Where did I park? A situational awareness scenario

Yesterday about 1:15am I pulled into the parking lot of one of the few 24hr grocery stores. I noticed a couple of guys who seemed to be casing the lot. They didn’t have groceries. They didn’t seem like the car they were standing by was theirs. (no keys visible). I parked and went in the store. The security guard was not outside. He was chatting up one of the cashiers. I got what I went there for and left and I told the guard what I had observed. He said he was about to start his next rounds and would check it out. When I got outside they were still out there, near a different car. I went to my car and drove off.

If we were going to give them the benefit of the doubt, here’s how it should go:

  1. Are they lost? Trouble remembering where they parked? Okay, maybe, but this was not 2:00pm when there might be enough cars in the lot to cause confusion when someone has been in the store for a half hour. There were maybe 20 cars in the lot. So not very likely.
  2. No groceries. Well maybe their purchases consisted of a candy bar and so they didn’t need a bag.

There was too much wandering around, even the 45 seconds or so that I saw. There were no keys visible. The whole thing just looked a couple of degrees off dead center and that should set off red flags for everyone, not just me.

All law-abiding citizens have a moral obligation to watch for stuff like this. Our work goes to provide for our homes and their contents. Our work pays for the food we’re eating. Who has the right to that? You? Or some thug?

We have to harden ourselves and our property…locks, keys, being aware of our surroundings. Mayberry is fiction. The break-ins, the car-jackings, muggings and assaults are happening too often and as the economy slides further down the incline we’ll see more of that as the desperate join the hardened crooks.

If we’re judging people and if there are consequences we’ll just have to deal with that when the time comes. People try to beat up other people with the verse judge not lest ye be judged. Well with family and home constantly at risk we can no longer afford the luxury of giving implicit trust to total strangers. Judge because sometimes your life depends on it. There is no such thing as safe. Watch your back.

Zen and the Art of Knife Safety

Blades Actually I’m not a Zen person. It’s a ripoff of a book title from the 80s and I figured it was a bit more eye-catching that just “knife safety.” I threw together a few knives from the kitchen with some others for this photo. I wanted to talk a bit today about knife safety. It’s important right now while we’re all “safe and sound” and “it” hasn’t happened yet. Whenever “it” does happen, you’ll be glad people have been talking about topics like this. The longer you can go without injuries in a long-term emergency situation the better your chances.

Every injury I’ve ever had with a cutting tool happened because I didn’t have my mind on what I was doing and because I was unable to see the blade and where it was going. I follow certain rules for safety with cutting tools. I didn’t take a class. Most of what I’m covering here I learned growing up. I don’t recall my parents and grandparents getting any careless cuts. The rest are thoughts from things that have happened to me over the years and from watching the aftermath of things happening to others.

Practice conscious cutting.
Know what you’re doing and why, then do only what you’re doing. Take off the headphones. Stop talking. Kick people out of the room if you need to. When you’re using tools like these you want to apply some wisdom from aviation. Pilots use the phrase “sterile cockpit.” This comes up a lot in training. They are referring to working in an environment of zero distraction.

NEVER try to cut something when you cannot see the blade.
Even if you’re distracted, if you know where the blade is you run less of a chance of injury. Always try to cut above the material and away from your body. When I’ve tried to hold something in one hand and cut from behind it and towards myself I’ve ended up fumbling through a box of Band-Aids.

Always hand any tool, especially bladed tools, handle first to another person.
This is a basic tool safety rule which I’ve seen people ignore in an annoyingly cavalier manner.

Do I really need to elaborate? If you start out easily slicing through something you end up putting a lot more elbow-grease into the same task. If you stop to sharpen your blade the entire task can take less time and be less tiring. That’s just talking usefulness. What about reducing chances of injury? Since the blade is sharp you are applying less pressure. There is less chance of it slipping, getting stuck, etc.

Know your blade.
When I was a kid I got my first pocket knife when I joined the Cub Scouts. The handbook talked about not using the knife improperly. We were told, for example, not to use the blade as a screwdriver. Those beginner Scout knives did not have locking blades. This knife was we commonly call a folder and there were times, in little hands, when it did exactly that. Not every blade is made for every purpose. They’re not all ground as finely. The steel varies in hardness. The shapes differ. There are some that can cover most tasks. But you would never carry a hunting knife into an operating room nor would you start field-dressing an animal with a scalpel.The blade has its abilities and limitations. A blade that dulls quickly may not be suited for certain work, just like one that is more difficult to sharpen.

Know the thing you’re cutting.
There are types of wood that are so porous that the dullest blade will slice off pieces like it’s moving through air. Others are quite dense and the sharpest blade will barely make pencil shavings. Sometimes you may be using the wrong tool. You may need some type of saw. Check the thickness of the material. How easy is it to tear? How does it feel? Is it slick? Rough? Porous? You may only have one blade or a couple of different ones. Knowing what material you’re working with can at least give you some idea how the job is going to go.

If you carry a knife daily you should consider carrying a pocket sharpener. I’ve seen these go for as little as $3. This doesn’t need to be on your person. If you carry a brief case or pack it can go in there. I also carry a folding utility knife with me. I use this for the slop work, cutting paper, etc. I think of them as extending the time between sharpening sessions for my pocket knives. The blades are pretty cheap and I don’t go through them very often. Again the rules I’ve listed apply for all cutting tools.

Dealing with threats: Doing the unexpected

I’ve found, in my brief experiences with threats, that doing something the criminal isn’t expecting can end the threat. There have been two times when I was an intended victim. The first was in a mall. I sensed something was wrong, stopped walking, turned around an tried to look a mugger in the eye. He wouldn’t look at me and since we were right by a down escalator, he took it. The second, I drove out of a fast food drive through and some guys followed me several miles. All the time they were giving me this gangsta pissed off look and saying “What’s up, man?” I turned into a shopping center parking lot and got out of the car to deal with them. They drove off. I’ve heard of people throwing keys away when someone demanded them. I had a great aunt who stood her ground when a kid had come in her yard and hit her over the shoulder with a stick. The kid and his buddies bailed.

None of this is foolproof. Everything I’ve mentioned could have gone very badly. What’s common to them is that we all became instantly aware, something criminals would rather you didn’t do, and did something they weren’t thinking we would do. Robber, mugger-type crooks come to the setting with baggage. They’re cowards, they’re afraid, they usually aren’t looking for a prolonged encounter. They want to hit and git. They’re looking for a mark…someone unaware of his or her surroundings, someone they can quickly intimidate.

Fear is deeply connected our thinking. The longer we have or take to think about the threat, the greater the fear and the greater our chances of acting in fear…complying…giving them what they want.

Again I’ve presented examples of how I and others have been able to end a threat. Thugs are not all the same. Situations like these can become dangerous and/or deadly quickly. The best thing is to be aware of your surroundings and remove yourself from the place so that you can avoid the encounter entirely.

The Illusion of Safety II

Back during the ’08 campaign, there was a banner ad I saw that says “Would You Feel Safe With McCain as President.” Then it has a yes and a no button and something about enter to win $50 grand. While this may be linked to some opinion poll it is most likely a way to get your personal info into a database and then sell it around the net. But. They asked the question so let’s answer it here.

No. And neither should you.

The American people have got to stop masturbating. Listening to politicians and feeling safe is no different than feeling love while watching porn. Either way you’re still responsible for your own security and companionship. Katie Morgan and Jenna Jameson aren’t your girlfriends and John McCain and Barack Obama aren’t your bodyguards.

Someone on the radio said recently that it was sad that people don’t feel safe anymore because of all the changes that have happened since 2001. I disagree. People who feel safe eventually become complacent, opening themselves up to danger. But let’s leave personal 1 on 1 threats (our biggest danger) aside and focus on terrorism from outside the country. Am I confident that John McCain, Barack Obama or any other president will send in the troops the instant it becomes necessary, to defend the country against the terrorists? No. Am I confident that the alphabet agencies will identify and neutralize terrorists so they are unable to attack again? No. You lost whatever trust I had in you. I’m not going to forgive the incompetence and I am not going to trust you to protect the country now. My response to protestations of assurance is “whatever.”

As far as personal security is concerned, as I’ve written before, I’m going to watch my own back and not give the responsibility for my protection to anyone.

The illusion of safety

A person sitting on a pallet of gold in the Fort Knox vault is safe but the rent is more than most people can afford.

  • You’re either aware or you’re not aware.
  • You’re either prepared or you’re not prepared.
  • You’re either responsible or you’re not responsible.
  • You’re either trained or you’re not trained.

These are the things one must be doing every day, in every situation, to best ensure freedom from harm. “Safe” and “Secure” are overused and overly misunderstood. Safety, as it is pitched about in the media and the community conversations is an illusion. It’s an abstraction. It does not exist.

We want to be free to move about public venues playing with our personal electronics and not be physically threatened. We think that the existence of the police or other security guarantees that. And so people go about their yakking, head bopping, snapshooting, texting, getting cash from the ATM, eating lives not paying attention very far beyond their “personal space.” Then when someone grabs their toys and runs they stand around wondering what just happened. Or something worse befalls them which I won’t go into. These more serious events are well depicted on CSI and Law and Order.

Back in 2000 I was in one of the malls here. I left the store I had been shopping at and went to the ATM which was about 50 yards away in an open area back down the wing. I got my twenty bucks and receipt and stuck them in my shirt pocket and started back towards the store. I didn’t really pay attention to who was around. I wasn’t thinking about that or even that it was necessary. My mind was on the fact that I needed the cash and had to get done so I could start heading to work. When I got about 2/3 of the way back I got this twitchy feeling like someone was watching me. Then in my right eyeglass lens I sort of caught a reflection of someone getting close to me. It was then that I thought, wait a minute. something’s wrong here. I stopped and turned around. There was a man about four feet away from me. I tried to look him in the eye. We had just passed the last down escalator for that wing. He turned and went and got on it. He looked down at his feet. I kept trying to look at him…to look him in the eye until he was out of sight.

Did I feel “safe?” I don’t know. I doubt it. I did not feel afraid. Would I have won had there been a physical confrontation? I don’t know. It’s possible. But maybe not. I know from what happened that the guy who was intending on shoving me and stealing my money or whatever he was going to do did not have the stomach for facing me full on. He’s a crook, a thief. His operating method was surprise and maybe speed. I was supposed to be left $20 poorer and wondering what happened. So my “safety” began the moment I stopped and took responsibility for myself and my surroundings and it only lasted as long as I was doing that.

Where was mall security? Where were the police? I don’t know and I really don’t care. It doesn’t do me any good having them there if my attacker is running to the exit with my money and they’ve maybe just heard through the grapevine that something just happened on the second level between Space City and Gadzooks. It doesn’t do anyone any good if they’re lying on the jogging trail with a stab wound, the mugger is running away with their iPod and the bicycle park police are on the other side of the lake. It’s called crime. The US military does not swear an oath to protect you from it. The police do, but they’re not your bodyguards or personal escorts. There is no static condition of safety or security that guarantees your freedom from it. The government doctor can implant an RFID chip next to your colon and an array of billion dollar satellites will know exactly where your body is when you just bled to death from a gunshot. While this will be an aid to the authorities in getting your remains to the coroner, none of this stuff matters if you could have dealt with a situation and didn’t because you weren’t paying attention.

Here are my “security measures”:

  1. Trust no one. If you don’t know them personally they don’t have your back.
  2. Compartmentalize your head. Stay sufficiently disconnected from your toys to be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Don’t count money or have cash visible while walking around. Avoid open air ATMs.
  4. Keep your bag between you and a wall.
  5. If you’re at a restaurant take your stuff with you to the toilet.
  6. Lock the car at night and stay with it until that stupid interior light goes out.
  7. Look all around yourself all the time.
  8. Know where the exit is.
  9. Remember where you parked.
  10. Watch the watchers. There is always someone who is out of place. Make sure you see them.
  11. There are exceptions and variations to these. Try to keep that to a minimum.

Protecting yourself is your responsibility. It’s more important than feeling safe.