Open your eyes
Escape is one of those skills we usually don’t think about until it’s too late. Most of us walk into buildings assuming you’ll leave the way you came in. It’s easy to become complacent with day to day routines because emergencies rarely happen. Keep in mind, familiarity breeds contempt and being hard to kill is a process of conditioning not only your body for stress, but your mind as well. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a call to live the rest of your life in paranoia, constantly looking over your shoulder. This is about opening your eyes, taking note of what’s going on around you and being actively engaged in the environment. The motivating factor here is that you don’t want to get backed into a corner with no idea where to go if an emergency arises.
I’m going to take this opportunity to jump on my soap box for a minute and address one of the major obstacles to situational awareness in today’s society: cell phones. These can be a fantastic tool for maintaining good comms with family members, summoning emergency responders, tracking extreme weather patterns in your area, following breaking news and a host of other needs. The double edge of this sword is that people have their heads buried in them and often ignore their immediate environment. I’m sure you’ve seen this acted out in public by oblivious parents and the chaos of kids that accompany them or the people who literally walk around with their faces in their phones. You’ve got to be switched on in order to process your environment! My recommendation would be to prioritize your needs and find a balance with your phone. Phone business can usually wait until more opportune times. It wasn’t that long ago that we lived (just fine) without these things. My last rant on the topic is that it seems that a huge driver for phone use is boredom. So what’s a more constructive use of your time?
The “what if” game
An interesting way to process your environment in different ways is to play the “what if” game. Limited only by your imagination, this sets you up with some possible responses to potential scenarios in your environment. For example, if I’m out to dinner with my family, I can ask myself- what if someone comes in the front door shooting? Where is the nearest cover? Which exits in the building are my best options? Can I effectively return fire from where I’m at, or do I need to relocate to a different part of the room? Where would the shooter likely take cover and where could I flank them? An extension of this game is a reconnaissance walk where most of your intel is gained on the facility’s layout.
Identify the exits
There are several ways to accomplish this, but one of the most natural is taking a trip to the bathroom. For example, when we go out to eat and I’m finished looking over the menu, I’ll make a bathroom run. Even if only to wash my hands while I’m in there, the trip allows me the chance to look the place over. I can identify alternate exits, maybe peek through the kitchen and find the exit back there. As a side note- never rule out the possibility of creating your own emergency exit by throwing a chair through a window if necessary. On the way back from the bathroom I can take an alternate route to my table and look over any other areas of the building for strengths or vulnerabilities (cover, funnels, dead-ends, etc.). While I’m on my walk, I’ll size up the crowd as well (more on this in a future post) and get an idea of potential threats or allies if an emergency occurs.
In the unfortunate event that you find yourself at a mall, the directory (at most major entrances) gives a quick overview of the facility layout so exits can be established. What the directory won’t tell you is that there are often plenty of corridors with some type of “employee only” marking that can be used in an emergency. These areas are typically used for janitorial staff, service or delivery personnel and mall employees. Some of these passageways are accessible from inside the rear of the shops.
If I go to the movies, I like to arrive early to get a good seat and make a bathroom run for reasons discussed previously. We like to sit in the very back of the theater and in some cases there’s an exit back there leading to the lobby that allows us to avoid the bottleneck after the movie is over. Once you’ve got the layout established, it’s time to consider your positioning.
When possible, I like to sit facing the primary entrance (ideally with my back to a wall) so I can see who’s coming and going. If we’re in a booth at a restaurant, I put my kids on the inside seat for two reasons. For the parenting aspect, I feel like they are more contained and I can control their access to the rest of the restaurant and secondly, I can get in the aisle quickly and deal with anything that pops up. If you’re going to a familiar restaurant, ask for a certain table that works for you and at new restaurants if you’re seated in a bad location, ask for a different table. This is easier to accomplish if you offset your dining times to avoid the larger crowds during common lunch and dinner hours. The absence of crowds is great for a number of other reasons like, less noise, less stress, quicker food and reduced traffic. Speaking of traffic, your awareness and positioning while driving go a long way toward protecting you and your family.
Your vehicle is an extension of your mobility and most of your exits are created by how you set yourself up while operating a vehicle. When you come to a stop behind a vehicle do you pull right up to them or do you leave yourself enough room to quickly pull around them if required? The “what if” game can expand to driving scenarios as well. What if the guy next to me swerves into my lane? Do I have an exit on the shoulder or do I need to brake and make room? When leaving your vehicle, give some thought to where and how you park your vehicle as well. At large events or in other congested areas, parking on the outskirts of the lot (or an adjoining lot) can provide you a quicker escape when the lot overflows as the event lets out. You may end up walking a little further to get to/from your car, but in bumper-to-bumper traffic the flexibility of being on foot is a staggering advantage. When parking, take note of where the street lights and any security cameras are and park nearby. Not only does this help deter thieves, but security will have an easier time identifying bad guys that may do you or your vehicle harm. Backing the car (rally parking) in your spot improves the efficiency of getting out quicker, not to mention saving you the headache and costs of backing in to someone in the changing environment behind you.
It’s pays to think outside the box, so while driving be cognizant of what is navigable terrain. In an emergency, everyday objects like curbs, yards, medians, cheap fences and the like are negotiable barriers and provide a host of other exit possibilities. Yes, there may be some damage to your car, but when compared to the nature of the emergency, it may be a viable cost to the benefit gained.
Check out the video for a full demo of scouting a resturant for exits and cover…
There is a clear tactical advantage gained when you have a fresh perspective on the environments around you and what effect you have on them. Situational awareness comes easy for some folks, but for others it takes some serious effort. Make it a habit….before you look down at your phone, look around and take stock of your surroundings. Move around and be inquisitive. Whether you’re driving, fighting, in a facility, or just on your phone- avoid getting boxed in. Exits are your ticket out alive, so keep your eyes open, your head on a swivel and you’ll be even harder to kill!