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Business travelers grounded by threat

| Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013,

Lisa Schollaert made a flurry of calls when the State Department issued a global travel alert because of terror concerns on Friday, a day after the government announced plans to close embassies and consulates around the Muslim world.

Schollaert oversees business travel at Canonsburg-based Aquatech International Corp. Eight employees were overseas, including one in the Middle East, an area of particular concern for the federal government.

“I did a quick inventory of where everyone was and made sure they contacted their embassy or consulate,” said Schollaert, administrative services manager at Aquatech, which produces water purification and wastewater treatment systems.

Schollaert said Aquatech, which typically has up to 20 employees traveling abroad at a given time, will ground travel plans to countries where embassies or consulates are closed.

“We would never put our employees in any kind of danger,” Schollaert said, though she did not think the terror scare would last long or make a dent in business.

The government planned to close 21 embassies and consulates only on Sunday. The travel alert continues through Aug. 31.

The State Department warned American citizens of the potential for terrorism, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, saying an attack could occur or come from the Arabian Peninsula.

“Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the alert stated.

Top terror targets include public transportation systems and tourist hot spots, it said.

The broad nature of the alert “suggests they don't have anything specific on the threat,” said Art Kosatka, a former Transportation Security Administration policy director who heads the Maryland-based consulting firm Transecure Inc.

Kosatka did not expect air travelers to notice major changes at U.S. airports. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein declined to say whether the agency would ramp up security.

Pittsburgh International Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny was not aware of any plans to boost security locally. Pittsburgh has no direct flights to the Middle East or North Africa. Delta Air Lines offers a lone trans-Atlantic flight to Paris.

The alert urged American travelers to take extra precaution when traveling overseas. It suggested they sign up for State Department alerts and register with U.S. consulates in countries they visit.

“Americans should pay attention to this alert. It's not something that's done on a regular basis,” said Kent Moors, a scholar in residence at Duquesne University's Institute for Energy and the Environment who regularly travels to the Middle East.

Moors urged Americans to scrap foreign travel plans that are not essential. If they do travel, he suggested using a foreign airline and to “remain on the beaten path” when abroad.

“I think the people that are already doing business in that part of the world are taking this with a grain of salt,” said Lyn Doverspike, director of the U.S. Commercial Service Export Assistance Center in Pittsburgh.

“They are pretty seasoned travelers who don't call attention to themselves when they're overseas. I don't think you'll have a lot of companies scrapping plans. They might just postpone them until a better time and work on other markets,” Doverspike said.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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