Safety and Security for Journalists and Media

When most people think of executive protection, or bodyguards in general, they tend to think of VIPs, celebrities, and high net worth individuals (HNWI). Though they may not always travel to hazardous locations, their risk is enhanced by virtue of their position or status. For journalists and media crews though, travelling to hazardous locations is often part of the job, thus provision sometimes needs to be made for risk management and personal security.

In some cases the risk is very high. Anyone who has seen the movie, Whisky Tango Foxtrot or read the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, will have a sense of how high that risk might be. Even allowing for the artistic license that Hollywood inevitably takes, there is no doubt that journalists and media crews find themselves in risky situations. In this post, and this podcast episode, we take a look at some of those risks and how they can be mitigated.

What’s the difference between executive protection for VIPs and safety and security for journalists and media crews?

I’ve been saying for some time that security is really just a bi-product of the service that we provide and that service is essentially moving people from point A to point B. A security for journalists and media project still requires us to transport and protect so, in essence, the primary goals are the same but the planning and execution will vary considerably.

The risk profile of a journalist and their crew in a war zone or meeting with criminal figures is clearly different to the risk profile of a pop star visiting a shopping mall. And the resources will vary considerably also.

At the VIP and executive end, comfort and style will play a larger role, with 5 star hotels and stretch limos being part of the execution. With news and media projects though, budget accommodation and vehicles that blend in might be more appropriate and affordable.

In essence, journalists are all about getting into the action, whereas VIPs and high net worth individuals are all about avoiding it.

The planning for a media project will be determined by whether the location(s) to be visited might be considered hostile, which covers countries with active war zones, Syria and Afghanistan for example, or volatile, which includes countries that have an inherent safety risk, such as parts of Africa, Latin America, Papua New Guinea and so on. The war zones have risks such as roadside bombs or IEDs (improvised explosive device) while the latter carries risk of kidnapping, armed assault and the like.

Some projects, however, are in locations that are neither hostile or volatile and can be considered benign to a degree. We’ve provided security for journalists and supported television crews in Hawaii, Australia, Singapore and other ‘soft spots’ where there just happened to be an element of risk that warranted a protective presence. As is usual practice, we team up with local providers to make sure the job gets done effectively.

Boots on the ground

A typical example of a project in a volatile zone would be one where we supported a freelance journalists covering stories in Basra during the Iraq war. He outlined the goals of his trip and the locations he was hoping to visit and we provided a risk brief on those locations. The risk brief outlines the conditions he was exposing himself to. We then also provided a full orders brief, which essentially covers what to do when in the area, such as honouring the local customs, etc.

His budget stretched to an armed multi-national team, including local personnel, so we were able to provide a high level of support and threat analysis as the project unfolded.

A key part of this project, and any project in fact, is that we developed a high degree of trust with the journalist right from the start. In any situation, it’s important for the client to understand that if the protection team says it’s time to move out, then it really is time to move out. Without trust, that message just won’t get through.

An additional benefit of this trust is that it allows the journalist and their crew to focus on their work knowing that their backs are covered.

Meanwhile, an example of a project in a volatile zone was when we travelled with a journalist and production team to remote parts of Indonesia to gather material for a story exposing a slavery ring. A sophisticated criminal element was luring fishermen from other parts of Asia with the promise of high wages then enslaving them by holding their passports and preventing their return home.

This project required considerable planning and, because we had to keep a low profile and be reasonably mobile, we had to travel with a small security team. Working with trusted locals, or ‘fixers’ we embedded with the production crew and had to fit in with they wanted and what they needed and, at the same time, provide them with the right advice.

For us, it was about getting the production team as close to the story as possible but, at the same time, attempting to mitigate the risk. It even included managing to get one of them onboard one of the fishing boats without being detected, and then get them off again safely. It was a challenging but rewarding project.

Importantly, in both of these cases, the journalists got what they needed and without coming to harm. Had they not had an expert risk management team with them, it’s doubtful they would have got their story without meeting some sort of misfortune along the way.

Part of the adventure

A key part of any risk management project is to remember that it’s not our role to set the agenda. With journalists, they usually have a pretty adventurous spirit and take more risks than most people. Rather than trying to eliminate the risks, we see our role as helping them to manage it. Safety and security for journalists is about working in with them and providing expert advice.

As much as possible, we try to think of ourselves as being part of their crew, rather than being a separate crew that has a different set of goals. It’s their show, their gig, and our job is to support them in it. We are there to manage expectations rather than to spoil the show so to speak.

As often as not, this means coming up with alternative approaches to a task rather simply saying, ‘No, it can’t be done’. On the rare occasion that we do say it can’t be done, it will be with very good reason and only after all other options have been explored.

Travelling solo

With the advent of mobile phones and camcorders, it’s often the case that a journalist will travel without a production crew. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid risk management or bypass a security presence when it might still be in their best interests to do so. Just because you’re travelling solo doesn’t mean that safety and security for journalists or media goes out the window.

A single journalist recording their own video and/or audio and covering their own logistics is already doing the jobs of multiple people. To add risk management on top of that means something often has to compromise. Usually that will be the risk side of things as it’s not a core skill of the journalist.

Where possible it makes sense to travel with a security presence. Rather than slowing you down, they will actually help get the job done quicker and probably to a higher standard.

Where that’s not possible, consideration should at least be given to having a risk assessment and briefing conducted prior to departure. Even logistics such as hiring a vehicle can be fraught with risk as you can often end up with an unkempt vehicle running on bald tyres. A risk management team can help source vehicles, and local drivers if necessary, that are safer and more suitable for the job. If nothing else, a local driver can help the journalist blend in and make their presence less obvious

Travelling incognito

As a rule, journalists want to stand out on the media, but a key part of security for journalists is to keep a low profile out in the field. We often recommend travelling incognito to support this. We suggest using an assumed name and company when booking accommodation or meeting drivers so as to not draw attention.

This may not be possible when covering official functions or events and sometimes the equipment being used is a give away but, wherever possible a minimal footprint is preferable.

This is especially true in countries that have tight censorship laws or where there might be political unrest.


Kidnappings have happened before to journalists and will certainly happen again and someone who prepares for it is obviously going to be in a better position than someone who doesn’t.

We actually run a ‘Surviving Captivity’ program, primarily designed to highlight what you will experience after being captured and what you can do to minimise the chances of being kidnapped. It’s also an education session on what goes on behind the scenes of a typical kidnap situation.

While it’s not practical to deliver the full content of the program here, there are some fundamental actions and principles to keep in mind if you’re ever in a kidnap situation.

  • Leave breadcrumbs before the fact. Keep family members, your workplace and your embassy appraised of your movements so that in the event that you go missing, they at least have an idea of where to start looking for you.

  • Take a deep breath. Expect that you’ll be going through an emotional roller coaster that covers fear, dread, anger, confusion and helplessness. Knowing that those emotions are coming will help you respond to them rather than react to them when they arrive.

  • Kidnappings are usually ‘business transactions’. Except in rare occasions where the captors are looking to make a political or ideological statement, expect in most cases that they are looking to make an exchange of some sort. Know that it’s likely that these negotiations are going on in the background and a good deal of resources are probably being assembled to support your release.

  • Expect to be uncomfortable. No explanation necessary.

  • Be as aware as possible of your surroundings. How many people appear to be on site? Which way does the sun seem to travel through the day? What sort of vehicles are being used? Can you hear trains, boats or planes nearby? You may not have access to all your senses and will likely lose track of time but gather whatever clues you can as they might be useful either for your own rescue or to support someone else going through the same thing later on.

Nothing is a substitute for proper training for this situation though so reach out to us if you want more information about the Surviving Captivity training. Though it’s not as intense as a military version of the program, it is run by former special forces and intelligence operatives so covers the subject in considerable detail.

3 Quick Tips to Wrap Up

1 – Even if you aren’t entering a hostile or volatile environment, any travelling journalist or production crew would be well advised to review our travel tips in episode two and three of the Wheels Up Podcast.

You can also download our Business Travel Safety and Security Check List by entering your details below prior to travel.

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2 – Before heading off, reach out to a reputable security and risk-management company. Find out if they provide hostile environment awareness training, (or HEAT training). That’s something that we also do here at Panoptic Solutions but there are various other companies out there that offer that as well. Make sure that the course covers a medical aspect within it as well because medical risk increases exponentially in some of the volatile areas you may go to and a few precautions can make all the difference.

3 – Talk to a risk-management provider about a ‘fixer’ or a trusted source in-country. Obviously the gold standard would be to have a security consultant travel with you or meet you in location but if you don’t have the means, then discuss what options you’ve got within your budget. It may just be about arranging a trusted driver or secure transportation in the locations you are going to.

Seek help, even if you think you can’t afford it

Even if it’s not an option to have a security team travel with you, establishing a relationship with a risk management or executive protection company in advance could you give you an opportunity for some ‘long-distance advice’ if needed. Security for journalists and media teams can include sound advice.

We did some prep work with a media crew heading to South America not long ago and they were going to some rather volatile regions and associating with some rather unpredictable characters. They chose not to utilise our services in the end but we continued to provide them with advice while they were in transit as we were rather concerned and worried about their safety.

Journalism is hard enough as it is but if a compromise on safety is necessary, it shouldn’t be an all or nothing deal. It costs nothing to make an enquiry and it could save a whole lot of heartache to do so.

Contact Panoptic Solutions to discuss safety and security for journalists or your media team. Our expert security conslutants have years of experince working with media. Call +61 1300 651 407 or email us

2 – Before heading off, reach out to a reputable security and risk-management company. Find out if they provide hostile environment awareness training, (or HEAT training). That’s something that we also do here at Panoptic Solutions but there are various other companies out there that offer that as well. Make sure that the course covers a medical aspect within it as well because medical risk increases exponentially in some of the volatile areas you may go to and a few precautions can make all the difference.

3 – Talk to a risk-management provider about a ‘fixer’ or a trusted source in-country. Obviously the gold standard would be to have a security consultant travel with you or meet you in location but if you don’t have the means, then discuss what options you’ve got within your budget. It may just be about arranging a trusted driver or secure transportation in the locations you are going to.

Seek help, even if you think you can’t afford it

Even if it’s not an option to have a security team travel with you, establishing a relationship with a risk management or executive protection company in advance could you give you an opportunity for some ‘long-distance advice’ if needed. Security for journalists and media teams can include sound advice.

We did some prep work with a media crew heading to South America not long ago and they were going to some rather volatile regions and associating with some rather unpredictable characters. They chose not to utilise our services in the end but we continued to provide them with advice while they were in transit as we were rather concerned and worried about their safety.

Journalism is hard enough as it is but if a compromise on safety is necessary, it shouldn’t be an all or nothing deal. It costs nothing to make an enquiry and it could save a whole lot of heartache to do so.

Contact Panoptic Solutions to discuss safety and security for journalists or your media team. Our expert security conslutants have years of experince working with media. Call +61 1300 651 407 or email us

“I’m just a driver” – so what’s the difference?

Panoptic Solutions was previously involved with a task where the client utilised the services from two separate security providers. Although not ideal, it is sometimes unavoidable due to commercial reasons. The client’s intent can still be met with some flexibility and professionalism by both entities.

Panoptic Solutions provided the advance and EP agents, while the second company was contracted to provide security drivers. Due to limited advance time we requested the drivers to provide the route recons/plans, allowing our team to conduct the site/venue recons and liaison. This request was met with the comment “We are just providing security drivers and we only have to drive, not here to do advances”. If indeed the company was providing driving services I may have understood their reluctance to be a team player on this, however, the company was another security provider and specifically stated they were contracting out as “security drivers”. So the question is, when does a “driver” go from being a “just a driver” to being a “security driver” and what should the expectations be of them if they then represent themselves as one?


Inclusive of SOP’s which our drivers are required to abide by, we also expect them to:

  • Know what a route reconnaissance is and how to conduct one unsupervised,
  • Understand how to draft a route recon report;
  • Know how to compile a stick/route map;
  • Understand the vehicles capabilities which the are driving;
  • Maintain the cleanliness of the vehicle;
  • Ensure the vehicle is mechanically sound;
  • Conduct vehicle sweeps (external & internal) prior to and on completion of task,
  • Understand and have practiced counter surveillance drills.

Drivers are an integral part of any EP team and should have a thorough understanding of how they fit in to the team. This is even more important when conducting intercompany operations supporting a client. It may be two companies, but its always one team. Food for thought….

Corporate Travel & Journey Risk Management – Top 5 Problems for Businesses.


1.No Corporate Travel Policy or Travel Risk Policy

Companies without a corporate travel policy may incur unnecessary costs and face unnecessary risks. Depending on the operations and needs of the company, a corporate travel policy will typically cover travel expense request procedures. as well as security and medical emergencies.  Not drafting, implementing, and maintaining a corporate travel policy can result in unnecessary expenses and risks for companies for a number of reasons. Companies may be able to make partnerships with various hotels, agencies, etc. and receive a discount for volume. If this is not coordinated through company policy, it will be harder to reduce unnecessary costs.  In a corporate travel policy, businesses should also write a detailed procedure for different kinds of emergencies (medical, security, evacuations, etc.). Advice from a specialist security and risk management company, such as Panoptic Solutions will benefit travellers.

2. No Pre-deployment Safety Travel Brief or Training

A travel safety brief and training package is essential for businesses that require frequent travel.  This is not only important for travel to countries with higher security risks, but is also useful when traveling to countries considered benign or of “low risk”.  In other words, differences in culture, business practices, or political climate can create risks for travellers that are inexperienced in dealing with them.  It is important for a travel brief to cover any potential risks unique to that country or modes of travel. Panoptic Solutions offers specialisied Pre Deployment and Journey Management training for corporate travellers who conduct business abroad.

3. No Designated Corporate Travel Manager

A corporate travel manager can manage the “bigger picture” of a company’s travelling.  A corporate travel manager should observe the overall pattern of company business trips, taking account of all categories of expenses, risks, and obverse trends and changes. This exercise will help a company see if there are ways to cut costs and lower risks across the board.  In addition to this proactive role, a corporate travel manager should be available to assist in the event of travel-related emergencies.

4. No Pre-arranged or Vetted Secure Transportation

A lack of pre-arranged transportation from a verified supplier can result in high-costs, lower productivity, and, potentially, safety risks.  In some regions, transportation services are not highly regulated and standardized which can mean higher prices and unpredictable quality.  If a company consistently travels to a particular country, finding and vetting one high-quality transportation service can let a company enjoy better, more reliable transportation at lower costs.

5. No Professional Risk Management Advice

It can be a worthwhile investment to seek out the advice of a risk management professional that specialises in travel risk.  The best advisers are in a position to use their broad experience to help identify and manage the risks that are most pertinent to the specific circumstances of a company.  Lower quality risk advisers may have little more to offer than regurgitating a set of security principles.  Being aware of all relevant risks, knowing their probability and cost to you, and prudently managing them can save money over the long run.


For more advice on Journey Management, Security & Risk Management or Corprate Pre-Deplyment Training, contact Panoptic Solutions here today.

Executive Protection Recruitment & More with guest Steve Albritton – Part 1

The executive protection industry isn’t one that has a clear path for those looking to get into it. In fact most people find themselves in the field almost by accident, usually after a career in the military or police.

In this post (and this podcast) we tap into the brain of one of the long-term players in the industry. Steve Albritton served in the military and state police in the USA before taking on a role as security manager for a high net worth individual, working out of Seattle, Washington.

Since leaving that role, Steve has established OPStructure, an industry consultancy taking on project work but focussing on executive protection recruitment and team building.

Executive Protection Industry Trends

Steve shared some insights into trends that the industry has seen in recent years and why today is an ideal time to consider a career in executive and corporate security, even if you don’t have a military or police background.

“The paradigms have changed. For many, many years in the US most of the executive protection personnel, or people beginning their careers, came from a law enforcement or police background, and that was probably up until maybe in the mid 90’s.

Then that changed a little bit in 2003 [with] Afghanistan and Iraq. Then the whole hiring executive protection field worldwide changed and those paradigms went towards more military.

Now I believe we’re at a stage where it’s combined, it’s a three-pronged attack. It’s military, police, and then just private sector guys… It’s a terrific time to start, I can tell you that.”

Meanwhile, on the client’ side things have changed dramatically in recent years also.

“At what time in history did we have 26 year old billionaires? This didn’t happen a whole lot. Your typical billionaires 10 years ago, 15 years ago, were all at a certain age and likely mid 40’s into 70’s.

These were the type of clients we were dealing with, which dictated the type of executive protection or close protection personnel it took to support them, and that’s changed.”

This has an impact beyond just a different playlist being shared in the limousine. Typically the younger individuals will want to be a bit more flexible and spontaneous with their schedules. And while executive protection agents need to be ready for anything, this adds a whole new dynamic to the role.

Preparation is Key

This shouldn’t be an excuse to not be prepared though. Steve makes the point that while most business travelers just ‘show up,’ that’s not a luxury that those in the risk mitigation field can afford. In many cases, the travel with the client only represents about 10% of the preparation work that’s gone into a particular journey. The rest of the time is taken on travel ‘advances’ and due diligence work, with the goal of pre-empting any issues that might occur when the client is due to travel.

The scope of an advance can vary significantly but almost always involves a ‘dry run’ of the trip detail where possible. Having the team familiar with the location can make a big difference to the outcomes of the journey – in some cases even the number of steps on a particular path might be critical to know. In most cases, the client will have little awareness of the details of the advance as it’s the role of the security team to manage such things. This keeps the client free to focus on what’s important to them.

Where possible, this preparation work should be done within the scope of the client corporation’s travel or security policy. More often than not though, clients don’t have such a policy or, where they do, they may not have consulted sufficiently on the security aspects. Steve works with some of his clients to put such policies in place (as do we at Panoptic Solutions).

In some cases this may require a generic advance, one that’s not for a particular journey but to check out a location for multiple visits. This will include scoping out hotels, routes, cafes and restaurants, providing transport recommendations and other points that might be relevant for a travel and security policy document. Such a document can be priceless for the business as it protects them from possible liability cases if staff deviate from the guidelines and find themselves in trouble.

Steve points this out to serve as a reality check to those looking to get into the executive protection industry. It isn’t about black cars, dark sunglasses and being surrounded by beautiful people. The Hollywood version of the bodyguard is a long way from the reality of being an executive protection agent or operative.

Family Matters

Having already mentioned the 26 year old billionaire client scenario, operatives also need to understand the demands of working with a family. Whether it be holiday travels, where the key client is out to relax as well, or whether it be a business trip where the family has tagged along, the level of complication and unpredictability can increase four-fold (or more).

Steve compares the difference between travelling with a single client vs a client and their family as being similar to the difference between checkers and chess. Much more is required in the way of resources and, no matter how far you look ahead, you need to be ready to change plans at a moment’s notice.

A Service Culture Makes the Difference

He also makes the point to those looking to enter the executive protection field that it’s not just about security:

“Success in covering clients in the executive protection world is not just about securing; it’s so much about customer service and people getting their money’s worth.”

Customer service and getting their money’s worth can often include running errands or other small tasks that would pose a bigger security risk if the client were to do it themselves.

Another skill of executive protection is to be readily available but not intrusive into the client’s life. This means adapting to their program rather than having them adapt to yours.

Local Knowledge Helps

Where possible, those entering the field should learn to capitalise on local knowledge, or knowledge of areas they are familiar with. Our (Panoptic Solutions) expertise in Australia and Asia has given Steve’s business and others not familiar with the area a partner who can do the legwork and save on having to learn a new territory.

“From a corporate standpoint it’s using companies like Panoptic to do the dirty work for us. I say the dirty work as in there’s no reason for me to go to Asia and try to recreate the wheel, if I can hire a company and contract services that are going to do all that for me.

Which consequently would be the same if Troy has a client that wants to travel to Florida or anywhere in the US, it would be very advantageous for him to contact our services back.”

Albritton warns clients to be cautious of security companies that claim they can take care of anyone, anywhere in the world. If they are doing it without partnering with local experts it’s unlikely that they are delivering the best service available.

“You’re only as good as your support network!”

In part two of this piece, Steve shares his expertise on how to build a security team from scratch, how to factor medical issues into a risk mitigation task, why staff sometimes need to be at more risk than the principal client, what really goes on behind the scenes of a travel task, what the options are for companies that cannot afford a full security team or to have advances done for them and more.

Business & VIP Travel Security and Safety in The Philippines

The Philippines is becoming a more common destination for business travellers. As well as being home to the Asian Development Bank, the rising use of Filipino personnel for international call centres makes business travel to the area more frequent.

We’ve also had the good fortune to work locally in The Philippines and internationally with a high-profile international Filipino sportsman and have considerable experience with the country and its people. While we’ve had no drama, so to speak, that’s as much due to our high level of preparedness as it is due to the good nature of the Filipino people. In this post, and this podcast episode, we share some of what we know to help make your business trip to The Philippines safe and enjoyable.

State of the Nation

Travel to The Philippines does however come with risks. Some areas, particularly in the south, are exposed to radical guerilla type activity caused by extreme religious views. In some cases these activities are funded by kidnap for ransom so foreign travellers are especially at risk.  , while others have a relatively high level of kidnap risk purely for financial gain. This activity has also included open warfare on the streets of some cities and villages and the occasional bomb in other parts of the country.

And while it hasn’t posed an imminent risk as yet, the presence of US forces in The Philippines and recent disputes with China over islands in the South China Sea put the country at risk if things escalate further.

Risk Management in The Philippines

For travellers who are high-profile, or well known, or people of influence, we would obviously advocate travelling with a security detail at the moment with everything that’s going on over there. Equally, companies sending journalists over to explore (or freelance journalists traveling under their own steam), either to research or conduct interviews, would be wise to reach out to a risk management provider who has experience operating in the Philippines.

Even organisations who are active in the country providing charitable aid are at risk and shouldn’t assume that their mission, so to speak, makes them less vulnerable to threat than others.

Everyone’s budget is obviously different but professional security or risk management company won’t oversell the requirements that each of those individual’s organisations need. It may be as simple as a single security advisor, or a project manager with a driver, or it might be something that’s a little more detailed depending on the situation at hand. Obviously, you’d tailor the response to the perceived or actual threats that are at hand for that particular traveller.

Whichever way you go, choose a company with local experience and/or a local security team. No matter how much international experience your usual team may have, nothing matches local knowledge. Obviously we’d be happy to discuss your needs. Please reach out to me directly if you have any questions.

Local Risks in The Philippines

Specific risks in The Philippines can include limited mobility. With the population spread over 7,000 islands, you’ll often find yourself having to use airplanes or ferries get to your destination. The standard of some of these may be lower than you find at home plus you can also be at the mercy of the extreme typhoons that can sweep through the country during the latter months of the year. Even during fair weather, you’ll usually find flights between cities in the country are routed through Manila so don’t assume that you’ll always be heading in a straight line. As Manila airport also serves the President, you can expect at times that it will be shut down to facilitate his travel.

Speaking of the President, keep in mind that there is currently a hard line government in place. If your business dealings and conduct are above board then this shouldn’t pose a problem but if corruption or drug use are on your to-do list, don’t expect to wriggle your way out of it too easily. The government currently has a shoot to kill policy for drug dealers who resist arrest so that gives you an indication of how seriously they look at drugs.

And even if you are playing by the rules, you could find yourself caught in the crossfire if law enforcement agencies happen to be active in the same area that you are. Be cautious about where you wander and try to stick to main thoroughfares and venues.

Mobility and Accommodation in The Philippines

As with many cities in the region, plan for travel delays in Manila and other Filipino major cities and have your travel manager put you in a pre-screened hotel close to your meeting locations. And by pre-screened we mean a hotel that has been reviewed by a security and risk management professional. Hotels may claim to have 24 hour security but in some cases this security leaves a lot to be desired.

Avoid the use of jeepneys or three wheelers for travel. They may be an iconic part of The Philippines experience but they don’t offer the same safety advantages as a professional driver with a suitable vehicle for secure travel.

Rounding off, we’d reinforce our usual warnings – travel with a grab bag and make sure you have contact details of local embassy and consulates on hand as well as details of pre-screened hospitals in case the need arises.

For more details on these, download our Business Travel Safety and Security Check List by signing up below.

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Safe travels!

Australias new terror alert system

Australia has changed its terrorism alert system, effective 27 November 2015, to give the public clearer information about attacks being planned by extremists, under a proposed new threat hierarchy unveiled in February 2015.

The current four-tier alert system which describe levels of risk from “low” to “high” and “extreme” are replaced with a system that says how likely an attack is at any point. The highest threat levels are now that attacks are “expected” or “certain”.

 Each level would be based on a specific type of advice provided to government by security agencies. For example, a threat level of “probable” means the government has been advised terrorists with the capacity to carry out an attack have a specific target.

The new system combines the existing “threat level”, which is an assessment of the overall threat to Australia and its interests, and the “alert level”, which is about public preparedness, into a single system. Figure 1 depicts the new alert levels.

The current Terror Threat Level for Australia is ‘Probable’. Credible intelligence, assessed by our security agencies indicates that individuals or groups have developed both the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia. The public should continue to exercise caution and report any suspicious incidents to the National Security Hotline by calling 1800 1234 00. Life-threatening situations should be reported to the police by calling Triple Zero (000).

More public information regarding this Threat Level is available at the Australian National Security website.

Business & VIP Travel Safety in China

While a lot of travel security and safety advice is generic in nature, different locations often have specific conditions that make them worthy of special mention. Our area of expertise is the Asia-Pacific region and we’ll be discussing several different countries in this area in the coming weeks. In this blog post we look at China and you can also hear us discuss it on the Wheels Up podcast over here.

The commentary is based on several visits to China, including cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing among others. Though they are all part of China, the diverse locations within the country also give exposure to the diverse cultures and languages that coexist within the nation.

First point to make is that Chinese people are very friendly by nature and have become very used to hosting visitors in the nation with more than 60 million inbound tourists staying each year (2015 stats).  As friendly as they are, it takes time to earn their trust so business travellers need to take this into account.

Before You Leave

You’ll hear us say time and time again that most travel concerns can and should be addressed before you leave for your destination.

The obvious consideration for most destinations are visa requirements. China has a fairly stringent process that normally takes time to work through. If you are travelling on business then make sure you apply for the correct visa type.  If the need is urgent they can turn a visa application around within 2 days but, as you’d expect, you pay a premium for this service.

For first time visitors you will only qualify for a single-entry or double-entry visa. On subsequent visits you may qualify for a multi-entry visa.

Arrival and Beyond

If you have connecting flights that you pick up in Shanghai or Beijing, note that both of these cities have two major airports with some distance between them. Your booking agent or travel manager should point this out when making the booking but check your itinerary to see which airports you are arriving and departing from as you may also need to arrange transport between them.

General Safety in China

Most cities in China are quite safe but keep in mind that due to censorship laws the media, and even social media, may not reflect the full story. On occasion, we’ve heard of violent crime happening while we were there but only through word of mouth as the incident was unreported in the media.

In general though, high levels of real-time surveillance probably help make parts of China safer than other parts of the world. This includes facial recognition software in a lot of circumstances so be aware that your movements will probably be traceable as you would have likely been scanned on entry. If you’re behaving above board though, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Cyber Safety in China

From a cyber safety point of view, China has some pretty sophisticated criminal syndicates so do your best to protect your digital information. Keep your devices off as much as possible (especially at airports as they are fertile hunting ground for hackers) and use a ‘burner phone’ within minimal data on it. If you have to go online, make use of a virtual private network (VPN – we’ll have a post and podcast episode on that soon).

Money Problems

Keep an eye out for counterfeit currency as tourists are the least qualified to spot it. The official currency includes a watermark of Chairman Mao on the side or edge of each note. You should also be able to feel the image of Chairman Mao as being raised relative to the rest of the note.

Taxis in China

We usually recommend a security driver for business travel but accept that many travelers prefer to use taxis. Most Chinese taxi drivers do not speak English so be well prepared. Ask the concierge at the hotel or someone from the meeting(s) you have attended to write down your destinations in Chinese. If you have multiple destinations in a day have them create a list so you can work through them.

Ask the concierge also for an approximate price so you know if you’re being ‘taken for a ride’ so to speak when it comes time to pay up. Most operators will use the meter but some may try to offer you a flat rate. Best to avoid these as the rate will be tipped in their favour. Where possible, ask them to put the meter on or have the  concierge at the hotel ask them for you.

Speaking of being taken for a ride, male travelers should beware of offers from your taxi driver to take you somewhere for ‘entertainment.’ If you find yourself on the seedy side of town, you could very well find yourself at the mercy of undesirables and facing a large cab fare to get you back to safety.

Intercity Travel in China

If you’re fortunate enough to travel via private jet in China you’ll be at an advantage, however be aware that flight windows can be very small. If you are slow getting out of the hotel or extend a meeting there’s a good chance you’ll miss your window and find yourself delayed unnecessarily. Make sure your team is in contact with the fixed base operator (FBO) and heed their warnings if they tell you the schedule is tight.

If a private jet is beyond your budget, consider rail for intercity travel. At more than 500 km/hour (300 mph) these are a swift and often more reliable means of getting around than air, especially considering that the military can often close airspace at random times.

Leisure Warnings

If you find yourself having some down time in China, be cautious of ‘students’ asking if they can share some tea with you so they can practice their English. Chances are they will lead you to a tea house that is charging exorbitant prices and giving them a kickback for bringing them there.

If contacts in China invite you out for a karaoke evening, be wary. Karaoke is often a front for something more seedy and you could well find yourself in a compromising situation. This can even extend to having your drink spiked and you being put into situations beyond your control. At worst it can involve you being relieved of your wallet or your hotel room being ransacked.

Food in China

It’s no secret that the Chinese have an appetite that goes beyond what most of us would eat at home. It’s no secret to the Chinese either so in most cases they will understand if you respectfully decline to eat a particular dish. Err on the side of caution because if whatever is on the menu isn’t so agreeable, it could compromise the success of your visit.


Most hospitals that a traveller might come into contact with in China are of a reasonable standard. Where possible though, we recommend using a private hospital if the choice is available and your insurance covers it. Our observation is that they tend to be better equipped and have more qualified staff than some of the state run facilities. As we’ve said in our post and podcast about travel in general, try to identify potential hospitals in advance where possible.

Businesslike Conduct

Corruption and fraud laws in China are similar to most countries but the consequences may be greater so be cautious about entering into any dodgy practices. Having said that, gifts are commonplace in Asian culture so don’t be afraid of giving or receiving these. Just ensure that the magnitude of the gift couldn’t be mistaken as a bribe or some other way of circumventing legitimate business dealings.

Cultural Respect

It goes without saying that China has much less freedom of speech than most of us enjoy. Don’t think that as a foreigner that you might be exempt from these rules. Be conscious of what you say to others and, if using social media, ensure that there’s nothing that might inflame local authorities. At best, you might put future visas at risk and at worst, you could find yourself in the confines of a local police cell. If you’re in their country, respect their laws, their customs, and their culture.


As mentioned earlier, China hosts more than 60 million tourists who stay overnight or longer each year. Most pass through without incident and most have an enjoyable time. Stick to the rules and follow the tips we’ve shared and you’ll likely find the same for your travels.

For additional pre-travel tips, sign up for our Business Travelers’ Essential Pre-Departure Travel and Security Checklist below.


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Business Travelers’ Ground Travel and Post Travel Checklist

Business Travelers’ Ground Travel and Post Travel Checklist

In our last post we ran through the essentials that business travelers should cover before setting out on a journey. In this post, we run through the safety and security essentials for the “during” and “after/post journey” phase of your travels”

The content here is much less than that within the pre- travel section, which highlights the value in being prepared. If you spend some time in planning your journey and preparare before departing, then your travels will be safer. In the event that a risk presents itself, then you’ll be in a better position to respond to it.

You can also hear us discuss this part of the checklist on The Wheels Up Podcast and download our pdf of the infographic and checklist at the bottom of this page.

Ground Travel

  • Check your corporate travel policy for permissible options (If you don’t have a corporate travel policy, we can help with that)

  • Avoid rideshare services. They are currently less regulated than cabs and have fewer security features (e.g. cameras in the vehicle). In some countries, the vehicles can be of a very low standard, dangerous even (especially mopeds and scooters).

  • Touts – drivers offering services unsolicited within the airport (or on the street). Do not use these. They are unregulated and usually offering the service illegally.

  • Public transport. Avoid public transport where possible. Crowded areas are an attractive target for mass casualty attacks and petty crime.

  • Cabs. Use clearly marked cabs that have driver’s registration and ID on display and back-to-base communications. These will be regulated.

  • Security drivers (preferred option). Arrange this in advance. Vehicles and driver will be of a higher standard with security training and back-to-base communications. They can have the comforts of wifi, water and snacks on board. Have them use a predetermined code or alternate name on their welcome signage to keep your identity anonymous. (NB – If a proper security driver is not an option, you could also use a hotel provided car/limousine service.)


  • Get referrals in advance from friends, colleagues or your travel manager.

  • Check with the hotel concierge on areas which are safe and those which are not.

  • Don’t risk sites that may have low hygiene standards (including roadside stands). Put it into a business perspective, you’ve travelled all this way to close a deal, you don’t want to be stuck in a bathroom with a bad bout of gastro and miss it.


  • If it hasn’t been arranged in advance, ask for a room on the 3rd, 4th or 5th floors. Upper level rooms may be great for getting a view but in the event of a fire, they may be out of reach of fire department equipment. 1st and 2nd floors are easy pickings for thieves.

  • Ask for a room away from the fire escape. Thieves prefer to work rooms near fire escapes for a quick exit if needed.

  • Latch your door and use and additional door stop or door jammer.

  • Hang the Do Not Disturb sign on your door, even if you aren’t in the room.

  • Arrange to have the room serviced while you are still in the room if you can.

When Things Go Bad (Riots, Terrorist Attacks, etc)

  • Avoid protests and large gatherings where possible

  • Move, Escape or Attack (Listen to the Wheels Up Podcast Episode 3 for a more detailed description.)

  • Turn your phone to silent. Use SMS text messages to communicate if safe.

  • Your personal safety is of primary importance – don’t stop to record or take photos. Listen and observe – you can report on this at a later stage.(e.g. descriptions of attackers or weapons, etc. may be helpful for authorities)

What To Do if Prompted for a Bribe By an Official

  • First and foremost, avoid this situations by all means

  • Pretend you don’t understand the request.

  • If you are travelling with local support or a security detail, have them address the situation.

  • Avoid making payments where possible but if and only if there is no there way out and payment must be made, ask for a receipt.

Local Culture and Customs

  • Check what gestures may be offensive where you are going (e.g. Thumbs up has a different meaning in parts of Africa. OK sign used Brazil is the same as giving someone the middle finger). This Daily Mail article has a pretty thorough summary.

  • Learn how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in the local language

After Your Travels

  • Check credit card and bank accounts for unusual amounts or unfamiliar charges on return.

  • Get medical checks at the first sign of feeling unwell

  • File an After Action report. Write or dictate and provide to your corporate travel and security department

    • Document any issues that arose and what went well on the journey

    • List  local contacts or recommendations that other travellers in the business could benefit from

  • Change all IT passwords that you have used while away (these may have been compromised while using other wifi services).

Enter your details below to access the Business Travel Safety and Security Check List as a printable pdf.

And for the pre-travel post, click here

Business Travel & Safety Check List

Securing Australia’s Commonwealth Games on The Gold Coast – Lessons from Rio

With attacks in Europe still haunting the public consciousness, security of the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast warrant close attention. Thus far, Australia appears to be prudently attending to these risks. In May of this year, Australian parliament passed an array of laws that give police the authority to search people and premises in specified areas.1 National security authorities also recently designed and implemented a strategy to protect crowded places from terror threats.2 The number of police, defence forces, and security personnel will outnumber athletes. As a part of the beefed-up security system, attendees will face airport-style screening. There will be fast-track lanes for people without bags, preventing the lines themselves from becoming too much of a target. Furthermore, Queensland Police and State Government have established Project Unite, a community safety campaign designed to deter, detect and disrupt criminal and terrorist activity prior to, during and after the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Queensland Police and State Government have established Project Unite, a community safety campaign designed to deter, detect and disrupt criminal and terrorist activity prior to, during and after the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Given the challenges that Rio faced in the run-up to and during the 2016 Summer Olympics, it is a useful place to look for ways to be maximally prepared. There is little arguing that security was a major problem throughout the Olympics which organisers at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games wish to avoid. Public authorities were ill-equipped to handle the rise in crime, due, in large part, to fiscal pressure from Brazil’s financial crisis. To protest their cut in compensation, police protested by welcoming tourists and athletes was signs announcing they would not be safe in Rio. In truth, police were foreshadowing the crises yet to come. Multiple athletes and coaches were robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint. Security of one of the main emergency hospitals for the Olympics was breached as armed criminals broke into the facility and freed a suspected drug lord only a month before the games. On the terror-fighting front, authorities blew up the clothing-filled suitcase of the mother of an athlete after erroneously suspecting that it contained a bomb.3

Nonetheless, it would be unfair to ignore the legitimate efforts of the country to ensure security. To mitigate the threat of independent terror attacks, the government deployed a large number of military personnel to Rio, which increased the total number of security personnel by roughly 30%.4 Despite Brazil not being commonly considered a prime terror target, the country’s national intelligence reported to have taken the terror threat seriously.5

Organisers of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have dedicated an additional 3500 police officers from across the state to augment the already 1000 officers who will be policing the Gold Coast.

The challenges that Australia’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games is likely to face will differ considerably from those of Rio. For example, local and territorial violent criminal gangs are unlikely to be the problem for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as it was for the Olympic site, although, there is still an element of organised crime gangs including outlaw motorcycle clubs operating in the area. Furthermore, the threat of terrorism is one, which is being taken seriously. Any large gathering of spectators or crowds becomes a potential target for armed offenders, active shooters, “lone wolfs”, religious and ideological threats and anyone looking to make any form of political statement. Organisers of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have dedicated an additional 3500 police officers from across the state to augment the already 1000 officers who will be policing the Gold Coast. Nonetheless, authorities are developing a strategy to handle a diverse array of challenges by working with a broad network of security personnel from the public and private sectors. Strategically maintaining a role for private security firms, like local Gold Coast based Panoptic Solutions, will bring in expertise from local companies with extensive knowledge of the region and specialised security personnel, complementing and strengthening the efforts of the police and national security.







Business Travelers’ Essential Pre-Departure Travel and Security Checklist

For seasoned business travellers the notion of safety and security while travelling may seem like an unnecessary concern. Safety demonstrations by flight attendants are for the benefit of ‘others’ and, beyond that, all you need to worry about is keeping your belongings safe. Perhaps not.

That may be the perception – indeed 99% of travels do occur without mishap – however, the consequences of misadventure are serious enough to warrant a little preparation. Just as our seatbelts are redundant for the vast majority of our car travels, when we actually need them, we’re glad that we took the trouble to put them on.

With this in mind, here are some essential pre-travel requirements that most business, executive and VIP travellers should meet, or at least have someone delegated to take care of them. They aren’t onerous but they can be life saving or at least help you avoid or cope with misfortune should it arise.

If your business has a travel policy, now would be a good time to run through it to check that everything is covered in it. And if you don’t have a travel policy, now would be a good time to develop one. (If you need help with that, let me know).

We’ve put together a pdf checklist that you can download below and I’ve also covered this in more depth on this Wheels Up Podcast episode here. For now we’ll cover pre-departure essentials and I’ll cover the during and after travel essentials in a future post.


  • Ensure you have the right type of Visa. Apart from checking if you actually need a visa for the country you are travelling to, don’t be caught out by getting the wrong type. You might be tempted to cut corners (and costs) and get a tourist visa for a conference but in some countries, a conference requires a business visa.

Bookings (Flights, accommodation, transport)

  • Arrange these in advance wherever possible.
  • Check your company travel policy to see what it says about personnel all traveling on the same flight (e.g. you wouldn’t want your full board of directors on the same plane).


  • Ensure you have at least six months remaining on your passport. Some countries won’t allow you to travel into their country without that and obviously it can be a very long flight back home if you make that mistake.


  • Check your company policy for hotel recommendations or criteria for hotels
  • Check the location of your proposed hotel from a security or risk perspective. e.g. choosing a hotel close to your meeting locations may also put you in a red light district.
  • Scope out the security levels of your proposed hotel (lower cost hotels typically have lower security. Look in the Trip Advisor comments sections for comments from visitors about security in general.
  • See if you can book a room on the 3rd, 4th or 5th floors. Upper level rooms may be great for getting a view but in the event of a fire, they are out of reach of fire department equipment. 1st and 2nd floors are easy pickings for thieves.
  • Ask for a room away from the fire escape. Thieves prefer to work rooms near fire escapes for a quick exit if needed.
  • Take a door stop with you for added security (or a ‘door jammer’).

Emergency Services

  • Scope out the locations of police stations and hospitals before you leave (much easier than doing so in an emergency). Check if your corporate travel policy or your travel insurance policy has any details of these.
  • Identify if a hospital is appropriate for your needs. e.g. If you have a heart condition does it have a cardiac unit? Not all hospitals have emergency units.

Embassies and Consulates

  • Find out the details of the embassy or consulate nearest your destination and carry these details on you. Makes them easier to find when needed and helps others get in touch with those important to you if you are out of action.
  • Check your country’s official travel website for travel warnings and local details (see the list in our pdf checklist or infographic below).
  • If offered, register your travel with your government travel registry.


  • Check immunisation requirements well in advance of travelling. Some immunizations require a certain timeframe to be administered before departure and others may not be readily available.
  • Consider visiting a doctor who specialises in travel medicine.


  • If you’re on medication to take enough to cover your trip plus a week.

Pack a “Grab Bag”

  • Small, nondescript bag. Backpack preferably. Strong and preferably with double stitching. Large enough for a laptop.
  • Torch/Flashlight. Doesn’t need to be large. I carry and recommend a Surefire torch. Apart from the obvious a bright torch can also be used to blind an attacker. Some torches can double as a phone charger.
  • Smoke hood.Covers head and face and filters smoky air. Keep one in the grab bag and one on the bedside table.
  • Permanent marker (Sharpie or similar). Handy to have. Can even use to write details on an injured person – name, vital signs, etc.
  • Individual/Immediate First Aid Kit – IFAK. Also get basic training on how to use these items.
    • Disposable gloves
    • Shears (strong but small)
    • Chest seal (used for sucking chest wounds)
    • Olaes bandage or Israeli bandage
    • Tourniquet
    • Nasopharyngeal (nose hose)
    • Medical tape
  • Bottle of water
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Documentation – photocopies of passport, license, visa, etc
  • Cash. Small amount in local currency

Dummy Wallet

  • Carry a spare wallet or purse with a small amount of cash ($10-12) and some expired or dummy credit cards (can use this to hand over to thieves if necessary).

Burner Phone

  • Depending on your destination, consider carrying a cheap phone with minimal to protect your data on your smartphone (protects you from hackers or thieves).

Travel Insurance

  • Check your policy for inclusions before engaging in activities (e.g. are you covered for riding on a scooter/moped).
  • Check with HR to ensure the company policy is adequate for your destination.

Enter your details below to access the Business Travel Safety and Security Check List as a printable pdf.

Part 2 of the Business Travelers’ Essential can be found here.