I was in the middle of early morning conference calls when the phone chimed and text messages started pinging through You’re not in Brussels, are you? I tapped into the Guardian and then the New York Times, picked up the early live bulletins from Zaventem and the city center. The billowing smoke, the dazed commuters, the sirens and ambulances. It’s so sad: places I’ve been, peoples I know. I feel so badly for the senseless violence being inflicted on the innocent and vulnerable.
I’m not checking into Facebook any more, so didn’t think to use their Safety Check feature (I don’t think that it would be widely seen there, anyway). Instead, I ‘buddy-checked’ with the the people that I keep advised of my location, day to day. Then, ‘touched base with extended family and friends via a short note, as always, letting them know that I’m safe, where I am and will be, and that I’ll keep in contact as things unfold and any plans change.
The expat network was contacting one another by the afternoon, far-flung friends and colleagues checking in on Skype or email. It’s nice when people remember and care. We all traverse the same transport network, airport, ferries, subway and metro. One colleague was in Brussels airport hours before the explosions. We all agree that we can’t anticipate events, and therefore can’t adjust our lives around the fear of them. But I do try to minimize time in airports and train stations, sometimes avoid public gatherings that might attract trouble.
The US embassy sends out advance alerts weekly, usually with the flavor of:
Dutch police have notified the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam that a demonstration is scheduled to occur at Schiphol Airport tomorrow morning, Friday, 18 March, 2016, from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the “Arrivals & Schiphol Plaza” area in front of the KMAR Station.
Demonstrators are expected to arrive via train and march to the “Arrivals & Schiphol Plaza” area of the airport. Police estimate approximately 50-100 participants. The anti-Islamisation movement PEGIDA Netherlands is sponsoring this demonstration. Police will be present in large numbers for the demonstration.
U.S. citizens traveling via train to or from Schiphol Airport are advised to avoid this area. Exercise an appropriate level of security and situational awareness if you are in the vicinity of Schiphol Airport or while traveling on a train stopping at Schiphol.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful, however, can turn confrontational and escalate into violence with little warning. Avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.
As it turns out, this one had some validity as there were weapons seized and some arrests.
In any case, ‘Stay safe’ as travelers have been reminding one another since 9/11. In these times, it unfortunately takes the place of ‘Be well’.