HomePosts Tagged "Situational Awareness"

“On a warm spring night, after eating dinner with friends and deciding to do a little late-night dancing, a young lady walks across the top floor of a well-lit parking garage.  She’s tired, worn out from the night of dancing and to help combat her fatigue, one hand is carrying a latte from the local late-night coffee joint down the road while her other hand fumbles in her purse.

Since it’s the top floor of the garage, there are few really good places to mount a security camera, so the ones that do exist are not able to capture much outside of the fact that behind her, a black-clad man with his hood up approaches her from behind as she unlocks her car door, and attacks.  Within seconds, he slams the back of her head, knocking her unconscious with his blow, if not with the ricochet of her head against the roof of the car.  Picking up her keys off the ground, throwing her inside the car bodily, he’s driving off through the garage, and is out of camera range very quickly to do…well, just about anything he wants.”

While this is a fictional situation, it’s the kind of thing that I’m starting to think about now that my daughter is going to be attending college in the big city.  She has basic skills in martial arts, an interest based on an activity that I required of her when she was a young teen, but doesn’t have a firearm and doesn’t carry any weapons in her purse.  What can she do to prevent this kind of attack?

3 Ways to Discourage Street Attacks

#1 – Situational Awareness & Mindfulness

Millennials often get a bad rap for being too tied into their phone, but it’s not only them. People of every age do it and they need to beware of the risks of making their way through life oblivious to those around them.  In a world where any kind of media is immediately available through so many channels, it’s easy to put your headphones in and enjoy a little entertainment on those lonely walks down the streets.  I love podcasts myself, and I know how easy it is to get lost in what the hosts are discussing and become engrossed to the point of making secondary the thoughts about where you are, where you’re going, what you planned on doing, and how you’re getting there.

Situational Awareness is simply the act of being constantly aware of what is happening around you.  It is essential in any kind of potentially dangerous situation to be mindful of what is happening around you, keeping a clear head, focusing on the present situation and your present environment.  Use as many of your senses as you can – listen to the ambient sounds, notice the smells of your environment, put your eyes and your head on a swivel, looking behind you every thirty seconds or so, and more often if entering a new environment.

I used the word “mindful” in the last paragraph, because Mindfulness is becoming a part of the zeitgeist of modern life as well.  This age-old concept is very simply a set of techniques designed to help you focus on the present moment, and what is happening around you – very similar to situational awareness.  Looking up some simple mindfulness exercises like “leaves on a stream” or even practicing basic meditation is a good way to help build your tolerance for long periods of being in the moment.

In the above situation, the young lady who was attacked likely had no idea that there was someone else on the roof of the parking garage, much less that he was following her, even as closely as he would have had to in order to attack so quickly.  Having no situational awareness, and likely being lost in a world of her own thoughts or in cell phone music or audio programs was her first big mistake.  Had she been looking around, aware of her situation, and perhaps even made eye contact with the attacker on her way towards her car, she may have done enough to encourage him to choose a different target.

#2 – Providing Disinformation

If you were an attacker who wanted to prey on someone, would you choose a man or a woman to attack?  Young or middle aged?

Almost everyone would choose a young female. The reasons are simple – she’s less likely to have any interest in martial arts or combat sports, she’s probably smaller and less muscular than her male counterparts, she likely carries more cash or valuable jewelry, and is stereotyped as being more naïve by the media and society at large.  Whether any specific female fits those categories is unimportant, its true that the simple act of being a female makes you a bigger target.

Being a young female isn’t something you can control.  Or is it?

No transgender stuff here.  But it’s possible, highly likely even, that the attacker in the above situation has done at least a small amount of research on this car he found on the top floor of a parking garage late at night, and it’s surprising what you can figure out about someone based on their car.

Does she have custom vanity license plates?  If so, those are generally a strong indicator that this is a female, unless the plates say something decidedly masculine like “GUNDUDE8” or “PREP MAN”.  If he peeks inside and sees custom leopard print seat covers, a steering wheel cover, or fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror, then assumptions can easily be made.   Other information can be gleanes as well.  If he sees a Victoria’s Secrets bag in your passenger seat, then what’s he going to assume?  The contents of your backseat can tell a lot about a person.  Makeup bags, the presence of an infant car seat or a booster, bumper stickers – all of these things say something about you, and help attackers decide if you’re a good target. While they don’t all “scream” female, they do all scream “unfocused” or having their concentration distracted by errands, a child, whatever. We are all guilty of this, especially in places we have frequented where “nothing has ever happened.” Reality is it only has to happen once to be life altering.

The worst offenders of the car customization market are the stick figures that populate the back windows of far too many cars.  Sure, they’re kind of cute, but they give way too much information about who you are, who is in your family, their ages and their interests.  If you have a single woman with two children on there, chances are that you’re coming out to your car either alone, or with two little ankle biters who are occupying all of your attention.

The best tip I’ve heard for single young women who are at risk for being attacked near their car is to give would-be attackers plenty of disinformation designed to encourage them to choose a different target.  A big, well-worn pair of men’s athletic shoes in the back seat, or a duffel bag covered in visible weight-lifting patches and karate logos will go a long way towards indicating to any smart criminals that the person who owns this vehicle is not to be trifled with.

Bumper stickers are also a good way to dissuade people.  Pro-gun bumper stickers, particularly if they endorse concealed carry, are a good place to start, as are indicators that you’re interested in things like MMA, wrestling, martial arts, or bodybuilding, whether you are or not. I have heard the counter-argument, that people “looking for guns to steal” look for cars with an NRA sticker (USMC emblem, etc.) The normal pattern of such a person is to follow you home to see what house to target for a robbery, when they observe you have left the premises. Yes, most people like this have gun safes – do you put your bedside go-to weapon in your gun safe every time you leave your house?

Spiked dog collars are also a simple thing to throw in the backseat.  While that might not be something that will dissuade an attacker in the aforementioned situation, it will work wonders for dissuading attackers spying on your car in a park, forest preserve or who might be looking at your home as a potential target.

Use your normal routine and patterns to decide what kinds of things you want to decorate with, or stash in your car. Understanding the places where you’re likely to be attacked will provide the best understanding of what will work best for you.

#3 – Just do it

People who prey on others are often quite a bit smarter than you might think.  Most have done their homework, and having looked inside your car to find evidence that you may be a very strong male or have a very large dog, might be smart enough to avoid you as a potential attackee.  Despite this, an often cited fact about criminals shows that most crimes that are committed in the US are crimes not borne from passion or careful thinking, but simply crimes of opportunity.

The attacker in the situation above may have been in line behind her in the coffee shop and noticed a $100 bill in her wallet, and taken the chance to follow her.  He may have just been a normal guy walking to his own car when he had a desperate feeling that he could get something from her.  Sometimes, the criminals will ignore any evidence of misinformation you provide, or maybe they’ve cased your car before and seen through your deception.

Sometimes, you just have to fight.  Or at least look like you’re ready for a fight.

Many will advise keeping some kind of weapon in the purse, and it’s hard to deny that this would be a good idea, but I would advocate that, if not well trained in the use of a knife, pepper spray, a pistol, or whatever weapon might make sense for a young lady to carry, that weapon will be useless.  It might also function as a distraction – it’s mere existence forcing the attacked person to spend valuable reaction time digging around for the weapon instead of running, adopting a defensive posture, striking back, finding some other form of help, or doing almost anything else that may be more productive in helping the situation.

Instead, the simple act of looking ready for a fight is good enough.  Stand up straighter when you walk, turn your head when you look, not just your eyes.  Proactively say hi to people on the street to indicate that you notice them, as this can unnerve criminals who are doing their best to avoid notice.

Remember that if the need arises to defend yourself, it is nearly impossible to do so without a free hand.  If you carry a purse, consider keeping your hand inside it as you walk, not fishing for anything, but as if you’re holding onto something.  The fear of the unknown weapon in your hand may do enough to scare someone off.

Anyone, female or not, would also do well to consider what kinds of objects that you keep on your person and how they may be used as a weapon.  Pocket knives are an obvious choice, but making a fist around your car keys creates a deadly combination of striking and slashing weapons that can do serious damage.  Aerosol deodorant or hair spray is not a great choice, but it can certainly burn the eyes of an attacker if you get lucky.  Using the small, rounded edge of a hairbrush as a striking tool can be helpful to those who don’t have a lot of experience using their fists to punch, and it will likely cause more damage if you don’t already have any martial arts training.

Before exiting the stairwell or elevator, this young women should have had her keys ready in her dominant hand, with the key poking out through her middle and index finger, her hand in a fist.  Even with an improper strike, this will cause damage to any attacker.  That’s a nice easy weapon to carry that will do the damage, doesn’t require specific training, and will help you stay safe out there in the big bad city. And for those of us with “electronic key bobs”, consider investing in some sharp jewelry/bottle-opener thingy’s to add to the key ring. Also, never forget your extended thumb forward when making a fist as this can be devastating to an eye, a throat, even a kidney. Then again, there is this.

"On a warm spring night, after eating dinner with friends and deciding to do a little late-night dancing, a young lady walks across the top floor of a well-lit parking

Situational awareness is crucial to surviving and prevailing in a critical incident. Several years ago, I was still On The Job as a Detective with the Street Crimes unit. I was also a member of the Washington DC Fugitive task Force as a Special Deputy US Marshal. Needless to say, we were very busy.

One fall Sunday evening, I happened to be off duty and working on finishing the basement in our house. Out of drywall mud, I rounded up the family and headed to the hardware store for supplies, promising a stop at the pizza joint for a quick supper.

We arrived and I did my usual “cursory” check. I knew where the back door was, kitchen access, bathrooms…I had been there before, and the advance work was quickly done. After the kids got their food, we grabbed one of the last few tables, and I made a serious mistake. It was the first time I made this particular mistake, and it will never be made again.

Playoff baseball was on and I wanted to catch up on the game and scores, so I sat with my back at an angle to the front door, primarily facing the TV.

We were about 10 minutes into the meal when I heard my wife say “These guys look like they are up to no good”: and they weren’t. They were two brothers wanted for a murder, an armed robbery, aggravated malicious wounding and attempted murder (2 counts). They were suspects in several Northern Virginia home Invasions. How did I know this? I had been hunting them for over 6 months at the request of the Homicide Unit. I knew their full names, dates of birth, cars they drove by tag, make and color, where their dope runs were, family lived, all of it….and here I was, 2 jurisdictions from mine and they found me. They had another male friend and 2 females with them; I had a S&W 342 and a reload. They all acted hinky…perhaps not gonna rob the joint, but definitely up to no good.

Mistakes? Since becoming a cop and a lot more cognizant of my surroundings, I had never before sat where I couldn’t observe the main entry or exits whenever possible. This time I got lazy. Maybe also lucky.

Here are few points that I have leaned over the years to improve your overall awareness. You should try always to remain aware, thus increasing your probability of recognizing any possible “issues” that might come your way.

Know where all possible threats could come from.

Where the problems could arise. I have worked and read about the robberies that start in the kitchen. There is easy access, the doors are sometimes propped open and they can control the staff in the kitchen first. In some restaurants the office and safe are accessible from there. If they want to “up” the evenings take, or feel that there is a possibility to control the amount of patrons in the dining room, it may spill into your area. Many customers fail to keep the kitchen in mind as an escape should they or their family need to leave in an emergency.


Sit where you can see the entry and exits.

I have been guilty of requesting a different table, or waiting for a better table if I don’t like the lay of the land.  I am also VERY guilty of telling friends or companions that they are not allowed to sit in the seat that I want…most all now know this and will surrender it without question (or just offer it preemptively).

Park in a well-lit area; choose your exits, surroundings and terrain.

I generally will back into a parking spot and will position the door I need to access first to the business or area I will be returning from.  What I mean is, I still open the door for my wife, the child safety seat is on the passenger side as well. This way if either are with me, I will park with the passenger side door facing the area we are returning from. That gets them in quickly and I can protect them until the doors close, and I only have to worry about me and the problems that arise as I return to the driver’s door. She can lock the doors and call for help from the relative safety of the vehicle if I end up educating someone. I know exactly where they are, and I can work on keeping the bad guy away from them.  It’s not a bad idea to let her have the keys at that point. She can lock and unlock with the fob, operate the vehicle if something happen to me, and I don’t have to worry about my hands being occupied should I need to clear my cover garment and get to work. Sure, if they are in my hand I can scratch an aggressor with them, but I am not a cat… I have a few other, better suited solutions on me to address that eventuality.

SEE what you are looking at

As I have mentioned before, you need to think “Is that something that I would do, is that normal?”  Hot weather, a couple of dudes in masks or heavy hoodies up walking towards you; quickly determine any rational reasons, if nothing comes to mind…. MOVE. Cross the street, step into a store, create distance.  Distance is a reactionary gap. If it becomes very apparent they are coming towards you and you perceive a physical altercation, not a deadly force situation, you need to make noise and get aggressive with them. Thugs and your mediocre/average criminal will prey on easy targets. If you get pissed off and yell and challenge them as you and your family remove yourself from the situation, they may back down or run. It does happen. I realize it may not be in your nature to yell and curse and someone, but consider the alternatives. Treat them like Park Rangers say to treat a bear, make yourself look bigger and make a lot of noise. (No need to yell “HEY BEAR…HEY BEAR”.. but get creative.)  That will draw attention to you, and them, as well as the situation and they don’t want attention. Do you carry a less lethal option? Pepper spray or another option?  Remember, you will have to justify the use of pepper spray if the subject is apprehended, of you use it without justification. The charge is “Assault with a Caustic Substance” here in Virginia. Your state may have its own legalese. Make sure you can articulate why you deployed it, much like if you have to use your firearm.


Have a plan for your family

THIS IS IMPORTANT.  We had one prior to the Pizza Shop incident. Once I explained to the kids that we were done eating and mom was now taking them to get ice cream (there is not fussing about leaving a pizza shop after only 10 minutes when they are skipping directly to dessert) to the point that my 7 year old loudly proclaimed “Dad, do we get under the table now?!”  Our plan was me to walk them out to the vehicle, and then I called the local PD and coordinated with them after my family was safe. As a cop, and even now, my wife knows that at some point if there is a situation, we will rally at a designated place, and that may vary depending on location and time of day. Situation dictates, and you will have different plans for different possibilities you can quickly deploy. Talk ahead of time and prepare.


Keep your head on a swivel

That is something you hear said often, and by a lot of folks. It stands true, but is not understood sometimes. One popular situation; getting gas is a very opportune and popular time for robberies and carjackings. The growing trend is entry into your vehicle from the passenger side as you watch your dollars tick away on the pump. This is becoming very popular.  Think about which pump you use. Can you see the storefront, the entrance and exits of the store and those of the parking lot? Keep your vehicle secure, even once you are standing next to it, remain aware and constantly looking for problems.

Keep your face out of your phone

Think about where and when you check messages, update status or any other mobile phone or tablet. Updating a Facebook status or seeing who Liked your last one is not as important as perceiving the fast approaching threat. I watch people all day walk into busy parking lots, bump into things and walk for dozens of yards without ever looking up. The same happens at a red light. Watch the next time you are driving, there will be people who stop, start looking at their phone and don’t look up until they realize everyone else is moving, or someone behind them honks. These folks are making themselves a prime target.  If you are not watching what is going on, you will never see your attacker coming, so you will not be able to repel an attack, defend yourself or even be able to offer a description if you are not knocked unconscious, or worse.  With the internet and all the social media in the palm of your hand, it is easy to get caught up in the information feeds. Choose where you work or play from your phone – educate your children to this end.


These are a few suggestions that will help you avoid or repel an attack should you be targeted, be a better witness should it happen to someone else. There are other ways of remaining aware, and my way is A WAY, not THE WAY. Find a good system that works for you and go with it.

How did the earlier story end? I was able to get my family out and send them on their way. I met with the arriving units and gave them the location and description of the suspects, and then (since I was in plain clothes) was able to walk through the restaurant and let the other half of the arrest team in the back door to make sure they could not escape. The Violent Crimes Unit were advised that they were captured and were being transported. My pager went off shortly after that with dispatch advising they had been arrested and I needed to respond to the station, and the basement never got painted.

Train Smart, Train Often, Victory First

Situational awareness is crucial to surviving and prevailing in a critical incident. Several years ago, I was still On The Job as a Detective with the Street Crimes unit. I

Preppers are a lot like spiders.

Generally speaking, web producing spiders create webs to trap their prey. They rely on vibrations they detect on the lines of web to know when it is time to react. Otherwise, they keep a low profile and lie in wait- vigilant…preparing to react. The logical perceptions of men and women who observe, reflect and act on the vibrations we pick up from the various avenues of communication and information gathering all around us, makes us much more sensitive to events than the general public.

Recently, there were two incidents which I feel preppers should stop and take stock of. Situational awareness is broader than just your immediate surroundings, it is the world we live in and the trends swirling around us every day.

The first was the incident in Michigan. A man used his vehicle to mow down some innocent cyclists. The act itself stands alone as being horrific. There is no question of his guilt. But it is the vibrations from the news media that made me take a second look. The media quickly used images and posting from his face book page-to paint psychological portrait of the man even before he had his first day in court.

Most if not all of us maintain a presence on various websites, chat rooms, Facebook pages and the like. Free speech and the right to speak our minds is a RIGHT which we all have and are not afraid to use. However, we should always be aware- that our postings could be used against us. A quote here a quote there- taken out of context, is all it takes to destroy any stand, or position we might want to take.

The second incident would be the mass shooting in Orlando Florida. I doubt if I need to convey any of the details. This too was a horrific event. But, all of us that make the effort to be prepared, for any abnormal situation, to defend our family and our homes- must take stock of the vibrations from this incident. This event is another warning that politicians are riding the GUNS ARE BAD bandwagon to not only get elected but as a solution to resolve the issues of gun violence that the media blows up larger than life itself.

Gun control will not solve the problem of violence. There are enough laws already on the books that adding more won’t solve the problem. People who have military looking weapons are not bad people just because they own this type of weapon. But, more and more the media are painting that picture and controlling the message. We should at least be cognizant of this threat as we communicate with one another.


But addressing one facet of a problem is like looking though a kaleidoscope and only seeing one image. It seems to me that our government needs to look at how society in all its many facets influences the very life style that we are trying to prevent. How we address mental Illness? How do we combat the digital recruitment of terrorist groups?

Our county went crazy when they were told that the NSA was collecting Metadata from cell phones. The ACLU was up in arms when they learned that police departments were keeping Muslims under surveillance.

Images from body cameras worn by police officers are in some cases used to convict a police officer in the media before he or she has any chance to receive a fair investigation or a day in court. By the time they do have that day- a verdict that does not match public opinion- is rejected and the officer is subjected to an unjust fate.

We as a country need to decide what our governments should be allowed to do in order to keep our country safe. We also need to be able to place safeguards to prevent them for abusing this power. All these different facets and many more need to be addressed and decisions made before we can ever turn the tide of this violent environment that we live in.

But before this happens, people like us will receive the evil eye. People like us must stay aware of the vibrations and be prepared. This will be a SHTF event that our bug out bags will not help us with. That our weapons will not necessary save us from. Our weapons are our minds and our abilities to understand what is going on and being able to adapt and overcome the unknown obstacles.

Are you Spider senses tingling?

Preppers are a lot like spiders. Generally speaking, web producing spiders create webs to trap their prey. They rely on vibrations they detect on the lines of web to know when