In recent months, we have seen an escalation in violence around the world. This violence comes as terror-inspiring attacks on our way of life, regardless of whether they’re driven by political or personal agendas. Suicide bombers, active shooters, mass murderers and rioters have left us all feeling vulnerable, frustrated and confused.
The escalation of these attacks has systematically stripped away our civil liberties. They are also paving the way for police actions, raids and increasing regulations on just about everything in the name of public safety. As a society, we have a duty to our republic to remain vigilant and aware so we keep ourselves safe and preserve our liberties.
I don’t want to simply regurgitate the normal EDC drivel or try to tell you how to become Jason Bourne. I want to focus on a few things that the average person with little or no special training can do to keep themselves and their loved ones safe; a few things you can do, regardless of your station in life or available resources.
In order to accomplish this, I will explain a few habits that have allowed many others (and me) to come home from multiple combat and peacekeeping operations around the world.
AWARENESS: A MACRO TO MICRO DISCIPLINE
Anyone who has served in a combat zone knows that events in one part of a country impact that entire region. These events either inspire more or deter them—but they will always have an effect. Often, there is a large-scale, polarizing topic of national debate that inspires random acts of violence on the local level. The informed citizen knows what those topics are and how they are affecting the immediate area.
The national media is in the business of inspiring debate; it takes no responsibility for the unrest that its interpretation inspires. Understanding this is key to understanding the issues. National media outlets are very polarized, so get your news from a variety of sources and stay fully informed, regardless of your social or political polarity.
Your local areas and regions most certainly have their own issues, as well. Sometimes, they are purely local while, other times, they are fueled by the national debate. In either case, it is most important to understand, or at least be aware of, both sides of the argument. Quite often, simply being aware of these issues will help you avoid a potentially dangerous situation. Only then can you avoid the locations that are likely to become dangerous as a result of the passion that surrounds the issue at large.
AVOID EMOTIONAL CONFUSION
A very common tactic among conmen is to put their “mark” on a quick emotional ride that sets the stage for the con. If you find that you surge through emotions in rapid succession, break contact. In addition to the lowly conman, this is also the same tactic that pundits, advertisers and politicians use.
This same mental sleight of hand is exactly how one person can incite a volatile crowd to start conducting violent acts. Once the kettle boils over, it is hard to contain. Learn to recognize this as it happens, and when you see this sort of thing taking shape, it is time to leave the area.
Watch old news footage of some of the recent demonstrations that turned violent. If you watch the footage of the event at ground zero, it will all start to make sense. This is not by chance; many of these events are set ablaze by people who understand exactly how this process works. Police and military personnel are trained to recognize this and stay emotionally neutral in such events. This does not mean that peacekeepers cannot get sucked into the violence of an event; it simply means they are more prepared to remain in control of themselves.
A large crowd of otherwise mentally stable individuals can quickly become a stampeding herd in this type of a situation. It is important to understand that it does not take a psychology professor to incite a riot. Any fool who is passionate can turn sane, intelligent people into animals. This is even more likely to happen if the herd already agrees with the agitator from the onset about a socially or politically charged issue.
MAINTAIN SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
If you are not personally aware of what is going on around you, you cannot react quickly enough to keep yourself safe. We have all seen the fool walking the aisles of a store while their attention is fully taken up with their smartphone. If this is you, stop it! This person has effectively turned off any and all awareness of their surroundings and they will be among the first victims if something goes down.
When out in public, keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes up. Know what is going on around you at all times. Now, I don’t mean you should scurry around the store like a frightened squirrel and avoid all human contact. Simply look up and pay attention to your surroundings, and look people in the eye when you pass them. You will find that most of them will not even be looking back at you. Do so in a relaxed and calm manner. If you look frantic and paranoid, you are likely to be profiled by law enforcement or at least other aware individuals as someone who is acting suspiciously.
PROFILE PEOPLE AND TRUST YOUR INSTINCT
Oh, no! He said the “p” word! That’s right—”profiling” has become a politically-charged word, but it is not a bad thing in itself. Like it or not, we all do it without even thinking. Have you ever been waiting to check out of the local box store and decided to jump in a slightly longer line because the checker looked younger, faster and less talkative? I know I have … and that is profiling.
Profiling is necessary for a variety of reasons and is very often used by police and military in all aspects of their duties. It is also the main tool professional peacekeepers use to maintain their own safety while in the line of duty.
You probably already avoid contact with certain groups or individuals based on their behavior, mannerisms or just because of your instinct. This is a safety mechanism we are born with, and it is refined through our own life experiences. It is not bad—and you are not bad for behaving in this manner.
Have you ever felt an uneasy feeling and ignored it, only to have something bad happen? Trust your instinct, and never question it. It has kept many warriors alive to fight another day.
I was once on patrol in Afghanistan; there were no indicators or any disturbance in the trail. I had a bad feeling rush over me, and I stopped and changed direction immediately. Only hours later, a tractor went through the exact same spot, and an IED exploded overhead from a tree. Trust your instinct.
EXPLOIT COMMUNICATION ASSETS
The mere mention of ham radio often conjures up images of the paranoid weirdo with the tinfoil hat. This could not be farther from the truth. A decent handheld, dual-band UHF/VHF radio can be purchased for around $30. It can be programmed to monitor all the local emergency, police and fire dispatch channels. Additionally, these radios can monitor FRS, MURS, GMRS, railroad frequencies and even retail outlets.
I keep one at home and one in the car, all the time monitoring my surroundings. Although I have my ham license and know how to communicate, I rarely do. I find much more value in listening to what is going on around my immediate location so I can avoid trouble when necessary.
I have even picked up communications regarding events such as bomb threats or civil disruptions in locations I was bound for. In many of these situations, the general public has no idea what is going on or that there is even an event unfolding. The powers that be limit the information, because they do not want to start a panic. This leaves the unaware citizen in a potentially dangerous situation with no information to act on.
I was recently alerted to a bomb threat in a local big-box store. The patrons of the store were not allowed to leave and were told that due to a television theft, the building was surrounded by police. In fact, most of the employees were not aware of the real threat and were told the same TV story by the management. In an event such as this, you might not be able to convince them to let you out, but you would have information that could help you take action to stay safe.
This situation occurred only two hours after I had left that exact location. I later learned via social media that multiple similar threats were made on the same day at different locations. This could have been the patterning attempts of terrorists to gauge the reaction by local emergency responders.
If you have a smart phone, there is an abundance of free apps that allow you to monitor a lot of those same frequencies right from your phone. I find this very useful when there is some major event on the news.
For instance, if there is an active shooter in Chicago, I can search the app for the channel in that area with the most active listeners. It is an eye-opener to listen to the police and emergency responders communicate; at the same time, I can observe how much the situation is exploited by the news. The truth is that sometimes, it is downright comical how much an event is dramatized on the news.
It is no small investment to increase your personal situational awareness. It can sometimes be very physically and mentally taxing. But the rewards for this effort are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—without the overwhelming paranoia that accompanies ignorance and misinformation.
In order to increase situational awareness, you must choose to act on that information. It does no good to know what is going on around you if you are not willing or able to take appropriate action.
Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the March 2016 print issue of American Survival Guide.