Considering that personal and travel security rely heavily on context its important to consider how the threat relates to you whether at home or abroad. Understanding this contextual relationship let’s you realistically determine how much effort, energy and possibly money you should invest in your security.
The best way to do this is to conduct a personal risk assessment. This can be done yourself or you can hire a consultant to do it for you and it can be as detailed as you want to make it. If you do it yourself its important to be as brutally honest with yourself as you can for the assessment to be accurate and have value. This assessment can be done from a lifestyle perspective for an at-risk person or a person living in a high-risk area or it can be done for a particular event like an overseas business trip. It can also be done using qualitative or quantitative methods or a combination of the two. Most people will be more likely to use qualitative means.
The standard formula for a risk assessment is that Risk = Threat x Vulnerability. For our purposes this means you need to begin by identifying a threat or threats that exist and then look at vulnerabilities in their schedule, routine or lifestyle where their exposure to this threat is increased.
As an example a businessman traveling to a two-day meeting in Johannesburg might identify threats such as carjacking and armed robbery. In particular he may look at the practice of criminals following people from the airport and robbing them en route or at their destination. He might also consider the high level of gratuitous violence often involved in these crimes.
On a review of his itinerary he notes that the meetings will all be held at a 5-star hotel adjacent to the airport terminal and that he will be staying at the same hotel. In this case the threat level is high but his vulnerability is low so the risk is relatively low.
Another aspect to consider is the probability vs. criticality or impact. Some events are more likely but the consequences are not too severe. Others are less likely but the consequences may be devastating. Two examples to look at:
A photographer is going on an assignment in Barcelona that will involve a lot of work in public venues. The threat of pickpocketing and petty crime may be high but the criticality of these types of incidents is relatively low — unless of course his cameras are stolen and he can’t complete the job.
On the other hand an engineer has a 2-week assignment in Islamabad, Pakistan. He will be staying at a western brand hotel that has been previously attacked with a massive vehicle bomb. Hotels of this type are targeted for spectacular attacks by militant groups. In this case the relative probability that the hotel will be attacked while he is there is relatively low. However based on past incidents if the hotel is attacked the impact is likely to be severe.
Using this information you can determine the level of risk you face – either daily or for a specific activity or event as well as the likelihood and potential impact of an event occurring. Using this information you can determine what countermeasures if any you should implement to mitigate the risk.