Violence in Belgium

December 13, 2011 on 11:15 am | In Belgium travel, Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel warnings | 3 Comments

Early today a gunman in Liege, Belgium attacked a bus stop with hand grenades and then began shooting with an automated rifle. The attacker took his own life, ending the terror on the streets of this popular town. Three were killed and 123 wounded or injured during the attack. The attack occurred at the Place St. Lambert, a hub for the city’s public transportation and the gateway for shopping within the city (including its seasonal Christmas Market). More details can be found at Reuters.

There is as of yet, no indication that this was anything other than the action of a deranged man with a history of violence and drug problems. Nevertheless, travelers should remain alert whenever traveling and be especially aware of their surroundings when visiting crowded shopping areas during holiday seasons.

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Turkey Struggles With Earthquake Damage

October 26, 2011 on 10:20 am | In Istanbul travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel in Turkey, air travel, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel warnings, travels in Turkey | 4 Comments

On Sunday October 23rd Turkey suffered a devastating earthquake of 7.2 magnitude. The quake was centered in the east of the country near Turkey’s border with Iran with the destruction focused on the towns of Ercis and Van. The death toll from the earthquake is nearing 500 with thousands injured. It is feared that more dead will be discovered as a large number of multi-story dwellings collapsed. Our hearts go out to the people of Turkey who have suffered from this catastrophe.

For more details see this information article from the Voice of America, which includes a map showing the major earthquake faults in the area.

Van and its surrounding areas are off the paths normally taken by tourists, but anyone thinking of traveling in this area should postpone or cancel their trip. The earthquake was particularly devastating and it will take months, if not longer, to restore the infrastructure and allow Turkey to focus on anything other than caring for its citizens.

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Terrorism in Ankara, Turkey

September 20, 2011 on 8:33 am | In Terrorism and travel, Travel Safety, Travel in Turkey, Turkey, air travel, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel warnings, travels in Turkey | 2 Comments

A car bomb exploded in central Ankara , the Turkey capital, on Tuesday September 19th. See this article from the Wall Street Journal Online for details. Although the government of Turkey has indicated that there is, as of yet, no evidence of terrorism, the car bomb is thought by many to be the work of Kurdish militants. Areas supporting the militants near the southeast border of the country and in the Kurdish areas of Iraq have been the focus of bombing and military campaigns by the Turkish Armed Forces. There is concern that the current action by the Turkish military against the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party) may result in the spread of PKK-related terrorism to other cities in Turkey as well as to tourist areas in the country.

If you are planning to visit Turkey exercise caution, avoid political rallies, or celebratory crowds, as these could become targets for the PKK. Also, be sure to monitor local news for any information that could be of use to use in evaluating the PKK threat wherever you will visit in Turkey.

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Oslo Bombing and Youth Camp Attack

July 22, 2011 on 10:43 am | In Oslo travel, Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, air travel, norway travel, things travelers need to know, travel alert, travel news, travel warnings | 1 Comment

Terrorism has struck Oslo, Norway. It has been reported by several sources that a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was exploded outside of a main government office in the heart of Oslo. A second bomb was confirmed, but the location has not been revealed. In addition, a youth camp on Utoya Island, approximately 25 miles outside of Oslo, was attacked by a gun carrying individual disguised as a police officer. At last report nearly 90 fatalities and hundreds of injuries have resulted from the combined actions.

Central Oslo has been evacuated and is closed to the public until further notice. The authorities are examining the possibility that there may be additional explosive devices in the area or, possibly in the surrounding areas. It appears that this attack was staged by a Norwegian citizen with right-wing beliefs.

Travelers are advised to avoid Oslo over the next few weeks, as the clean-up and ongoing investigation of this incident will likely make tourism around the Capital difficult, if not untenable.

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England and Ireland – The Royal Visit

May 16, 2011 on 5:27 pm | In Ireland travel, Terrorism and travel, The Troubles, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh will embark on a historic four-day visit of Ireland this week and will be in Dublin tomorrow. While many citizens of Ireland welcome the British monarch, the visit is not popular with the dissident republican groups who want Britain out of Ireland.

The security for this event will be massive and ordinary tourists may want to avoid anywhere the Royal Couple will be traveling in Ireland over the remainder of this week.

See this article in the U.K.’s Independent for more details.

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U.S. State Department Issues New Worldwide Travel Caution

May 3, 2011 on 6:55 pm | In Europe travel, Terrorism and travel, Transportation Security Administration, Travel Safety, air travel security, things travelers need to know, travel, travel alert, travel warnings | 1 Comment

The U. S. State Department has issued a Worldwide Travel Alert based on the potential for terrorists to react to the death of Osama Bin Laden, as the result of what is described in the document as “…recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.”

Partial text of the report includes this extended quote:

“The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan. Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. This Travel Alert expires August 1, 2011.

U.S. Embassy operations in affected areas will continue to the extent possible under the constraints of any evolving security situation. U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. Embassies and Consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.”

You can find the full text of the document here at the website of the U.S. State Department.

In addition, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration issued this statement on its website regarding airport security following the death of Osama bin Laden:

May 2, 2011

“TSA continually evaluates the latest threats and screening measures which are implemented based on the latest intelligence. As always, passengers may notice a variety of security measures at U.S. airports to include the use of physical bag checks, random gate screening, explosives detection technology, canine teams and behavior detection officers. We ask the traveling public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the authorities.”

Note that the State Department Travel warning will be in effect until the end of August. The TSA announcement, as is usual, did not mention a specific term, but was used to inform the traveling public that they may experience additional security during the future months.

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Travel Alert For Europe – What To Do?

October 3, 2010 on 9:50 am | In Europe travel, France Travel, Germany travel, Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, UK Travel, england travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

The State Department of the United States has issued a travel alert for US citizens who may be planning travel to Europe, those already traveling in Europe and those who may be living or studying in Europe. The crux of the matter is that a recently captured terrorist has apparently revealed that Al Qa’ida operatives are in the planning stages for launching terrorist attacks in Europe similar to the one that happened in Mumbai, India in 2008. While the cell in question has been penetrated and appears to be in disarray, it is thought that others may be planning similar operations in Europe and elsewhere.

By the way, in the jargon of the State Department, travel alerts are defined as follows. “Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions that pose significant risks to U.S. Citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.” Travel Alerts, such as the one just issued for Europe do not mean that the government will prohibit you from traveling to a location, only that it wants to inform you of potential risks that may exist at the location.

The State Department, also, issues another, more severe form of advisory called a Travel Warning when they want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. At this time, they have not issued a Travel Warning for Europe.

As we have noted previously, terrorism is a fact of modern life that each of us has to decide how we will deal with. Some will plan their vacations and have a wonderful time while abroad. Others will be nervous wrecks while traveling and not enjoy their trip. Still others will decide to delay travel until sometime in the future when they feel more comfortable with the terrorism situation. The reality is that each of these choices are appropriate for various individuals and this leads to the conclusion that you, as an individual, must evaluate the risk of travel against the rewards and decide to travel or not based on your values and intuition.

Our role is to attempt to provide you with the information that might help you make your travel decision. Below, we present the complete text of the State Department Travel Alert on Europe.

Travel Alert
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bureau of Consular Affairs

Europe
October 3, 2010

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.

We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al-Qa’ida. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.

We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website. Travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 from elsewhere in the world.

For information on general crime and security issues, U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s Country-Specific Information as well as the Worldwide Caution, which can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. For further information on safety tips while traveling abroad, U.S. citizens should also consult the following website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html

This Travel Alert expires on January 31, 2011.

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TSA Security Checkpoints – And Now For The Numbers

October 1, 2010 on 1:21 pm | In TSA, Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Transportation Security Administration, Travel Safety, United States travel, air travel security, amazing travel facts, things travelers need to know, travel news | 1 Comment

Similar to most travelers, we have an interest in the activities of the Transportation Security Administration. We subscribe to their newsletter so we can find out when new items are published on the TSA websitehere. One item that we look at each week is the titled “TSA Week At A Glance” that reports three statistics of interest to us (because our team is composed of frequent flyers who spend a lot of time going through security checkpoints, just like the rest of you). These reports by the TSA cover travel during previous week and include the following categories of information reported from the TSA Security Checkpoints at airports around the nation:

1) Number of artfully concealed prohibited items found at checkpoints
2) Number of firearms found at Checkpoints
3) Number of passengers who were arrested after investigation of suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents

We tracked these data from the first week in May, 2010 to the second week in September, 2010 in an attempt of measure the number of “problems” encountered by the TSA during a time period that reflects the “summer travel season. During May, 2010, a total of approximately 62 million flyers passed through the TSA security checkpoints at the airports scattered throughout the United States. We were unable to find a report on the actual passenger totals for each of these months and, instead, made the assumption that if we could use the May total as a reasonable average for the number of passengers flying each month of the summer, then we could conclude that approximately 280 million travelers passed through the TSA checkpoints for the period.

During that 140 day period, 322 firearms were found at checkpoints, 139 passengers were arrested at checkpoints for suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents and 71 travelers were arrested for artfully concealed prohibited items. The good news is that only 0.00000115 percent of the travelers were carrying firearms when they entered the security checkpoints. Of course, the number of guns is also the bad news. The distribution of the categories, by week, is shown in the graph below.

TSA and Problem Passengers in the summer of 2010

We did not attempt to subject the data to a statistical analysis, but it appears that firearms and the number of flyers are linearly related. In other words, you will find more guns at airports when more people are flying. So, if you look at the chart you will see that firearm carrying at airports peaks during the holidays associated with Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Somewhat curiously, the data seems to show that an unusual number of people were apprehended for attempting to carry firearms through the TSA security checkpoints during the week that included … Mother’s Day. What a nice present!

Our graph is the stuff of further conversation. Just how many people are there in the United States who have not yet heard that there are security checkpoints at airports? Were the people attempting to carry firearms through security checkpoints terrorists or just plain forgetful? What prohibited items are we talking about here – bombs or bottles of water? And who doesn’t know their travel documents are fraudulent? Next, what about geography? We like to think of things geographically and wonder about the geographical distribution of these statistics? Which airports? What regions? Hopefully someone is paying attention the “where” of these numbers. However, we doubt that the spatial aspects of these numbers will ever see the light of day, since we had such difficulty in gathering the simple data presented.

How These Data Were Obtained

We think it is important that you know that these data are published weekly by the TSA on their website. When we first became interested in these reports earlier this spring, we contacted TSA to see if they would provide us the statistics that they had openly published over the last calendar year. To be honest, we did not know where to start and were directed to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request Page at the TSA website and filed a simple request for the last year of the statistics published on the TSA website for the TSA Week At A Glance section. We received a speedy reply telling us that we had failed to reasonably describe the information and our request was denied.

Not to be deterred, on May 24, we tried sending an email to the “contact us” section of the TSA website requesting that they provide us the last year’s data that appeared in the TSA Week At A Glance section of their website. After all, why would you need a Freedom Of Information Act request for information that is published on the TSA website every week? We added that we published the blog that you are reading and that we thought these data would help the public appreciate the need for security checkpoints at airports.

Almost a month later on June 23, we received a note indicating that our request had been forwarded to the appropriate group for a response. On July 7, we received a note sent to us on behalf of Sterling Payne (how appropriate, and we are not making up the name) Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, indicating that he felt that the best way for us to receive the most accurate information would be by filling out (you guessed it) a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Come on guys, this is information published on your citizen-facing website! There is nothing secret about it, or if there is, we suggest you stop publishing it each week. And anyway, if you don’t have the data, just who does?

As you might have guessed by now, we went the TSA website every week during the summer travel period and faithfully recorded the data in an Excel spreadsheet that allowed us to create the graph displayed above. Don’t ever say we are not determined to find the facts on your behalf.

Be sure to visit ThereArePlaces for information on the Best Places to visit around the world, as well as for information on travel planning, including travel safety.

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France Prepares For More Terrorism

September 21, 2010 on 2:14 pm | In France Travel, Paris Travel, Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel warnings | Comments Off

An article in today’s BBC news indicated that the government of France has taken additional anti-terrorism preparations after being alerted to a potential terrorism attack. The report was specific and indicated that a female suicide bomber intends to target the country’s transportation system. However, the country has also increased its patrols around national monuments, museums and other tourist attractions (including some shopping areas). DW-World also has good coverage of the terror threat.

Recently, France has been threatened by Islamic militants from the Sahara states of Africa. In addition, France’s recent attack on an al Queda camp in Mali may have contributed to the increased potential for terrorism, as may its recent ban on the headscarves worn by many women who practice Islam.

Travel is not an opportunity that comes without its risks in the modern world and all tourists should be alert for possible dangers whenever and wherever they travel. As a consequence, travelers should weigh the potential dangers of travel when deciding whether or not to travel. If you do travel, pay attention to local news reports at your destination for information on potential problems and always avoid public demonstrations or any other situations that might prove dangerous.

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Facts on TSA’s New Full-Body Scanners

March 22, 2010 on 10:52 pm | In Terrorism and travel, ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, air travel security, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel news, travel restrictions | 1 Comment

As most of you know by now, the Transportation Security Administration has begun deploying full-body scanners throughout an increasing number of airports in the United States and it plans to install an additional 450 advanced imaging units this year.

So far, the reception has been favorable, but adding another layer of checking always increases the time it takes to pass through security. In addition, we find that many travelers have a number of questions about the new technology, its safety, its implications for personal privacy and what does it really do. Well, we have taken a crack at providing that information for you (complete with photos of the devices and the images they can take) in our Information Guide to the TSA’s new Full-Body Scanners

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