Every day most of us step into familiar routines in our workplaces, schools and shopping centers. In fact, most of the public places that we spend our time have an accepted set of “norms” that defines appropriate behavior, speech and apparel that we can expect. But what happens when something is different? What happens you overhear harsh tones in an escalated conversation? What happens when people are stopping and staring? Or running and screaming? What happens when the unexpected occurs – and how do we prepare for it?
Know Your Surroundings
One of the most important aspects of your personal safety and preparation is knowing your surroundings. Sometimes this can be very intuitive, especially if it’s a place that we frequent often. Offices, classrooms and even our favorite coffee shops are places that we can quickly identify anything that’s out of place. We know the exits and entrances; we know the familiar sounds and we know the people that typically come and go.
Places that we visit less often might require a different approach. When you step into restaurant, hotel or hospital, the effort to understand your surroundings needs to be more deliberate. Take a moment to think about the sights, sounds and activities that you would expect to see - and take note of the ones that seem out of place. Restaurants should be full of happy customers, but a squabble at another table can quickly spill over. Hotels should have people carrying luggage, but not unattended bags. Hospitals might have a diverse crowd of upset or frustrated people in the ER waiting rooms, but not wandering the halls.
Think Like An Adversary
This is a darker topic for the average citizen, and it isn’t to suggest that we should live in fear. However, identifying vulnerabilities in public spaces may give you the edge you need to prevail in a crisis. Large public reception areas, such as hotel lobbies or commercial reception areas can be just as inviting to potential attackers as they are to legitimate customers. Unattended entrances or an emergency exit that’s been propped open can provide an intruder access to hospitals or movie theaters. Event venues that don’t conduct bag checks or prohibit backpacks can easily become targets. As you identify these vulnerabilities in your surroundings, think about how you will respond if one of them were to threaten your personal safety.
What if I see an unattended backpack? What if the heated argument across the room becomes violent? What if I observe suspicious behavior in the lobby? What if an attack occurs?
If you see something, say something. Commit to yourself that you will report suspicious behavior. Making that decision now means a faster response and a conviction that you are doing the right thing when you notify a security guard, receptionist or police officer of something that seems out of the ordinary.
Understand the concept of Run, Hide, Fight. This course is offered in several formats by many employers and is available online through various agencies. While there may be differences among them, the essence of most is the same: move yourself to safety and if you can’t get to safety make an informed decision to hide or fight for your life and the people around you.
Expecting the unexpected is a mindset of preparation. Having a plan for ourselves and our families is a proactive step towards survival. None of us know where and when a crisis situation will occur, but we can prepare ourselves to respond. Perhaps more important than responding, we can seek to identify threats early and avoid them altogether.