Security professionals dissect bombings as one would a corpse after a mysterious killing. Such was the case with the mass murder known in London as “7/7”. On the 7th of July, 2005, a coordinated multiple bomb attack by extremists massacred 52 British London subway travelers. Another 700 commuters were injured. Such attacks greatly influence subsequent briefings for cleared travelers to such locations.

A proper security briefing for overseas travel is never ‘canned’. That is to say it should not be the kind which anyone who can read can give. If that is what your company does, they are doing you a disservice. Consider how briefings were tailored after this attack, and how they must continue to be tailored when new incidents occur.

Travelers to threatened cities were advised to take the following steps:

Memorize the Address of Your Hotel

First and foremost, they were told to know by heart the name and location of their hotel. Why memorize? One of the immediate after effects of major bombings is the loss of all communication. This can be due to the bombing cutting electrical power, or due to the government closing down communications as a protective measure against ignition devices. In either case, your cell phone won’t work. And where is every scrap of information kept these days? For that reason we also advised they purchase a paper map of the city where they’d travel.

Be Cautious of Your Options Out

Secondly, they were advised not to take secondary means of transportation after exiting the bombed conveyances. Conflicting reports after the bombing indicated a missed calamity. Commuters exiting the subway “tube” stations were coming into broad daylight in unknown parts of the city.  Many headed for public transportation above ground. Yet, it was believed there were additional explosives on a bus near where one of the explosions occurred.  While in later examination this was rendered unclear, it was nevertheless something which presumably could have been targeted, and planned for. Culvert bombs in other circumstances are always followed by secondary explosions to kill others, be they other commuters, emergency response personnel, or passersby. Consequently, our travelers were advised to walk back to their hotels if they were caught in an incident. For this, it was literally advised to bring walking shoes.

Know the Number of Your U.S. Embassy

We also told them to write down the number of the US Embassy. Better yet, like the hotel, memorize it.  This is because once communications are restored, calls deluge the embassy asking about the safety of American family members. If you have reported your status there after an incident in the city, those who wonder about your safety will know whether you are well or not. In line with this, know where your passport is at all times, the better to identify yourself. I also cautioned travelers to leave a careful itinerary with a trusted friend in the United States. This way, if you cannot be found, searchers will know where to begin to look.

All of this seems overly cautious. Until it happens to you. A bomb exploded on the subway where a cleared traveler was sent on a conference. She exited the subway exactly where told to get out. A subway loudspeaker announced, “An incident has happened at …………. station. Exit the subway immediately at the next station.”  This means you, traveler. I often would chastise some of our travelers not to be like Americans who hear an emergency weather siren, and assume it is just practice, or ‘doesn’t include them’.  Our traveler got off the subway and went above ground. There, her business high heels in a bag, she hiked in her tennis shoes some ten blocks, following her paper map back to her hotel. There she was placed in contact with our embassy.

Most security briefings seem overly cautious – until a catastrophic event happens. Plan for the worst – especially when traveling abroad – and you’ll likely never have to take the seemingly overzealous measures required.

Related News

John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.