After the tsunami, cellphone coverage was out, Rodriguez said, but people still had access to Facebook and Twitter.
“That’s very useful for information about places where Americans are gathering, and information about ferries or charter flights where people might be taken out.”
Interesting that the social networks that many credit with helping Arab Spring rebels know when and where to gather should also be used to help Americans overseas get out of harm’s way.
Rodriguez’s office also has a free app available through iTunes to help instantly inform travelers with smart phones about dangers near the 250 embassies and consulates the U.S. has all over the world.
We ordered the app and looked up the information about Peru in anticipation of our trip to see the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. There was information about how to get on the list of 2,500 people allowed to visit the historic site every day. And there was also a warning about the Shining Path terrorist group, which is still active in some rural provinces of Peru. The warning only applies to people planning to travel to remote areas, the department says, not cities or tourist areas like Machu Picchu.
Since we’ll be with a tour group, we should be fine.
But we could have used the app and the safety net of the STEP warnings in Morocco. If the State Department had had our itinerary, the embassy in Rabat may have sent a message warning us away from Parliament that morning.
It’s a good lesson for us.
And this may be a good time for you seniors who have not yet joined the social media world to jump in. If you’re intimidated by the notion of apps and Facebook and Twitter, call a grandkid or a neighbor teen over for pizza and have them help sign you up. It may open up a whole new world of travel fun. Apps can show you cafes and tourist spots and other helpful travel things, to say nothing of giving you peace of mind in case of an uprising or disaster.
John and Sally Macdonald are freelance writers who live on a houseboat in Seattle.