Stay Alert, Stay Alive! As a young Marine officer, this mantra was drilled into my mind by experienced Gunnery Sergeants from day one. While most of us understand the dangers of combat, the day to day operations of the military are full of potential threats. Rumbling tank treads, spinning helicopter rotors and moving cargo containers are just a few of the daily hazards encountered by our armed forces. Simple things like igniting a field heater or just pounding a tent stake into the ground come with risks. The experienced sergeants understand that day to day tasks are full of inherent risks. This same mindset applies as we serve at church or go about our daily routines at home, school and work.
Put Down Your Phone
This isn’t to shame anybody’s screen time or go on about the virtues of a phone-free dinner conversation. It’s simply a fact that when you are focused on your phone, you aren’t alert to your surroundings. So many of us go through the day with our heads buried in a smart phone that we rarely look up to even notice the people around us. Before you start firing off emails while walking down the street or posing for a selfie in front of that cool mural, take a moment to scan the space around you. Even better, if you are touring a new town with a friend, ask them to keep an eye out while you search for directions or make that online dinner reservation.
Look at People
Many of us were taught to greet people by looking them in the eye and extending a firm handshake. The same concept holds true in staying alert to your surroundings. While handshakes are off limits in this pandemic era, we can still make eye contact with people and acknowledge that you see them. Police agencies have long advocated “great customer service” as a deterrent to bank robbers who don’t wish to be seen or remembered. The same holds true for many would-be criminals that wish to anonymously target you for a robbery or worse.
Know the Routines – and Notice the Changes
Whether it’s our neighborhoods, churches, schools or workplaces, take a moment each day to take note of the routines around us. Services deliveries and trash removal usually occur at a similar time and consistent entrances / exits. Your colleagues or classmates will typically park their vehicles and arrive or depart at similar times each day. Observing the everyday routines around you will make you more alert to any changes as they occur.
Take Note of Clothing and Accessories
The coffee shops and stores that we frequent will typically have customers that dress consistent with the location and type of business nearby– be it a warehouse district, downtown financial center or even just a touristy part of town. Bookbags and briefcases can be very common near school campuses or corporate work spaces, but large backpacks might be out of place. Sunglasses on bright day can be very common on a busy street, but less common inside an enclosed shopping mall or the sanctuary of your church. Be alert to things that don’t seem to quite fit in to the environment.
Being Alert Makes the Difference
Being alert to your surroundings is the cornerstone of personal safety. Whenever a threatening situation develops, being alert will enhance your ability to quickly assess the threat and react to it and can make the difference between being a victim and returning home safely. Whether stepping into a church, office or even just a local shopping center, our awareness of the people and structures around us can make the difference in a violent situation.