Sunday, September 13, 2015

Personal Threat Preparedness

If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you're involved or interested in security.  Security comes in many forms - Information Security, physical security, personal protection, etc.  This article will deal with what we need to do to be safe as we move through our daily lives.  With all the recent violence, it is important that we both understand the risks and have a threat preparedness mindset.

I know our special agents and law enforcement personnel are given some training on assessing threats, but where does that leave the average citizen?  I've searched "the Google" extensively but guidance for the private citizen on assessing and dealing with threats is very limited.  As a former law enforcement officer, hopefully I can share some important tips as we go through our daily lives.

If I go to the grocery store, I expect to go through each aisle, finding the items I need to complete my grocery list.  But how many of us keep an eye out for potential threats?  Do you really believe no active shooters, homicides or assaults happen at the grocery store, mall, theater or other public gathering?

If you are a law enforcement officer, a federal agent or a military operator, you're trained in threat assessment.  But what does that mean?  This article will deal with assessing and dealing with threats for the average citizen.

We are most likely not deployed to a foreign country - kicking down doors and looking for terrorists.  However, we do frequently enter rooms, situations where the unknown and surprise situation may happen.  If we are walking through life unaware of possible dangers, we will certainly miss the advance clues and most probably will be just another statistic.  If we are aware of both the possibilities of danger and the best ways to prepare, we may be able to spot things out of place.  We can develop a habit of identifying possible escape routes, improvised weapons, as well as spotting potential dangers.

So let's say I'm at the grocery store or gas station at 10 PM.  I can, 99.999999% of the time, just get my groceries or gas, oblivious to danger.  But that .00000001% of the time, danger will strike.  That danger will manifest in a robbery in progress, a deranged, suicidal maniac, even a drive-by shooting.  What habits should I develop to ensure that I am as prepared as I can be, without being paranoid?

The best plan is to avoid danger altogether.  The first thing I do is to look through the windows.  Is anything out of place?  Are people acting normally, or are they afraid, stressed, focused on one area?  Think about a scenario with a robbery in progress.  Everyone inside would be afraid and focused on one point - the robber.  Make sure you look first before entering, and if you spot the likelihood of a robbery in progress, don't go in.  DON'T be a hero...  call 911.. Give a description, location and direction of travel.  Those are the most critical things law enforcement needs.  Move away from the danger and ensure law enforcement has the most correct and up-to-date information.

Assuming no obvious threat exists, you enter the establishment.  Just because no obvious clue of threat was present doesn't mean a threat isn't there.  As you enter the establishment, do three things:
  1. Identify the location and description of all persons
  2. Identify all escape routes
  3. Identify all potential improvised weapons
When you enter the location, look around.  Note any persons present - note their demeanor.  Are they behaving normally or do they appear to be stressed?  Note the persons gender, approximate age, race, height, weight, hair color...  These things are difficult or impossible to change.  Additional factors to notice will be the clothes they are wearing - the color - any distinguishing marks like hairstyle, tattoos, scars...  Also if they leave the scene in a car, note the car's color, approximate age, make, model and license plate number and State, if you can.

If you walk in a room, take note of any persons present.  Certainly a person with a gun would stand out, but someone overly stressed should catch your attention.  Is the person wearing a heavy coat in the summer?  Do they appear to be under the influence of some substance?  Do they seem to be acting weird?  Mentally gauge each person's state - mental/physical.  Most times, you will assess the threat of each individual and determine that they are not a threat.  It's a quick mental exercise but worth the effort.

Occasionally you will encounter someone who appears out of place - who seems suspicious to you.  Note that person and if there are no further threats, proceed with your business while keeping an eye on that person, as well as #2 and #3 above.  Listen to your instinct - if you have a bad feeling, don't ignore it.  Head for the door and get the bread, milk and eggs tomorrow.  Get to a safe place and call the Police if needed.  Better to be safe and mistake the situation, than to be a victim.

As you enter any room, make sure you are aware of all possible escape routes.  Do they have fire escapes?  Are there exit signs posted?  If danger in any form manifests, can you get yourself and others out?  Or will you simply panic and freeze?

If that suspicious person pulls a gun or starts causing an issue, what will you do?  The purpose of the exercise is to think through all likely scenarios.  The truth is that, in a crisis, you will do whatever you've trained to do - even if that's just thinking through possibilities and at least having a game plan (however unlikely it is that you'll use it.)  If you haven't trained yourself in this way, you will again do exactly what you've trained to do - nothing.  You will panic and freeze.

If a danger arises, you will have already already identified escape routes and improvised weapons - move to exit the scene and call 911 with description and direction of travel, identifying marks, etc.  If you find yourself unable to leave or are directly engaged with the danger, you must act quickly and with certainty.

We have heard of several active shooter incidents over the last few years.  The police have targeted training for civilians, especially teachers - the core of this training is "run, hide, fight."  If you realize you're in such a situation, the best thing to do is run.  If you're responsible for your family or students, gather them together and run.  If you find that you cannot run without increasing the danger, or find yourself in a locked room or otherwise unable to get away from the danger, hide.  Hide everyone behind a locked door.  Get on the phone with 911 immediately.  And if the danger comes to you and you are unable to escape, you must fight.

If you cannot run and must hide, you must be prepared to fight should the shooter find you.  If that active shooter comes in the room, obviously intent to mow down everyone, you have little choice.  Get in a position where you can surprise the shooter - when he comes through the door, ambush him.  If you don't act, you're likely going to be shot anyway.  Grab the gun and point it away from everyone, then shove your fingers in the attacker's eye sockets as hard as you can.  Have a letter opener or scissors - shove that into the attacker with every ounce of strength and bravery you have.  You must mentally prepare yourself and decide that you'd be willing to do this, faced with such a situation.  It isn't a nice thing to think about but if you don't mentally prepare yourself, you will just be a victim.

If we have this mindset and diligence, we will be prepared should an attack occur.  Unless we're deployed to a wartime situation, the likelihood of occurrence is low.  However, the impact of this occurrence is so high that we must prepare ourselves both mentally and physically.

Be safe out there - keep your eyes open.  The most important thing we can do is to always be situationally-aware - be aware of our surroundings and don't walk into a dangerous situation.  Quickly identify and assess each person - note all possible escape routes.  If you find yourself in the midst of danger, run.  If you cannot run, hide.  And if you cannot run or hide, be prepared to identify anything that can help you fight and win.

Our agents of national security are trained to assess and deal with potential threats.  We can utilize this basic set of principles to ensure that we are prepared to spot a threat and, if needed, to properly deal with the threat.  A proper mindset and preparedness may avoid our being just another statistic.  If you have questions or comments, please let me know.