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An Overview of Security Awareness Overseas

Released as a brochure by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), November 1995,


There is nothing that contributes so much to our sense of security and self confidence as knowing we are prepared for potential crises. This pamphlet provides assistance in preparing us to face those emergencies we may encounter traveling, working, or living overseas.

Cultural misunderstandings and inadequate local support services often make crises abroad more intense than similar situations in the United States. Overseas, we must assume greater responsibility for our own safety.

But many potential overseas crises may be eased or averted by taking the time to read and study the information that follows. Information and suggestions in this pamphlet have been collected from several government and private sources. Personal experiences of those who have experienced emergencies abroad have added substantial validity to our advice. The experience of each person--whether hostage, crime victim, evacuee, or other, is distinct. Yet there are common threads that provide guidelines on how to handle crises successfully. It is our hope that you will find this information useful as you travel, work, or live abroad.


Have Your Affairs in Order

Important Papers

Your collection of important papers might include:

Miscellaneous Tips


If you plan to stay in one country for a length of time, especially a country that is in a period of civil unrest, register with the embassy or consulate and provide a copy of your itinerary. Registration makes it easier to evacuate in case of an emergency.

On the Plane

At an Overseas Airport

Maintain a low profile and avoid public areas as much as possible.

Public Transportation


Hotel Fires

If a Fire Starts


In some areas of the world, civil unrest or violence directed against Americans and other foreigners is common. Travelers should be alert to indicators of civil unrest and take the following precautions in the event of such situations:


The likelihood of terrorist incidents varies according to the country or area of the world. However, experience has shown that even in the most stable countries, terrorists have struck.

Terrorist Surveillance

Terrorists may shadow an intended victim at length and with infinite patience before an actual abduction or assassination is attempted.



Behavior Suggestions

Each captivity is different, but some behavior suggestions apply to most:

Finally, it's worth keeping in mind three facts about terrorism:


Many evacuations have taken place in past years for reasons of political instability, acts of terrorism, and natural disasters.


If Evacuated


Culture shock is the physiological and psychological stress experienced when a traveler is suddenly deprived of old, familiar cues--language, customs, etc. Both the seasoned traveler and the first-timer, whether in transit or taking up residence, are susceptible. Culture shock is most prevalent in the second or third month after arrival when the novelty of the new country fades. Traveler disorientation is a form of culture shock.


Symptoms to watch for in adults and children include:

Successful Handling

The trauma of culture shock is most successfully dealt with if you:


Before the Move

Talk to Them About

Relocation Crisis

Security Tips for Children

Children must be taught:

Security Tips for Parents

Parents need to:

Checklist for Babysitters

Stress During Crisis

A crisis is best handled collectively. Parents, teachers, family, and friends can play a part in helping any child handle a crisis. Adults should support each other in guiding children through the crisis; there is no need to feel you are in this alone. Play groups or support groups may be formed.

Parents and teachers are models. If they handle a crisis calmly, children will be less anxious.

Children borrow strengths from adults around them. Help them put labels on their reactions, encourage them to verbalize feelings. Play is a natural form of communication for children, it will discharge bottled-up feelings. If allowed to work through their fears, most children will emerge strengthened from a crisis.

Children need to see you express your feelings of fear and grief, too. By example, parents and other adults can show children how these feelings are handled. it's important that they see not only the expression of grief and sadness, but that they understand that the feeling will pass.

Some parents attempt to protect children by not allowing discussion about a crisis. The healthier route is to let them discuss it until they can get some psychological distance from it. Verbal repetition is a natural cathartic process.

If a child requires medical attention, someone from the immediate family should stay with him or her. See that the procedures that are to be done are explained to the child.


Although fire does not sound as dramatic as terrorism, in fact it kills far more people each year than does terrorist activity overseas. In many countries fire regulations do not exist, firefighting equipment is antiquated, water sources are inadequate, and buildings are constructed with minimum standards.

Take these basic steps to protect your family from fire:

Fire Escape Plan

Fire Extinguishers

Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher and one smoke detector.

Use a fire extinguisher only after you:

A Summary of Fire Safety Reminders

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