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Burundanga – Another Predatory Drug

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I recently received a warning about another predatory, or date rape, drug.

It was the account of a woman who was approached at a gas station by a man offering his painting services. She took his business card, got into her car and left the station. She states that the painter and a second man followed her.

She states that she immediately began to feel dizzy, could not catch her breath, and noticed a strong odor in the car. She apparently went a neighbor’s home and honked her horn for help – at which time she says the men following her drove away.

She noticed a substance on the business card.  Later, she went online and found that a drug called “burundanga” can be used to incapacitate victims after being absorbed through the skin.

This warning email was accompanied by a link to an article written by Stephen Pittel, PhD, a forensic expert and consultant’s site.

Doctor Pittel indeed describes Burundanga as “a potent form of scopalamine that has been used for decades in Columbia in native rituals, as a weapon and by criminals who prey on tourists.”

Doctors most commonly use scopolamine to treat nausea and motion sickness and often with a transdermal patch. Scopolamine can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and blurred vision even in lower doses.  In higher doses, it can cause delirium, unconsciousness and memory loss – three reasons it has been used as a predatory drug.  As with many substances, alcohol has a compounding effect!

Some authors state that in recent years, fifty percent of emergency room admission for poisoning in Columbia are due to overdoses of this agent.

Pitell and others note that the State Department has issued warnings to those traveling to South American countries to be aware of this potential threat, given the number of tourists who have been robbed after unknowingly ingesting burundanga.

Although this substance is absorbed through the skin, most sources seem to question if one can absorb a large enough dose transdermally from touching a card or travel brochure. The bigger threat is a large dose being put into a drink.

Whether or not the account of the tainted business card is accurate, and whether or not one can absorb enough of a transdermal agent to become incapacitated, is not the real issue.

  • This should remind us that we need to be cognizant of those around us any time we are out in public, and especially when at parties or functions. Any number of substances can be slipped into any beverage, or food for that matter, anywhere and at any time.

My recent blog entry recounts the tragic story of a couple who were robbed after being drugged by someone they befriended at a coffee shop while traveling in Europe.

Substances commonly used as predatory drugs  in the United States include Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. Even if you open your own sealed bottle of water or can of soda when out in public, be aware that these compounds can be mixed into the ice cubes that a “considerate” person may offer you!

Always watch your drink being prepared, even if it is a latte on a sunny day. Be wary of someone who prepares your drink below bar top level and out of sight. Also be wary of anyone who wants to keep pouring you alcoholic beverages at a party!  Remember, the most commonly used substance for predatory purposes, especially date or acquaintance rape, is alcohol!

Oftentimes a “cocktail” of different substances may be used to incapacitate the victim.

Opioid analgesics such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone, are anti-anxiety medications and muscle relaxants.  Although they are effective pain medications when used appropriately, they are quite dangerous when abused or combined.  Alcohol combined with these medications can result in death, as the victim gradually loses their urge to breathe, also knows as respiratory depression.

Obviously avoiding predatory drugs is paramount. If you are in a public setting or attending a function and do start to suddenly feel sleepy, disoriented and “out of it,” especially accompanied by loss of motor control, it is best to assume you have ingested a harmful agent and seek medical attention immediately.

Waiting to “see if I feel better” only robs you of precious time, time doctors will need to help you!

The most important thing to remember is to keep distance between yourself and strangers. You should always be wary of a stranger closing distance on you regardless of the stated reason, and especially when in an isolated environment! If you are followed, drive to a busy, well-lit area – or even a police or fire station – but not home, to a friend’s house, your place of work, or any location where your children will be.

  • Predatory Drugs are also addressed in our Travel Safety Training.
  • Please visit the Resources area of our site for more information on these and other topics
Related: 

What is Situational Awareness ?

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Lone Worker Safety and a Communications Plan Outline

It is common sense and well understood that any safety plan is only as good as its communications plan.

Having a lone worker safety and communications plan outline in place is critical for any agency that has staff in the field.  This includes those that work from home part or full time.

Your office based employees may have the benefit of a secure facility. Your lone workers face a completely different set of personal safety and security issue.

I’ve invited Kevin Dogen, Executive Director of SafeTeam, a technology leader in this space, to a write a guest Blog that illustrates the importance of including an Emergency Notification System in any Safety and Communications plan you devise.

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A lone worker in the field (we’ll call him Jim) is confronted with a situation that compromises his safety.  He’s in a difficult spot and doesn’t have time to call for help.  Since his company’s safety procedures are based on human communication, his supervisors have no idea he’s in trouble and won’t for some time… while Jim’s need for help is immediate.

With an Emergency Notification System in place to alert Jim’s supervisors, his lone worker safety  scenario is quite different:

It starts at 9:00 AM with Jim “Checking In” to the system via cell phone upon arrival at his destination.  It’s a 2 hour visit.  The system prompts him to provide details on where he is, what client he’s visiting, and the color and make of his vehicle.  Once completed, it stands by for him to call no later than 11:00 AM to “Check-Out”.

When 11:00 AM comes and he hasn’t “Checked-out”, the system calls his cell phone but he doesn’t pick up.  The system waits 5 minutes and calls again. Again he doesn’t answer.  This raises a potential red flag where the system triggers as escalation procedure by contacting 3 designated contacts.

They’re able to listen to Jim’s Check-In call so they know his location.  One of the designated contacts places a call to the client.  They don’t answer.  He next calls the police, providing the address.  In an instant, the response time has been dramatically reduced in what might be a serious situation.

While the odds of this happening are slim, you need only do a quick Google search to see how often it does occur.  The question then is whether to presume that it won’t happen to your people or be pro-actively cautious by including an ENS into your Safety and Communication Plans.

In some ways, it’s like an insurance policy and without it, not only are your employees exposed, your company is as well, based on the financial implications that come into play.  The National Center for Victims of Crime notes that the average cost for a single episode of violence in the workplace is $250,000 in lost time, medical expenses & legal costs.

Having an ENS in place not only reduces your company’s legal exposure, it also sends a strong message to your field workers that their safety is your primary concern.

In the end it’s a numbers game.  You can consider that because you’ve never had an incident in the field, the probability is too small to be concerned.   On the flipside, you might count your blessings, recognize that the risk is ever-present and take your Safety and Communication Plans to the next level.

To see Safe Team’s Emergency Notification System in action click here

Kevin’s Contact information appears below

Kevin Dogen

Executive Director

SafeTeam

650-560-9934

kevin@safetyinthefield.com

 

Related:

Lone Worker Personal Safety Training

 Social Worker Personal Safety Training (6 Hours NASW Continuing Education Units)

 

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Safety in Elevators. Awareness & Reading Body Language Save the Day

This story was told to me by an executive when the topic of elevators and personal safety came up.

She states her daughter was riding in an elevator with her on the way to their room on the 5th floor of their hotel.  An ordinary-looking young man entered the elevator when it stopped on the second floor. The elevator doors opened again on the third floor at which time a young women boarded.

The executive said she got a bad vibe from the young man and woman but was not able to pinpoint why.  Her gut-feeling that something was amiss was intensified when she noticed these apparent strangers make very brief eye contact, as if communicating with one another.

The doors opened on the 5th floor; the young man and woman exited before the executive and her daughter. The young man went left and the young woman right, again looking as if they were not together.

The executive pulled her daughter back into the elevator just as the doors began to close. Her daughter looked confused by her mother’s actions until she explained.  The young man and woman were working as a team but entered the elevator on separate floors to camouflage this fact. The executive’s daughter was looking down at her Smartphone during the elevator ride and missed the subtle cues her mother noticed:  the incongruent body language, darting eyes and very brief eye contact.

Because her mother was paying attention, she connected the dots and understood these pre-crime indicators for what they were. This information led her to understand that the man and woman going in opposite directions upon exiting the elevator were not as they appeared.  On the surface, it looked like two people that did not know one another, but, in fact, it was two people setting up to position and trap the executive and her daughter in the quiet hallway.

Law enforcement reminds us that criminals are working more frequently as male/female teams, often to look like couples. This is because so many of us assume females are less inclined to engage in crime, especially violent crime and because a couple will draw less attention from law enforcement than a pair or group of young males.

Human beings are the most cunning predators of all.  Remember to “think outside the box” Not every situation is what it appears to be. An observant person will be able to pick up on subtle cues that something is amiss. Those that are not paying attention miss those critical moments in which a ruse may be seen for what it is and too often become victims of an avoidable crime.

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You are not Paranoid. You are in “Condition Yellow”

I wrote this blog entry some time ago. I did so because so many people that tell me they get accused of being paranoid when in fact they are merely practicing good awareness of their surroundings. The accuser? Usually someone they know well.

Given the continued frustration over this, I thought I would re-post below. Thanks.

Jeff Cooper was a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who developed a color coding system, each descriptive of a person’s state of awareness of their surroundings and mental preparedness.

Condition White-

This is a person that is oblivious of their surroundings. In this condition, the first time a person realized they are in trouble is when it’s too late. They “never saw it coming” since they were not paying attention. Petty thieves and predators alike are very good at identifying those who are in Condition White since they make much easier or “softer” targets. Being preoccupied, day dreaming, text messaging while walking in public, walking head down and never looking around are all sure signs of Condition White!!

Condition Yellow-

Tom Givens a weapons expert and trainer describes Condition Yellow about as well as I have ever heard it articulated

“This is a relaxed state of general alertness, with no specific focal point. You are not looking for anything or anyone in particular; you simply have your head up and your eyes open. You are alert and aware of your surroundings. You are difficult to surprise, therefore, you are difficult to harm. You do not expect to be attacked today. You simply recognize the possibility.”

Below is another succinct description of Condition Yellow

“In Yellow, you are “taking in” surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360 degree radar sweep.”

Condition Orange

Here you are in a heightened state of awareness and very focused on a potential threat or a situation that you feel could become more serious. You are not in “fight of flight” mode yet, but ready to shift gears to “fight or flight” also known as Condition Red, if need be.

You will remain in Condition Orange until you are satisfied that the potential threat no longer exists, has been adequately dealt with or you have removed yourself form the situation.

You may well feel anything from a mild to moderate “adrenaline dump” which will elevate heart rate and blood pressure, dilate your pupils and shunt oxygen and energy rich blood to you skeletal muscles prepping them for action if need be.

Law enforcement specialists and military trained personal may not experience any physiologic reaction due to their training and how many times they have been in a Condition Orange situation.

Condition Red-

Here you are in “fight or flight” mode and you are ready to do either. The potential threat is now very real and needs to be dealt with. In this state we will experience a full “adrenaline dump” which will dramatically enhance blood flow to large skeletal muscle groups and sharpen our special senses.

This is the situation we do not want to find ourselves in.

This is the situation we can mitigate against by maintaining our Condition Yellow!!!!

Condition Yellow is Not Paranoia

If you are one of those people who “instinctively” pays attention to your surroundings, know what’s going on behind you at all times and in general take inventory of who is around you and what they are up to, you are gifted with being able to “live in Condition Yellow”

You might have developed your Condition Yellow out of need. Perhaps you grew up in a threatening environment. One of your parents might have been in law enforcement or the military, or perhaps you just “have it” period? Either way you do so with such ease the process is almost subconscious. You read peoples body language and your “gut” tells you what situations to avoid.

You might live with or know someone who lives in Condition White who actually accuses you of being paranoid!!

You are not paranoid. You are merely following your instinctive drive to remain alert. You are the person who also runs “what if” scenarios through your mind. You engage in what safety experts call “pre- incident visualization”

You understand that having a strategy tucked away in your data bank will allow you to react if a situation did arise, knowing that there would be no time right then and there to come up with a solution. The thinking must have already been done and warehoused in your mind for instant retrieval.

Your Condition Yellow is such an asset that I encourage you to share your mindset with friends and loved ones.

Randy LaHaie, safety training expert and SWAT specialist says it best. He states that if we work on becoming more aware of our surroundings, it soon becomes “part of our essence”

Visit Randy’s site for great reading on many safety topics at: http://www.protectivestrategies.com

And remember, awareness of our surroundings is our first and best line of defense!!!

Larry Kaminer

Related: What is Situational Awareness?

More commonly seen forms of attack: Vehicle-Ramming Attacks: Personal Safety and Situational Awareness

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Prince Charming is not always a Prince

Looks can be deceiving….

This story came across my desk some time ago.

A woman returning to her vehicle in a busy shopping mall parking lot during daylight hours discovered she had a flat tire.  She stated that while struggling to change the tire, a clean-cut, handsome man, in a sharp business suit, walked by and offered to help.  She gratefully accepted! He proceeded to put down his briefcase and change the tire.

At about the same time this Good Samaritan was finishing up his task, the woman, (while looking for something in the front seat),  happened to notice – out of the corner of her eye – that the man tossed his briefcase into the trunk along with the damaged tire!

A moment later, looking somewhat confused, the man stated he had just realized that he was turned around and had not left the mall via the exit closest to his car.  Would she mind giving him a quick ride to his vehicle?

Thinking on her feet, she said that she would be happy to, but inadvertently had left her wallet at the make-up counter and just needed to dash inside to get it and come back to give him a ride.  He thanked her and said he would just wait at the car.

When she returned with a security guard, the man was gone.  She unlocked the trunk and inside his expensive briefcase they found duct tape, rope and a knife, the tools of a rapist.

We will never know if that quick glance over her shoulder was instinctive or just lucky. Either way, once she understood what was happening, she cleverly extricated herself from the situation.

Absent that glance, she was clearly operating under the assumption that this well-dressed, handsome man (offering a helping hand in broad daylight, in a busy parking lot) could not possibly intend her any harm.  Based on appearances exclusively, she did not categorize him as evil and he was able to bypass any precautionary mental filters she may have had in place.

Human beings are the most cunning of all predators.  This story is not meant to scare, but to remind us to keep our radar up and “think outside the box” even in seemingly benign and harmless situations. Remember, you can remain comfortable and relaxed while maintaining an elevated state of awareness of your surrounding. This is often referred to as “Condition Yellow”.

Be safe!

Larry Kaminer

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