The New Rules: Cover Yourself

Heading to the wild frontier? Get insured.

Oct 26, 2009
Outside Magazine
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   Photo: Photo by Charley Shimanski/Mountain Rescue Association

Calculating Risk: What Should I Do If I Encounter a Forest Fire?

Wildfires can spread through an area at 70 miles per hour, but in the mountains you're most likely to encounter slow-moving flames that aren't billowing smoke, yet. "Fire is the only thing other than a bear that moves faster uphill," says Bryan Rosenow, a 13-year firefighting veteran from the Tahoe National Forest. "In most cases, I'd get below it." Flank the fire by traveling perpendicular to any slope, then head downhill and look for a place that's at least twice as far from vegetation as the flames are tall; a rocky outcrop, a road, or a burned piece of forest cool enough to sit in are best. Lying in a shallow stream? Probably a bad idea. There's usually more vegetation by water. "Wet feet won't keep you from burning," says Rosenow. "So unless you can swim in it, I'd look elsewhere."...

On the morning of November 10, 2008, New York Times reporter David Rohde set off with his fixer/translator, Tahir Ludin, to interview a Taliban commander southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. Rohde had been in the country for only a month—and had been married for only two. It would be 221 days before Rohde and Ludin were heard from again.

For Rohde, the risk of kidnapping was part of the job. He'd been detained in a foreign country before—in 1996, when Serb authorities accused him of being a spy during his Pulitzer Prize–winning coverage of the Srebrenica massacre—but this time was different. His capture had most likely been orchestrated by the very man he was meeting, and there was a significant price for his release: a reported $25 million, at first. Word of Rohde's abduction was slow to leak out. The Times worked to keep the story out of the headlines, fearing publicity would further endanger Rohde and Ludin, and was negotiating with the captors via a security firm. But negotiations were halting, then they stopped altogether.

Kidnapping is a constantly evolving threat for any traveler heading into an unstable area. By some estimates, there are as many as 15,000 international abductions per year—andthe hot spots keep shifting. Atop the current list is Mexico City, followed by Caracas, Venezuela. Right behind them is (surprise!) Phoenix, Arizona, thanks to an influx of drug cartels. Regardless of location, the majority of kidnappers are after the same thing: money. The average ransom paid approaches six figures, and perpetrators often have in-depth knowledge of their victims' financials, says Katie Colberg, a response consultant at the security firm ASI Global.

Before booking a trip to a high-risk area, consider kidnap-ransom-and-extortion insurance from companies like Travelers Insurance or eGlobalHealth Insurers Agency, which will coordinate with crisis-management firms to organize your release and will often repay any financial losses, including ransoms. And if you are abducted, be patient—very few people successfully escape. "Waiting is the most difficult part," says Colberg. "You feel forgotten." The only place where ASI advises people to attempt to escape is Iraq, where Westerners are typically killed.

Ultimately, Rohde and Ludin decided they had to save themselves. They made their break at night, after their guards were asleep, using a rope they'd found to descend a compound wall. Back in Kabul, Ludin told reporters that their escape was a desperate gamble by two demoralized captives. Rohde has yet to tell his story, but while traveling back to the U.S., he reportedly told a colleague, "All I want to do now is stay at home with my wife and cook some pasta."

Filed To: Survival, Afghanistan