In this vast country (9.6 million km²), home to the world's third-largest population (321 million inhabitants) and the world's largest economy, there are a number of potential risks that visitors should be aware of before their departure as of the first half of 2017.
First and foremost, the risk of natural disasters cannot be underestimated.
Seismic activity is strong along the San Andreas Fault (southwest); although no major earthquake (with a magnitude equal to or greater than 8.0) has struck the area in over a century (since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906), the risk is still present. On August 24, 2014, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck northern California (epicenter south of Napa); one death and nearly 200 injuries were reported, as were substantial damages. There is also the risk of earthquakes along the Cascadia subduction zone, located off the coast of the Pacific North West.
The West Coast is vulnerable to the risk of a tsunami in the event of a maritime earthquake.
The entire east of the country is prone to flooding and hurricanes along the coast (particularly in the southeast, e.g. Florida and Louisiana). Hurricane season in the North Atlantic extends from June 1 to November 30, with a peak period typically occurring in August-September. Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast ‒ notably the city of New Orleans ‒ in August 2005, leaving some 1800 dead and causing nearly USD 100 billion in damages. More recently, in August 2011, Hurricane Irene swept up the East Coast, leaving 30 dead and USD 1 billion worth of damage in its wake, as well as significant travel disruptions (several thousand flights canceled; 350,000 residents evacuated from their homes in New York state). Historic flooding in Louisiana prompted by torrential rains in August 2016 left 13 dead.
Violent thunderstorms accompanied by often-deadly tornadoes regularly hit the southern and central regions of the country in the summer and fall. Tornado season typically extends from March through July. The region of the country most at risk, the so-called Tornado Alley, includes the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. However, the entire area east of the Rocky Mountains (including the Great Plains, Midwest, Mississippi Valley, and southeast) is vulnerable to tornadoes and severe summer storms, which often strike in the afternoon or evening. Each year, some 1200 tornadoes are reported nationwide.
Wildfires are common in the summer months, particularly in the west of the country. California is currently in its fifth year of drought, making the region particularly susceptible to wildfires (nearly 5000 in 2016 as of mid-September).
The terrorist threat remains moderate in the country. Various attacks have occurred in the past - most notably the events of September 11, 2001, which led to nearly 3000 deaths. Although no attacks of a similar scale have taken place since that time, the risk remains.
The most pressing current threat appears to be "lone wolf" attacks perpetrated by individuals inspired by international terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic State (IS). Recent such attacks include:September 17, 2016: a bomb explodes in Manhattan's Chelsea district, injuring 29; September 17, 2016: a stabbing attack in a shopping mall in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, leaves nine injured; June 12, 2016: 49 people killed and 53 wounded in a mass shooting inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; December 2, 2015: gunman kills 14 and injures 22 in San Bernardino, California.
The United States has also suffered from a number of non-Islamist domestic terrorist attacks, the most significant example being the Oklahoma City bombing that took place in 1995 (168 dead). Domestic terrorist groups and individuals tend to target businesses and universities engaged in what they consider to be unethical practices (animal testing, for example) and family planning clinics. Attacks can also be racially motivated; a lone gunmen killed nine people in an attack against a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015.
The national crime rate is comparable to those of other industrialized nations; however, a number of urban areas are afflicted with exceptionally high rates of violent crime, particularly Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Saint Louis; the US territory of Puerto Rico also suffers from high crime rates.
Nationwide the homicide rate jumped by more than 10 percent in 2015 when compared to 2014; areas particularly affected by this increase were impoverished neighborhoods of Baltimore, Chicago, Saint Louis, Washington, DC, and Milwaukee. Guns - obtained with relative ease in the United States thanks to lenient gun laws - were used in the majority of the total 15,696 murders that year. The rise has been in part attributed to turf warfare between rival gangs; according to the FBI, there are more than 30,000 active gangs in the country.
Be particularly vigilant if you find yourself in a poor urban neighborhood, such as:In the Boston region: areas of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury; In New York: areas of the Bronx as well as Central Park at night; Washington, DC: the northeast and the southeast; Pittsburgh: the Mount Oliver, Hill District, Homewood-Brushton, and Hazel Wood neighborhoods; Detroit: the downtown area after business hours; Chicago: the Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, Englewood, Grand Crossin, Auburn Gresham, South Shore, Roseland, Chicago Lawn, and Chatham neighborhoods; Saint Louis: the north of the city between the downtown area and the airport (the road connecting the airport to the city is safe); Atlanta: the downtown area after working hours; New Orleans: areas frequented by tourists are relatively safe; Los Angeles: Watts, Inglewood, and Florence.
Generally speaking, remain vigilant around tourist attractions, large hotels, and on public transportation. Keep a low profile and conceal all valuable objects (jewelry, camera, etc.). If you are assaulted, do not resist as many criminals are armed.
Incidents of police shootings are relatively common. If confronted by a police officer, e.g. during a traffic stop, strictly follow all instructions, never make any sudden moves, and inform the officer before taking any action (reaching into the glove compartment, into your pocket, etc.). Keep in mind that police are almost always armed in the United States.
A number of events involving allegations of police brutality against African-Americans sparked unrest between 2014 and 2016. In August 2014, an African-American man was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri; his death was met by protests - both peaceful and violent - in over 150 American cities.
Since then, other police shootings (or acquittals of police officers involved in such shootings) have prompted a series of mobilizations. The death of a black man in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September 2016 led to several nights of protests in that city and related violence (one killed), culminating in a state of emergency and curfew decree. This trend will likely continue throughout 2016.
The next legislative elections will take place in November 2018, followed by general elections in November 2020.
INFRASTRUCTURE and TRANSPORTATION
Potential travelers should be happy to note that the quality of medical and hospital facilities, modes of transportation, highways, and hotels throughout the country is high.
If traveling by air, be aware that airport screenings can be very thorough, leading to long lines at checkpoints.
Medical costs can be very high in both public and private hospitals. Non-critical care may be denied in the event of insufficient funds. All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.
Health conditions are generally very good, although tropical diseases are common in the territory of Puerto Rico and occasionally reported in the island state of Hawaii. As of late September 2016, 22,358 total cases of the Zika virus had been confirmed in Puerto Rico since the disease was first detected there in late 2015. While the virus is usually relatively benign, links between the Zika virus and the birth defect microcephaly (babies born with underdeveloped heads) as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) have been established. There have been 34 GBS cases in Puerto Rico during this same period, including two fatalities. The disease has also spread to the mainland state of Florida, where local transmission has been confirmed in two small areas of Miami-Dade county (around 100 cases as of late-September 2016).
Several hundred cases of dengue fever were reported on Hawaii's Big Island in late 2015/early 2016, although the outbreak has since been brought under control.
Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness, is considered endemic in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Maine, and Minnesota.
Epizootic rabies is present in many areas.
The consumption of alcohol in public places (on the street, in parks, on public transit) is generally banned, although laws vary by state. Offenders can face hefty fines.
Travelers should note that since April 1, 2016, citizens from the 38 countries which had not previously required visas to enter the United States - beneficiaries of the "Visa Waiver Program" ‒ have been required to present an "e-passport" (passport with an integrated chip). Additionally, individuals with dual citizenship from one of these 38 countries, as well as from Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan (or individuals who have traveled to one of these four countries in the past five years), are now required to obtain a visa (which involves an in-person interview at an American consulate) prior to travel to the US. Visa Waiver Program countries, whose nationals only need an e-visa/ESTA to enter the US, include a number of European nations (e.g. France, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium) as well as Australia, Japan, and South Korea, among others.
Furthermore, passengers flying directly to the United States from ten Middle Eastern and North African airports are banned until further notice from transporting any electronic devices larger than a "normal sized" smartphone (16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm) in carry-on luggage. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players and video games, which must be transported in checked luggage. The ten affected airports are:Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) in Amman, Jordan Cairo International Airport (CAI), Egypt Atatürk International Airport (IST), in Istanbul, Turkey King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Kuwait International Airport (KWI) Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) in Casablanca, Morocco Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, Qatar Dubai International Airport (DXB) in the United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in the United Arab Emirates
The climate of the United States varies considerably by region.
The northwest of the country experiences an oceanic climate with relatively stable temperatures throughout the year, rainy winters, and sunny summers. In the southwest, winters are mild and summers hot and dry. In the Rocky Mountain region the climate is continental (harsh winters and very hot and dry summers). In the northeast and Midwest, summers are hot and winters are very cold, even harsh. In the southeast (from Florida to Louisiana), winter is mild and dry and summer is hot and humid with a high risk of hurricanes in the late summer.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +1 Police: 911 Ambulance: 911 Fire Dept.: 911
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