Save Your Own Life with Situational Awareness

This is my first blog post outside of dental topics and related to your personal security.  It’s another topic I’m passionate about, and this post will be a bit long.

In today’s economic environment, crime seems to be on the increase.  Or at the very least, we are surely hearing more about it.  Desperate times can precipitate the worst in people.  But, no matter the economy, there will always be bad people who prey upon good people.  Surely, if you’re reading this blog, you’re one of the good people!  :-)

Many of us at least know someone who has been a victim of crime.  And, personally, I haaaaaaaate hearing those stories.  It bothers me deeply.  So, if I can help my fellow Dental Warriors avoid becoming a victims, I’d consider that a most excellent victory.

Most criminals are simply opportunists looking for folks that are simply not paying much attention, if any, to what’s going on around them.  Like lions stalking the one zebra that seems a bit slower than the rest of the herd, or is oblivious as he drinks at the watering hole – Criminals seek out victims who are not paying attention to their environment.  Criminals are inherently lazy and want an easy mark.  The human version of the oblivious zebra may be the woman busy placing groceries in the back of the minivan who didn’t notice the strange man who was walking parallel to her on the other side of the lane.  Or, it could be she DID notice him.  She had an intuitive reaction that maybe he was watching her, but the other voice in her head dismissed the notion.  “Don’t be so paranoid!”

The conventional wisdom that persists today is that you should “cooperate” and “just give them what they ask for.”  After all, your life is worth more than your wallet, right?  Well, here’s the fly in that ointment.  More recently, the trend seems to be that the bad guys are more predisposed to hurting or killing their victims even when they cooperate.  Today’s young miscreants don’t come from a culture that values life.  Only a few months ago, in my area there was a convenience store that was robbed at gunpoint.  All captured on video was the full cooperation of the two clerks working there.  And, then they were shot, execution style.

We all have to make our own decisions, and each situation has to be evaluated on the immediate factors at work.  And, I won’t suggest what you should do.  Again, each circumstance is unique.  But, personally my overreaching plan is that I’m not “cooperating.”  My every effort will be to ensure I live and go home to my family.  Better yet, is to avoid the situation entirely by seeing it coming before it arrives.  Please stay with me and keep reading.

Cooper’s Color Coded Situational Awareness

A famous Marine Lieutenant Colonel, Jeff Cooper (May 10, 1920 – September 25, 2006), developed a number of fighting techniques (mostly related to guns).  But, the most notable self-defense tool he devised was the Combat Mindset.  And, this is very useful for any civilian who just wants to be safe.  The Combat Mindset is broken down into the Cooper Color Code.  He documented this system in his book, Principles of Personal Defense (long before the Department of Homeland Security’s color code system).  I recommend this no-nonsense, easy-to-read, book to my fellow Dental Warriors.  But, I’m going to attempt summarize it in this blog post.

There are four levels of Situational Awareness

(represented by four colors and descriptions paraphrased with some of my own spin):

  1. Condition White – This is an individual who is essentially not aware of anything going on around him or her.  This person is “in his own world.”  He or she is unaware, unprepared, and will not “see it coming.”  Someone with iPod earbuds in place or texting while walking down the street, would be a good example.
  2. Condition Yellow – You are alert, yet relaxed.  There is no threat to you.  But, you are aware of what’s going on around you.  You notice who is around you and what they are doing.  You are relaxed, yet you continuously process the data your senses are feeding you.  Walking down the street, alert, with your head on a swivel.
  3. Condition Orange – You have noticed something is not be right.  You focus on a specific target (while not losing your peripheral awareness).  Remember, your target’s intent may be to distract you while his accomplice flanks you.  In Condition Orange, you have reason to believe there is a threat, and you are carefully assessing the situation and considering what actions may be necessary.  You are setting up mental triggers…. “If that guy does  ____, then I will have to _____ (stop him in some way).”
  4. Condition Red – The shit has hit the fan.  Fight’s on.  And, that sucks.  But, at this point, you will be forced to take the action set forth when you were in Condition Orange.  This may include the use of lethal force to protect your life or that of a loved one.

Ideally, you don’t want to get to Condition Red.  If you are good at Yellow, you can likely avoid getting into trouble altogether.  None of this requires you to be armed.  However, if you are armed, Condition Yellow is a minimum level of awareness.  I’ll address armed self-defense in future blog posts.  My focus here is simply situational awareness.  If you’re situationally aware, hopefully you’ll avoid any circumstance that would escalate to armed self-defense.

This color code system gives you a way to think through a potentially dangerous situation.  As the level of danger increases, your willingness to take certain actions increases accordingly.

Colonel Cooper later summed up his Color Code this way:

“In White you are unprepared and unready to take lethal action. If you are attacked in White you will probably die unless your adversary is totally inept.
In Yellow you bring yourself to the understanding that your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.
In Orange you have determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you are not in a lethal mode.
In Red you are in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant.”

An Example

Just last week, a patient told me an alarming story.  He was in Colombia with his wife as tourists.  The were walking down a lesser-traveled street that ran parallel to the main boulevard where most people were.  (OK, we can certainly criticize that decision already.)  As they walked, he noticed a couple of guys walking behind them a good distance away.  But, they were walking in the same direction.  My patient turned his attention back to where they were going (ignoring the two guys).  In a flash the two guys had suddenly caught up, and wielding a knife demanded all their money.  My patient said he didn’t have any (and apparently he really didn’t).  But, the assailant didn’t believe him.  My patient’s instincts for self-preservation finally kicked in, and the fight was on.  Literally.  He was grappling with the guy with the knife.  NOT a good situation to be in.  Knives are nasty, and you do not want to be on the deadly receiving end of the equation.  LUCKILY, he was able to prevail throwing the bad guy off.  And, in the melee, his binoculars had fallen off his neck.  (Also not good to give the bad guy a “handle” by which to toss you around.)  The BG picked up the binoculars and ran.

My patient and his wife were LUCKY in this case.  It could have ended much, much worse.  The point of this anecdote is that he should have gone from Yellow to Orange.  He should not have averted his attention away from the 2 guys following them the first time.  A good move at that point would be to simply cross the street.  Then set up the mental trigger referenced in #3 Condition Orange, above.   “If those guys also cross the street, then I will ___________.”  That blank could be filled with any number of things.  In this case, I would imagine immediately and QUICKLY (run if necessary) turning down the next street and getting to that other heavily trafficked boulevard.  Or it could be turning into a store or other business.  In Orange, you do NOT take your eyes off the suspicious guy(s).

Depending on the situation, the blank in the mental trigger above could also include the first stage of deploying a weapon.  Pepper spray in hand with thumb on button.  Or hand on gun, or even drawing and keeping at “low ready” while taking evasive action.  I’ll be posting more on specific methods and weapons in future posts.  So, I won’t get into those details here.

The point of this anecdote is that my patient ignored his first instinct… his first awareness of the two guys.  He was instinctively at Yellow, and then let his politically correct voice take him back to White.  And, that’s how the two guys were “suddenly” on top of my patient and his wife.  That’s a mistake I hope my fellow Dental Warriors will learn to not make.  Ignore that 2nd little voice and pay attention to the 1st!

The Gift of Fear (Recommended Reading)

An excellent book about this very thing that I can’t recommend highly enough is: The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence by Gavin DeBecker (security expert and consultant to high-profile people).  I sincerely urge ALL of you to read this book.  Then give it to your spouse and other loved ones to read.  It’s THAT important.  If the only result of reading this blog is you getting this book (and reading it), I will rest easy.

In his book, DeBecker uses thousands of cases he’s investigated or followed to precisely describe how people end up victims.  Some of them quite tragic.  The book is very scientific, which I believe will be appreciated by Dental Warriors.  It’s truly eye-opening.

“Excuse me, Sir / Ma’am”

On a very basic and brief level, I will try to convey one of the most important principles in “The Gift of Fear.” When approached by a stranger (whose intention is to rob, rape, or worse), he will often use the “interview” technique.  This may be as simple and seemingly innocuous as asking you for the time, a cigarette, a light, spare change, or directions.  This benign request sets up an opportunity for the bad guy to get physically closer to you and break down your instinct to be suspicious.

I don’t want to be one of those (paranoid) people.

Besides a general lack of situational awareness, the cultural trend to be politically correct is supplanting our natural instincts for self-preservation that goes back to our most primitive days (and served humankind very well).  These days, to exhibit suspicion or skepticism of strangers, based on appearance or behavior, is socially unpalatable.  “I don’t want to be one of THOSE people.  I don’t want to be (labeled as) paranoid.” Furthermore, “profiling” is shunned by our politically correct culture.  So, we are uncomfortable with the idea of evading people who are making a “harmless” request or verbally interrupting and fending off strangers before they get close to us.  We don’t want to be “rude” or “paranoid.”  That kind of reprogramming of your basic or primal instincts and intuition can get you killed.  Profiling is effective and you have a RIGHT to do it, not to mention maintaining your proclivity to survive day to day and live out your natural life.  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… it’s a duck!

Trust your instincts.  Believe that little voice in your head.  Fear IS a gift.  And, it can be the gift of a prolonged life.  You owe it to yourself and your family to read “The Gift of Fear.”

No Time for Political Correctness

Who cares if you come across as “rude” or “paranoid?”  They’re STRANGERS invading YOUR space!  I got over it.  And, I’ve lost count of how many times I was potentially being “interviewed.”  I don’t let them get close.  I realize that many of those may be completely innocent.  I don’t care.  It only takes one time where things go bad to end or change my life forever.  No thanks.  I can LIVE (literally) with being considered “rude.”

I will interrupt the stranger before he even finishes his request with a simple, “NO” using a command voice.  Most times, the stranger stops at this point.  Often I also will put my left hand up in a “stop” gesture.  I don’t want the stranger to get within 10 feet of me.  And five feet is way too close.

I have had this happen MANY times at gas stations while fueling up my car.  This is a very popular place, and you are a “captive” audience.  If my “NO” and hand gesture doesn’t stop the stranger in his tracks (it usually does), I will move away while keeping my eye on him and repeat, “I said NO.”  If you have to, walk around the other side of your car, using it as a barrier.  At this point, if the stranger persists, you are well into Condition Orange, and you better have your plan.  Repeat your request to be left alone VERY loudly.  “Stop!  Do not get any closer.”

I know for CERTAIN that one particular incident at a gas station was the real thing.  I was being interviewed, and the two guys were up to no good.  My situational awareness and interrupting the interview with a command voice let these lions know that this zebra was onto them.  It stopped them in their tracks about 15 feet away, and they turned and left the property.

Another important principle taught by DeBecker’s book is how to recognize Pre-Incident Indicators (PINs) of violence.  This is life-saving stuff, folks.  And, it’s too much to get into within the confines of a blog post.  Please get this book!

Pay Attention to Your Little Voice

Be safe.  Be smart.  Be assertive.  Don’t get surprised.  Be aware of what’s going on around you.  Notice what people around you are doing.  Especially pay attention when it seems the stranger’s movements or actions are keyed to yours.  If it seems like someone is following you in the grocery store parking lot, TURN AROUND and go back into the store.  Don’t bury your head (literally) in the back of your minivan while you load the groceries.  Listen to that FIRST voice in your head.  If your hairs stand on end, PAY ATTENTION and forget about political correctness.

That’s it for now.  Stay safe, Dental Warriors.
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22 Responses to Save Your Own Life with Situational Awareness

  1. Mark Frias says:

    Interesting post Mike. I think the best points are not feeling guilty about being politically incorrect by profiling and running as an excellent defensive option.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Thanks for your comments Mark! It’s quite remarkable that so many people have been culturally trained to value political correctness over their own life. Being PC supersedes their own instincts of survival or self-preservation.

      I’m urging people to TRUST their “spidey senses.” Nature gave us those instincts for a reason.

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  3. Mark Fenning says:

    Thank you for hosting such an interesting blog. I always thought “Spidey” (as one of my childhood comic book heroes) was too cool! I would love to have his wrist webbing to wrap up the bad guys, too. But that is not a reality for me.
    What appealed to me most about your post was the use of your non-verbal and verbal ‘tools’ used in conjunction with the color-coded situational awareness. It may be critical to ‘make witnesses’ of those around you, should the police need to respond to a situation where one was compelled to exercise their second amendment right to end a life-threatening altercation initiated by a criminally minded thug. A CCWP can help in certain instances here in the USA, at least here in FL.
    Best regards and thank you for your blog.

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  13. Lester says:

    How do you develop situational awareness? You might find some helpful tips in the book Teeth In Mortal Combat: How To Unleash Your Basic Instinct For Survival
    http://www.amazon.com/Teeth-Mortal-Combat-Instinct-Survival/dp/0984370625/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1327865422&sr=1-1-fkmr0

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