Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
When traveling overseas, even to Mexico or to the Mid East, you want to put the odds of having a safe trip as much in your favor as possible. One of the key issues is using what is available to you, one way is to use the State Departments STEP program. There are a number of parts to this program, one is when you enroll and sign on to the State Department updates, they will send you key information as to the safety or problems with any area you are going. I never completely rely on it, because of Political issues that do not allow them to disclose some information. But they will keep you up on issues that can prove life threatening. I supplant this information with other sources like Stratfor, SSI, and others which keep a good eye on what is going on around the world.
The second part of this is that when you establish an account with the STEP program, you will have key data on yourself available where ever you can get onto the internet. Like your Passport information, even some data on health that you may find useful to have available when traveling anywhere in the world.
The third and perhaps most important is that you can log in and tell the system where you are going, when your are going, even flight and hotel information during the trip, or trips. This is critical information to the State Department, and even gets to the Regional Security Officer or RSO in the region you are traveling. In many cases if the RSO sees something in his intel traffic than could effect you he can leave messages or even email you to contact him. This has been a life saver a number of times in my life. But just the fact they know you are in the area is a big help.
But here is when all this really comes in, if you are missing or someone thinks you are missing, if they call the State Department, there will already be a record of travel. The RSO will know very quickly that it is not a crank call, and even what hotel's or other places like a friends home that you are supposed to be. This does not mean the RSO will start a search for you with the police, but it does give them the RSO a place to start checking. This can save days even hours on someone starting to look at your problem, remember the RSO has a lot of duties, and one is not searching for every missing American around the world. Flight delays, hotels over booked all can lead to people thinking the person is missing, so do not get flustered when the RSO does not start a world wide man hunt for you.
This is just one more thing you can do to put the odds of a satisfactory solution in your favor. If I am in a tough place, I normally make a call to the RSO just to have a quick chat, and let them know what I am doing in their area.
You still need to take the normal precautions, like leaving copies (digital is best) of key documents in a place that people can reach to help find you. If traveling on business, I leave it with my work and family, if on vacation, I may just leave it where family can find it. I make sure if the trip requires a visa, that I leave a copy of that page of my passport as well. I also leave my flight information as well as the hotels I am staying or home if with a friend. If I am renting a car, I leave the reservation number as well. It helps when they need to know what type of car, even what actual car I was last in.
Most of the time I leave a voice recording or where I am going hour by hour on a telephone answering machine that if the trip is successful I can just erase, but if I am missing people can reach it and give the authorities the last known information from it. Like when I go to a meeting, or dinner, or even someplace I perhaps should not be. Remember if you get back OK, you can erase the information, but if missing it could be the critical info to get you back.
By the way I use the trick with the telephone answering machine when ever I go somewhere I am not sure of, or even when I see a suspect car around me, I will call in and leave a licence number and description of the car and what is going on. If nothing happens I simply erase the message later on. It is also a good way to keep track of suspect vehicles that you may notice more than once.
When my phones messaging service is working I usually send pictures of cab drivers and their licence to my wife's phone. Then if I go missing we have a better place to start.
On the next posting we will deal with what to look at, at what hotel you are staying at. Be safe.