Counter Threat Group recently participated in the GO Georgia Missions Conference. Along with the many questions we received about Church Safety, there were also questions and concerns about international travel safety.
More and more churches are sending members overseas for short term mission projects. Often times, these projects take place in parts of the world where there is a safety risk for those who aren’t properly informed and prepared. It is important in today’s world for people to understand some history, current events and culture about the countries that are traveling to before departing the U.S.
The first step that anyone who is considering international travel needs to take is consulting the State Department travel site at travel.state.gov. This is a searchable site that provides safety information on every country. The State Department classifies countries into four travel advisory levels. They are as follows:
Travel Advisory Levels
- Exercise normal precautions
- Exercise increased caution
- Reconsider travel
- Do not travel
The site is searchable by country and will give justification for the various advisory levels. Advisory levels one and two are typically ok for travel. For level two, it is important to know why the country is classified as “exercise increased caution.” Often, it is because of an event of concern that has taken place somewhere in the country, or the threat of a potential event occurring. In either case it is important to open up the available information on the State Department site to see what the safety concern is about. Here is an example of one for France that is currently at travel advisory level two.
Advisory levels 3 and 4 should be looked at very seriously. If your country of destination falls into either of those categories, consideration should be given to canceling/postponing the trip or finding another destination.
For a country to be classified as level 3, something has happened recently or there is intelligence indicating that some kind of negative event will likely occur in the future. The State Department recommends that you reconsider travel. You won’t be blocked from traveling but you do so at your own risk.
A current example of a level 3 country is Haiti. According to the State Department site, the situation in Haiti is unpredictable with “crime, civil unrest and kidnapping.” There is a much more in-depth description of the current ground situation in Haiti on the site.
A country that has a level 4 advisory level from the State Department should be completely avoided. Your life is at risk if you go to a level 4 country. In all probability, all State Department personal have been evacuated and there is very little, if anything, that the United States can do for you. Also, you may be restricted from traveling to a level 4 country. An example of a current level 4 country is Afghanistan.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Finally, something all travelers should do before they leave the country is to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
By enrolling in STEP, the U.S. State Department will know what country or countries you are traveling to and what dates you will be there. They will send you alerts via text message or email about any incidents of concern that could impact your safety in the country you are in. Examples are mass demonstrations, acts of terrorism, coups or other events that could significantly put your safety at risk. The enrollment is easy and only takes a few minutes.
It is important to learn everything you can about any country that you plan to travel to individually or with a group. Understanding how to minimize your profile as an American, looking confident and changing some of your behaviors can significantly reduce your risk of becoming a target for crime or terrorism. Counter Threat Group offers International Travel Safety Seminars and detailed information on specific countries for individuals, mission groups and travel groups.