NEXUS OF TERROR AND BUSINESS TRAVEL
By Joe Brancatelli
April 17, 2013 --Within minutes of the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday, cities from New York to Los Angeles tightened security at popular visitor venues. Hotels around the nation sharpened defensive procedures, airports hardened security perimeters and urban areas as far away as London began rethinking how they protect visitors.
As someone stranded at a hotel in a largely numb and mostly detached San Francisco after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I found Monday's swift, pro-active security actions impressive. Depressing to contemplate, of course. Discouraging, too. But impressive because it shows that we've learned a few valuable lessons since 9/11.
The most profound: Acts of terror can, do and will happen and if business travelers want to keep traveling on business, we must adjust swiftly to an attack anywhere in the world. Nothing takes place in a vacuum anymore. A bombing on Boylston Street in Boston will reverberate and immediately change how business travelers work on Beckham Drive in Birmingham, Alabama or Broad Street in Birmingham, England.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was naturally referring to locked-down Boston when he said moving around wouldn't be "easy, simple or regular" for several days. But he might as well have been talking about anywhere in the world where business travelers find themselves in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
"Very large man in shiny black suit ostentatiously checking card keys before allowing access to room elevators," one business traveler texted me Monday evening from the lobby of a major chain hotel in Chicago. "Wasn't there last night. Effective security theater."
Given what we've learned since 9/11 and how we now prepare and react for incidents like that in Boston on Monday, here's what to watch for when you're on the road when bad guys strike somewhere.Airports get slower and more annoying
Minutes after the bombing, the Federal Aviation Administration to impose a "ground stop" at Boston's Logan Airport. That barred flights from departing New England's largest airport for about an hour. Huge swathes of the air space over Boston (and the District of Columbia) were briefly deemed no-fly zones, which meant air traffic had to be rerouted. At least temporarily, curbside check-in was suspended at several airports around the nation, too.
Bottom line: Airports will slow down now in the aftermath of any terror-like incident anywhere. Security forces will be out in greater force and make a special effort to be conspicuously in evidence.
The Transportation Security Administration will ratchet up its screening procedures at airport checkpoints and checked luggage may be more carefully examined. Rail about the TSA and its supposed "security kabuki" all you want, of course. But the reality is that you'll have a tougher time getting to your flight in the aftermath of any terror incident.
You may have more trouble even getting to your airport terminal after a terror incident, too. Some airports may close their parking facilities closest to the terminals. They may even inspect cars—opening trunks, using mirrors to examine the underside of vehicles—on the access road leading to airports.Hotels will take security more seriously
Several terror attacks have specifically targeted major lodging buildings in recent years and hotels are still considered inviting "soft targets." Why? Even more than airports, hotels host more casual transients in their public areas, restaurants and, of course, guestrooms. And hotel managers are extremely reluctant to turn their properties into the armed camps.
But hotel security will change, especially at major hotels in global market cities, after a terror attack anywhere. At a minimum, security types will appear at elevator banks to ensure that you are a registered guest who is supposed to have access to guest rooms. Some hotels in Boston have stopped accepting and holding checked bags. In extreme situations, you won't even be permitted to enter the hotel unless you are a registered guest.
And, yes, your hotel could be evacuated. At least two properties in Boston emptied their buildings on Monday and did some room searches before guests were permitted to return.Ground transportation will lock down
As if by magic yesterday, security was stepped up in places like Grand Central Terminal in New York and Union Station in Washington. Local cops, private security and even National Guard troops appeared, guns at the ready.
Get used to it. In Boston, parts of the T transit system was closed on Monday and at least one major station (Copley Street) has been shuttered until further notice. Ever since the transit attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, security officials realized it's not only airplanes and airports that are at risk. In fact, it's much easier for an attacker to hit a railroad system that is well integrated into a densely populated metropolitan area.
When you travel on public transit in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack anywhere, expect random searches of bags or even your person. Demeaning it may be, but it could still be better than trying to navigate an unfamiliar large city by private vehicle in the wake of a terror incident.Communications will be disrupted
Major mobile operators vehemently denied they shut down any part of their networks in Boston on Monday as a precaution against a terrorist using a cellphone to remotely detonate a bomb. But what does it matter? There was so much phone traffic in Boston in the immediate aftermath of the incident that mobile communications were difficult or impossible. That also happened in downtown Manhattan on 9/11 and parts of Madrid and London during their incidents.
Bottom line: Assume that communications will get more difficult in the immediate aftermath of an incident. Know what your back-up options (landlines, Internet services) are. Worst case, try to text or email from your phone as a alternate to calling from your mobile device. Text and email require much less spectrum and may get though when voice communications are impossible.Heed the avoid-the-crowds warnings
My own history as a business traveler and business-travel reporter almost exactly mirrors the rise of terrorism aimed at the global travel infrastructure. And one rejoinder that the security experts have always stressed: When you travel, avoid large crowds and high-profile public events.
Even though I've always passed that advice along, I've always found it particularly distasteful because the joy of travel, either for business or on a holiday, is mingling with the crowds at a street market or being in a city where a great event is underway.
But the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon on the planet and a giddy rite of spring in New England, underscores the logic of the avoid-the-crowds warning. If you mingle when you travel, you're at risk.
That may be the most depressing and deflating lesson of Monday's bombing.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2013 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.