travel

KN, p. 143 “On the Road – Hotel Safety”

 

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Dead tired at the end of a long day on the road?

Can’t wait to fall into bed after a completely exhausting day in the sun or at the ball park or the festival?

Before your head hits the pillow in that hotel, remember to check a few things:

 

Room Security

Before going to sleep or leaving the room, make sure:

  • The hallway door is locked, bolted, and chained when staying in.
  • The door actually latches and the locks click into place every time you close the door.
  • The privacy card has been placed outside the door on the handle or inserted into the key card slot whether staying in or leaving to go to breakfast, etc.

 

Before opening the hallway door to anyone:

  • Check the peep hole in the door to see who is there – the staff is trained to stand back from the door so that you can see them.
  • Check ID of the person at the door while the door is still closed.
  • If unsure or suspicious of the person’s ID, call the front desk.
  • Don’t let the children answer the door. Chances are, they aren’t tall enough to see out the peep hole.

 

Keep your room key in your pocket/pocketbook while out of the room.

  • Don’t flash the key around or leave it on the restaurant table.
  • Thieves look for careless tourists at the resorts that still use actual keys.
  • Don’t tell strangers your room number or the name of your hotel.

 

FYI:

If you are concerned about leaving personal property/electronics/cameras in the room while you are out having fun, remember…

You don’t have to let the housekeeping staff do your room every day. You can place full trash cans in the hallway next to the door, get more towels from the housekeeping staff, and leave the privacy tag on the corridor door. If you don’t need more towels or coffee kits or need the sheets to be changed, then housekeeping will stay out of your room, and lessen the likelihood of strangers having access to your things. Am I paranoid? No, just the victim of theft by the housekeeping staff at two different major resorts. Using the room safe would not have been possible – not big enough.

 

Fire exits and safety tips

Major hotels display small floor maps on the back of the entrance door to your room. Check out the emergency exit route before you need it.

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These days, all hotels (even the local Bed & Breakfasts) should have fire sprinkler systems in place throughout the building in order to receive their permits to operate. Most also have smoke detectors in every room.

 

But, what do you do if you suspect a fire and no alarm has sounded?

  • Touch the hallway door to see if it is hot.
  • If it is cool, open the door carefully and look in the corridor.
  • If it’s clear, take your room key with you, close the door and get down on the hallway floor, making your way to the exit stairs, not the elevator.
  • If it gets smoky in the staircase, turn around and head up to another floor, then cross to a different staircase to head down and out.

 

What if you think the fire is right outside your door – raging between you and the exit route?

  • Touch the hallway door and if it is hot, stay put and call the operator.
  • If the hotel phone is not working, use your cell phone and call 911 and give the name of your hotel, and your room number.
  • Then fill the bathtub with water, wet the sheets and stuff them into the hallway door gaps and all the vents in the room that are sending out smoke.
  • Cover your mouth with a wet hand towel.
  • Try to stay calm and wait for help to come to you.

 

Be smart about your own security and you’ll have more fun on vacation!

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

KN, p. 137 “What does the TSA really do?”

 

Most of us associate the TSA (Transportation Security Agency) with annoying lines in the airports and intrusive searches through baggage, electronics, and personal belongings. In fact, the agency has 50,000 members and is also responsible for conducting inspections in rail cars and for patrolling subways in cooperation with local law enforcement men and women.

 

This most recent variation of airport and border security agencies was formed in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 – the day of the worst terrorist attacks the USA has experienced. The TSA was organized and revamped in order to make travel throughout the country (and beyond) safer. These days, they operate under the umbrella of Homeland Security/Office of Law Enforcement.

 

Before September 11, 2001, airport screening was provided by the airlines/airports  themselves. Afterward, the TSA was given oversight control of personnel training, in addition to the screening process itself. Not all airports had screening procedures in place, so that was changed as well. Bulletproof and locked cockpit doors became the norm because of the TSA, rather than the previous open door, friendly-to-all policy.

 

Other changes brought about in order to improve national security and passenger safety:

  • Some aircraft have CCTV cameras on board, so that the cockpit crew can keep an eye out for unusual activity in the passenger areas.
  • Some crewmembers are licensed and trained to carry firearms.
  • Air Marshals travel undercover in the passenger section of the planes.

 

Federal Flight Deck Officers As terrorist threats in the air became more of a concern, the TSA created the Flight Deck Officer Program. Certain crewmembers are authorized and trained to use firearms as well as self-defense maneuvers to defend against anyone trying to get control of the cockpit/plane. On any given flight, it could be the pilot, co-pilot or navigator holding the gun that protects the crew.

 

Federal Air Marshals travel undercover on many US flights, not only domestic, but throughout the world. They protect the people onboard (as well as in airports) by detecting and responding to threats, managing any incidents (such as hostage situations) and generally acting as the law enforcement group within the TSA. The FAMS is most likely to have trained the canines used in patrolling the airports.

 

Federal Air Marshals have been around since 1962 in one form or another, under the jurisdiction of different agencies, at one time special volunteers for the program, but now a mandated position. They also assist other groups (such as the National Counterterrorism Center) when their special expertise in airport security is required.

 

Just knowing the Marshals are onboard, makes me feel safer when I travel. These guys and gals have to work without backup, so they train in all kinds of scenarios in order to protect the passengers and crew while in the air. Marshals are highly skilled in the use of handguns, but shooting inside a plane is pretty much a bad idea. The Marshals have other methods to subdue any people that might be crazy enough to disturb a flight.

 

Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR)

One of the arms of the TSA combines specialists from several areas and sends them out when needed in high-risk situations at transportation hubs throughout the country.  They have been given the authority to work with federal, state and local law enforcement if transportation is affected by a terrorist threat. A team might include:

  • Federal Air Marshals (FAMs)
  • Transportation Security Officers  (TSOs)
  • Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs)
  • TSA certified explosive detection canine teams
  • Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs)
  • Transportation Security Specialists – Explosives (TSSEs)
  • Local law enforcement officers

The team would receive any (or all) of the following in order to get the job done:

  • explosives operational support
  • security and explosive screening technology
  • radiological/nuclear detection backup  

 

Yup. They do more than screen the baggage.

 

For more information about the TSA, please go to www.tsa.gov.

 

 

 

Kerrian’s Notebook, p. 31 “Is the plane on fire?”

 

 

Something was burning.

 

We were 30,000 feet above the ground, having left the airport less than thirty minutes before, and I could smell an electrical burn. I couldn’t see any flames near me, but the air was hazy near the ceiling.

 

My eyes started to water. I called the flight attendant, trying not to jump out of my seatbelt. Her changing expression registered her alarm as she came closer, her eyes darting in every direction. I asked about the smell and the smoke and mentioned that I was a cop. She went to the nearest phone to notify the cockpit. More call buttons lit up.

 

Four minutes later, the pilot announced that the crew had done some preliminary checking and he had called the control tower for instructions. The decision delivered over the loudspeaker? Return to the airport.

 

The head flight attendant spent a few minutes going over crash procedures, this time in greater detail than at the beginning of the flight. When the plane lurched during descent, even her eyes widened. I just tightened my white-knuckle grip on the armrests.

 

The approach seemed quicker than I had ever remembered. As we closed in on the airport, we could see that fire trucks and other safety equipment waited for us on the tarmac, well away from the gate. Two firefighters boarded and searched the rear of the cabin. My seatmate watched the baggage compartment being opened beneath us. Was it a bomb that was doing a slow meltdown? Why weren’t they getting us off the plane?

 

It took another fifteen minutes for them to figure out that pollen had been caught in the air circulation system and was burning.

 

Burning pollen? Turns out that the southeast is home to pine forests, which each spring explode pine pollen into the air. Some years there is so much pollen in the airport area that massive yellowish-green clouds of it blow through the sky, thereby spreading the pine forest love to neighboring counties. And sometimes, those clouds are so tall that they interfere with ascending aircraft. The pilot eventually told us that we had been the second plane to turn back that day.*

 

The plane was rolled to the gate, we disembarked and waited for the pollen to be flushed out. Hours later, we re-boarded, everybody praying that we were taking off between the green clouds this time.  If hitting a cloud of pollen can disable a large aircraft, no wonder Greene had to turn back in the Beechcraft Bonanza during the hurricane in Jamaica in “One Sweet Motion.” I think he was nuts to take off in the first place, but that’s just me.

 

 

*Kerrian is a fictional character, but the burning pollen incident happened to Patti in real-life – in the spring of 2010.

 

 

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