Saturday, March 27, 2010

Personal Security, Conference Stupidity

You've seen them. You've probably even been one. But you know better. I am talking about the "conference dorks", the folks who go to events and wander all over town proudly displaying their conference badges, usually with plenty of computer and/or camera gear dangling off their shoulders- you know, screaming "I'm a tourist, rob me!".


I am pretty sure what I saw wandering around SXSWi this year was the worst I've ever seen, but I've seen some pretty dumb things at RSA and NADA conventions, too- and those aren't in cities as nice as Austin. This isn't meant as a paranoid rant, or meant to spoil your fun, but seriously, think about what you're doing. Here are a few tips, primarily designed for the pedestrian, and it is far from a comprehensive list- feel free to add more or argue with me:

  • Ask someone what areas are safe, and which are not. Also ask WHEN things might be less safe.
    • Ask friends who live in the area. Not the practical joker friends, either.
    • Ask at your hotel (they want you to live long enough to check out and pay your bill).
    • Ask a local cop. Don't bother them while they're busy, don't waste their time- but they know, and they do not want to have to fill out yet another report about a crime involving an ignorant tourist.
  • Do not advertise being a tourist:
    • Don't wear name tags/badges when outside event venues. I don't care if it is a SXSWi Platinum badge, don't do it.
    • Think about the gear you carry and the way you carry it.
      • Travel light.
      • Keep straps short, and gear tucked in close.
      • If you have to carry things any distance, make sure you have one hand free at all times (or have something you don't mind dropping in one hand).
    • Look at yourself, think about where you are going (and how you're getting there). If the images don't line up, change something (clothes, route, attitude)
  • Be aware of your surroundings, and stay alert.
    • Don't be nuts, but keep your eyes open, and look around.
    • "Sweep" your path with your eyes, note what people have in their hands and look at their faces.
      • Eye contact is a tricky thing, it makes some people uncomfortable. Glance, do not stare at people.
    • If something makes you uncomfortable, stop and ask yourself why.
      • Our Fight or Flight wiring is not ideal for our modern world, but ignoring "odd feelings" about a situation is just plain dumb.
  • When walking, plan your path several dozen feet in front of where you are.
      • Avoid walking close to blind doorways, spaces between cars, blind spots near dumpsters, mailboxes, any obstacles.
      • This limits both innocent surprises of people stepping out of blind areas into your path, and puts you a step or two away from potential harm.
      • If there are solid walls or fences on one side of your route, stay close to them (stepping away for gates/doors/etc).
      • Glance back occasionally.
        • Stopping before crossing a street keeps you from getting run over, and allows you to take a good look around without being too obvious about it.
  • Traveling in groups is usually better than traveling alone.
    • But a group of idiots isn't always much better.
    • Also, ask yourself if your group could appear threatening to others.
      • Groups of drunken, obnoxious con attendees are never pleasant.
        • Unless you are in the group.
          • And even then it can be ugly.
    • Do not assume that anyone in the group knows where they are going. Plan your routes accordingly.

Another thing, I don't care who you are, or how tough you are, or what movies you've seen- avoiding a problem is the best course of action. If you go out looking for trouble, you are likely to find it.

Be safe.