Search Results : situational awareness

Aug 112011

A clip from the video linked below showing a mugger at work. He surprises an unaware woman and steals her phone.

We regularly come back to the need for situational awareness.  You want to live most of your life in ‘Condition Yellow’ and try not to be caught out in ‘Condition White’.

Which brings us to the video you can see in this article, showing a woman walking down a surprisingly empty street in San Francisco, talking on her phone.  As she walks into the camera’s field of view, we then see that she is oblivious about being stalked by a ne’er-do-well behind her – we can only guess as to how long he has been back there, checking out the area and getting a feeling for how vulnerable she is.

Even though there are only the two of them on an otherwise empty street, she is completely unaware of his presence and so gets a nasty surprise when he suddenly leaps at her and wrestles her phone away, then runs off with it.

Fortunately, all the woman lost was her cell phone, and she even ended up getting that back, thanks to the volunteered help of the taxi driver who was filming the incident from his dash cam.  But it could have been worse, and – most of all – it could have been prevented, if she’d turned around and briefly looked directly at the bad guy, then put her cell phone away, crossed the road, and continued where she was going.

Learn from this incident, and make sure it isn’t you being featured next time.  You want to live most of your life in ‘Condition Yellow’ and try never to be caught out in ‘Condition White’.

Mar 262011

Here’s an interesting story of how a woman fell victim to a rape.

Surprisingly, I’m not citing this to you as an example of something that could have been prevented if the woman was armed; indeed it is unlikely that she could have done anything to save herself if she was armed.  Being as how this was in Britain, there’s no way she could be armed anyway.  But this was, nonetheless, a 100% avoidable rape.

The woman’s own account of how she got trapped by the rapist reveals a classic example of someone who failed to maintain even the slightest amount of situational awareness.  Furthermore, the story also shows how even safe seeming places, and one’s familiar routine, can suddenly transition to the gravest of experiences and the nastiest of outcomes.

In particular, this is what she said

“I don’t remember seeing him on the train. But he had spotted me as a lone female. I was distracted by my mobile phone, I was carrying heavy bags and because the lift was not working at the car park I would soon fall behind the other commuters who got off the same train.

“I was a middle aged woman getting off a train in a statistically safe, pleasant town.

“The offender was behind me on the stairs in the multi-storey car park. I spoke to him on the way up, saying he should have sprinted past me. But he did not pass. I got off at the wrong landing.

“I still didn’t get it. Only when he walked towards me up the exit ramp from another floor of the car park, holding a knife, did I realise I had got it terribly wrong.

Ask yourself the same question – could this happen to me, too?

And in such a situationally unaware situation, even if you were carrying a weapon, there’s no way you could have got to it in time to protect yourself.

The lesson of this story is as simple as it is tragic.  You need to always be aware of your surroundings and the people around you.  You don’t need to be paranoid, but you do need to be prudent.

Perhaps paradoxically, the need to be situationally aware is doubly pressing if you are armed for self defense, because in such a case, you need one, two, maybe even three seconds to be able to draw your weapon (depending on how you carry/conceal it).  If the bad guy gets to you before you have a chance to draw your weapon, you’ll quickly discover than a still holstered firearm is no use at all, and may well end up being taken by the bad guy and used against you.

So for both your own safety, and to prevent firearms falling into the hands of bad guys; if you’re willing to carry, you must accept the responsibility to be aware of your surroundings, and to be appropriately anticipating, rather than inappropriately reacting, to situations as they unfold.

Back to the specific example of the woman referred to here.  She had so many chances to change her behavior, starting from noticing the guy on the train before it stopped, continuing on to allowing herself not to be part of the group of commuters all leaving the train and going to the car park at the same time, extending on to being friendly and exchanging words with her soon to be assailant and not noticing his unusual response, and concluding with getting onto the wrong level in the car park.

The good news is that these are all very simple behaviors to modify, but only if you’re aware of your situation and yourself.

If you Google the phrase ‘color code of situational awareness’ you’ll find a lot of excellent articles about how to have a sliding scale of alertness in your life all the time, easing up and down the scale depending on what is going on around you.  This is one of the better articles – it is lengthy and not very approachable, but force yourself to read it.  My only beef is that it has only four colors – white/yellow/orange/red.  It leaves out the most important level and the biggest decision you have to make – the ultimate condition ‘black’ where you must use possibly deadly force to defend yourself and/or your loved ones.

Then think about the lady who was raped.  She was in condition white, all the time, wasn’t she.  She should have been in condition yellow on the train and once she got off and then the strange behavior of the guy on the car park stairs should have pushed her up to condition orange.

A little situational awareness would have made all the difference, and would have saved her.  It can save you too.

May 012012

It seems like a safe suburban paradise. Beware the threats posed by your own home.

We’ve written before about the deceptive perception of safety we all experience in our own homes.  We’ve also specifically covered the dangers of opening your door to strangers.

But there’s one other dimension of danger to be aware of.  This is perhaps counter-intuitive – the danger of entering your own home, yourself, when returning from any absence (whether as short as going over to the mailbox or as long as a several week journey out of town).

Have you ever thought about the possibility of walking in on burglars while they’re in the middle of burgling your residence?  This does happen, and more often than you might think.  Here’s an example of how a bunch of girls came home to find three bad guys already in the house.

Maybe you’ve learned about situational awareness and the color code of mental awareness – good for you.  And perhaps you do a reasonably good job of being in condition yellow while out of your home.  But, for too many of us, what happens as soon as we put the key in the lock and walk inside our home?  We switch off, and drop down to the sleep-walking unaware state that is condition white.

This might be a big mistake.  Stay in conditional yellow for just one more minute, please.  Just a few simple procedures will help ensure that there aren’t any uninvited guests waiting for you as you walk in your front door.

Before You Enter

First, as you approach your home, keep an eye out for unusual vehicles nearby (this of course works better if you live in a free-standing house rather than in an apartment/condo building).

If you see out of place vehicles, notch up your awareness level one notch.  There’s no need to do anything more at this point, but go from condition yellow to condition orange.

Second, as you get close to your home, look at the doors and windows.  Do they all look normal, or are there signs of forced entry or anything else out of place.

If you see signs of forced entry, don’t go inside.  Retreat to a safe position where you can keep an eye on the house and anyone who might be exiting it, and call the police.

Upon Entering With Other People Home

If you are expecting someone to be home, call out as you enter the dwelling to announce your arrival.  It doesn’t matter what you say – ‘Honey, I’m home’ or ‘It’s me’ or whatever.  The key thing is that you have a pre-arranged safe-word or phrase which people in the house will then call out back to you.

If they are fine, they’ll respond with the exact all-clear word/phrase – maybe it might be ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘I’m in here’ or whatever.  But if there are problems, they’ll say anything else at all, or add to the all-clear word/phrase if by some coincidence their captors required them to say exactly that.

If you get no response at all, try calling out more loudly.  If still no response, or if you get a response that isn’t the all-clear code phrase, immediately leave the house and retreat to a safe position.  It isn’t your job to engage in any type of ‘hostage rescue’ scenario (they are very difficult at the best of times) and most of all, you don’t want to find yourself in the classic movie situation where the bad guy confronts you with a gun at your loved one’s head and demands you surrender and become an additional hostage/captive.

In the case of no response, try calling whoever it is you expect to be at home on their cell phone, or if they don’t have one, at least call the home’s main landline.  If there’s no response, then you have to make a value judgment as to the significance of this.  If the missing person is your wife, and you know she often goes over to visit the neighbor, and is always forgetting her cell phone, then that’s probably a low risk event, and you could check in with your neighbor.  But if you have credible concern and expected the person to be home, and you know they’re almost always with their cell phone, you need to consider escalating matters.  If there is an unusual vehicle on the street, this should add to your level of concern.

Maybe you simply wait five minutes and try calling again.  But at some point, you’re going to have to resolve the mystery either by talking to the missing person or by calling the police.

If you got a non-safeword response, clearly you’ll be dialling 911 just as fast as you can, and waiting in a safe location for the police to show up.

Upon Entering With No-one Else Home

There’s a simple procedure you can adopt when entering your house in cases where you expect it to be empty.  We’re not suggesting you ‘clear’ your house in a full-on drill every time (indeed, we suggest you should avoid ever doing this other than as part of a multi-person trained team).

Once you get inside your house, quickly move a short safe distance away from the door, but not too far.  Being right in the doorway is a tactical mistake – any bad guys in the house may have seen you approaching and may be ready to ambush you at that point.

Then simply stop, stand still and do nothing except use all your senses to see if you can detect anything out of the ordinary.

Listen for any strange sounds.  Smell for any strange smells.  Look for anything unusually out of place.

It is amazing the type of clues – even unconciously sensed ones – which you might pick up.  You might hear an unusually loud sound from outside, suggesting there is a door or window open somewhere else in the house.  You might notice something out of place.  You might sense the slightest whiff of an odor that you’re not familiar with.  The house might be unusually hot or cold.  A light might be on that you didn’t expect to see on.

You might pick up on one of these clues without even consciously realizing it – you might simply sense that something is wrong.  Hopefully you’ll instead feel comfortable and can then proceed on inside and become successively more and more relaxed with each passing minute.

But what say something does feel wrong to you – something you can’t quite put your finger on?  Of course, if there is something specific out of order or out of place, you should immediately evacuate the premises and retreat to a safe place where you can call the police.

But if you just have a vague sense of unease, you can’t really expect the police to respond to that.  We have a simple suggestion.  Continue to stand perfectly still (this is assuming you’re in a position where no-one can creep up from behind you, and where you might have a bit of cover/concealment, and hopefully you’ll have a gun in your hand by now.

If someone is in your house, they’ll either have heard your arrival or not.  If they didn’t hear you, then before too long, you’ll certainly hear them moving about.  If they did hear you come in and are themselves hiding in ambush for you, then – assuming they can’t see you where you are – in a very short while, they’ll start to get curious and anxious as to what you are doing.  And although you can stand there for as long as you like, they can’t do the same thing.  They’re in a vulnerable location, and now that you are doing something unexpected and unknown, their tension level will rise to the point where they’ll almost certainly end up doing something that gives their presence away.

If after this period of still silence, nothing eventuates, you’re probably okay.  But if you’re still a bit anxious, leave the house, locking the door behind you, and carefully check the exterior, all around, for signs of forced entry, and also of course, looking in windows as you walk around.

The Sound of Silence

One point which may or may not be obvious from the preceding.

You should not leave the house with any noise sources operating.  Or, alternatively, if you want to perhaps leave the television on so as to convey the impression of the house being occupied, turn it off prior to entering the house, with some sort of a remote control.  Some televisions can be controlled through a Wi-fi app on a modern Android or iOS phone, others can simply be controlled by using a simple X-10 remote control system to turn them off.

When you go into a totally silent house, you can hear any significant noises that might be stealthily made by intruders.  Any noise at all will mask their sounds, giving them the advantage.


Anytime you leave your home, you have no way of knowing what might happen during your absence, and you have no way of knowing what to expect when you walk back in again.

There’s no need to be paranoid, but it does make prudent sense to follow some simple precautions whenever you return back home.

Mar 312012

What would you do if a home invader suddenly smashed into your home? Where's your gun?

We’ve written before about the danger of opening your front door to strangers (see here and here), the dangers of selling things, and on other topics to do with protecting yourself at home.

It is a vital topic, for two reasons.  First, for most of us, it is the place we spend more time at than anywhere else.  We probably spend half our lives; maybe even more, at home.  That is one of the main reasons why ‘more accidents occur at home’ than anywhere else, and it is also one of the main reasons why you are most at risk at home – simply because you are there more than you are anywhere else.

The second reason is that our home is usually also the place we feel most relaxed in.  It is our refuge, our ‘castle’, the place where we feel we are in control of our environment, and it is the place where we can relax and – oooops – let our guard down.

Think about this.  We’re driving somewhere in our car, and while stopped at a light, someone steps off the sidewalk and walks over to our car.  We respond with caution and concern, instantly recognizing the event as a possible threat.  But if we’re at home and the front doorbell rings, we respond instead with a frisson of excitement – ‘Oh, I wonder which of my friends is visiting’ or perhaps ‘I wonder what the UPS guy is delivering for me’.  About as bad as it gets is ‘Aaagh – damn door to door salesmen calling when I’m in the middle of dinner yet again’.  Note the total lack of caution in all these responses.

Okay, so you’ve read our articles on the danger of opening your front door to strangers.  Good.  You’ve closed that point of vulnerability.  But that’s not all.  Oh yes – maybe you also have a gun by the bed, too, so you’re sort of prepared if someone breaks in late at night while you’re asleep.

But what happens if you’re seated at the dining table having dinner when suddenly CRASH!  Someone kicks in the front door and bursts into your house.  Now tell me how useful the gun in your bedroom is, while you’re at the dining table, and potentially the bad guys are standing between you and your bedroom.

Similar scenario for if you’re outside mowing the lawn.  Or in the laundry.  Or maybe relaxing on your deck on a warm sunny summer afternoon.  The gun in your bedroom is only good while you’re within arm’s reach of it, also in your bedroom.

Not all bad guys are going to politely knock and wait for you to open the door for them.  Some are less patient.

Now for the curious contradiction.  The chances are, based on the fact that you’re reading this article, that you probably will carry a concealed pistol sometimes when outside your house.  But – what do you do when you get home?  You take the gun off, put it somewhere, and go from ‘Condition Yellow’ to ‘Condition White’ (read our articles on Situational Awareness for more on these terms).

Big mistake.  We all know that concealed carry is a bit of a hassle, requiring us to accept compromises in terms of comfort, convenience, concealability, and caliber/power.  We accept such compromises in return for the massive boost in safety and security we get in turn.  Now, when we’re at home, we don’t need to worry about concealability.  We can wear a nice comfortable on-the-belt range style holster, and wear a dual magazine holder on our other side, too, and carry as big a gun as we wish to.

It should be easier for us to have a gun on our hip at home than anywhere else.

There’s another thing to consider as well, and it comes back to the condition yellow/white thing.  Not only are we (and probably unavoidably so) in more of a condition white situation at home, but a threat can suddenly appear without warning, no matter what condition we’re in.  If the first sign of a pending home invasion is someone chucking a trash can through our sliding doors and rushing in through the shattered glass immediately behind it, we’ve only got a couple of seconds to respond before the bad guys have taken over the house and are controlling us.

If you don’t have your gun on your person when something like this happens, you’re probably not going to have a chance to go and get it.  Even if you have multiple guns hidden around the house, you’ve only got a some chance of safely getting to one such location and extracting the gun from its hiding place before the bad guys are (quite literally) on top of you.  Your best preparedness, at home, is to do the same thing you do away from home.  Have a gun on your person.

Some people might think ‘Oh, this would never happen to me.  I live in a good neighborhood.’  But, from a criminal’s point of view, ‘good’ neighborhoods are the best places for them to visit.  The chances are there are more valuables inside homes in a good neighborhood, and – sad to say – the chances are also that ‘good’ people are going to be more trusting and less likely to be suspicious and ready to defend against a sudden surprise attack.

Do you commute to work?  Guess what.  So too do the criminals.  It is actually considered impolite for criminals to attack each other; and they’re more fearful of recriminations if they should do so.  But they all know that if they do a reverse commute out into the better ‘burbs, they’re going to find street after street lined with tempting tasty targets.

It seems that the prevalence of violent ‘home invasion’ type burglaries might be slightly increasing.  Home invasions – when the criminals don’t care if there are people home or not (or, worse still, if they expect and are pleased to find people at home) are extremely dangerous for the home occupants, because the criminals have the privacy of the house they’ve taken over, and the luxury of uninterrupted time, during which they can do anything at all to the house, its contents, and its occupants.

Here’s an example of how home invaders suddenly swoop down on a house.  Note, in this story, that the police, while promptly called by a girl already in the house, didn’t arrive until much later.  We mean no disrespect to the police at all when we repeat the mantra that you must understand, accept, and build into your planning :  When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

Are you ready to respond, right now, if your home is invaded?

Nov 082011

Very bad things can happen, even in very nice places

A sleepy quiet little town of 220 people in rural Washington state with the unusual name of Humptulips, described by writer Terry Pratchett as his favorite place on earth (although it is far from clear if he has ever visited).  A law-abiding couple in their 80s, well known locally for how fastidiously they cared for their house and garden, who have been living there peacefully for many decades.

Evil seems a long way away from such an idyllic scene.

Maybe you are fortunate enough to live in a similar environment – your own house and land, a nice quiet crime-free town where the most exciting action is the neighbor’s cat getting stuck up a tree.  Or, if not you, maybe your parents, or your brother/sister – anyone you know – lives that type of lifestyle.

If so, you probably feel there’s little need for any degree of alertness or preparedness.  And if you see a stranger coming towards you, you approach him as a friend and ask how you can help.

Besides which, you have a local police force who everyone knows has almost nothing to do apart from operate a couple of speed traps and occasionally give warnings to local teenagers for under age drinking.  If anything ever did go down, they’d be on top of it faster than you could dial 911.

If you find yourself nodding in agreement, prepare for a surprise.  Read this horrific story of the elderly couple described above, and read what happened when a deranged 31 year old man unexpectedly entered their lives.  The husband was killed by this madman, and the wife hacked up with an axe (at the time of writing it is uncertain if she will survive or not).

Read one more thing too – even after the killer told a friend what he had done, even after he told the police the same thing, it took the police 18 hours to get to the house and discover the critically wounded 83 yr old lady lying and dying on the floor.

Lessons to be Learned

Most of us consider our home to be our ultimate ‘safe’ place – but not so much from a security point of view, instead from a state of mind point of view.  And so we let our guard down, and our level of mental alertness slips to the lowest ‘white’ level, which (perhaps paradoxically) makes our home a risky place to be.

Additionally, our instinctive reaction to be friendly and helpful when a stranger approaches blinds us to the unknown risk factors and the potential threat that any stranger poses.

The report doesn’t go into the specifics of how the madman shot the 88 yr old gentleman with a crossbow, but it does indicate that there was at least some period of time when each was visible to the other, and a crossbow is a hard sort of weapon to conceal and also a hard one to instantly deploy.  If the victim had been more alert, if he had more of a defensive mindset, and if he was armed, even while ‘safely’ pottering around in his own beautiful flower garden, it could have been the madman who died, not him, and his wife would still be in perfect health, too.

Instead – and excuse us for being brutally blunt – this man’s complacency not only cost him his own life, but also may lead to the death of his wife, too; while the state and legal system now has a lengthy, complicated, and expensive case to prosecute and a criminal to hopefully incarcerate for many decades to come.

It is probably too much to expect a couple living in a ‘safe’ township to lock their doors and secure their windows, even in the middle of the day while one is in the garden and the other in the kitchen, but it is an unavoidable thought that if the house had been secure, the woman would have been saved.

Lastly, you have probably heard the expression ‘when seconds count, the police are only minutes away‘.  In this case, it should read ‘when seconds count, the police are only 18 hours away’.

It is impossible to understand how it took the police 18 hours to discover the wounded woman inside her house.  The offender had said he had killed two demons.  The husband was dead in the garden.  The wife was nowhere to be found.  Hello?

A Better Approach

If the elderly gentleman had responded cautiously to discovering a stranger walking up his driveway, he could have taken control of the situation.  An assertive authoritative demeanor might have discouraged the madman.

Alternatively, by ‘drawing a line in the sand’ – ie, by telling the stranger ‘STOP’ and, if he didn’t stop, presenting his weapon and saying ‘STOP or I shoot’, and if he still didn’t stop, shooting the attacker, he would have been in control of the situation – he would have been managing the OODA loop – and he would have merely been protecting himself and his wife and their lives.

The reason we present these types of real life examples (there are others in our archives) to you is because they vividly indicate how sudden, deceptive and deadly danger can be, especially in places where we mistakenly perceive ourselves to be relatively safe.  The things unaware people take for granted can get them brutally killed and injured.

Don’t be a victim.  Don’t be unaware.  Embrace the concept of situational awareness and the multi-level series of awareness levels, and never be surprised when things go bad.


Apr 142011

Jim and Charlene Sanders, a couple in their mid 40s, advertised a diamond ring for sale.  Nothing too unique about that. Among other people who called to express interest in the ring were Kiyoshi Higashi and Amanda Knight, who arranged to visit and view the ring.  Still a perfectly normal event.

But, upon being admitted to the Sanders’ home, Higashi pulled out a gun, let two more cohorts into the house, tied up the Sanders and also their two sons and proceeded to ransack the house, while beating Mr & Mrs Sanders and threatening to kill them.

Jim Sanders managed to break free, only to be shot dead when struggling with the four attackers.  The attackers then fled, sparing Mrs Sanders and their two sons.  Here is one report of the incident.

Now ask yourself – how often have you advertised something for sale?  Maybe not jewelry – maybe a car, a boat, sports equipment, even a gun.  How often have you had people come to look at whatever you were selling?  And – most of all – how prepared have you been to defend yourself if the potential buyers turn out to be bad guys?

Even if you are just having a garage sale, some people might use the garage sale as a chance to case your property and your preparedness.  And some people might visit you normally one day while pretending an interest in something you are selling, then return the next day to burgle your property.

There’s a moral in this story.  Be wary any time you allow any strangers into your home.  Don’t be paranoid, but there is just as much reason to be concealed carrying while relaxing at home as there is when out in public.  Sometimes the most threatening types of danger occur in the safest seeming situations (which is of course what makes them such major threats).

Additionally, home invasions have the benefit – to the bad guy – of being out of public view.  This empowers and enables them to do nastier things, over a longer time period, than they could in public.  Your house, rather than being your castle, could potentially become your deathtrap.

Most of all, remember the color code of situational awareness.  It applies just as much when your front door bell rings as it does when in a strange part of town.

Don’t let Jim Sanders’ death be for nothing.  Learn from it, so you don’t repeat his mistakes and suffer the same consequences.