By now, you’ve probably heard about the anti-government protests in Thailand which have closed Bangkok’s airports. Yesterday the US State Department issued a Travel Alert for US citizens traveling or residing in Thailand, asking every citizen there to register with the State Department, or contact the US Embassy in Bangkok directly.

The US State Department issues Travel Alerts to disseminate information about short-term conditions within a particular country that pose “imminent risks” to the security of U.S. citizens.

The situation in Thailand doesn’t look like it will be resolved soon. Both sides seem to be digging in. Pro-government and anti-government protesters have clashed and there have been reports of gunfire between them. Early Wednesday, there were explosions at two Bangkok airports which wounded four people and triggered the closure of the airports.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is leading the protests, is occupying the airports and has threatened to not leave until the Prime Minister resigns.

Thousands of travelers are stranded at the airports. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok advises Americans to “stay away from the airports given the potential for violence and civil disobedience.”

When the US State Department issues a call for US citizens to register with the Department and/or the local Embassy, citizens need to take that very seriously, as it means the State Department is taking the situation seriously, and believes it might become grave. When such situations occur, they immediately begin to plan and make all preparations to protect US citizens, including creation of an evacuation plan.

Only by registering will the local Embassy and the State Department know a citizen is in the country, and therefore be able to assist that citizen.

When trouble, such as public unrest or disorder, occurs in a foreign country in which your are visiting or residing, it is always a good policy to contact the Embassy there to find out what’s going on, and if you have Internet access check the State Department’s Travel Alerts.