Protecting Yourself from Hotel Terrorism

I stand by what I said:

Also, my personal security guru, Bruce Schneier, says it's foolish even to worry about hotel safety, because the chances of something happening on any particular night in any particular hotel are vanishingly small. The taxi ride to the hotel is invariably more dangerous than the hotel itself.

But if you tend to stay in targeted hotels, the advice is pretty good.

Posted on December 5, 2008 at 12:54 PM • 33 Comments

Comments

markDecember 5, 2008 2:20 PM

fave quote: "Always travel with a flashlight, utility knife (they're easy to sneak past TSA), "

Anonymous Coward December 5, 2008 3:40 PM

There are several points in Jeffery Goldberg's article that don't make sense:

The claim of better security by avoiding the lobbey is based on the assumption that the attack is planned around the lobby. Taking an alternative exit may be a far better choice while avoiding staying at the hotel all the time.

If one asks for a room on 4th floor up, it pretty much rules out one important exit from the hotel: from the window. Personally I think 3rd floor is perfect: still possible to exit from window to outside roads, with assistance of bed sheets, etc, for descending.

By avoiding big hotels in places where foreign tourists are tageted may not be such a good idea. You basically expose yourself to a different set of risks. A common street drunk may have easy access to your room. These scenarios may be avoided by staying at big hotels.

I think, the most important tip for visitors to a terrorist-targeted area is just to use your common sense. Just keep everything in low key, and avoid the usual loud party attitude when we travel in a place where we though we were superior to locals. It is one thing to be relaxed, and another to be obnoxious and easily targeted by criminals of all sorts.

A nonny bunnyDecember 5, 2008 4:12 PM

Well, if I was going to give into my paranoia; I'd at the very least would want to take a rope with me. You can use it to descend from the higher floors, and you can tie up terrorists if the opportunity arises (and you can use it to make traps).
And while filling your bathtub with water is a good idea in case you need to hide in your room for an extended period of time, I think I'd want one of those filter-straws, just to be extra safe (for one thing, you don't know how clean the tub is).
It also might not be a bad idea to wear a bulletproof vest either, in case people start shooting.
Then there's some techie stuff that might be useful, like setting up miniature cameras around the hotel, so that if terrorists take over, you can keep track on your laptop where they all are, and escape through the window using your rope if they're far enough away. Don't forget to use encryption on the signal, obviously. And route it through the electrical wiring, with only wireless as backup (because otherwise they can track your wireless signal from the get-go).
Ooh, and remote control robot cameras, to use as scouts. You can buy them as toys these days. Bloody useful if you forgot to set up cameras beforehand.
I suppose an (encrypted) copy of the anarchist cookbook might be useful as well. In case you need to cook something up.

Maybe it'd be easier if I stayed home...

bobechsDecember 5, 2008 5:13 PM

Well, you really only need one accessory to escape the hotel in a crisis: a cardboard box large enough to stuff yourself into and mail yourself to safety.

PackagedBlueDecember 5, 2008 5:25 PM

Good laughs, however a little goes a long way when the crap hit the fan.

Tape on the locks and doors really is priceless sometimes.

jkDecember 5, 2008 7:28 PM

Also, identify a lamp or other piece of furniture that could be used as a weapon of last resort.

If you don't already know how to use some kind of weapon, a makeshift weapon is not a weapon, it's a lamp. Or a towel rack. Or a TV remote. It is not a weapon.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 5, 2008 7:50 PM

You again have reminded me of the scene in the movie The Jerk where Steve Martin is fired upon at while at a gas station. He believes someone is intent on shooting at cans -- everywhere he goes there are more cans.

TimDecember 5, 2008 9:16 PM

I find it amusing that he starts the article by saying that he has stayed in 4 hotels that has been bombed, and he ends the article by recommending that you stay in a hotel that has already been bombed. If I stayed in locations that have been "pre-disastered" I will be staying in a lot of unfortunate locations, lol.

another bruceDecember 6, 2008 12:02 AM

several more tips:

curtained shower enclosures. even common thieves rarely look in the shower, and for some terrorists, it's an utterly alien environment.

bacon. a strip of bacon dangled over the bathroom doorknob might deter some religious terrorists.

electro-trap. unplug your lamp first, sever the wire at the base of the lamp, separate and strip the ends. attach one side to room doorknob, put other side so end is just under the door. urinate on floor surrounding the latter end for greater conductivity, plug it in and await developments.

Nomen PublicusDecember 6, 2008 3:32 AM

As one is far more likely to be trapped by a fire in the hotel, the only important actions are to check the route to the fire escape.

There are exceptions such as The Europa Hotel in Belfast, possibly the most bombed and threatened hotel in the world. Despite that, it remained open and a popular place to stay

http://www.forces.org/writers/james/files/ni.htm

AndrewDecember 6, 2008 5:35 AM

Three very relevant pieces of advice for the business traveler:

1) Keep your clothes and shoes where you can easily find them in the dark.

2) Carry (keep by the bedside when sleeping) a small, powerful flashlight.

3) Know the layout of your room, floor and two escape routes from same.

I disagree with the "lightning never strikes twice" approach. I feel compelled to point out that one is much more likely to be the victim of violent crime in the United States than the victim of terrorism anywhere.

grztfgdhDecember 6, 2008 7:23 AM

@A nonny bunny
"Then there's some techie stuff that might be useful, like setting up miniature cameras around the hotel, so that if terrorists take over, you can keep track on your laptop where they all are, and escape through the window using your rope if they're far enough away. Don't forget to use encryption on the signal, obviously. And route it through the electrical wiring, with only wireless as backup (because otherwise they can track your wireless signal from the get-go)."

People might think you're a terrorist. I suggest buying one of those "My name is" stickers (usually about 5 bucks a pack at your local convenience store) and write "Not a terrorist" on it. Then wear it on your shirt (above the left breast is a good spot) when you go out to lay your cameras.

@another bruce
"electro-trap. unplug your lamp first, sever the wire at the base of the lamp, separate and strip the ends. attach one side to room doorknob, put other side so end is just under the door. urinate on floor surrounding the latter end for greater conductivity, plug it in and await developments."

As long as you don't electrocute innocent passerby's who just happened to touch your doorknob. Or worse, you might kill the rescuers when they come to your room. Better set up those cameras a nonny bunny suggested just to be sure you don't get the wrong people.

ripDecember 6, 2008 9:55 AM

In an unfamiliar country, you have no chance of knowing even rough odds of a terrorist attack. If you are a diplomat or a millionaire, you can assume that you may be a target. The sort that is used as a bargaining chip. so at that you have a better chance of survival if captured
As a mere tourist, you are worth more dead to the terrorists, you will grab the headlines only if killed. Go to a hotel that the locals would use, avoid one that caters to the very rich, you dont want to get caught up in a tradgedy addressed to someone else.
survey the neighborhood, locate and know the time when certain places will be open. Make friends there if possible.
Survey the holtel for exits, and even places where you could climb a wall if exits were guarded. Examine the inner space that is available, know the location of stairways, windows, and possibly rooms that are left unlocked, as this may help you if you need to avoid patrols in motion. as you move about.
with a digital camera, there is no expense to taking photos of these areas, which you can reference if necessary.

grahamcDecember 6, 2008 6:09 PM

All these violent solutions! Preparations for a violent response have a good chance of backfiring (no pun intended) when planned by amateurs coming up against professionals.

Much safer to keep a low profile and avoid the landmark western hotels.

Clive RobinsonDecember 6, 2008 11:06 PM

@ grahamc,

"Much safer to keep a low profile and avoid the landmark western hotels."

Begs the questions Why? and in what parts of the world?

Grahamc, I'm not "picking on you", for any other reason than your advice appears to be reasonable but has exceptions which are unexplained.

Unlike some of the advice given on this page which is either bogus, with some verginng on the criminaly stupid through to the lunatic fringe (which you picked up on), or "troll bait".

The first question people should be asking themselves is "why am I traveling" then "Where in the world am I going".

Then look at what type of "event" or "crime" is prevalent there and most importantly why... Then use this information to temper the approach and precautions you take.

This is because in the majority of cases it is the type of crime most prevalent in the area that is going to happen to you... Not some off the scale event.

Taking sensible precautions for the "on scale" crimes will usually also give protection for the "off scale" events as well.

So "on the ground" advice about looking at your escape routes in case of fire applies in all cases (and for a lot of other events as well).

But, this should also effect your forward planning as well.

For instance if the place you are going to has little or no fire safety laws then you would be safer in a hotel of a well known western chain than some local outfit (ie corparate culture would work in your favour).

Likewise if staying in somewhere like London where there is a chronic shortage of social housing you will find a large number of the smaller hotels used to accomadate people who are waiting to go into social housing. This obviously causes all sorts of "social" problems and the attendent events and crimes so again you would be safer in a hotel of a well known wester chain than some local outfit.

Now what about parts of the world where "sex tourism" or "for money kidnaping" is prevalent. You are probably more at danger from taxi drivers than others. So a little planning will potentialy save you a lot of grief. So again stay at a reputable hotel and when booking ask them to arrange a taxi from the airport to the hotel (it is in their interest to make sure you arrive safely). Likewise if going any place get the hotel to book the taxi there and back and give the hotel and other interested parties your expected timings and contact details like your mobile phone number, and the contact details of the other party and include a "faxable" current photograph of yourself. Yes I know this advice is going to cost you 10-20% more and be more hassel for you but it will go a long way to stop you being another "no name" statistic in some far away place.

The best piece of advice I was ever given was "don't look like a mark" and as with all things a little bit of pre (journy) planning and preperation will go a long long way to stop you becoming another statistic of "bad luck"...

I used to carry a "Swiss army knife", "Gerber multi-tool", "Maglight torch", "Silva sighting compass", ball of cooking string, water proof matches, a squash ball, half a toilet roll, a small first aid kit, a packet of "Snickers bars", several packets of chewing gum and atleast a 500ml bottle of water where ever I went. Either in my backpack or brief case, I was very rarely in an "event" or subject to a "crime" but I did use all of them very very regularly making life that little bit more comfortable for my self and others. Anoyingly 9/11 and the rise of street crime stops me carrying some of the items these days.

Peter ben ShockleyDecember 6, 2008 11:45 PM

@another bruce
"unplug your lamp first, sever the wire at the base of the lamp, separate and strip the ends. attach one side to room doorknob, put other side so end is just under the door. urinate on floor surrounding the latter end for greater conductivity, plug it in and await developments."

Note to self: urinate first, attach wire ends last, then never ever open the door for room service.

SlackDecember 7, 2008 6:25 AM

A decent LED flashlight that accepts AA batteries and a stout fixed blade knife (approx 3-5") will serve as an absolute minimum broad-spectrum kit for most natural disasters and violent crime. Anything else should be for (self) first aid such as a tourniquet and a field dressing of some sort. A reasonable length of duck tape can be wound around the flashlight, which combined with a credit card can subsequently be used to jerry-rig a crude facsimile of an asherman chest seal.

Tobias WeisserthDecember 7, 2008 6:43 AM

This post and its discussion is ridiculous. People arguing how they can prepare for a "Die Hard" like situation, what items they should pack, which floor they should stay on and so forth. Ridiculous.

If you're not ready to take the risk of Islamic terrorism in hotels, then simply don't travel to countries like Pakistan, India, Malaysia, most of Muslim dominated Africa and the Middle East.

Want to avoid the risk of Islamic terrorism? Don't go on vacation there. Don't do business there. Easy, huh? But boring I guess. And that seems to be the point of this discussion, as a lot of people in this discussion seem to think they could be John McClain in a hotel.

Anderer GregorDecember 7, 2008 10:17 AM

No one else seem to have commented that you do not even have to bring your own to the hotel ...

AndrewDecember 7, 2008 6:48 PM

>> Want to avoid the risk of Islamic terrorism? Don't go on vacation there. Don't do business there.

And let the terrorists win???

Douglas AdamsDecember 8, 2008 5:08 AM

"Know where your shoes are"

Now there's a frood who doesn't know where his towel is. DONT PANIC.
-

bobDecember 8, 2008 6:48 AM

@another bruce: Your lamp cord comment is scary; because I thought of that also (except for the urinate part, I was using tap water with salt; yours is better).

Of course that assumes that the hotel still has electricity; which the FBI [presumably other countries' SWAT organizations read the same playbook] will shut off to enable terrorists to get the money.

kaDecember 8, 2008 10:54 PM

"...says it's foolish even to worry about hotel safety, because the chances of something happening on any particular night in any particular hotel are vanishingly small."

I keep seeing comments like this on this site and can only assume that Schneier and others that make them must be statisticians or economists. Both are concerned with overall trends and large sample sizes. But somewhere in the sample is a guy with a gun or knife jammed in his back while getting on the hotel elevator. Or a woman who has to make her way out of a smoke filled room to the emergency exit.

To those people might have done a little prep work in personal protection or mapping out the path to exits and I bet they probably wouldn't feel a bit foolish.

Most places it would be hard to find some way to improve the safety of the taxi ride, but lots of good ways to make for a safer hotel experience.

John WatersDecember 9, 2008 5:45 AM

Tips from an American expatriate in Riyadh (me):
1) I *always* pack a flashlight (Surefire 6p w/60 and 120 lumen bulbs) and a couple pair of batteries and a folding knife (I have an SOG Trident and my wife has a very unassuming looking rainbow-finished SOG Blink). I usually carry my Trident in my pocket, and clipped in the front of my pants behind my belt buckle when I need to go through any security. They *never* ask me to remove my belt.

2) I only wear white cotton dress shirts, which above the waist look very much like some styles of saudi thobe. In my messenger bag or backpack I keep a shemagh (headscarf). If I ever feel uneasy, when I am sitting in a booth (in the back corner, facing the door) at a cafe or riding in a cab I simply put the shemagh on my head, instant saudi. Most well off saudis are extremely fair skinned and with the right grooming habits I fit right in. I also carry a pashtun style hat, and have some shalwar kameez at home, because I can easily pass for a Pathan.
2a) My wife dresses like a saudi woman (abaya, hijab, niqab) and ties her hijab in the manner of local women (each area has its own predominate style).
3) If the stuff does hit the fan, look for a rich saudi. They all generally like "kwaja" (euro-american expatriates) and will protect us. It makes no sense to let the folks that are driving the intellectual half of the saudi machinery die off if you are a making a living off of their work. (Their attitude toward the predominantly asian workforce, however, is another story).
4) Like anywhere else, PAY ATTENTION, situational awareness is not really a part of the local culture. You can spot "haramis" (small time hoods) very easily because they have not really had to hide from the general population. If you make eye contact with someone who is sizing you up, you have already prevented yourself from being victimized. The criminal element here really is rather stupid, its almost entertaining.
5) Don't be afraid to get physical: If someone does try to rob you, kick their ass. No one is going to stop you. Seriously, people here don't seem to fight, they just yell at each other and maybe hit each other with their igals (the fanbelt thingy on their heads).

Sorry, I have a dawat (dinner party) to go to... more later.

jcw

John WatersDecember 9, 2008 9:37 AM

6) When you get to the hotel, go for a walk and identify the following:
a) exits, official and otherwise.
b) cover and concealment in the building and near possible exits.
c) Try to get a room on the third floor. Low enough to possibly drop down w/o serious injury but not so low as to making entry to your room through a window easy for a baddie.
d) use your wooden or hard plastic door stops to keep the outer door securely closed. In the middle east hotel rooms have an inner door (to keep the ladies in purdah when room service comes) so bring an extra one. This will give you a few extra moments to get out the window if the stuff hits the fan. You did bring door stops, right?
e) Make sure that you know where your light, pocket knife, passport, wallet with two or three times the amount needed to get to an embassy or airport, a bottle of water, and any other essentials in the same place and in an easy to get to spot in the middle of the room. This way you can get everything you need from one place and not realize that your wallet is in the bathroom, outside the inner door, after the baddies have breeched the outer door.
f) Make a note of what the local security is using to secure your hotel. Around here its all MP5A3's, truck mounted hk21s and SIGs. Note where those, particularly the hk21's, are pointing and do NOT run out in front of them if things go south.
7) get yourself a prepaid cell phone sim and make sure it works with your phone. Most of the indian/pakistani phone stores will give you one w/o checking ID. Some countries require you to have a certain kind of visa to get a cell phone... Go where the undocumented and illegal workers are and you'll find a way around it, bring someone who speaks urdu or bengali (like the guy that cleans your hotel room).
8) Don't expect the police and emergency services to be responsive, well trained, or sympathetic to you. Most of these guys will never see the kind of stuff that a an American college student in any major city will have seen by their junior year.
9) find yourself a good cab driver that speaks a language that you also speak reasonably well and keep him on retainer. This means using him to get around town even if your client provides a driver. I personally get along best with Pathans (northern pakistanis), my guy here is from Dhaka and we have become close friends. He knows that if stuff goes south to immediately call me and find out where I am. Arrange a nice cash reward for them to bail you out and make sure you have that much cash on you at all times.


This is not really all about Hotel PERSEC, its about longer-stays in potentially hostile locations. It includes some stuff that is applicable to hotels, though.

I am sorry if I went off topic or rambled or said a bunch of stuff that no one really finds valuable. I just know that it helps me sleep a little better, my wife as well.

jcw

Andrew SDecember 9, 2008 7:52 PM

"Stay in hotels that have already been bombed or otherwise attacked."

Sounds like folly to me. I wonder if there's any statistics to back that up. Certainly this would not have been good advice for the world trade center.

Clive RobinsonDecember 10, 2008 3:19 AM

@ Andrew S,

"Sounds like folly to me. I wonder if there's any statistics to back that up."

There is indirect evidence to say it is for about a year after.

That is the hotel staff who were there when the bomb went off are usually more vigilant so things like thefts from rooms drop etc.

However those staff due to the stress of continuing to work there tend to leave and then the level of vigilance returns to normal and the number of room thefts etc rises again.

In Northan Ireland there was one hotel that used to be bombed on a regular basis (see above for it's name), and security got so tight there the was a joke going around in NI that it was "little Israel, as only four be two's could get in".

Although not actuall true the place certainly did have a more cosmapolitan clientel than other NI hotels, partly due to the level of comfort, partly due to the level of security.

PackagedBlueDecember 11, 2008 9:23 PM

Protecting yourself from hotel terrorism:

Search google and learn about trends.

K&R sites have some risk info. Government has travel advisory info. Lots of info out there.

Know the right people, helpful. Have the right people on your side looking out for you, priceless.

Not travelling abroad in a post 9/11 world, priceless as well.

MattDecember 15, 2008 3:53 PM

One observation: Goldberg mentions that you should “travel with a couple of Power Bars.” As a practical matter, this is good advice (although a small jar of peanut butter works better, especially in the car for winter driving). As a matter of survival, food is a complete non-issue.

Lots of survival literature focuses FAR too much on the availability of food. Unless you’re traveling with small children, are diabetic, or have other unique medical needs, a lack of food should be your very last concern when trying to survive in a crisis.

Lawrence Gonzales makes this point in his book Deep Survival, and it bears repeating to all those urban survivalist wannabes (like me!) who spend far too much time worrying about food and not nearly enough time worrying about things that really will kill you.

The average adult can survive for weeks without food. After some severe hunger for 48 hours or so, your body will switch over to a famine metabolism and you will begin metabolizing body fat fairly efficiently. Almost nobody starves to death in the wilderness. The two big killers are exposure (too hot or too cold) and dehydration. And nobody EVER starves to death as part of a terrorist attack.

Bottom line: as a survival issue, food is irrelevant except in the long-term.

For urban survival, comfortable shoes will make a MUCH bigger impact on your chances of survival than any amount of food ever will.

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