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U.S. Department of State
96/06/05 Quick Security Guidelines: Security Guidelines for American Families Living Abroad
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs
Published by The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
Effective security precautions require a continuous and conscious
awareness of the environment, especially when living in a foreign
country. Security precautions lessen vulnerability to criminal and
terrorist acts and greatly facilitate the assistance the U.S. Government
can provide. Levels of risk in a foreign country can change very
rapidly, sometimes overnight, and can be triggered by internal or
external incidents or circumstances. Continually monitor the political
climate and other factors that may impact the level of risk. Security
precautions must be constantly reviewed so they may be adapted for
effective response to changes in the level of risk.
Preliminary Residential Security Planning
Begin to develop a tentative residential security plan for yourself and
all members of your family before leaving the United States. This is
essential in providing you with guidelines for selecting a home and
determining where your children will go to school, the type of car you
will buy, the kind of clothing you will and will not wear, and the
information required to live securely in your overseas location. This
plan should progress from tentative to active.
Become informed about your new location. Much professional help is
available for the family moving overseas. Major multinational
corporations have large international travel and security departments
that may serve as valuable resources. Contact the U.S. Government
Printing Office at telephone number (202) 512-1800, or fax (202)
512-2158, to acquire current issues of the U.S. Department of State
publications entitled Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts, Guide for
Business Representatives and Background Notes for your country of
assignment. Obtain a current political profile of the country to which
you will be moving to aid you in assessing the level of risk. Study the
culture and customs of the country. Use library sources and reference
works. If you have school-aged children, obtain information and advice
about schooling abroad from the Office of Overseas Schools at the U.S.
Department of State, telephone number (703) 875-7800.
Assessing the Level of Risk
Two factors must be taken into consideration when evaluating the
seriousness of the personal risk to you and your family when living
abroad: a risk assessment of the location to which you will be moving
and the profile of the company for which you work. The threat
assessment designators below were formulated by the Department of State,
Diplomatic Security Service, Intelligence and Threat Analysis Division.
This assessment is available to the business community through the
regional security officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy. Risk levels are
-- CRITICAL: Constant criminal activity is reported and the threat of
criminal violence is serious and abiding, with a history of recurrent
incidents against expatriate personnel and interests.
-- HIGH: Frequent criminal activity is reported and the threat of
criminal violence is serious, but more sporadic, with incidents against
expatriate personnel and interest occasionally reported.
-- MEDIUM: Some criminal activity is reported and there is a potential
for serious criminal violence; incidents against expatriate personnel of
interest occur, but are infrequent.
-- LOW: There is a little indication of serious criminal activity;
incidents against expatriate personnel and interests seldom occur and
involve stealth rather than confrontation.
Location of a Residence
Choose a safe neighborhood. The local police, the RSO or Post Security
Officer (PSO) at the nearest U.S. diplomatic post will facilitate this
process. Pay particular attention to the condition of the streets. If
possible, choose streets that are paved, wide, two-way, and maintained.
Dense vehicular or pedestrian traffic facilitates retention of anonymity
of criminals and surveillants.
Note the overall security precautions that are taken in the neighborhood
such as barred windows, security fences, extensive lighting, or large
dogs. Such visible precautions may indicate a high level of security
awareness or a high-crime area. Examine the quality of lighting at night
to determine whether it is sufficient to illuminate the entrances to
homes in the area. Ensure that trees or shrubbery do not provide cover
for an intruder.
The vast majority of kidnappings and other serious crimes occur close to
the residence, when the victim is leaving or returning home. Therefore,
it is essential that access routes to and from the residence provide
sufficient alternatives that do not lock you into predictable patterns.
Dead-end or one-way streets should be avoided. Underground parking,
unless tightly controlled, should be avoided. Ideally, a garage that
can be locked is the most suitable means of securing vehicles at single-
family residences. Parking the car on the street should be avoided.
Residing near friends or coworkers facilitates car pooling and
observation of suspicious activities.
Selection of Residence
An apartment offers greater protection against intrusion than a single-
dwelling home. A private or single dwelling affords greater opportunity
to establish more rigid access control to the property. In certain
high- and critical-crime threat areas, it may be prudent to consider the
need for a safehaven in any residence. A safehaven should be furnished
with a substantial door equipped with a deadbolt lock and a door viewer
or a grill gate. Such a safe area should also possess reliable
communications, such as a telephone, cellular telephone, or radio to
contact help. Accessible windows and openings should be secured against
After Moving In
Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your passport and register as
soon as possible. Registration greatly facilitates emergency evacuation
from the country of residence.
After moving in, immediately familiarize yourself with your new
surroundings. Get acquainted with at least one neighbor without delay;
you may need a neighbor in an emergency. Locate the nearest hospital
and police station.
Assistance to Terrorist Victims
In the case of terrorist action against an American citizen or company,
the embassy or consulate can facilitate communication with the home
office and family of the victim, help establish useful liaison with
local authorities, provide information, and suggest possible
alternatives open to the family or company of the victim.
Before an emergency, obtain emergency fire and safety equipment. Train
family members and domestic employees in the use of emergency equipment.
Know beforehand where you will turn for help. Participate in an alert-
calling list. If such a list does not exist, create one. Be aware of
host country fire regulations and telephone numbers. Determine if an
emergency telephone call will be answered by someone who can understand
English if you or family members do not speak the local language. Fill
out and update yearly an Employee and Family Profile form and include
Generally, there are two lines of defense for a residence: the outer and inner perimeters. The outer perimeter of a single residence is
ordinarily a property line; in an apartment or high-rise condominium, the outer lobby door functions as the external perimeter. Any perimeter
barrier, even if it is only a symbolic hedge, serves as a deterrent by
causing a intruder to commit an overt act to cross the barrier. Inner
perimeters include grills and locks. Building exterior openings over 96
square inches in size on the ground floor or accessible from trees,
vehicle tops, or porches may need to be covered by grills. At least one
window grill in each section of the sleeping quarters should be hinged
and equipped with an emergency release.
All primary residential entry doors should be equipped with both a
primary (main locks with handles) and an auxiliary lock (deadbolt). All
exterior locks, including the garage door and mailbox lock, should be
changed before moving into a new residence abroad. Maintain strict key
control on all exterior locks. Never hide an exterior door key outside
the house. Install an intercom between the primary entrance and the
inside foyer or unprotected area. You should consider removing all name
identification from your gate and doors.
Alarms, Lighting, and Absences
In areas abroad where forced entry of a residence is commonplace, the
use of a good residential alarm system is highly recommended. Security
lighting should be an integral part of the intrusion system. The
important elements of protective outdoor lighting are coverage and
evenness of light. Lighting should illuminate the walls of the
residence and the ground area adjacent to the perimeter walls. It also
should illuminate shrubbery and eliminate building blind spots. It is a
good idea to connect lighting to a photoelectric cell that automatically
turns lights on at dusk and off at dawn. Ensure that all lighting
systems are installed in compliance with local codes. Consider the
installation of a diesel-powered auxiliary generator that turns on
automatically when electric power fails; test the generator periodically
to ensure it is in good working condition.
Extended absences present an intruder with the easiest opportunity to
target a residence. While residents are away, automatic timers or
photoelectric switches should turn on inside lights. Close friends or
neighbors should be asked to look after the home. In many locations, it
is advisable to have trusted domestic employees remain in the residence
during extended absences.
Domestic employees can either be a valuable asset to residential
security or a decided liability. The chances of obtaining the services
of a reliable servant can be improved by hiring one employed and
recommended by a friend, acquaintance, or neighbor. Prospective
applicants should be required to produce references and should be
interviewed thoroughly. It is wise to check references. Do not accept
the candidate's word as to his or her name and date of birth without an
authentic government document to back up his or her claim. Do not
permit domestics of untested integrity and reliability in your home.
Domestic help should be briefed on security practices. It is critical
that household help be rehearsed and briefed from time to time to
refresh their memories and to update previous instructions. Domestic
employees, rather than members of the household, should be trained to
answer the door. They should not be allowed to admit visitors without
specific approval and should not unlock or open a door until visitors
have been properly identified. Family plans and official business
should not be discussed within the hearing of domestic employees.
Potential victims of kidnapping and assault are probably most vulnerable
when entering or leaving their homes or offices. Always carefully
observe surroundings for possible surveillance upon leaving and
returning. Never enter a car without checking the rear seat to ensure
that it is empty.
Do not develop predictable patterns. If possible, exchange company cars
or swap with coworkers occasionally. Know the location of police,
hospital, military, and government buildings. Avoid trips to remote
areas, particularly after dark. Select well-traveled streets as much as
possible. Keep vehicles well-maintained at all times. When driving,
keep automobile doors and windows locked. Be constantly alert to road
conditions and surroundings. Never pick up hitchhikers. Carry 3 x 5
cards printed with important assistance phrases to aid with language
Always carry appropriate coins for public phones. Practice using public
telephones. Report all suspicious activity to the company security
contact. Always lock the doors when parking a car, no matter where it
Telephones and Mail
Do not answer the telephone by stating the name of the family or giving
the residence telephone number in response to wrong-number calls. Be
suspicious of any caller alleging to represent the telephone company.
Be skeptical of telephone calls from strangers advising that a family
member has been injured, followed by a request for another family member
to leave the home immediately. Children should be advised not to
converse on the telephone with strangers for any reason. When
practical, home telephone numbers should be unlisted and unpublished.
Emergency telephone numbers should be available for quick reference at
each telephone in the home. A programmable telephone can be very useful
during any emergency.
Businessmen should discourage the delivery of mail to their private
residences. Family members and domestic help should not accept
unexpected mail deliveries unless sure of the source. The door should
not be opened to accept strange deliveries. Packages should be left by
the door. Continuously remind yourself and others in the household to
be suspicious of all incoming mail and parcels and to remain alert for
the following danger signs:
-- Unusual Appearance
-- Peculiar Odor
-- Suspicious Weight
If a parcel is at all suspicious, STOP further handling and call
It may be prudent to use major U.S. credit cards, as opposed to writing
checks on local banks, to reduce the audit trail your financial
transactions can leave. DO NOT imprint your home address or phone
number on personalized checks.
You should be aware of the attitude of the government, police, and the
populace toward other nationals, particularly Americans. A strong anti-
American attitude may be cause for diminished police responsiveness.
Where police capability is in doubt, the use of a private guard service
should be considered. All guards should be subjected to a security
check. At a minimum, guards should be physically capable of performing
their shift duties during the normal workday.
When children are to be picked up at school by anyone other than
immediate family members, an established procedure should be coordinated
with school officials to assure that children are picked up only by
authorized persons. Children should be instructed in observing good
In the event of a coup d'etat, establish contact, if not already done,
and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. diplomatic post. DO NOT
automatically pack and leave the country on your own initiative.
Monitor local news media for any evidence of anti-American activity. In
certain locations, it is recommended that adequate supplies of
nonperishable foods and drinking water be stockpiled in the home to
sustain family members for a reasonable period of time. Have a bag
packed for each family member in the event you have to leave on short
notice. An appropriate amount of currency and traveler's checks should
be kept on hand. Maintain current passports and, where applicable,
visas for a safehaven country.
Employees in high-threat areas should avoid social activities that are
conducted at a set time and place, such as the same church service every
Sunday morning. Each family member should be familiar with basic
security procedures and techniques. Persons in high-threat areas should
consider whether or not to participate in recreational or exercise
activities that are conducted at a set time and place.
Despite repeated warnings, drug arrests and convictions of American
citizens are still on the increase. If you are caught overseas with
either soft or hard drugs, you are subject to local, not U.S., laws.
All U.S. citizens living abroad should familiarize themselves with the
selected laws of the host country, especially those relating to illegal
drugs. All medicines containing habit-forming drugs or narcotics should
be left in their original labeled containers; a copy of the doctor's
prescription should be maintained.
Many people have been victimized by crime, and most individuals are
acquainted with victims of crime. Yet, it is perhaps the most difficult
job in the world to convince people to practice security and safety in
their lives. Individuals must assume responsibility for their personal
security and ensure that their loved ones do the same.
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