NTSB Recommendations For Emergency Responder Safety Re: Electric Vehicle Accident Fires

As sales of electric vehicles (EVs) climb, so do concerns for the safety of first and second responders to EV-involved accidents. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated several incidents of lithium-ion battery fires and reignition fires that prompted safety concern for these responders to EV crash sites, issuing their report, “Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles“, discussed below.

The NTSB conducted investigations of four electric vehicle battery fires (in California and Florida) and reviewed manufacturer emergency responder guidance materials for crash fires. Electric vehicle fires caused by crash damage to a vehicle’s high-voltage lithium-ion battery or an internal failure of the battery, pose risks of fire, fire reignition and exposure to high voltage (electric shock) due to the stored energy in the battery. The NTSB’ review of the EV manufacturers guidance pointed to a lack of clarification on how to properly extinguish litium-ion battery fires, and the proper post-accident neutralization of the reserve energy contained in these batteries that could lead to fire reignitions.

The NTSB released the following recommendations in January 2021 to 22 manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries:

  • Model your emergency response guides on International Organization for Standardization standard 17840, as included in SAE International recommended practice J2990.
  • Incorporate vehicle-specific information in your emergency response guides on:
    • Fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires.
    • Mitigating thermal runaway and the risk of high-voltage lithium-ion battery reignition.
    • Mitigating the risks associated with stranded energy in high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, both during the initial emergency response and before moving a damaged electric vehicle from the scene.
    • Safely storing an electric vehicle that has a damaged high-voltage lithium-ion battery.

Thus far, EV manufacturers have responded as follows:

Response Summaries (Detailed Responses):

(MANUFACTURER, CASE STATUS, RESPONSE)

 BMW North America LLC – Open – Acceptable Response

 BYD Motors – Open – Acceptable Response

 Stellantis (Formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobile US LLC) – Open – Acceptable Response

 General Motors – Open – Acceptable Response

 Ford Motor Company – Open – Acceptable Response

 Gillig Corporation – Open – Acceptable Response

 American Honda Motor Company, Inc. – Closed – Acceptable Action – 05/25/2022

 Hyundai Motor America – Closed – Acceptable Action – 05/25/2022

 Karma Automotive – Open – Await Response

 Kia Motors America, Inc. – Open – Acceptable Response

 Mercedes-Benz USA LLC – Open – Acceptable Response

 Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. – Closed – Acceptable Action – 11/04/2021

 Nissan Group of North America, Inc. – Open – Acceptable Response

 Nova Bus Corporation – Open – Await Response

 Porsche Cars North America, Inc. – Closed – Acceptable Action – 05/25/2022

 Proterra, Inc. – Closed – Acceptable Action – 11/04/2021

 Subaru of America, Inc. – Open – Acceptable Response – 11/10/2021

 Tesla Motors – Open – Acceptable Response

 Toyota Motor North America, Inc. – Open – Acceptable Response

 Van Hool NV – Closed – Acceptable Action – 11/10/2021

 Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. – Closed – Acceptable Action – 05/25/2022

 Volvo Cars of North America, Inc. – Closed – Acceptable Action – 11/10/2021

Electric vehicle accidents present a growing field within that of crash investigations; one we will monitor and continue to be involved with and grow our body of knowledge. Updates will be posted as significant developments occur.

BNI Operatives; Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

What’s In The NCIC Database? Access Your Own Record

Accessing the National Crime Information Center

The NCIC, National Crime Information Center, under the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), established on January 27, 1967, is a centralized digital index of criminal justice information (i.e.- criminal record history information, fugitives, stolen properties, missing persons). All records in NCIC are protected from unauthorized access through stringent administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.

Who has access to the NCIC?

The NCIC is available to:

  1. Employees of federal, state, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies have access to NCIC, and the live database is accessible to them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Also, every agency that participates in the maintenance of this database is required to follow specific guidelines for ensuring that records are accurate and updated in a timely fashion, and
  2. Employers can only access NCIC data in certain regulated circumstances, such as conducting pre-employment screenings for positions that involve working with children or dependent adults.

What records does the NCIC maintain?

The NCIC databases report both arrests and convictions. The database is permanent, so information on all cases never goes away. The NCIC database includes 22 files: 15 person files and seven property files.

Person files:

  • Missing Person File: Records on people—including children—who have been reported missing to law enforcement and there is a reasonable concern for their safety.
  • Foreign Fugitive File: Records on people wanted by another country for a crime that would be a felony if it were committed in the United States.
  • Identity Theft File: Records containing descriptive and other information that law enforcement personnel can use to determine if an individual is a victim of identity theft or if the individual might be using a false identity.
  • Immigration Violator File: Records on criminal aliens whom immigration authorities have deported and aliens with outstanding administrative warrants of removal.
  • Protection Order File: Records on people against whom protection orders have been issued.
  • Supervised Release File: Records on people on probation, parole, or supervised release or released on their own recognizance or during pre-trial sentencing.
  • Unidentified Person File: Records on unidentified deceased people, living persons who are unable to verify their identities, unidentified victims of catastrophes, and recovered body parts. The file cross-references unidentified bodies against records in the Missing Persons File.
  • U.S. Secret Service Protective File: Records containing names and other information on people who are believed to pose a threat to the U.S. president and/or others afforded protection by the U.S. Secret Service.
  • Gang File: Records on violent gang groups and their members.
  • Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist File: Records on known or appropriately suspected terrorists.
  • Wanted Person File: Records on criminals (including juveniles who may have been tried as adults) for whom a federal warrant or a felony or misdemeanor warrant is outstanding.
  • National Sex Offender Registry File: Records on people who are required to register in a jurisdiction’s sex offender registry.
  • National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denied Transaction File: Records on people who have been determined to be classified as a “forbidden person” according to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and were denied as a result of a NICS background check.
  • Violent Person File: Once fully populated with data from the users, this file will contain records of persons with a violent criminal history and persons who have previously threatened law enforcement.
  • Protective Interest File:  Records of individuals whom an authorized agency reasonably believes, based on its law enforcement investigation, might pose a threat to the physical safety of protectees or their immediate families.

Property files:

  • Article File: Records on stolen articles and lost public safety, homeland security, and critical infrastructure identification.
  • Boat File: Records on stolen boats.
  • Gun File: Records on stolen, lost, and recovered weapons and weapons that are designed to expel a projectile by air, carbon dioxide, or explosive action and have been used in the commission of crimes.
  • License Plate File: Records on stolen license plates and vehicles.
  • Securities File: Records on serially numbered stolen, embezzled, used for ransom, or counterfeit securities.
  • Vehicle and Boat Parts File: Records on serially numbered stolen vehicle or boat parts for which the serial number may have been altered or removed.
  • Vehicle File: Records on stolen vehicles (and their license plates), vehicles involved in the commission of crimes, or vehicles that may be taken from the owner by force based on federally issued court order.

How can I get my own NCIC record, if one exists?

Contact your local law enforcement agency. Local law enforcement agencies such as the police department, sheriff’s department and state police have access to the NCIC database. Tell the agency’s staff that you want a copy of your NCIC report. Attorneys can obtain authorization from their clients to access NCIC records on their clients behalves.

Show law enforcement personnel a valid ID. Examples of valid ID include your driver’s license, Social Security card or passport. The law enforcement agency will also fingerprint you.

Tangentially, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, joining 20 other states and Washington D.C., issued its first gender neutral driver’s licenses Friday, June 3, 2022, that allows people to mark “X” rather than male or female under a new state law that officially takes effect June 24, 2022. If, however, you are involved in a vehicle stop by a police officer, they will run your plates, license and registration through the NCIC – as they should – for outstanding warrants and stolen vehicle checks. The NCIC databases are not gender neutral.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Leaving Money Behind? Check With Your State’s Unclaimed Funds Department

NYS Unclaimed Funds

(For the purposes of this article, we are referencing the process of collecting unclaimed funds only with the office of the New York State Comptroller. Each state has such a department; simply query “uncollected funds <enter your state>”)

In New York State alone, as of today’s date, May 27, 2022, the State is holding $7 billion dollars in unclaimed funds for individuals and businesses. The official NYS Office of the Comptroller site states that, “Every day , New York State returns $1.5 million to those who file claims here”.

One can search for unclaimed funds for:

Individuals
Businesses/Organizations
Deceased Owners/Estates
Multiple Owners
On Behalf of Another Person

To make it easier for our readers to search for their own potential unclaimed funds, below are direct links (for individuals) and information on how to collect these funds.

Claims for Individuals

You can submit claims for individuals online or by mail.

Search

Enter your name in the Search for Individual box on our Search for Lost Money page.

Submit Your Claim

Online

  • Select the item you wish to claim from the search results.
  • Follow the step-by-step directions and prompts that appear onscreen after your Search.
  • Based on your answers and the information we have on file, we’ll let you know if your claim was successful or not.

By Mail

If you can’t submit your claim online – or choose not to – follow these steps:

  • Complete the information requested on the “Mail Claim Form” page that appears after you select a name from the search results or select the “Mail Claim Form” link.
  • Enter your full name and current address to generate a claim form.
  • Print the form.
  • Sign the form and have your signature notarized by a licensed notary public.
  • Attach the Required Documentation.
  • Mail to:
    Office of the State Comptroller
    Office of Unclaimed Funds
    110 State Street
    Albany, New York 12236

When you get your check, please cash it as soon as possible. You have until December 31 of the following calendar year to cash it. For example, a check issued on March 1, 2014, may be cashed until December 31, 2015. If you don’t cash your check, it will be reported as unclaimed funds and you’ll have to file a new claim.

Important Note: There are many third-party companies out there – with very convincing government agency mirror sites – that will conduct searches for uncollected funds for you, and several will even process the funds claims- for a fee and or in trade for your personal data. Don’t. 1. The process is very simple – and free – for you to search and claim your own money, and 2. I believe we’ve all had enough of sharing our personal identificantion information with unnecessary parties.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

IRS Scraps Video Selfies Mandate For Online Services

On January 27, 2022, we reported that the IRS had implemented facial recognition policies, compliance mandated by June 01, 2022, that would require online IRS services users to provide video selfies to the IRS to conduct activity on their site. Whether filing tax returns or requesting prior filing records, the usual drop-down identity verifying menu would no longer suffice to access IRS online services. Those wishing to avail themselves of these services would have to submit a video selfie to digital identification services provider, ID.me, for authentication.

On May 11, 2022, the IRS scrapped the selfie mandate due to opposition from privacy advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers that have since asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether identity verification company ID.me illegally misled consumers and government agencies over its use of controversial facial recognition software. Basically, ID.me had reassured the IRS that they would be using 1:1 matching facial recognition technology (FRT) but was found to actually be using 1:many (1:N) FRT.

Facial Recognition Matching

The two types of facial recognition matching are:
• One to one (1:1) matching -the face in the image is presented to the system and is compared with the face of a known person in the enrollment database to predict if they are the same.

• One to many (1:N) matching – the face in the image presented to the system is compared with the known faces in the enrollment database to see if any matches are found.

One major issue surrounding 1:N (one to many) FRT is that there are greater incidents of matching errors due to the flaws in the current imperfect technology. The face databases maintianed by most private FRT companies and the government contain many more Caucasian male face arrays than those of women and minorities. (Clearly, face accumulation databases are in direct proportion with current racial demographics in the United States.) Lawmakers pointed to the body of research demonstrating that facial recognition systems are often built with inherent racial bias that makes the technology far less accurate for non-white faces.

Also, concerns were raised that allowing a private company to collect face data from millions of Americans posed a cybersecurity risk.

As of today, both the IRS and ID.me have provided additional options that give taxpayers the choice of opting in to use ID.me’s service or authenticating their identity via a live, virtual video interview with an agent. Still, a very flawed policy by the IRS and with technology that has simply not undergone sufficient testing before going live. We can reasonably expect massive wait times, delays and confusion.

We will continue to monitor the various merging uses for FRT, especially when employed by government agencies, compounded by the reliance of these agencies on private sector virtual identification verification companies.

(Relatedly, now I’m curious about the use of facial recognition technology via the government’s employment verification program, E-Verify, a Department of Homeland Security site that allows businesses to determine employment elgibility in the United States both for U.S. citizens and foreign workers. I’ll return with my research results shortly.)

BNI Operatives; Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Changes to Credit Reporting in 2022/2023

Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion have announced that effective July 1, 2022, they will no longer include medical debt that was paid after it was sent to collections on consumer credit reports.  In addition, the time period before unpaid medical collection debt appears on a credit report will be increased from 6 months to one year.

Also, the companies announced that beginning in 2023, they will only report medical debt in excess of $500.  Reportedly, these changes will eliminate approximately 70% of medical collection debt entries from consumer credit reports.

Department of Veteran Affairs

Earlier this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it was applying new standards for reporting outstanding medical bills to consumer reporting companies.

Under the new rules, the VA will only report medical debt that meets all of the following criteria:

  • The VA has exhausted all other debt collection efforts,
  • The VA has determined the individual responsible is not catastrophically disabled or entitled to free medical care from the VA, and
  • The outstanding debt is over $25. (This appears contrary to the No Surprises Act per the above information from the Big Three conumer credit reporting agencies. We are awaiting confirmation on the VA’s compliance with the new reporting laws vis a vis the $500 minimum debt threshhold for reporting purposes.)

Additionally, under consideration in Congress now are the following proposed changes in consumer credit reporting:

Employer Restrictions

Under the new guidelines, employers would no longer be allowed to use a credit score to determine eligibility for employment. Other businesses that use credit reports to determine service usage such as utility and insurance companies are also under review to disallow consumer credit reporting as part of the decision making prcoess.

Amount of Time Negative Information Remains On Credit Reports

Currently, delinquent accounts remain on the report for seven years. Under the new proposal, information would only stay on the report for four years. However, bankruptcies could still be reported for seven years. 

We’ll keep an eye on developments in consumer credit reporting changes and update our readers as these changes occur.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Asset Searches For Judgment Collections

Asset Searches for Judgment Collection

Winning a monetary damages award is a good thing; collecting on the judgment, however, may rapidly turn that joy to frustration. The courts rarely compel debtors to pay their debts so when the losing party fails to satisfy a judgment, collection efforts will depend on successful asset searches.

Asset Searches on Individual Debtors

The focus of a comprehensive asset investigation on an individual includes:

  • Financial Accounts
    (Personal Bank, Investment, Brokerage and Retirement Accounts)
  • Real Property
    (Current Ownership, Financing History, and Recent Sales/Transfers) *
  • Fraudulent Conveyances
    (Transfers of Property to Family Members, Close Associates or Corporate Entities)
  • Employment and Business Interests
  • (Including Shell Corporations and special-purpose Limited Liability Companies)
  • Personal and Family Trusts
  • Financial Awards and Settlements
    (Divorce, Probate, Insurance and Civil Cases)
  • Other Tangible Assets
    (Motor Vehicles, Aircraft and Boats)

* I cannot more strongly stress the importance of real estate sale dates to any financial asset search, and hope for recovery. We have located significant hidden money accounts that we became aware of upon discovering relatively current real estate sales. That sale money has gone somewhere.

Discovering Financial Accounts*

For medium to large judgments, we suggest nationwide searches for bank, brokerage and retirement accounts.

Account search results generally include:

  • Account Type(s)
  • Name and Address of Financial Institution
  • Approximate Balance (Bank Accounts)
  • Approximate Portfolio Value (Investment and Retirement Accounts)

Bank accounts include checking and savings accounts at banks, credit unions, and savings and loan associations. Certificates of Deposit (CDs) are also identifiable in certain cases.

Brokerage and retirement accounts include trading portfolios of stocks and bonds, mutual funds, 401(k) accounts, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) held at top brokerage houses and mutual fund institutions throughout the U.S.

Other types of financial accounts – from cryptocurrencies to mortgages, military (and civilian) pensions, to corporate profit-sharing plans – are also identifiable through various (and always, legal) methods and resources. There is now also the capability to identify foreign and offshore accounts.

These asset and bank searches are lawful as long as they are conducted in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) financial privacy laws.

*With financial accounts, ensure that you have all owner and signer information, as well as terms of the specific account structure. A simple signatory agreement generally allows a designated individual to transact on the account (per transaction limits are often imposed) while ownership of the account is just that, and most often not automatically transferrable to a willed beneficiary should the primary account owner becomes disabled or deceased.

I strongly suggest obtaining as much information as possible on the defaulting debtor. Asset searches are not a game to see how much the investigator, with minimal information, can locate recoverable assets. The most successful asset searches are conducted with the active participation of the judgment awardee- people often know more than they consciously realize about their debtors.

BNI Operatives; situationaly aware.

As always, stay safe.

Airlines Unmask; Other Passenger Transit Providers May Still Require Masks

After a federal judge struck down a nationwide mask requirement for airplanes (buses and trains, as well) on Monday, the country’s major airlines passenger stated they would stop requiring masks on flights, as has been practice for nearly two years.

How the airlines have responded:

  • Customers and employees could wear masks “at their own discretion” but would no longer be required to do so on domestic flights.
  • Employees and customers may make their own decision concerning their personal well-being vis a vis mask-wearing on its aircrafts.
  • Effective immediately, it would stop requiring masks from employees and customers, albeit they are suggesting that it may take a brief period of time for employees, customers and federal aviation agency employees and airport law enforcement personnel to fully comply with this change.
  • It would not require masks on domestic flights but would still require them on flights to countries with mask mandates.
  • It would allow its customers and employees to travel, mask-free.
  • Mask wearing will now be optional for tis customers and flight crews may still wear masks in terminals and on planes.
  • Masks will now be optional on domestic flights.
  • While it would stop requiring masks on its planes, some airports and cities it serves may still require masks. It urges passengers and employees to continue to wear masks in indoor settings.

From TIME:

What about airports?

Most U.S. airports have confirmed that they will no longer be enforcing mask requirements, but a handful of others are keeping mask mandates in place, including New York’s JFK and LaGuardia and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway.

Amtrak

Like all the major U.S. airlines, Amtrak is not requiring passengers or employees to wear face masks on its trains or inside stations. “Masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19,” the passenger rail service said in a statement on April 19. “Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so.” Amtrak operates more than 300 trains per day.

Local transit

Commuter trains and subway policies vary across the country, but several regional railway systems are still requiring masks. Riders of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City (M.T.A., which operates the city’s subways and buses) as well as Los Angeles Metro and Chicago CTA, for instance, must wear masks while in transit.

Charter Buses

Greyhound, Megabus and Coach USA are no longer requiring face masks for passengers or employees.

Facial coverings must be worn on cross border trips into Canada and Mexico until their requirements are removed, Greyhound noted.

Ride sharing

Masks are now optional for riders and drivers on Uber and Lyft, the nation’s largest ride sharing platforms, except in New York City, where masks are required for taxis and for-hire vehicles.

Our best advice is to carry extra masks, just in case, and, as you gauge the situation you are in regarding your own personal comfort.

BNI Operatives; situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Customs and Traditions of Passover and Easter Worldwide

Passover Customs: Friday, April 15, 2022

With millions of Jews worldwide celebrating Passover for the next eight days (seven days in Israel), it’s interesting to note the various seder customs as they developed in the countries in which Jews are present.

Having just completed my first set of Hebrew lessons (a fancy way of saying I now know the Hebrew aleph bet like any kindergartner in Israel!), my current favorite is the practice in Syria of breaking the matzah into pieces that shape Hebrew letters and numbers of significance. I recognize them!

From our friends at Jewishfied:

Syria – Matzah broken into the shape of Hebrew letters

The custom of breaking the middle matzah on the seder table into pieces (known as yachatz) can sometimes take on Kabbalistic meaning. Matzah broken into the shape of the Hebrew letters “daled” and “vav” correspond to numbers, which in turn add up to 10, representing the 10 holy emanations of G-d. Jews from North Africa, including Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya, break the matzah into the shape of the Hebrew letter “hey,” which corresponds to the number 5.

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Easter Traditions: Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter, the principal festival of the Christian church, which celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his Crucifixion, is a joyous occasion immediately following the stricter Lenten period, celebrated in many and varied customs throughout the world.

Once again, I point to a personal favorite custom, this time in Italy, given my Italian heritage! (Btw, not only in Florence is this noisy welcome to Easter experienced but also in my family home town outside of Monte Cassino- 30 minutes south of Rome.)

From the good people at Reader’s Digest:

Italy: Fireworks explosion

You might need a pair of earmuffs if you’re in Florence, Italy, on Easter Sunday. The holiday starts off with a literal bang as locals gather to celebrate the 350-year-old Easter tradition of Scoppio del Carro, or “Explosion of the Cart.” A pair of oxen adorned in garlands pull a three-storey high wagon filled with fireworks through the streets to the front of the cathedral, accompanied by drummers, flag throwers and people in historical costumes. During Easter mass, the Archbishop of Florence lights a fuse that sends a dove-shaped rocket down a wire to cart, igniting a vibrant firework show. This extravagant custom dates back to the First Crusade and is meant to ensure a good harvest.

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My best wishes to all who celebrate Passover and or Easter for a happy, joyful and peaceful holiday. – Lina

Will The U.S. Government Rescue You If You’re Kidnapped In A Foreign Country?

April 08, 2022

In October 2021, 17 missionaries – one Canadian and 16 Americans – were kidnapped near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a country with one of the highest rates per capita of kidnappings in the world. This incident was one of the dozens of kidnappings of American citizens that occur abroad every year. (All hostages were eventually freed, with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries involvement.)

Will the US government rescue you in you’re kidnapped in a foreign country? Most likely no, but there are instances where they can assist you or private proactive actions you can take before you travel.

How the U. S. Government Can Handle A Hostage Situation

Albeit the official U.S. government’s position is that America does not and will not make concessions to hostage-takers, there have been instances wherein the government has worked with allied nations to negotiate the release of American hostages by foreign militants or terrorists.

A case in point is the 1985 TWA flight 847 hijacking by Shiite Hezbollah militants.

The plane at the time held dozens of Americans on board; one US Navy diver was killed, and 39 other passengers were held hostage. The militants were demanding the release of 700+ Lebanese prisoners who were detained in Israel.

Interestingly, and I believe not coincidentally, three days after the American hostages were released, the Israeli government set free approximately half of the Lebanese prisoners.

Clearly, despite the US’s no concessions stance, our government does avail itself of assistance from foreign friendlies in hostage situations.

Although the US today stands by its “no concessions” stance, some exceptions go against this policy.

Current “No Concessions”

  1. When the hostage-taker is a nation state. Technically speaking, there’s a legal distinction between a hostage (someone abducted and held by a non-state actor) and a detainee (someone held by the state). This line becomes blurred when an American is detained for the express purpose of being used as a bargaining chip.
  2. When the hostages are soldiers.  The provisions of the Geneva Convention allow for the exchange of prisoners of war. Reference Army Specialist Bergdahl
  3. When another entity is paying the ransom. The law specifically prohibits the “material support” to a terrorist organization even if this so-called support comes in the form of paying a ransom for a loved one kidnapped by terrorists.

That said, no American citizen or organization has ever faced prosecution for paying a ransom to recover the victim. This permissive environment creates room for third-party intermediaries like military contractors to step in and conduct private hostage rescue missions, which easily begin at $30,000 USD/daily.

Finally, the US government permits ransom payment provided that the hostage-taker is not a designated terrorist organization. American citizens routinely pay ransoms to foreign-armed-political-militia and criminal organizations. These are usually handled by crisis management personnel, kidnap and ransom insurance policies, and the government’s interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.

Will The US State Department Get Involved?

Almost always, the answer is No.

The US Department of State (DOS) is a federal agency responsible for advancing America’s foreign policy to promote the security and interests of the American people. The State Department represents the US at the United Nations and negotiates agreements and treaties with foreign entities.

Rescuing Americans is not a part of its defined mission, but there are a few things the DOS does to assist its citizens abroad.

The DOS routinely issues travel warnings. A US State Department Travel Advisory provides information on the conditions in a country, including the high-risk areas, where to seek help, what to do in that situation, and more useful information. If a particular country poses a higher-than-usual security risk, it will usually appear on the US State Department Do Not Travel list.

If you’re traveling overseas, you can enroll in the Smart Traveler Program (STEP) to receive up-to-date security alerts in real-time. This information is also available on the US Embassy and Consulate website of the country you’re in or the main DOS embassy and consular site.

However, if you travel to a high-risk area and end up getting kidnapped, there’s not much the government can or will do to help you. This could be for any number of reasons, including armed conflict, ineffective local authority policies, the absence of a functioning government, poor governance, etc.

Ultimately, in a country that does not maintain diplomatic relations with the US, the government has no means of providing consular services to its citizens stranded abroad.

Even if you are a US government employee at a Consulate or Embassy, a US Embassy evacuation would only be possible if:

  • There’s no commercial transportation available;
  • Consular and embassy officers are present and available; and,
  • The conditions permit.

Only then would the DOS try and identify the evacuation options available – such as repatriation flights – to rescue US citizens out of the crisis area.

The Bottom Line

Will the US government rescue you in a foreign country? The short answer is – highly unlikely. Your best bet would be to take security matters into your own hands by consulting with a security firm that specializes in high-risk private hostage rescue operations.

That way, if you’re traveling to a high-risk area, you can rest easy knowing that there are highly skilled hostage negotiators, elite extraction teams made up of former US Special Operators, and strong logistical and intelligence support on stand-by to rescue you if you end up getting kidnapped and held hostage.

During these very turbulent global times, research your trips to foreign countries, determine if it is safe to travel to your intended destination and at all times, avail yourself of all US DOS updates and make sure you know what to do if unsafe sitautions arise.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Soft Mask Facial Recognition Technology, II/II

Soft mask facial recognition technology
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing facial recognition technologies (FRTs) that can see through face masks with an encouraging level of accuracy, meaning that travelers could end up breezing through airports without the need to uncover their mouths and noses at border checks. In light of the COVID pandemic, research funding has increased dramatically for testing soft mask FRT.

On average, said the DHS, the different AI systems correctly identified 93% of unmasked individuals; for those wearing a mask, the identification rate reached an average of 77%. While this percentage of accuracy is very far from ideal or usable, as the field of penetrable facial recognition technology research continues to expand, so will the refinement of its applications to acceptable levels of facial detection.

Soft mask facial recognition algorithms typically work by measuring a face’s features that are visible — their size and distance from one another, for example — and then comparing these measurements to those from another photo of the subject.

Some key findings of the soft mask FRT thus far are:

– The more of the nose a mask covers, the lower the algorithm’s accuracy. The study explored three levels of nose coverage — low, medium and high — finding that accuracy degrades with greater nose coverage.

– While false negatives increased (with soft masks on), false positives remained stable or modestly declined. Errors in face recognition can take the form of either a “false negative,” where the algorithm fails to match two photos of the same person, or a “false positive,” where it incorrectly indicates a match between photos of two different people.

– The shape and color of a mask matters. Algorithm error rates were generally lower with round masks. Black masks also degraded algorithm performance in comparison to surgical blue ones.

Anti-Facial Recognition Technologies

Currently, anti-facial recognition technology is centered on clothing, jewelry and other wearables designed to thwart FRT, such as the LED privacy visor below, invented by Japanese scientist, Isao Echizen, a professor at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo.
Anti-FRT Visor

I’m fairly certain that Homeland Security will ban such devices, most likely enforced through the anti-mask laws that exist in most states; the earliest mask law passed in 1845 in New York.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.