Laying the Foundation for a Safer Life
Our society has many security features in place. Fire departments, police agencies, EMS crews and the armed forces all play a part in making the United States one of the safest, most peaceful places to live in the world.
While the murder rate in our country is at an all-time low, this can be directly attributed to advancements in medical science—because violent crime rates in the United States continue to rise.
Our police officers do what they can to protect us from harm, but they cannot be everywhere all the time. At some point, we must all take responsibility for our own personal security and the safety and well-being of our loved ones.
By following these four basic principles, or “pillars,” of security and applying them to your everyday life, you can be sure you are doing your best to optimize your personal security.
The first pillar in the personal security foundation is detection. You cannot avoid or confront a threat if you don’t know it’s coming. The adage, “Forewarned is forearmed,” applies here. The ability to detect a threat before it thrusts itself upon you empowers you to plan an appropriate reaction before the situation turns critical.
1.1 Situational Awareness
The first step in the detection pillar is situational awareness. This is simply a heightened level of awareness regarding what is happening in your immediate surroundings.
Maintaining this higher degree of situational awareness does not translate into operating in a constant state of paranoia; rather, good situational awareness means you are continuously scanning your environment and evaluating the data you collect.
When you are out in public, keep your head up and your eyes and other senses open. Watch what is going on around you. You cannot maintain an adequate level of situational awareness while staring at a cell phone or drowning out the din of your surroundings with your favorite playlist.
When going to restaurants or other public places where you will be sitting down for an extended period of time, try to position yourself to maintain an optimal view of who is coming and going and what they are doing while they are there.
This will require discussion with friends and family members ahead of time so they know what you are doing and why.
IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE OR EVEN SERIOUS BODILY INJURY, ALL BETS ARE OFF. DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO TO PREVAIL.
When you are out on the street or in a public venue, such as a shopping mall, scan the surrounding people. Most people are only minimally aware of their surroundings.
They typically walk with their heads and eyes down and avoid eye contact with strangers. Anyone not fitting this description is worthy of a second look.
1.2 Threat Assessment
Secretary of Defense General James Mattis is often credited with the following quote: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”
While this piece of advice might come across as harsh, it perfectly conveys the concept I will describe in this segment.
Being able to tell friend from foe has been a crucial survival skill since the dawn of time. The ability to recognize a threat allows you to choose from a variety of response options. Scanning your environment is only part of the equation. You need to correctly interpret the data you are taking in.
Let’s say you are walking down the street with a loved one. You see many people in the area, most of whom have their heads down or their faces buried in a mobile device.
One man, a few yards away, looks at you and quickly looks away as you make eye contact with him.
Another man, also a few yards away, not only doesn’t look away but holds eye contact with you. Which of these two men do you think poses more of a potential threat?
Obviously, this scenario doesn’t provide nearly enough detail to make a proper threat assessment.
However, it can provide you with data to make decisions and modify your own behavior as you deem appropriate.
THE ABILITY TO DETECT A THREAT BEFORE IT THRUSTS ITSELF UPON YOU EMPOWERS YOU TO PLAN AN APPROPRIATE REACTION BEFORE THE SITUATION TURNS CRITICAL.
Watch for things such as hand movements and arm placement. People who carry weapons will often keep a hand or an arm near the point of carry.
Look for telltale bulges in people’s clothing. Is that person in line ahead of you—the one with the clear outline of a handgun showing through a loose-fitting shirt—a threat?
Will you know whether they are a careless concealed-carry permit holder or someone who intends to rob the store? Perhaps not, but by noting the presence of the firearm, you can begin to formulate a plan of action.
Inappropriate clothing or clothing that signals an affiliation with known sources of trouble could also be red flags.
Someone dressed in an overcoat on a hot summer day or displaying the colors of a known gang is probably worth avoiding.
As with everything else in life, the more you practice your observation skills, the better they will become.
The most important thing you can do is stay alert to your surroundings and think about the things you are seeing.
We have all heard the term, “fight or flight.” We have a few options when presented with an active or potential threat: We might accept the role of the victim, do nothing and let the chips fall where they may; we might put distance between ourselves and the threat by running away; or we could stand and fight.
Use your heightened levels of situational awareness to identify potential threats before they become a problem.
As you are scanning your environment for threats, you should be noting escape routes and identifying pieces of cover.
The best way to keep from getting killed or injured in a fight is to not get into the fight in the first place!
The “escape” pillar doesn’t just mean running from an immediate threat. We have all heard the phrase, “Choose your battles.”
While it might be “macho” to say, “I would never run from a fight,” if you waded into every potential battle that presented itself, your life would be consumed with fighting and confrontation.
2.1 Fight or Flight
Consider these two scenarios:
You are alone, walking down a street in your neighborhood. You see a group of known gang members harassing a neighbor. What do you do?
Next, you are in the same scenario. However, instead of being alone, you are holding the hand of your 4-year-old child. Does this change the equation for you?
There is a lot to consider in both scenarios. How many gang members are there? Are they known to be armed? Can you readily see weapons being displayed? Are you armed? Could you get your child to safety before engaging, and will they stay put if you leave them? Should you engage at all?
Now, consider this scenario: You are an unarmed school teacher entrusted with the care of a classroom full of students. You hear the sounds of gunshots and screaming coming from the far end of the building. You have an exit just down the hall from your room. Is this the time for fight or for flight?
AT SOME POINT, WE MUST ALL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR OWN PERSONAL SECURITY AND THE SAFETY AND WELL-BEING OF OUR LOVED ONES.
Deciding to act on the escape option might mean turning tail and running as fast as you can. It might also mean running to the nearest or best piece of cover and reassessing. Choosing the appropriate action will depend on the amount of data you have collected and matching your own abilities to the circumstances in which you find yourself.
The “barricade” pillar is self-explanatory. It is simply this—putting up a barrier between a potential threat and yourself to make it more difficult for you to be attacked.
We do this every single day without thinking about it. Do you live in and store your possessions in a house rather than a tent? Do you lock the doors to your car when passing through a questionable neighborhood? Do you put on body armor before getting into your police cruiser at the start of your shift? These are just some of the ways we use the barricade pillar every day of our lives.
When talking about the barricade pillar in a more dynamic environment, again, you must consider your options and weigh them against your own abilities and circumstances.
3.1 Cover vs. Concealment
A barricade can be anything that provides you with some physical protection from a threat. This is also known in tactical circles as a “piece of cover.” Cover, or a barricade, is not to be confused with concealment.
Concealment is something that helps prevent you from being detected in the first place, but it will provide you with no actual physical protection.
THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO TO PREVAIL IN A PHYSICAL FIGHT IS TO SEEK A COMPETENT, QUALIFIED TRAINER AND GET INTO SOME “FIGHTS.”
Consider again the above gang member scenarios. Perhaps you have decided to confront the gang members. You might choose to do so by standing out in the open or by putting a car between you and them. Whenever practical, the smart choice will be to choose the option with a barricade!
Put yourself back in that school classroom with your class full of students. Again, you hear the gunshots coming from down the hall.
This time, the only avenue for escape takes you into the heart of the gunfire. Do you secure the door as best you can, hide under the desk and hope for the best? Why not take every desk, every piece of furniture and anything you can lay your hands on and pile it against the door?
This might not prevent a determined attacker from entering the room and shooting as many people as he can, but it will make his job a lot more difficult. It might also delay him from killing others before the cavalry can arrive, thus buying precious time and saving lives.
“Engaging” is the final pillar in our foundation of security. This refers to the “fight” in fight or flight. As discussed in section 2.1, we must know when to pick our battles.
Maybe the battle has picked you and has presented you with no other options but to engage. At these times, when avoiding a fight is neither possible nor desirable, and all other options have failed, it’s time to fight as though your life depended on it … because it might.
4.1 Train for Success
The single most important thing you can do to prevail in a physical fight is to seek a competent, qualified trainer and get into some “fights.” Whether you are learning how to engage in unarmed combat or how to fight with a weapon, find an instructor whose teaching is based in reality. Physical fights are often short, intense and brutal.
There are no rules, and there is no option to tap out or start over. A good training system will not only teach you the techniques you will need, it will also provide stress inoculation so you can apply the techniques under pressure.
Hitting a heavy bag or shooting on a target range are excellent for learning basic skills and building strength and endurance. However, it’s not until you face off with a live opponent that you begin to apply what you’ve learned and think under pressure.
… WHEN AVOIDING A FIGHT IS NEITHER POSSIBLE NOR DESIRABLE, AND ALL OTHER OPTIONS HAVE FAILED, IT’S TIME TO FIGHT AS THOUGH YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT … BECAUSE IT MIGHT.
If you find yourself in a situation where you fear for your life or even serious bodily injury, all bets are off. Do whatever you need to do to prevail. After you have won, your opponent might be dead or seriously injured.
Be prepared to explain what you did and why you did it to police, lawyers and maybe even a jury. If your actions were reasonable, and all other options were exhausted, you will be in a good position for the potential legal battles to come.
These four pillars are guidelines you can use to increase your levels of personal security in a variety of situations. They are not mutually exclusive and can be mixed and matched as needed to fit the scenario.
Taking responsibility for your own security and the security of others is a thinking-person’s game. It requires that you be present and engaged in your environment.
Prepare yourself with the knowledge, skills and equipment needed to avoid a fight (if possible) and to win it with extreme prejudice when walking away is not an option.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Prepper Fall, 2018 print issue of American Survival Guide.