Personal safety tips

Forget James Bond: Here’s How to Protect Yourself Out in the Real World

This is a guest post by Mark E. Hurling, a devoted father and husband with over four decades in law enforcement and security.

Knowing how to protect your family and avoid becoming a victim of violent crime is something we all think about.

Fortunately for us, Mark has condensed 43 years of experience into these practical and effective personal safety tips.

This may just be one of the most important articles you ever read, so be sure to share it with the people you care about.

– Tim

So, how to best protect yourself? Buy a gun? Get a black belt in some devastating martial art?

Become so big, buff, and strong that people will flee from you on sight?

Maybe not.

How about you take the time to pay attention to what’s going on around you, have some even rudimentary plan if things go wrong and, best of all, not be where things could go wrong in a way that can get you hurt?

In other words, manage your risk.

Some recommendations.

How to Look at Surroundings

Wake up! But instead of concentrating your field of view to a laser-sharp focus, let the focus of your eyes soften up slightly.

Try to perceive what is at the edges of your peripheral vision.

Breathe deeply a few times; relax the neck and shoulders, then the muscles of your face, and finally the small muscles around the mouth and eyes.

Keep breathing regularly while you are doing this and you will get there more easily.

Staring is a bad idea. As the opposite of soft eyes, your focus becomes too narrow.

Out walking, particularly in an urban setting, you are going to be in an environment with the corners of buildings.

You can be surprised at a corner if a predator is well positioned and waiting for some prey.

Suspicious man hiding behind corner

You can avoid being surprised by looking down at a 45° angle in front of you.

Our peripheral vision widens at this angle and you can see someone coming up to your side better.

Also, move at least one or two steps out from the corner.

You have more time to see someone, and they have to move a greater distance toward you.

In a more innocuous context, it saves you from inadvertent collisions with people who are not paying attention to where they are going.

How to Look for Weapons Threats

Some statistics show that 70% of men in the US carry a knife.

It’s hard to say if they became more common in the last 15 years or so when pocket clips on knives, and knives that can be opened with one hand became ubiquitous.

Just look sometime; you’ll be amazed how many you can see clipped to someone’s pocket in easy reach.

Most of the population is right-hand dominant, to the tune of 90%, so just look at the right pocket.

Violent criminal carrying knife

Just to be safe though, also look for a wrist watch – usually people put their wrist watch on their non-dominant hand.

The same is true for guns.

  • 80% of armed suspects carry their weapons in the right-front pocket or in the waist band in the immediate vicinity over that pocket.

  • If someone is dressed out of step with the weather, like a jacket on a warm day, they may have a weapon under it, especially if the jacket or an untucked shirt is open close to the waistline.

  • Look for clothing that doesn’t hang naturally, that either sags at the hem or has bulges from something big in the pocket.

  • Look for patting or touching with the hand or an elbow in the area around the waist where weapons are most typically concealed.

Alertness

Victims are seldom selected in a vacuum.

Predators look for the lone individual who appears vulnerable.

Factors that can trigger selection by a predator include looking down or unhappy, and walking along with their head down.

So stay in a group or with a friend.

If alone, look around, keep your head up, and look confident in your bearing.

Criminals look for easy prey

You have just raised the risk level for the predator.

They will look for easier prey.

Make Noise, Draw Attention

If an attack occurs, make some noise to draw attention to yourself immediately.

At lower levels of escalation, yelling or screaming is not necessary, but informing them to stop in a clear, audible voice may stop their attempt and may draw attention or assistance.

At higher levels of attack, make as much noise as possible as the attacker draws into effective proximity, and you retreat.

Run and yell to draw attention and assistance.

An attacker wants privacy and for you to have no assistance when they carry out their attack.

What to Say

When someone you don’t know tries to engage you in a conversation you do not want, you don’t have to stand there and listen to them.

If you have any doubts about the person approaching you, walk away from them.

Protect yourself by walking away

Attack Signals

  • A fixed stare, looking you up and down

  • Following or flanking your movement, trying to block your freedom of movement

  • Verbal attacks using foul, provocative, or offensive language

  • Moving in on you, especially quickly

  • Rapid gestures with the hands, closing them into fists, leaning forward, pulling the shoulders back and pushing the chest out

  • Stepping back or sideways coupled with hand movement toward his waistline or pocket (reaching for a weapon)

  • Bared teeth, clenched neck muscles, very wide eyes, tremors in upper body

  • Shouting to distract you as he moves in

Keep Moving

If you sense a hostile environment developing around you, get moving and keep moving until you are out harm’s way.

Take just long enough to assess what and where the hazard is coming from and go somewhere else.

This is not limited to when you are on foot, when you are in a car, or any other form of transport.

Get out of there and don’t stop.

Don’t Acquiesce – React, Effect a Release, Run, and Yell

When an attacker comes at you, don’t go blank or freeze.

React to the threat and run away if you can.

If you are grabbed, effect a release and escape.

If you can’t effect an immediate release and you believe the attacker is trying to immobilize you and move you to another location, fight as hard as you can and kill them if you must.

Never give up under such a threat, because if you are taken to a secondary crime scene, you will be tortured and killed.

This may take hours or days, but anyone who accepts such removal without an escape seldom survives.

I talked to my daughter about acting immediately and committing to it when she was in grade school.

We were driving up our street when I saw a squirrel hesitantly dart out from the curb and stop.

He engaged in the kind of behavior we’ve all seen before from squirrels – he looked at us in the oncoming car, started back for the curb, then stopped again and headed back across the street.

I just missed him.

My daughter was getting increasingly concerned as we got closer to the squirrel and heaved a huge sigh of relief as he managed to make the other side of the street.

You know why we see so many dead squirrels in the road? Squirrels have trouble committing to an action. Make a decision, stick with it and go at it full force. Otherwise you could end up flat in the middle of the street.

Criminals have a plan so should we

Flanking

If you are confronted suddenly by someone who may be a threat, be alert for a second attacker coming up on one of your sides or from behind.

Remember how the ‘raptors hunted in Jurassic Park?

One caught your attention from the front while the other(s) did you in from another direction.

This method of attack is common among all types of predators in the wild as well as the human predator.

Seating and Positioning for Observation

When you go somewhere to eat or get a cup of coffee, try to find a chair or table facing all the doors.

Best of all is one by the emergency exit.

If you see one or more police officers come into such a place, sit back and watch the fun as they try to play musical chairs for the best place to sit.

Sit in a safe place

I learned this lesson the hard way early in my law-enforcement career.

It was a Saturday night at 3:30 a.m.

It had been a busy night with a full moon and I’d had to break up 5 – 6 fights at the bars and I really needed that cup of coffee to try to unwind just a little.

I sat with my back to the door, and an acquaintance of mine came in quietly and stuck a finger in my back from behind saying “Think fast!”

I was pretty wired from multiple adrenaline rushes that night, and I did just that.

I drew my Smith & Wesson Model 28 and was almost picking his nose with the front sight as I turned toward him.

There were lots of “Oh, jeez man!” and apologies all around.

I have never sat with my back to the door since.

That happened in 1973.

Multitasking

What are some examples of multitasking? The infamous use of a cell phone while driving is a good one.

Being zoned out listening to your favorite song or, worse still, an audio book while walking down the street will take you out of the reality of what is going on around you.

Texting while you are juggling your coffee on a parking meter is another example.

Criminals target people who aren't alert

Living in the moment is more than just about enjoying the good times; it is also about taking responsibility for your safety when you are exposed to others who may not have your best interests in mind.

Technology and our own busy minds afford us too many opportunities to lose contact with our external environment.

If you believe you cannot function without multitasking, go find a safe place to do it.

Do it at your desk at work or, best of all, confine it to the kitchen table at home.

A library is good, as are many coffee shops.

Find a corner where no one can come up behind you, and put your stuff where you can keep an eye on it.

Then run through your tasks, looking up and around you at fairly frequent intervals.

Do not become transfixed by any one or by multiple activities to the point you become oblivious.

Even professionals have succumbed to this.

Four police officers in the state of Washington were killed in 2009 while they were talking and working on their laptops in a coffee shop on a Sunday morning.

Their killer walked up and shot four trained, armed police officers and escaped.

This killer was eventually killed himself, but those four were still dead.

Avoidance of Areas Where Crime Might Occur

So, now you know how to act and look, how do you avoid crime in the first place?

There is a high correlation between consumption of alcohol and violence of all types.

When you are out and about, walk in the center of the sidewalk.

Besides alcohol outlets, keep an eye out for other businesses that might attract or contain someone you may not want to meet.

Some such that come to mind are tattoo and piercing emporia, pool halls, and motorcycle shops.

To those of you who may be offended by this advice because you own one or like the ambience of those places; next time you’re there, take a good objective look around and compare it to, say, a school zone.

Other risk-elevating scenarios are being in any establishment during a visit from an armored truck delivering or picking up cash.

Those vehicles are armored for a reason, and so are the guys picking up the cash, often with their weapon in their hand.

In urban areas, armed robberies of armored trucks are not that uncommon.

Try to stay away from crowds or places where crowds gather.

I have a strong personal bias against crowds.

I was a teenager during America’s second Civil War known as the 1960s. That particular war lasted even longer than the first one, 100 years earlier. It started, let’s just say, in 1964 and gradually died down in the mid 1970s when some of the Weathermen blew themselves up, got captured, or turned themselves in.

I went to a high school with a volatile mix of kids from all kinds of backgrounds, and had been through three riots by the time I graduated.

Plus multiple others later in college.

I don’t like crowds.

I have seen them do a lot of bad things to others.

Some of those things were intentional, some were not.

People get trampled by crowds when they become lemmings, and some people die as a result.

Nothing personal though, those feet trampling the fallen are entirely anonymous.

Try to plan ahead if you think you might need some cash.

Getting $40 on your lunch hour in daylight with lots of other people around is very different to looking for an ATM you can use after sundown.

Don't be a victim of crime at an ATM

ATMs are magnets for predators who surveille them unseen.

If you see anyone who looks like they don’t belong around the ATM, go to another one, or come back later.

Parking garages are a better environment (from a predator’s point of view) to initiate an attack.

You are isolated at any particular point in time on any particular floor of a garage or structure.

Lighting may be present although less than desirable, and there are all those cars and pillars to lurk behind.

Your ability to exit may be limited once you are on the upper floors or below ground.

You can be bottled up pretty effectively.

Night time adds to the isolation.

Attacks with Weapons

The response to this is simple – scream and run.

Make noise to draw attention and run to create distance.

Man running away from violent crime

Both of them are contrary to what the robber wants.

But if he has a gun, he’ll shoot me, you are thinking.

He might shoot at you and, then again, he may not.

Your chances are at least 50/50, and probably even better than that.

Just because he has a pistol does not mean he’ll fire it.

He wants to freeze you like a deer in the headlights.

Studies conducted by major police departments show that only 15% of shots fired by police hit the bad guy they are shooting at.

Even though 70% or more of such shootings take place at less than 10 feet.

Bad guys don’t practice and they are terrible shots.

The ratio of shots fired to those that actually hit someone gets even worse as the range increases beyond 10 feet.

So, run!

If you get hit with a blast of shotgun pellets, you are going to be seriously hurt and the chances are good you will be seriously dead.

On the other hand, your chances of being hit, while better than those of being hit with a single bullet from a pistol, are still not as bad as you might think.

Contrary to what many believe, the pellets from a shotgun do not fan out in a wide curtain immediately after leaving the barrel.

If someone pulls a gun run away

They expand in a circle about 1 inch for every yard they travel, so that even at 25 yards away, which is pretty far, the pellets are spread across a 25-inch wide circle.

Even if the barrel is sawed off, this doesn’t change.

So, once again, run.

If you run 6 miles per hour, which translates to a mile every 10 minutes, you can put 6 yards between you and your attacker in 2 seconds.

Your chances of being hit if he shoots at you fall to less than 10%.

By the way, running 6 miles an hour isn’t all that fast.

Implications for Fitness

Over 90% of attacks are over and done in 30 seconds or less.

So you do not have to train as though you were trying to last 3 – 5 minute rounds in a ring or on the mat.

You should be able to jog at least 100 yards or for 30 to 60 seconds.

This is usually enough to get you out of danger in most instances.

I think everyone should strength train.

When all risk management fails, and you can’t escape, the biggest equalizer is being strong enough to effectively resist, pull away from, or overcome your attacker.

It doesn’t have to be a lengthy or elaborate program.

Squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and the overhead press will work just fine.

So, there it is.

How to avoid trouble and stay out of the clutches of those who wish you ill.

– Mark

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Biography:

Mark E. Hurling is 65-years old and recently retired from a 43-year career in law enforcement and security.

He has been married for nearly that long and has a daughter.

He has practiced and competed in martial arts beginning at age 15, including Shorei Goju, Judo, Shotokan, Isshin Ryu, Taekwondo, and Mushin Ryu Jujitsu (in which he holds a black belt).

He competes in masters raw powerlifting where he has currently won 5 gold medals, that have included holding the California state record for his age and weight class, and winning the IPL Worlds in 2013.

His hobby is reading and learning about history.

As he says, “those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Images: Bigstock

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