I am not paranoid about my safety in America but nor do I take it for granted.
Violence can erupt within seconds in the subway or a driver may explode with road rage. Disgruntled employees shoot their employers and terrorists espouse a philosophy that allows them to murder infidels. And some mentally unstable people kill vulnerable children in their schools as we saw in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
The multiple shootings in Florida, France and Germany remind us of the necessity to prepare against random violence whether it’s in the United States or abroad. Unfortunately, as a student, I have been on the wrong end of a gun and a knife both in Europe and the United States. In one incident overseas, 11 people were shot and killed. In another, a fellow student rescued me from a deranged man who intended to kill a filthy American. As a result of that traumatic year, I took self-defense classes for protection and psychology classes to identify violent behavior. I also became certified in First Aid and CPR so that I can save someone’s life if they have been shot.
So if you do not have a gun or if guns are not allowed in that country or state, how do you protect yourself?
- 1) Have a plan for emergencies. How would you escape your office in case of an active shooter? How would you escape your home in case of a fire? If you live in a metropolitan area, do you have a “go” bag filled with necessities if there is a sudden evacuation? Does your school, church, house of worship, office have a plan in case of fire or active shooter? The mass majority of criminals and active shooters have plans months in advance before they spring into action. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned the 1999 Columbine massacre several months in advance. Mohamed Lahouaiej also planned his attack that killed 84 people in Nice, France on July 14, 2016. These criminals had plans, do you?
- 2) Do not be on your cell phone on the street. Ever. If there is a random shooting, you literally have 1 second to make a decision that could save your life and the lives of your children. Taking a call, texting or playing Pokemon Go distracts you from being aware of your surroundings, people and cars. Law enforcement reviews security videos of every shooting in the U.S. and many attacks overseas. In several incidences, they emphasize that if only the victims had looked up from their phones, they could have seen the threat coming in time to escape.
- 3) Be aware of your surroundings. Criminals look for distracted parents, intoxicated people or anyone who cannot discern the physical and verbal cues leading to violence. For example, when my husband dropped off our rental car at the airport years ago and I stood in the underground parking lot holding my crying infant daughter in front of our luggage, a man suddenly appeared, asking me for directions. When I turned around, my husband’s briefcase was gone along with the man. The airport police confirmed that these petty thieves trolling for passports and money target mothers with small children.
As a result I never let a stranger within arms length of me…especially anyone who is pushy and intent on holding eye contact. Con men in NYC claiming they lost their wallet or train ticket are especially good at this. They can spot a “softie” a mile away who will give them money. Also as my good friend Anita reminded me, stand tall and project strength. Petty thieves will not approach someone who looks like they will fight.
4) Teach your children to be aware of their surroundings and not distracted by their phones. I have taught my daughter to look for anything suspicious on the street. For example, two men who appear suddenly at night and follow a single woman are suspicious. A deserted backpack in the subway is suspicious. For example, if you overheard men in midtown Manhattan point to a building and talk about “how to take it down” in vivid detail, you would think that the conversation and behavior were highly suspect. Right? And then you would probably take a photo with your phone and call the police. So as they say here in NYC, if you see something, say something. Don’t confront someone alone but get help.
- 5) Know 2 exits in every building you enter. What are the nearest exits to you in case of an emergency whether that’s in your office, supermarket, restaurant, movie theatre, church, or local playground. Do you know where the emergency exits are in your hotel in case of a fire? As soon as you deposit your luggage in your room, immediately count the doors to the fire exit and make a mental note. And if you’re visiting tourist sites, no matter what country, locate the exits immediately upon arrival. If random violence does occur, drop your belongings and get yourself and your children to safety.
- 6) Follow your gut instinct. Always. Numerous victims reported to the police that they had a funny feeling but they still cut through that alley or parked near that questionable white van driven by the guy with forearms bigger than a tree. So if you see something that makes you very uncomfortable, forget any rational arguments negating your fear and follow your gut instinct. It’s there for a reason…to keep us alive.
- 7) If there’s a shooting, run. Unless you’re willing to risk your life and trained to take an active shooter down or in the armed forces, your best bet is to run. Trust me, it has saved my life more than once. If you have to hide, turn off all sound on your cell phone. Barricade and lock the door. An active shooter typically will test a door and if it’s locked, go to the next one. He is out to make as many kills as possible and will not stop. If bullets are flying, take cover and try to see where the shooting is coming from. If the shooter stops to reload, run.
8) Every situation is different. In the 2 incidents I mentioned before, I ran. However, when a woman tried to mug me in New York City I punched her in the face and screamed at her to back off. It worked. However, adrenaline is tricky. It is very difficult to know what you will do in the face of danger in any given moment even if you are trained.
- 9) Take a basic self-defense course with your local police department or martial arts studio that identifies the psychological make up of criminals and shooters as well as gives you tips on how to be aware and how to escape dangerous situations. Participate in an active shooter seminar or at the very least check out (https://youtu.be/DFQ-oxhdFjE). Know basic fire safety procedures. Learn First Aid and CPR. You will be surprised at how many times you will use that knowledge of First Aid for your own family.
Although none of us can predict if or when crime, fire or random violence will strike, all of us, however, can prepare plans to protect as much as possible ourselves and our families in case it does.
Remember forewarned is forearmed.