Earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, mass protests and civil unrest, and now the U.S. bombing yet another country, this time Libya. How can Americans traveling abroad protect themselves? The U.S. State Department has three programs every American should be aware of before going abroad, if you don’t mind having your personal information in a government database: STEP, ACS and Task Force Alert. I mentioned STEP and Task Force Alert briefly in my prior post, State Department Information on Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. All three programs are described in more detail below.
Besides individual travelers around the world visiting, studying and conducting business, plus millions of U.S citizens living abroad more permanently, we also have many members of the military, media, and humanitarian relief workers stationed in hot spots all over the world. IF you want to be able to get emergency information or relief from the U.S. government, these three programs could possibly help you. (Notice I use qualifiers like “may”, “could”, and “if”. Many people would not depend on the U.S. government to assist them under any circumstance either due to distrust or political reasons. Others try but get mired in bureaucracy. However, many humanitarian relief and military operations are coordinated with the State Department as well as with private business. Be sure to check out the privacy statement for each program described below to determine your comfort level in disclosing your personal data.) By contrast, I suggest also reading the State Department’s Twitter and Facebook pages as well as some interesting blogs and chat groups about the great work foreign service officers perform and the variety of help they provide to Americans abroad. (See also ConsularCorner on Facebook.)
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
STEP, formerly known as Registration with Embassies, allows travelers to receive State Department “Travel Warnings” and “Warden Messages” as well as other country condition updates while traveling. It also enables the local U.S. Embassy to quickly contact Americans in case of a crisis so they can find safety, be evacuated or receive other expedited assistance. It also enables family and friends to request Embassy assistance finding you if for some reason they were waiting to hear from you and did not. Travelers sign up once and then can change travel plan information online as needed. Other reasons for this service are to obtain Embassy assistance if you need serious legal, medical or financial assistance while traveling.
American Citizen Services and Crisis Management (ACS)
The State Department runs another program called ACS that “supports the work of …overseas embassies and consulates in providing emergency services to Americans traveling or living abroad. [They]… also assist in non-emergency matters of birth, identity, passport, citizenship, registration, judicial assistance, and estates. ACS can facilitate the transfer of funds overseas to assist U.S. citizens in need, repatriate the remains of loved ones who have died overseas, assist victims of crime, and help U.S. citizens who are detained in foreign prisons….ACS also administers a repatriation loan program to bring home destitute Americans. [There are]….24-hour Duty Officers on Program and Crisis Response Teams who work on task forces convened to deal with natural or man-made disasters.”
Contact information for this program is:
From within the U.S. 1-888-407-4747 From outside the U.S. 1-202-501-4444
ACS does not handle any of the following activities:
Act as your lawyer, translator, interpreter, personal assistant, travel agent, investigator, law enforcement agent or real estate agent;
Provide you or your family with physical protection;
Arrange release from U.S. military service obligations;
Pay your debts or fines, sort out property disputes; or interfere in judicial proceedings;
Find you employment, residence, or schools;
Search for missing luggage;
Settle disputes with hotel managers and landlords; or Discuss visa cases.
Task Force Alert
Task Force Alert goes into service when there is an actual countrywide crisis such as currently exists in Japan. With this program, the traveler can enter information about oneself as well as loved ones so that the State Department can find out or transmit information about each person and between them. You can provide information about special needs of the traveler (e.g., elderly, needs medication, unaccompanied minor), and emergency contact information. You can also upload a photograph and provide the person’s last known location as well as biographical and last known location information. Right now, the program is set up for the crisis in Japan.