State Department rolls out new global travel alert system

State Department rolls out new global travel alert system

The State Department unveiled a new system Wednesday for communicating security risks associated with foreign travel in an effort to reduce confusion and protect USA citizens overseas. According to Michelle Bernier-Toth, Bureau of Consular Affairs acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizens services at the state department, the change came about about because travelers found the previous system hard to understand.

"These are not political documents".

Some examples of countries listed at level two at the time of publication include Mexico, due to crime in certain areas, and the United Kingdom, due to elevated risks of terrorism.

It said "the USA government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea as USA government employees must obtain special authorization to travel to those areas", which is rife with "terrorist and armed groups that kidnap USA citizens on land and at sea for ransom". Countries designated level 3 and above will be reviewed every 6 months for safety assessments, and further reviews will be carried out based on current events.

"We wanted to make sure that the USA traveling public was aware of all those restrictions that we impose on ourselves", she said.

"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe USA citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba", the travel warning noted.

The levels are meant to communicate the risk of travel to each country but are advisories only.

"This is the biggest overhaul that we've done in a very, very long time", after some tinkering with language a decade ago, she said. "We have significantly reduced our staffing at our embassy in Havana". These include France and Belgium, where an ISIS cell conducted deadly attacks in 2015 and 2016, as well as Germany, where a truck plowed into a group of people at a Christmas market in December 2016.

Meanwhile, it urges its citizens to reconsider travel to other areas of Mindanao due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest.

The State Department is introducing shades of gray into its system that tells you about trouble spots. An American UN monitor was found dead in the DRC's Central Kasai region a year ago along with a Swedish counterpart.

United States citizens are advised not to travel to the eastern DRC and Kasai provinces under the new system, which sometimes has separate, higher tier rankings for particular regions within a country.

"The Department of State is improving our communications with USA citizen travelers to provide clear, timely and reliable safety and security information worldwide", Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch said.

What were previously referred to as "warnings" and "alerts" are being re-classified as "advisories", accompanied by a color and number-based system with detailed descriptions on why an advisory has been issued.

"We wanted it to be an easier to understand system", Risch said. This is because that is how consular officials are instructed, Bernier-Toth said. She noted that even some of her colleagues had difficulty understanding the difference between "travel alerts" and "travel warnings" under the previous system. "We needed to make it more accessible to people, to make sure the information was more easily understood using plain language".

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