Posts Tagged situational awareness

Travel Safety and Security Awareness Tips: What is Blending In?

Blending In 101:

One of the cornerstones of personal safety is what experts refer to as “blending in.” This isn’t attempting to “fit in,” especially in an environment that is clearly foreign to you, it’s just not drawing unwanted attention.

This may apply to social workers, home health providers, and other lone workers when doing business in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

It also applies when abroad, and in general, a good practice whether in a group or traveling solo.

The basics of blending in rely on common sense.

Dress down. Don’t wear bright colors that catch the eye, branded or designer clothing or accessories, and keep your phone out of sight. Jewelry and other valuables attract attention.

Footwear: Wear shoes that are comfortable and allow you to move quickly.  Inmates participating in a victim selection study said they always factor in whether a potential target is wearing shoes that will slow them down or allow them to run.

Body language is very important – even more so where there is a language barrier. Projecting a relaxed and friendly – yet confidant –  presence is ideal. Walking “head up” and “shoulders back” are the cornerstones of a relaxed and confident person.

But what if I CANNOT blend in?

What can you do when you’re traveling somewhere where you don’t look like the local people?  I experience this a lot traveling in Southern Africa and Central America.

In this case, the “script is flipped,” as it were.  All of the above tips still apply, but now you have some additional steps.

If you’re going to be somewhere for a while and cannot blend in, it is now time to “develop assets,” as the military likes to say.

In other words, it’s time to start getting to know people. For instance, I make a point to get to know store owners, the fellows running the bicycle rental shop I walk by every day, the pharmacist, several produce vendors, and security guards outside banks and other businesses.

My goal: I want as many friendly sets of eyes on me as possible as I go about my day.  Local people know who’s who and word travels fast.  If I’m somewhere more than a week, I get to know several cab drivers.

With friendly eyes on you, people who are up to no good know you are seen and recognized by the solid citizens, and are less likely to victimize you. Local people know who they are and can report very easily. Local people will also be more inclined to step in to help if they see you are in a difficult position.

Always remember that you are a GUEST in this neighborhood or country. Respect and honor the culture.  Showing gratitude and kindness goes a long way, as does warm and friendly eye contact where culturally appropriate.  Make a point to learn several courtesy phrases.

Build relationships over time. I stay pretty vague on where we’re staying and for how long.  As President Reagan once said, “Trust but verify.”

When abroad, I am sure to keep the contact information of friendly local people I get to know, such as cab drivers, pharmacists, an Airbnb owner, etc., in my WhatsApp (a commonly-used free international text and voice app.)

As always, know where to go in an emergency. Find out where the closest medical facility and police station are. Have your country’s embassy phone number in your speed dial list.  Regardless of how comfortable we become in any environment, including our own “backyards,” maintaining situational awareness and preparedness is always your first, best move.

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What to do If Caught in a Vehicle-Ramming Attack: Personal Safety Tips

Security PostVehicle-Ramming Attacks: Personal Safety and Situational Awareness

Given how distracted drivers can be, I always stand back from the edge of the curb, knowing a car could accidentally lurch onto the sidewalk and run me down.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes done on purpose, in what have become known as “vehicle-ramming attacks” – which is now being seen in the United States and Canada, as well as abroad.

So what can we do? Be Proactive versus Reactive.

Situational awareness is imperative, but remember, there’s no point in living in a state of constant fear over these very low-probability events. You are far better off staying relaxed, yet observant, as you go about your business, with some knowledge of what to be aware of, and what you would do if an attack took place.

Walk Facing Traffic.  If you walk facing traffic, you can see vehicles coming toward you – and gives you more time to maneuver if you need to. This also makes it harder for a car or van to run over you, or pull alongside you to attempt an abduction.

Understand Your Environment. For the most part, vehicle-ramming attacks are carried out where there are lots of people, AKA a “target-rich environment,” to do the most damage.  Therefore, if  a vehicle-ramming happens at a concert or farmers’ market, etc., be ready to move away from the most crowded areas, which perpetrators would be drawn to.

Take Note of Protective Structures.  Regardless of where you are, ask yourself: If a vehicle-ramming were to occur here, where could I take cover?  What structures are nearby to provide protection?  This could be a pillar, a tree, heavy planter boxes, or even just stepping into a store, lobby, or alcove.

Understand, too, that security and protective design have been implemented since the 1980s, after the resurgence of “smash-and-grab” burglaries.  Many buildings have bollards, as seen in the photo above. These sturdy posts are placed strategically to prevent a vehicle from getting close to a building. Take notice of these, as well as large concrete blocks and footers placed for the same reason.

A car is not good cover.  A larger ramming vehicle can easily push a car over you or smash it into you. Also, beware of taking cover that could leave you trapped, like alleys that have dead ends or other enclosed spaces.

If there is still time, open distance.

It is always best to get as far away as possible, in case the situation includes an explosive device or an armed driver and accomplice.  Alert others, but do not let indecisive people slow you down.

Special Senses: As you go about your day, keep an ear and eye out. It is counter-intuitive to hear or see a vehicle speeding up in an area where all the others are slowing down.

In vehicle-ramming attacks, larger trucks or machinery are often rented for their size and ability to do damage, and the driver may not necessarily be familiar with operating them.  This can result in vehicles being driven poorly or bumping into parked cars. If you hear a series of impact sounds growing progressively louder, this could be that vehicle heading toward you, as it scrapes past parked cars and other structures.

However, having said this, keep in mind this sort of attack can very well involve an ordinary car, as we saw in Charlottesville terror attack of 2017.  Don’t assume a fast-moving car is a police vehicle.

If you see a vehicle weaving and driving, including up onto the curb, again, seek cover.

If the incident turns out to be an accident or something non-malicious, then there is no harm in a false alarm.

Always trust your instincts. If you get a “bad vibe” about your environment, leave, move, or open distance. The military trains soldiers to be in tune with the “atmospherics” of their surroundings and to honor intuition. We should, too.

Final thoughts:  Having your action plan for this rare “What if?” scenario in your back pocket does not make you paranoid. It means you are prepared.

Personal safety is key, and preparedness and awareness are two very intuitive, powerful, and protective tools.

Related: “Condition Yellow” The perfect state of situational awareness.

 

 

 

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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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Language barriers and the importance of body language.

perspaceMost of us have been in a situation in which there is a dispute over an issue or the events around a particular situation. Some are quickly resolved through good communication and others are not.

As people get animated, voices are raised and tempers flare, it is very difficult, even under the best of circumstances, to get cooler heads to prevail and to communicate calmly and resolve the situation amicably.

Take the same situation and have it unfold in a foreign country where there is a language barrier, and what might have been readily resolved through dialog now becomes more complex. An example might be a misunderstanding between you and a street vendor over a purchase you have just made.

Communication experts tell us that well over 50 % of how we communicate is through body language. If you ever do find yourself in a dispute in a country where those around you do not understand the language you speak, remember, your next best means of communicating is with the “language of your body”.

All too often a traveler who has a legitimate complaint or concern, with all good intention makes his or her case only to find they are getting nowhere due to the language barrier. This leaves them frustrated and as the failing attempt at dialog continues; their frustrations are increasingly transmitted through their actions of their body.

The other party and any law enforcement officials who may have arrived to investigate have only your body language to read since they do not understand what is being said. For them this is like watching a commercial with the sound muted. All intended frame of reference is lost and the observer jumps to conclusions from what they are seeing, not hearing.

If you become highly animated in your frustration and facial expressions start to exude anger or aggression, this is exactly what it is read to be, and there is a good chance you will be taken to a police station for further questioning or escalate the situation in general.

So keep in mind, that no matter how frustrated you feel if such a situation were to occur, it is critical to maintain a nice calm posture, friendly facial expressions, and relaxed shoulders. Deeper belly breathing also helps one stay calm. Not raising your voice and maintaining pleasant and friendly eye contact with all parties involved also shows your respect. Humble body language also projects a message that you are doing your best to respect and honor their culture.

Pleasant body language projects kindness and kindness is understood universally.

Larry Kaminer

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Travel Safety- The Growing Threat of Kidnapping & Other Crimes We May Not Think About.

We almost never hear about kidnappings for ransom here in the United States. While we should always be alert when we travel in this country, it is important to be aware of threats we may not think about here at home when we do travel abroad.

The kidnapping and tragic murder of a young man in Mexico who was taken from his wealthy family for ransom made it into the news cycle today. But this type of activity has been going on for a long time in Mexico and other parts of the world, especially the Third World, and is a tragic reminder of this growing problem. (Read the story)

Members of high net worth families living in these regions are not the only ones targeted. The incidence of kidnap for ransom of executives, especially those working for large corporations, is also of great concern.

Kidnapping is not the only crime that international travelers need to be aware of. Carjacking, home invasion and takeover robberies of places of business to include tourist destinations is not uncommon as is the use of date rape or “predatory” drugs for the purposes of robbery. The take over of tour buses and subsequent robbery of its passengers , not much unlike the stage coach robberies of the Old West, is also occurring more frequently.

Those visiting South Africa need to be aware of an alarming increase in the use of explosives to blow open ATM machines, a crime enabled by the easy access to explosives from the large mining industry. (Read an article on the incidence of ATM crime in South Africa)

Being watched upon arrival at an airport and then shadowed to a hotel and robbed at a later time also can and does occur. Unsuspecting tourist have often been abducted when they enter a vehicle at an airport that they assumed was a vetted taxi or transportation service.

As with any area of personal safety, knowledge is always key to forming sound strategies for the avoidance of crime. The State Department website has a country specific information page that includes travel warnings. The State Department also recommends using their Travel Registration service especially for those traveling to higher risk destinations.

We offer a travel safety class for those traveling within the United States, internationally and to higher risk destinations.

The post 9/11 world is more complex and poses more challenges to the international traveler.

Having a sound strategy from pre trip planning, and documentation to in country emergency contacts and contingency plans always makes for a safer and more enjoyable experience.

Larry Kaminer

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