want to do is panic and speed up. This can get you lost and it speeds up your breathing and use of oxygen in an already oxygen depleted condition, which can lead to losing consciousness within feet from the door.
- Reservations desk and keys. When you check in, make sure no one is next to you when you are given your room number and key. Before this happens, a simple request to the representative to not say it aloud, and to simply write it on the key folder can ensure that no one in your area knows what room you are in. Request at least two keys, and keep one in your wallet or purse at all times. At time of checkout, make sure you destroy your keys or take them with you, never leave them in your room or throw them in the trash. The room key keeps personal information on it in the magnetic strip, and can be retrieved effortlessly from individuals that know how.
- Keep an extra white sheet or blanket on the balcony, or near a window at all times. In the event of an emergency, it can be used to signal rescuers to your location.
- Utilize the deadbolt on your door. Don’t trust that the automatic lock is enough, and NEVER trust the chain lock. When answering the door for an unexpected visitor, make them announce themselves BEFORE you unlock or attempt to open the door. Remember to pick up your cell phone before going to the door, If the individual attempts to force the door open, most bathrooms are positioned directly next to the main door. Go into the bathroom immediately and lock the door, then dial 911 from your cell phone. If the bathroom has a hotel phone in it, dial the front desk and request security.
So now that you are ready to travel like POTUS, the only question left is what codenames you and your family will use! (Honey Badger is taken, sorry)
For more tips and security best practices, check out: https://opssecuritygroup.com/category/general/. (we can totally pick you up in an armored car)