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U.S. State Department Launches New Consular Security and Safety Messaging System

For organizations with personnel abroad, having up-to-date information about the safety and security threats in a given country can be vital. While private security consultants or other private networks can provide some of this information, the U.S. State Department is another option, and the information is free. The Bureau of Consular Affairs keeps tabs on worldwide threats to travelers and makes some of this information publicly available through a travel advisory system. Last month, the U.S. State Department launched a new system for providing travelers with information about security threats and safety information abroad. This blog provides an overview of the new system, as well as links to where to find the most up-to-date information about the security state of a country.

The New Travel Advisory System

The new consular security and safety messaging system will now use a consistent format to help communicate the risk of traveling to any given country. Under this new system, each country will be assigned a “level” that is numbered and color-coded:

Level 1. Exercise normal precautions. Level one is color-coded a dark blue, and indicates the lowest level of risk. 

Level 2. Exercise increased caution. Level two is color-coded yellow. At this level, you should take more precautions, but travel is not necessarily discouraged.

Level 3. Reconsider travel. Level three is color-coded orange and indicates serious safety and security concerns in the region. At this level, the State Department advises that travel should be avoided. 

Level 4. Do not travel. Level four is the highest level, and is color-coded red. Safety and security risks at this level may be life-threatening, and the State Department advises U.S. citizens not to travel to these countries, or to leave as soon as practical. 

A travel advisory level will be issued for each country. In addition, in recognition of the fact that not every region in the country is subject to the same level of risk, the State Department will also provide regional level travel advisories to drill down and get more specific about the risks in various areas. This can be helpful, especially in large countries where the situation on the ground can vary greatly.

Risk Indicators: Codes for Concerns

In addition to getting the general temperature of the security risk in a given country, travelers will also be provided with the reasons for why the State Department has so categorized a risk when a country is given a Level 2 or higher risk assessment. These “risk indicators” will now be provided in the form of a letter code:1

  • C - Crime: Widespread violent or organized crime exists in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.

  • T - Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred, and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.

  • U - Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.

  • H - Health: Health risks are present, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure. Check also for a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice. 

  • N - Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.

  • E - Time-limited Event: Short-term events, such as elections, sporting events, or other incidents, may pose safety risks.

  • O - Other: Some potential risks are not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

These codes provide travelers with some context for why a level has been assigned. Knowing some of the reasons why a certain country has a “Level 3” indicator can be extremely helpful to a sending organization or to a missionary considering whether to take on the risk of a certain field. For example, a mission may feel more comfortable knowing that a Level 3 risk has been assigned for a natural disaster in a specific region, as opposed to terrorism risks.

As part of the new system, the alerts put out by U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have also received a makeover. The alerts will be displayed in a standard format that outlines the issue, where it is occurring, actions to take, and where U.S. citizens can find assistance. 

Resources and Next Steps

For missions or other religious organizations with members traveling abroad, you may need to make updates in response to this new system. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Update any internal crisis management policies that relied on the old system. Better yet, if it has been a while since you’ve done a policy review, take this opportunity to make sure your policy is effective and legally compliant.

2. Ensure security briefing is kept up to date and someone is responsible for monitoring the U.S. State Department updates.

3. Provide your people with resources on where to get information and alerts while abroad—the U.S. State Department is just one resource. 

Staying up to date on crisis management is not only good member care, but it also moves you toward reducing the risk of liability for the organization. 

Learn more about the new system by clicking here.

To find the latest information from the State Department about a given country, click here, and search for the country. 

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1 U.S. Dep’t of State—Bureau of Consular Affairs, Improved Consular Safety and Security Messaging, https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/about-our-new-products.html.
Featured Image: "Unnamed" by chuttersnap on Unsplash.
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