Best Self Defense Technique

What is the Best Self Defense Technique Everyone Should Learn?​

To answer what the best self defense technique is first watch the video below. Please disregard the fact that this is a typical day on the streets of South Africa.

This incident could have taken place anywhere in the world. Our victim/survivor is walking down a busy road. She is on her cell phone; engrossed in the world of social media.

A suspicious car stops next to her and she has little time to react as the first hoodlum snatches her handbag. But that’s not enough! They want her cell phone as well.

Her fixation with her cell phone cost her valuable seconds in reaction time, but full credit to our survivor, she managed to recover and take the fight back to her attacker.

There are multiple lessons to be learned from this footage. For example, where to carry your valuables as a pedestrian and how to keep yourself in a state of functional situational awareness. But perhaps the most valuable lesson is how to survive a stand-up grappling battle. Woman against man; small against large; fueled by maximum determination.

My quest has always been to develop a well-rounded set of skills that prepare you for different types of combat. However, nowadays it feels as if the world is spinning faster on its axis. Not only has the cheese moved, but it is now served with a liberal dose of jalapeno.

Nowadays when women are mugged or forced to the ground; criminals often take much more than a handbag. Nowadays suspects resist police officers, who struggle to handcuff them and bullies who slam their victims into the walls of unmonitored school yards, are armed with more than just their fists.

Nowadays there are more martial arts schools available than ever before; but many people don’t have the time or inclination to get sweaty and dedicate themselves to a martial art discipline that takes ages to achieve that elusive black belt.

But even if you are a martial art expert, with many black belts; the truth we cannot forget is that humans are primates. During times of physical crisis, the human primate defaults to the adrenal macro-muscular system. Our apelike hands and arms forgo the sophisticated movements learned in martial arts. Well-timed jabs and sophisticated arm locks are replaced by an ugly melee of grabbing, pushing, swinging, pulling, holding and biting.

So, what is the one self-defense move that everyone should learn? It turns out that my quest to find that one perfect self-defense move, was answered in the most significant lesson of my martial arts career.

Approximately 20 years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar with SGB (Straight Blast Gym) founder, Matt Thornton. I arrived at the seminar not knowing anything about the intense and lanky American.

Matt pioneered his way out of the JKD (Jeet Kune Do) fraternity, and had  been part of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Challenge) champion Randy Coutre’s coaching team. He introduced us to his concept of “aliveness” and soon after he had us working on the mat with a wrestling exercise, which I assumed had come from Randy Coutre.

We were on our feet, aggressively wrestling or “pummeling” each other, trying to gain the dominating position. Apart from various corrections and additional techniques, most of the session was built around this exercise.

Soon cardio vascular and muscular fatigue set in. If you were going to survive the exercise, you needed more than just strength. Correct posture, understanding center of gravity, learning to manipulate fulcrums, being sensitive to the energy of your opponent and adding a dash of guile were all part of the exercise’s ingredients.

I must make it clear that when I refer to energy, I am talking about the willful application of Newtonian force and not a mystical Chi power that allows you to crumble bricks with the touch of a finger. As Bolo Yeung said “brick not hit back” .

Years later, my career had transitioned away from the martial arts and into the security industry. My gloves and mats had been exchanged for a small grey second story office.

I was watching crime scene footage of one of our tactical officers being attacked and disarmed. Very similar to the above footage, the attacker had grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. Then he had beaten him and fled with his service pistol.

It was clear that the officer had been surprised and attacked by a younger and more athletic person, but I couldn’t help thinking he could have done more to defend himself. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his body. His posture was weak, and his poor footwork caused him to fall on the ground (in fact, our pedestrian had done a much better job of defending herself). Surprise and a little luck and swung the fight in the attacker’s favour.

We engaged with a local Krav Maga instructor who arrived with a compendium of mechanistic moves. While they were logical and seemed effective, the exercises lacked the motion and “aliveness” I had learned about. I resolved to spend time with our officers in their training sessions. My goal was to make sure that we never put another gun on the street.

Self Defense Techniques For Security Guards - The Basement Sessions

The training sessions took place in our gritty company basement. Using some rubber training guns, I started the first session by getting the officers to reenact the scenario I had watched in the footage. 

Soon I saw the same issues that were apparent in the video. When the firearm was grabbed by an aggressive opponent, many of the officers froze on their feet and fixated on what was happening in their hands. 

The slick moves they learned from the Krav Maga instructor were instantly forgotten. Soon balance and posture were compromised, and the victor of the scenario was determined by strength and determination alone. 

Not good odds if the criminal is a brute of a man, who has decided to take a new Glock 19 home to Mama. 

Realizing we needed some fundamental skills first, I removed the guns from the training. We started with a simple premise; how to control another man while we are both still on our feet. The lesson took on its own momentum, and soon I realized we were following the lesson I had participated with Matt all those years ago.  The clinch had come to our basement.

Self Defense Tip - What is Clinch Fighting?

Simply put, if you are grappling or wrestling with your opponent whilst on your feet, you are clinch fighting.

In one of the oldest and most insightful internet articles on the subject; Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert John Danaher explains it as “any situation where both combatants are standing and have some kind of grip on one another”.

Danaher, an experienced bouncer, points out that the clinch features “heavily” in actual street combat, but is often neglected in martial arts training. Ironically Danaher’s article was written way back in 2003, but his observation still carries relevance.

Grappling arts aside, if you scroll through various YouTube and Instagram channels, you will notice loads of footage showing experts resolving various self-defense scenarios that start with a grabbing attack. Then usually what happens is that the demonstrator breaks the grip of his attacker and resolves the situation with a rapid succession of strikes. While this takes place the attacker generously stands immobile and accepts his beating.

Clearly, they haven’t met the criminals on the streets of South Africa. The scenario misses barging, pushing, pulling and holding all demanded by the primal clinch fight.

The importance of the clinch in combat is easy to understand. It’s one of the best ways to subdue a strong striking attack. Imagine being pummeled by an aggressive man flashing his teeth as he swings his hairy fists at you.

Before a set of tattooed knuckles that say “MOMMA”, hit your face, you have three choices. You can try to punch back. You can back off and try and run. Or, you can cover your head, move forward and subdue those swinging arms by grabbing them. This is a common tactic used by boxers when they are tired or need to buy some time.

Moving away from the world of fighting and back to our lady pedestrian, many street and home attacks result in a clinch fight. So, if you know the clinch, you know it will give you control.

Getting to Know the Clinch

Clinch exercises exist in various forms within the martial arts. This includes Greco-Roman wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing, Russian Sambo and even Tai Chi.

Yes, that’s right, I did say Tai Chi! You can see this here. Modern clinch training also has its own language. As you get to know it, you will become familiar with clinch nomenclature that helps to untangle the mess of a clinch battle.

Terms like arm wrenches, under hooks, knee bumps, sprawls and snap downs will become familiar to you.

Ask anyone the day after their first clinch session and they will tell you that their muscles ache all over! This is because the clinch involves the use of the entire body.

At this point you do need to put in a little time and sweaty dedication; but you will gain the benefits of added macro and micro muscular strength, and develop your kinetic senses like proprioception.

You will also gain a lot of cardio fitness. There are also psychological benefits to this training. Because of your close proximity to your training partner, the training immunizes you from the discomfort and fear of close contact with other human beings.

The demanding nature of the clinch will also force you to dig deep inside and develop your inner grit. This is a quality that extends far into the struggle of life in a chaotic and stressful world, where the cheese has not only moved, but is laced with jalapeno!

Dominating Positions Open Up Options

It’s not possible to cover all the intricacies of the various techniques here. But I can give you a few principles to keep in mind.

Key principle 1: Your goal is to achieve a dominating position

dominating position is a position in which you have some type of leverage over your opponent.

You are in a contest against gravity, and you must be in a position to control the center of balance. Without this position, it will not be possible to transition into an offensive maneuver.

An example of such a position would some form of a headlock, a bearhug, a throwing position, or even the Spear posture developed by Tony Blauer (for those of you familiar with the clinch, I’m trying to keep the terminology descriptive and easy to understand, so climb off that high horse and pass on the knowledge).

Key principle 2: Control your center of gravity 

Power is achieved by being balanced and rooted to the ground.

If your balance is weak, or you lean too far forward or backward, it will be easy for your opponent to throw you to the ground or achieve a controlling position of his own.

If we go back to our fighting pedestrian, she does well to stay on her feet. She instinctively keeps her legs bent and shrugs off his bear hug, an attempt to attain a dominating position.

She turns her back on him, slips past him, but then exploits her attackers lack of balance to barge him into the road. He is able to get her phone, but you get the impression it would have been difficult to force this woman into the car.

Key principle 3: Keep your head up

Its natural for people to put their head down when they are tired. This compromises your balance and opens a world of moves like the good ol’ fashioned knee to the face.

What do you do When You Are Dominating?

So, for a split second you’ve achieved the dominating position. What now? It’s the same dilemma dogs have once they actually catch the milkman’s truck! At this stage of the battle, various martial arts invite answers.

The grappling arts like Jiu Jitsu and Judo have provided us with some very functional submission techniques.

Chokes such as the guillotine choke or chokes using the lapel or even the neckline of a t-shirt are easily possible.

This is because a head is a large object that is easy to hold. Also, it is supported on the neck, which is a weak fulcrum.

Arm locks can be possible, but are hard to achieve. Arms tend to be slippery and very active when attached to non-complying opponents.

Sambo, Judo and Greco-Roman wrestling also have a variety of throws and take-downs designed to get the opponent to the floor and even inflict a little damage once a flying body hits the ground. Spend an hour with a skilled Judo practitioner and you will experience this first hand!

Thai boxing is an art that has specialized in delivering a range of devastating elbow and knee attacks from the clinch position. It’s also possible to add some so-called dirty boxing techniques into the mix.

Your imagination is your limit here, but techniques would include headbutts, eye gouges and even strikes to the back of the neck.

You are not going to achieve the dominating position for long, so when you get it, you need to pick your attack and strike hard.

Scenario Training

Getting back to our dusty basement sessions, we did a few fundamental clinch sessions and we were able to add some scenarios into the mix.

Weapon Retention

For first responders there are a number of scenarios in which criminals could attempt to take their weapons. Here I will focus on three scenarios, all of which I have seen in the real world:

Scenario 1: Frontal attack in which one suspect tries to take a holstered weapon

This scenario works well with some initial dialog between the two participants. Yes, I know. “This will never happen to me; I’ll get my six-shooter out and aerate the creep”.

But it does happen, and dialog is important as it often functions to distract the good guy. Then all of the sudden, the attacker strikes unexpectedly.

Under the shock and rush of the attack, fine motor skills like extracting your firearm from a holster are lost and the fight is on. Responders should focus on getting the firearm leg to the rear, then place your focus on getting dominating position or creating space to act.

Scenario 2: Rear attack in which one suspect tries to take a holstered weapon from behind 

I have seen this take place at a fast food outlet when an officer was waiting in line for a well-earned chicken burger, extra hot.

Here a good security mechanism on the holster thwart the attempt; but should this fail, the first step is to get your hand on the weapon or on the hand grabbing the weapon. The ability to turn in and maintain balance becomes important in this situation.

Scenario 3: Frontal attack in which one suspect tries to take a weapon out of the officer’s hands

This scenario works well during house clearing exercises.

The officer turns a corner and is ambushed and the suspect tries to grab the pistol away. As with my officers; the initial reaction is going to be to pull the weapon back.

A tug of war begins that could have a lethal ending. Officers need to be trained to bring the weapon into their body, there is far more power close to the body than out on the end of the arms where the hands are.

These scenarios can be augmented by adding extra attackers, extra officers and modifications to the environment.

Arrest Procedures

In an ideal world the bad guys would give up, lie down, put their hands behind their backs and behave.

But the world of the first responder is never ideal or fair. People often fight back. People with mental disorders or people who are high on drugs add to the complexity of these scenarios.

The scenario starts with a suspect pretending to be compliant. But once the handcuffs come out, the world turns to hell.

Clinch training is a powerful way of preparing officers for this explosion of violence. Again, the scenario can vary; an officer on his own; two officers together, or even a suspect with a hidden weapon.

Grit and Fighting Spirit

The fundamentals of the clinch, whether it is used in self-defense or to up-skill first responders, provide the answers for both attack and escape.

The training can and should be exhausting. The experience of the clinch is as much a teacher as the techniques of the clinch. Once the body is exhausted, it becomes time to recruit the spirit of our pedestrian: “Damn this, I’m going after them!” As has been said before, “neurons that fire together wire together”. Once the neurons are firing, the clinch is a powerful training ground for cultivating a fighting spirit.

Special thanks to amaFranx for lending us his musical neck for the pics.

References & Further Reading

Anselm, R. G. (2017, July 3). Why Dirty Boxing For Defending Yourself? Retrieved from The SOP: http://thesop.org/story/20170703/why-dirty-boxing-for-defending-yourself.html

Brodala, T. (2011, May 31). S.P.E.A.R. System: “Outside 90”. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-0iNT674Dc

Danaher, J. (2003, March). Fighting in the Clinch: A Key Skill in Real Fighting. Retrieved from Realfighting: https://web.archive.org/web/20061030125158fw_/http://www.realfighting.com/0503/jdanaherframe.html

FunctionalSelfDefense.org. (2019). Functional Clinch. Retrieved from Functionalselfdefense.org: http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/clinch/

Grant, T. P. (2011, December 24). New Fan’s Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts: The Clinch. Retrieved from Bloodyelbow.com: https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2011/12/24/2632138/mma-technique-clinch-new-fan-introduction

Lucanus, J. (2016, January 21). FINALS Josh Waitzkin vs. “The Buffalo” – 2004 Tai Chi World Cup – Moving Step Push Hands. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leuf-5pZaaw

Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/why-aliveness/


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Do Natural Disasters Create an Opportunity for Crime?

climate change crime

You may or may not have noticed, every year more and more natural disaster events are reported all around the world. Well, maybe you haven’t noticed because you are not a climate science nerd like me. But just to let you know, one of the greatest reality shows of all time is taking place, and we’re all included in the cast.

Super storms, born in the Atlantic Ocean are hurtling themselves into the eastern seaboard of north America. Lethal heat waves are being experienced across the globe with longer and longer durations. Wildfires, droughts and floods. Not to mention the polar vortex experienced by USA and Canada last winter.

These events are often sudden and catch people off guard. The weak do not survive. The greatest of society rise above the environment through acts of heroism and the opportunists exploit a community when it’s at its weakest. The question is, do crime rates increase during these times, and are you prepared for it? Put on your raincoat, store up some tuna cans and let’s find out. Link 

What is a Natural Disaster

A natural disaster is defined as a catastrophic event caused by natural processes. And here are the important criteria of the definition: It is measured by loss of lives, economic loss and the resilience of the economy to rebuild lost infrastructure. So, if a catastrophic event occurs in an uninhabited or sparsely populated area and none of the above-mentioned elements can be ticked off, it is not referred to as a disaster, just a natural hazard, or Mother Nature having a good time!

Are Natural Disasters On The Increase?

Well definitely not the geophysical ones. You know, you wake up in the morning and your new car with a sixty-month balloon payment scheme has been swallowed into a sink hole. These are geological events that our crafty friends in the insurance industry refer to in tiny print as “acts of God. These plod along at the speed of geology and physics. Caused by the tectonic movement of the Earth, the stresses and strains of continental plate collisions sometimes go through periods of more activity. Mostly we go about our daily lives quite unaware of the dynamics involved in keeping the planet running way below our feet. The burps and hiccups we feel by the way of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis are constantly paced in geological time and haven’t increased one little bit. 

Not the same can be said for climatological natural disasters. You may argue, correctly, that there have always been hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, wildfires, floods, droughts, blizzards and heatwaves. The problem lies in the fact that man-made global warming has exacerbated the natural rhythms of the weather, resulting in more frequent and extreme natural disasters. Natural disasters on steroids. 

Although these events have become much more frequent and severe, let’s go back for a second to the definition of natural disasters. If one was to hit some desolate coastline, we would not be alarmed. But the truth is we have pretty much overpopulated our world. Our numbers sitting at 7.7 billion and counting. And here’s the worrying thing: most of us live in large coastal cities, in the way of storm surges and rising sea levels. Not exactly a dream summer beach holiday. It is therefore not only how we live that is causing our vulnerability to extreme weather events, but also where we live.

Is Global Warming To Blame?

To be fair, it isn’t only global warming that is responsible for the increase in natural disasters. It is more honest to say that their eventuality is made up of many parts of the industry of man. Apart from pumping exorbitant amounts of carbon and methane into the air, to be trapped and heated in our bubble of an atmosphere, we have also deforested enormous tracts of land, able to supply us, for biological reasons, with more clean air. In order to accommodate our growing urban populations, we continue to drain away wetlands, chop down mangrove swamps and generally concrete over pretty much all unruly vegetation that stands in the way of another housing development or mall. Our dedication is to urban sprawl. 

The Dominos Begin To Fall

Ecologists understand the imminent threat of ridding the city of these green areas, whose purpose has always been to supply ecological services to their surrounds. The aging infrastructure of most cities, dams and levees were not designed with climate change in mind. It is a great pity that civil and environment engineers never learned about these things until it was too late. Areas denuded of vegetation cannot dissipate the sun’s heat. Heat islands cover our cities, trapping pollution, causing heatwaves. When the storms come, there is no vegetation to slow and filter heavy rain. Instead the runoff races through the streets, unfettered by smooth concrete surfaces, and in no time at all convergences to form destructive and lethal floods.

A heavy rainstorm falling on a vegetated area will not cause an impact, because the plants trap the water and it drains away harmlessly into the soil. A spate of warm weather, without the heat trap of pollution, and tall buildings blocking aeration, wouldn’t necessarily cause a heatwave. But a series of these interconnected events join to form a cascading domino-like event. It happens like this: a thunderstorm deposits a lot of water with nowhere to go except through a community of people, who may for instance belong to a poorer neighbourhood, with less resources to rebuild. Presto, just add water -we have a natural disaster! 

What Has This Got To Do With Crime?

For crime to happen there needs to be someone willing to commit a crime; a victim who possesses something of value to the criminal; and an opportunity that brings them together. Natural disasters can do this. They cause a breakdown of social order, loss of property, transport, amenities, food, water and personal effects. More cascading events. In a situation like this, first responders and law enforcement officers have different priorities to attract their attention, opening the way for opportunistic crime.

But is this what really happens? Let’s take a closer look. The news media like disasters because drama sells. They have us believe that natural disasters spell social disorder, panic and large-scale looting. But researchers seeking an empirical link between crime and disasters that cause mass emergencies, are divided with regards to these claims. After all, the polar vortex experienced in North America this January, actually caused a marked decrease in crime in Chicago, one of USA’s most crime-ridden cities. And no-one can dispute that temperatures plunging well below those normally experienced in Antarctica did not constitute a natural disaster! Let’s face it, maybe pick pockets don’t like to have cold hands. 

Two Conflicting Arguments

There are two opposing theories about social disorder and criminal activity. One school of thought proposes that directly after a disaster, social bonds are strengthened by the common suffering of all. This is when heroes are born, helping those in danger with disregard for their own safety. Survivors band together, focussing on helping each other meet basic needs. Altruism abounds and the amount of crime actually decreases. The media likes these stories too, but tends to exaggerate mayhem and chaos, with the odd heart-warming, human rendition. 

The other proposition states that post-disaster chaos breaks down the ability of authorities to control social order, aligning the three components needed for crime to thrive; the criminal, the victim and the opportunity. This is called the Routine Activities Theory. A disaster can certainly change routine behaviours of the people involved; leaving property unguarded and police too busy with emergencies to control crime. Another theory, the Social Disorganisation Theory, states that communities that don’t have strong social cohesion, or less socio-economic resources, are more likely to have increases in crime and anti-social behaviour

Hurricane Katrina & The Looting Myth

Hurricane Katrina, made landfall in New Orleans in August 2005. The consequent flooding of 80% of the city due to the breaking of poorly constructed and maintained levees, is a good example of the relationship between natural disasters and press reports of crime spreading fear and prejudice. It was extensively reported in the media that in the aftermath of Katrina, widespread looting occurred. The Disaster Research Center of the University of Delaware wanted to find out if the media reports were factual, as many sociological studies dispute this behavior (Quarantelli, 1991; Lentini et al, 2016; Gray & Wilson, 1984). They interviewed 64 people that were present during and after the disaster; such as survivors and first responders; and organisations such as the Red Cross. The results were published in a paper entitled Disaster Realities in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Revisiting the Looting Myth (Published by Lauren Barsky and her band of researchers in 2006 at the University of Delaware).

It appears that the problem is one of semantics. Looting is defined as the act of larceny of personal property, but appropriating behaviour is when someone takes property owned by another because it is needed for emergency purposes. They may even intend to return it if they can. 

Study Findings

When the media reports were disentangled; it was found that they had in fact misled the population into believing that the appropriating behavior of citizens trying to help each other to survive in a crisis; was looting. Barsky and co. found that the reports of arrests due to looting post-disaster were reduced compared with pre-disaster reports. Many of the people interviewed believed that the true incidents of looting were perpetrated by that element of criminal who would have engaged in looting whether there was a hurricane or not. Katrina just provided the opportunity.

Instead, the media emphasis on crime caused panic amongst survivors and rescuers and in some instances, people refused to be evacuated from rising waters because they feared for their property and their lives. Another study found that media reports in the wake of Katrina over-exaggerated the extent of looting in New Orleans compared with other stricken areas along the gulf coast. Young African American men, stigmatized as perpetrators of gang violence during this time, were subsequently found to be involved in pro-social behavior. Often the so-called looting was the appropriation of items needed to help others survive. 

In fact, although the crime rate drastically dropped in the stricken city; the criminal justice system failed on levels which can only be compared with struggling third world countries. It has been argued that media reports created a racially-based criminalisation of a large portion of the citizenry of New Orleans; and these reports were used to legitimise punishment rather than aid as a disaster policy.

Florida And The Natural Disaster Laboratory

The problem is that most research regarding crime and disaster has been done on single isolated disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. In each case, the relationship between the disaster and an increase in crime depends on many social, economic and demographic variables. Luckily, or not, depending on whether you live there; the state of Florida in the USA, provides researchers with an in-situ laboratory to spatially and temporally study the relationship between natural disasters and crime. This is because Florida has many natural disasters, which regularly destroy communities of the rich and poor alike. The Spatial Hazard Events and Losses for the United States (SHELDUS, not to be confused with Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D) database measures the number of disasters per year and state that the average Floridian county is struck by six natural disasters a year, in the form of hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires.

Putting All The Theories Together

Taking into account both the Routine Activities Theory and the Social Disorganisation Theory, Sammy Zahran and fellow researchers conducted a study called Natural Disasters and Social Disorder: Modelling Crime Outcomes in Florida.  Data was collected from each county in Florida, after every natural disaster occurring between 1991 and 2005. The study took into account population size, economic wealth, density of law enforcement officers and non-profit organisations per affected community. The number of non-profit organisations in a community is a good indicator of the social unity of the people living there.

The study assessed the occurrence of different types of crime in each community, post-disaster. The crime types included violent crime, property crime and domestic violence. The results showed that in the aftermath of disaster, there was indeed a significant drop in violent and property crimes, across all walks of life, and an increase in reported domestic violence. Perhaps the stress that a natural disaster puts on communities and families who do not have the resources to recover from such loss of livelihood; creates an environment where crimes such as domestic violence can increase.

Preparing For The Future

Whether people turn into superheroes or super villains seems to depend very much on what their lives were like before disaster struck. Variables such as population size, personal income, level of education and wealth of the community must be considered before concluding that a natural disaster equals an increase in crime. Prior knowledge of the resilience of a community and the resources and disaster management plans at its disposal can help predict the possible outcome of how a disaster event will affect different areas, and how to mitigate crime in each eventuality. To make this practical take some time to consider the following:

  • Consider where you live and what type of natural disaster could happen in your community. Run some possible scenarios, if this happened, then what would I do? Create a plan. Its important to discuss this with your family, “If ever the forest behind our house catches on fire then……”. Nominating an emergency rendezvous point with the family is a good idea (don’t forget your pets in this discussion). 
  • Assess the people around you. Could you travel, rely on and survive with your neighbours, or do you need to get away from them as soon as possible. 
  • Emergency kits, grab bags and tinned food are good to have, but assume you won’t have time to get these things. A flash flood could catch you in the traffic. Knowledge, skills and planning become far more important than equipment which could be collected (or appropriated) at a later stage. If you are going to collect emergency equipment, you need a set for the house and one that travels with you in your day to day life. You can’t use what you don’t have, but you can always use what you know to do. 
  • Get fit and strong. Surviving a natural disaster may mean walking long distances because roads are destroyed or even fleeing from a direct threat. You may need to climb trees or carry awkward items like a hungry three-year-old who has missed her afternoon nap. 
  • Acquire some lifesaving skills. Teach your children to swim. Learn to think like a forager. Add some first aid and self defense skills into the mix. 

References And Further Reading

Adebayo, Z. (2018, March 10). Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse? Retrieved from The Borgen Project: https://borgenproject.org/are-natural-disasters-getting-worse/

anon. (n.d.). Natural Disasters. Retrieved from BasicPlanet: https://www.basicplanet.com/natural-disasters/

Barsky, L. (2006, January). Disaster realities following Katrina: Revisiting the looting myth. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285738721_Disaster_realities_following_Katrina_Revisiting_the_looting_myth

Barsky, L., Trainor, J., & Torres, M. (2006). Disaster Realities in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrins: Revisiting the Looting Myth. Delaware: Natural Hazards Center.

Bellair, P. (2017, July). Social Disorganization Theory . Retrieved from Oxford Researcg Encyclopedias Criminology and Criminal Justice: https://oxfordre.com/criminology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264079-e-253

Berger, D. (2009, August 14). Constructing crime, framing disaster: Routines of criminalization and crisis in Hurricane Katrina. Retrieved from SAGE Journals: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1462474509341139

Berger, D. (2013, April 18). Constructing crime, framing disaster. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251884926_Constructing_crime_framing_disaster

Frailing, K. (2016, February 25). Understanding crime in communities after disaster: A research brief. Retrieved from Journalist’s Resource : https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/crime-disaster-hurricane-earthquake-research/

Garthwaite, J. (2019, February 6). Polar vortex: The science behind the cold. Retrieved from PhysOrg: https://phys.org/news/2019-02-polar-vortex-science-cold.html

Gray, J., & Wilson, E. (1984). LOOTING IN DISASTER: A GENERAL PROFILE OF VICTIHTZATION. Ohio: Disaster Research Center The Ohio State University working paper #71.

Hartz, T. (2019, February 1). Violence plunged, too, during Polar Vortex: 2 shootings reported in 52 hours. Retrieved from Chicago Sun Times: https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/2/1/18330767/violence-plunged-too-during-polar-vortex-2-shootings-reported-in-52-hours

Lentini, M., Nikolov, P., & Schwartz, M. (2016). Do Natural Disasters Induce More Crime? Alpenglow: Binghamton University Undergraduate Journal of Research and Creative Activity.

Maynard, S., & Conner, N. (2016). Ecosystem Services. Retrieved from IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management: https://www.iucn.org/commissions/commission-ecosystem-management/our-work/cems-thematic-groups/ecosystem-services

none. (present day). Current World Population. Retrieved from Worldometers: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Quarantelli, E. L. (1991). Lessons From Research: Findings On Mass Communication System Behavior In The Pre, Trans, And Postimpact Periods Of Disasters. Retrieved from University of Delaware Disaster Research Center: http://udspace.udel.edu/handle/19716/532

Reid Ross, E., Caris, E. M., Bea, M., & Moses , V. (2019, February). 5 Unsung Superheroes Who Rose Up During Natural Disasters. Retrieved from Cracked: https://www.cracked.com/article_26200_5-unsung-superheroes-who-rose-up-during-natural-disasters.html

Ripley, A. (2008, September 3). Why Disasters Are Getting Worse. Retrieved from Time: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1838400,00.html

Routine Activity Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from ScienceDirect: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/routine-activity-theory

SHELDUS (Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States). (n.d.). Retrieved from Princeton University Library: http://library.princeton.edu/resource/13181

Simon, J. S. (2007). Wake of the Flood: Crime, Disaster, and the American Risk Imaginary after Katrina. Berkely Law Scholarship Repository.

Tully, E. (2018). Climate and Crime: Examining the Relationship Between Extreme Weather Events and Crime Rates in the United States. Retrieved from Claremont Colleges Scholarship @ Claremont: https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cmc_theses/1924/

Vahedifard, F., & Aghakouchak, A. (2018, October 22). The risk of ‘cascading’ natural disasters is on the rise. Retrieved from PhysOrg: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-cascading-natural-disasters.html

Zahran, S., Tara O’Connor, S., Peek, L., & Brody, S. D. (2009). Natural Disasters and Social Order: Modelling Crime Outcomes in Florida. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 26-52.

Zimmerman, K. A. (2015, August 27). Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage & Aftermath. Retrieved from Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/22522-hurricane-katrina-facts.html


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Crime Rates And Climate Change – Is There a Link?

Climate Change and Crime

Whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, we have all heard a lot about climate change. Our love affair with fossil fuels has swathed the Earth in greenhouse gases; trapping them within the atmosphere. Planetary temperatures have increased, bringing about extreme weather events. Violent and intensified climatic events are in the news so much nowadays that they are almost becoming the norm. Climate denialists have less and less of a foot to stand on as the storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves hit with more frequency and with more devastating effect. 

As the temperatures rise and scientists count the cost on natural resources, they have to ask tricky questions like “How are we going to feed the exploding human population on a collapsing global ecological system?” Or, “Where is everyone going to move to when the sea level rises flooding coastal cities?” Or, “How can we mitigate disasters caused by extreme weather events?” With these enormous predicaments to face, little attention has been given to the subtler consequences of climate change. How it affects the psychological and sociological health of humans, and how it will change our behavior with regards to aggression and ultimately violent crime.

ARE WE MORE ADAPTABLE TO COLD OR HEAT?

Humans are warm-blooded creatures and have to maintain a core body temperature around 36.2°C. As a species our origins in Africa began towards the end of the last ice ages. It was during the end of these ice ages that our colonisation of the planet began. Therefore, we have adapted to weather that is colder than our bodily needs. When it is cold, we can regulate our body temperature by getting goose bumps, shivering, increasing nutrients and exercising to stay warm. By the use of fire and erecting shelters we learned how to modify our physical environment. And we invented clothes keep us warm. These things are all part of being human. 

As long as we can keep our bodies around 36.2°C, we function just fine. But what about at the other end of the spectrum? When ambient heat is well above our preferred core temperature? At 38°C, our bodies don’t feel so good anymore and by 40°C, death is a likely outcome. Too much heat raises our heart rate, which makes blood circulation increase, dilating blood vessels in the skin. These physiological mechanisms help the body lose body heat. And we can sweat, but this only really works in dry heat, like in a desert. When the temperature is hot and humid, sweating doesn’t help that much. This is because when sweat leaves your skin, it can’t diffuse into the surrounding air, which is also saturated with moisture. When you sweat in humid heat, your skin feels moist and sticky, but you do not feel any cooler.


THE EFFECTS OF HEAT AND OUR EMOTIONS

Hot temperatures activate the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for thermoregulation.  Interestingly, the hypothalamus is also linked to the regulation of emotions. Neurotransmitters and hormones involved in thermoregulation can therefore impact your emotional state. For instance, more adrenaline is produced in hot weather whereas more serotonin is produced in cold weather. Adrenalin is known to encourage aggressive behavior whereas serotonin suppresses aggression. 

An experiment was done to empirically test whether heat has a bearing on the well-being of people. A random sample of people were assigned to sit in an uncomfortably hot room for an extended period of time whilst another group sat in a cooler, more comfortable room. Researchers found that the people exposed to heat were more likely to show aggressive tendencies than the others.

But we hardly need science to tell us this. People have always known hot weather causes hot tempers. Our language is littered with idioms such as “Hot under the collar”, “Hot and bothered”, “Saw red”, “His/her blood boiled”, “In the heat of the moment” and” Tempers flared”. Our language developed around the inevitability that hot equals angry, or at least grumpy! 

Humans can acclimatise to heat after 5 or 6 weeks of constant exposure, but if the temperature rapidly rises 10°C and remains that high for an extended period of time, such as in a heat wave, then acclimatisation is not possible. As the temperature continues to rise, the hypothalamus causes the body to decrease thyroid stimulating hormones, slowing the metabolic rate and triggering lethargy. We now do have the technology to regulate the temperature of our homes to a comfortable level using air conditioning. Air conditioners are unfortunately a catch-22 solution. They keep us cooler but increase the production of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

So, let’s try to break down how climate change may affect the man in the street. The problem runs deeper than just getting hot and bothered and needing to quickly find a swimming pool and an ice-cold beer. 


HOT DAYS AND HOT TEMPERS

I guess one way a lot of us have experienced the effect of hot weather on our mood is on the road. Think about how many road rage incidents are reported in hot months compared to when everyone is cooler and more level-headed. This is almost anecdotal, but let’s see if science has proof: A study was done at the University of Arizona to assess the effects of rising ambient temperature and horn honking in traffic. It was found that as the temperature increased, horns were honked much more than in cooler weather, and the horns that got honked the most belonged to cars without air-conditioning!

Back to our idioms, People from warmer countries are often accused of being “hot headed”.  There is a temperature-aggression hypothesis that predicts that people experiencing more hot days exhibit more aggressive behavior than the good citizens of colder climes.

Studying the temperature-aggression hypothesis has led to the emergence of a model that predicts aggressive behaviour, called the General Aggression Model. This model is built on the assumption that the relationship between heat and aggression will cause increasing assault cases and violent crimes during hot periods of time. For example, when it is hotter, more aggressive crimes such as homicide, assault or rape are likely to occur. Even school children are found to get more aggressive and have more fights during the heat.

WARM WEATHER EQUALS MORE CRIME 

Another model called the Routine Activities Theory, suggests a more indirect relationship between heat and violent behavior. When the weather is warm, people spend more time outdoors. This makes it easier for criminals to share the same spaces as potential victims, resulting in more opportunistic incidents of assault and robbery. 

Regrettably, the poorest of people are often the most vulnerable to this phenomenon. The city of St. Louis, USA is generally considered to be poorer than most American cities, and with a higher crime rate. Often the life style of poor, inner city dwellers involves events taking place out on the streets. A study done in this city has shown that each time the temperature rose by one degree, the average monthly crime rate increased by 1%. This study also showed that 20% of the poorest communities will amount for more than 50% of the predicted climate-related increases in violent crime. 


MURDER RATES AND THE WEATHER

The link between aggression and violent crime is not just a generalized concept. In an article titled “A Rise in Murder? Let’s Talk About the Weather”, New Your Times contributor Jeff Asher suggests that there could even be a correlation between heat, gun violence and murder incidents in American cities. For years crime analysts have battled to ensure that their statistics are accurate because crime victims often fail to report the incident to the police. There are a host of reasons for this including intimidation, fear of the police or simply apathy on the part of the victim. The murder rate is however different, there is a body that can be definitively counted. 

Asher notes that the murder rate in the USA rose in 2015 and 2016. He then shows correlations in 10 cities between increased temperature and shootings in this time period. He also refers to the increase in outdoor activity during hot periods. The article emphasizes the need for better research into the link between gun violence and fluctuations in the weather.  

CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIOS

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has developed a number of climate models to stimulate the different ways in which the dynamics between the most important drivers of climate (atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces and ice) will change in future.  These changes will depend on variations of the amount of the sun’s energy reaching Earth, changes in the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, and changes in the greenhouse effect.  One of the models, called A1B, predicts a scenario that assumes the world of the future will have rapid economic growth, low population growth and a rapid replacement of fossil fuels with new energy efficient technology. And yet, with this euphemistic outlook, it is predicted that global temperatures are still likely to rise by about 2.8°C (5 °F) by the year 2099. 

Climate scientists have issued a dire warning that global temperature must be kept below a 2°C rise or else we must prepare for calamitous consequences. In his paper Crime, Weather and Climate Change Matthew Ranson of the Harvard Kennedy School, uses historical crime records with the IPCC A1B model and predicts that the USA will experience additional 35 000 murders, 216 000 rapes, 1.6 million aggravated assaults, 2.4 million simple assaults, 409 000 robberies, 3.1 million burglaries, 3.8 million cases of larceny and 1.4 million cases of vehicle theft than what would have occurred between 2010 and 2099 if there was no climate change.

 Anyone living in the developing world will skeptically describe this utopian scenario as overly optimistic. Those living in the developing world will probably feel that one of the IPCC A2 models are more fitting with reality. These story lines, referred to as “Business as Usual” scenarios, predict that economic growth will be slower and more unevenly spread in different parts of the world; population growth will continue to rise unchecked and technological change to cleaner energy sources will be fragmented regionally. Under these conditions we can expect a 3.2°C rise in global temperature by the turn of the century.

An example of a country whose citizens are more likely to agree with the IPCC A2 models is South Africa. Here is a country with much of the population living in extreme poverty without much hope of ever getting a job. To ward off starvation, crime becomes a more attractive option. And keeping warm in winter means huddling around burning tires on street corners. warmth takes priority over burning fossil fuels, and hunger takes priority over whether more crime is committed in hot or cold weather. 


CRIME, HOT DAYS AND RAINY WEATHER 

A study was conducted in Tshwane, the capital city of South Africa, to see whether high temperatures or high rainfall increased certain types of crime in various parts of the city. Results show that there is an undeniably an increase in crime in hotter temperatures. In fact, violent crimes increased by 50%, sexual crimes by 41% and property crimes by 21% on hot days compared to cold days. Violent and sexual crimes can be explained mostly by the temperature-aggression hypothesis, whereby hot temperatures increase the level of frustration and aggression in individuals. The increase in property crime can be explained by the Routine Activities Theory, where people are more likely to leave their homes in hot weather to enjoy outdoor events, thus leaving their property less protected from crime incidents. Interestingly heavy rainfall decreased the incidents of violent and sexual crimes but slightly increased property crime by 2%. Perhaps this is because rainy weather gives more concealment for the criminal to pass unnoticed. 


PRACTICAL TIPS FOR DEALING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE AND CRIME

I am not an expert in the field of crime and security. I am an ecologist with a keen interest in the crime of global warming. It’s evident that climate change is going to have an impact on crime levels. This will impact on the personal safety of politicians, ecologists, account executives, nursery school teachers, street sweepers, parents and grandchildren alike. Clearly reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t going to address the situation when an enraged primate in a leather jacket is trying to smash through your car’s passenger window. Here are a few practical considerations that could be implemented:

  • Consciously activate your situational awareness during hot temperature situations, specifically when in crowds of people. The hotter it gets the more space you are going to need to escape. If you don’t know to do that you can learn situational awareness in this article – Getting practical with self awareness.
  • Notice how your temper fluctuates in the heat. When this takes place, increase your exposure to fresh air and shade, change your breathing patterns and drink lots of water. Also do not exert yourself physically in the heat.
  • Neighborhood watches and local police departments should be planning patrol routines around specific weather conditions. Hot nights when there are lots of people on the street will require increased patrols or extra manpower on the ground. 

I have focused on the direct effects of climate change, heat and human behavior. In my next post, I will explore the relationship between crime and violence, and climatic disasters like the fallout from floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones. 

References & further reading 

al, V. L. (2017). Aggression and violence around the world: A model of Climate, Aggression, and Self-control in Humans (CLASH). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-58.

al., A. C. (2000). Temperature and Aggression. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 63-133.

Anderson, C. A., & Anderson, K. B. (1998, December). Temperature and Aggression. Retrieved from Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279428017_Temperature_and_Aggression

Anonymous. (n.d.). Temperature. Retrieved from Earth in the Future: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/earth103/node/1015

Asher, J. (2018, September, 18). A Rise in Murder? Lets Talk About the Weather Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/upshot/a-rise-in-murder-lets-talk-about-the-weather.html

D, S. F. (2018). The influence of extreme weather conditions on the magnitude and spatial distribution of crime in Tshwane (2001–2006). South African Geographical Journal Volume 100 – Issue 3.

Hanna, L. (2013, January 10). Could we acclimatize to the hotter summers to come? Retrieved from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/could-we-acclimatise-to-the-hotter-summers-to-come-11507

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2000). Emissions Scenarios. Retrieved from IPCC: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/emissions-scenarios/

Mares, D. (2013, February). Climate Change and Levels of Violence in Socially Disadvantaged Neighborhood Groups. Retrieved from Researcg Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235716978_Climate_Change_and_Levels_of_Violence_in_Socially_Disadvantaged_Neighborhood_Groups

Matthew, R. (2012, November 10). Crime, Weather and Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.p-plus.nl/resources/articlefiles/Opwarmingencriminaliteit.pdf

Nakicenovic, N., & Swart, R. (2000). Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. A Special Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. UK: Cambridge University Press.

O’Niel, D. (2012). Adapting to Climate Extremes. Retrieved from https://www2.palomar.edu/anthro/adapt/adapt_2.htm

Plante, C., Allen, J. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2017, April). Effects of Rapid Climate Change on Violence and Conflict . Retrieved from Oxford Research Encyclopedias Climate Science: https://oxfordre.com/climatescience/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228620-e-344

Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (1998, January). The Pleistocene and the origins of human culture: Built for speed. Retrieved from ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228587028_The_Pleistocene_and_the_origins_of_human_culture_Built_for_speed



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5 Situational Awareness Exercises – Getting Practical With Self Awareness

This unique situational awareness training is designed to increase your awareness just by reading it.

To get started, watch this video clip:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/lMZUHwFCaLQ

In the 2013 thriller movie “The Call”, teenager Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is abducted and forced into the trunk of a car by a serial killer. She calls the 911 emergency centre from an untraceable cell phone and must provide clues to 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry).

If we divorce ourselves from the horror of the story, the scenario offers an interesting opportunity to explore and apply our situational awareness skills.  

Situational awareness is the use of the sensory system to scan the environment. The purpose of this is to identify threats in the present or to project those threats into the near future.  

Check out my detailed situational awareness guide.

Situational Awareness Training Exercise

Serial killer aside, lets step into the trunk of that car. You are going to discover that situational awareness is what changed Casey Welson from a victim into a survivor.  Now close the trunk lid and switch on your situational awareness. We are going to make a list of what we can perceive.

Let’s start with your sense of sight:

situational awareness exercises
  • You can’t see much, but there is a line of light around the edge of the trunk lid.
  • The quality of light will change as the vehicle moves from parking garage, into direct sunlight.
  • Variations in light tell you about the speed of the vehicle, and whether it has moved or has stopped beneath a bridge or some trees.

Casey is able to give a brief description of the car and her attacker. But there is so much more to describe.

The lack of light forces you to change from your usual visually-dominated mode. Now you must rely on your other senses.

Your hearing provides information about the environment and distance:

  • You can hear the car’s engine revving. This informs you about acceleration and speed.
  • The sound of the vehicle as it is driving and shifting gears tells you whether the car is in good working order or has an occasional knock and grind that suggest mechanical issues and a possible breakdown.
  • The sounds of car horns, other engines and screeching wheels will provide information about the type of traffic that surrounds you. Your awareness of time can be added to confirm this data. Is it the midday rush or the 4pm commute home?
  • There may be other peripheral sounds that add to the soundscape. Dogs barking, helicopters, sirens or car doors opening and closing are all auditory clues to what type of place you are in.

The senses of proprioception, balance and kinaesthesia tell you about movement and space:

  • Dark or light, you will be able to gage the dimensions of the trunk and how much space is available for the movement of your body. Could you reposition your body so your feet will be able to kick when the trunk opens? This may be important for if you choose to set up a counterattack against the driver of the vehicle.
  • You will be able to sense the movement of the vehicle, this will include acceleration, breaking, turns and stops. Take the time you have travelled from your watch or cell phone and start to get an idea of how far you have travelled from your starting point.
  • As the car travels forward, you will be able to sense the quality of the road. On a dirt road, the car will slow and bump and vibrate. Freeways will be confirmed by the combined smoothness of the ride, winds and the sound that tyres make at high speeds.
  • Your balance helps to interpret the mindset of the driver. Are you being thrown from side to side in the trunk as he panics; or in Casey’s case is the ride smooth and deliberate? This driver does not want to attract attention.

The sense of smell or olfaction provides unseen information:

  • By smelling the floor of the car, you can tell if the carpet is old or in the case of a new or rental car it may have that fresh “new car” smell.
  • It’s possible that there is a specific organic or chemical odour that helps you to build an information profile about the vehicle and its driver. It could be the sharp smell of a solvent or the sweet rotting smell of a long-forgotten item of fruit.
  • Smells from the environment will also filter into the car’s truck; industrial smoke, fresh tar from the road or the concentrated animal odour of a farm (Casey’s final destination).

Your skin’s sense of touch tells you about your direct environment:

  • Your hands can explore the mechanism of the hood, pushing and probing for weaknesses and moving parts.
  • The skin on your face, especially your cheeks, will help to detect air flow and temperature change. This could help to find mechanisms and compartments that you could open.
  • The skin senses the texture of the trunk’s floor. Perhaps the carpet moves, or there’s a source of grease that can be used as a lubricant to escape bonds or to be smeared in the eyes of an attacker.
  • In “The Call”, Casey finds a can of paint that she uses to draw attention to herself. There may however be other objects that could be used as striking or stabbing weapons. If you decide that fighting is the right tactic, you are going to need all the help you can get.

Deep analysis of the environment can only come through conscious investigation of the senses. But sensory information doesn’t come to you one sense at a time. It arrives as a combined multisensorial package.

Combining the senses

We’ve all had this experience. You are sitting in a restaurant and a person across the room says something that piques your interest. You look up and by looking at the person you can better eavesdrop on the conversation.

In an article called Combining Senses, Malte Bieler and Ileana Hanganu-Opatz explain that although our brains have separate areas for each sensory system, we are born with the ability to combine our senses. This process, called multisensory integration, helps to create a complete picture of your current reality.

Scientists still don’t yet understand how this happens, but to achieve a situational awareness mindset, it’s clear that the more sensory data we can expose ourselves to, the better our situational awareness is going to be. Now it’s time to get practical with some advanced situational awareness exercises to sharpen your skills.

Self Awareness Exercises

Exercise 1: Areas of influence

When you enter an environment, use your sense of sight to divide the area into three areas: Foreground, midground and background. You can do this process in any environment: a crowded public space like a concert hall, your garden, a city street or even a dinner party. Actual distances will differ depending on the environment you have entered.

Foreground:

This is the immediate space around you. It’s the area you will assess first because the things closest to you are usually the most threatening to you. Foreground introduces a vital tactical principle that involves time and distance.

ACTION IS FASTER THAN REACTION

Be it a self-defense, policing or even a neighbourhood watch scenario, the bad guy is usually going to act first.

The less distance you have, the less time you have to react. When assessing the foreground, don’t just look at what is directly in front of you. First responders the world over have a saying, “Watch your six”. This refers to the 6 o’clock position on a clock. In other words, the space directly behind you. You are going to do a quick 360° observation.

Casey makes the mistake of turning her back on the kidnapper while he is in her direct space.

Midground:

This is roughly the area halfway between your background and foreground. Depending on the overall space of the environment, people in the midground are only slightly less threatening than those in the foreground.

To understand this, take a friend to a flat surface and try the 10 meter sprint test. The average man should be clearing 10 meters in about two seconds or less. That’s not a lot of time to cognitively process what is happening and initiate a response whilst under pressure.

Using fine motor skill actions such as pulling your shirt aside to access your firearm, then drawing, cocking and accurately firing it, is going to be very difficult.

Background:

This is the farthest area in the environment where someone can still have an influence over you. Threats in the environment can be dynamic. For instance, moving cars or someone using a firearm causes a threat to move very quickly from the background to the foreground.

The background also becomes important when assessing your emergency escape route. When entering a shopping complex, try to get into the habit of identifying at least one escape route in the background. This could apply to a shopping mall, parking area or even a small grocery store.

Take note of fire escapes and the doors to the storage area of the store.  Alternatively, there’s always the butchery counter where the big knives are kept.

Now let’s go back to the abduction scene in “The Call”. Casey enters a parking garage. In the background are the sounds and movement of cars. As she is walking, the suspect car enters her midground. It’s possible that she could have heard that the engine was running, but she was distracted by her phone. She is almost knocked by the kidnapper’s car which enters her foreground. After a brief verbal interaction, she turns her back on him to pick up her phone. She wouldn’t have done this had she received a signal from one of the most important aspects of situational awareness – intuition.


Exercise 2: Observe internal changes from green to red

In learning how to develop awareness you are not only learning about what is happening around you, you are also learning about what is happening inside you. Self-awareness is the tool for monitoring your internal environment, which includes warnings of danger. The model in which you Imagine your intuition is like a traffic light offers you three possible states. Let us consider you are a single woman out for your morning jog:

  • Green: This is your neutral baseline emotional state. It’s important to know what this feels like so that you can compare changes in your internal condition.
  • Orange: It is now the second time you have seen a red sedan with two men drive past you. As they pass, the driver looks at you. Your internal state changes from neutral to uncomfortable. This intuitive feeling may manifest as a sensation in the body. This is often referred to as “gut feel”; but for some people it is a little voice in the back of your head that says, “watch out”. It’s your spidey sense talking.
  • Red: The car passes and stops 200 meters down the road. The driver gets out of the car and starts to look at his phone. Your skin “crawls” and your heart beats faster. You have felt this before. Fear! Your most primitive warning system has hit condition RED. Time to change direction and get out of there.

Intuition is like an FM radio, the more you turn the dial, the sharper the reception is. As you go through your day to daily life, notice how different people and situations evoke different emotions inside of you. These emotions are messengers. I will cover intuition in detail in a later post.  


Exercise 3: Deny your senses

One of the most effective sense enhancement exercises is to cut out one of your senses.  The blind comic character Daredevil is a prime example of someone who, through the loss of his sight, was able to develop sensory superpowers.

The idea that blind people improved hearing over sighted people has been validated by scientists. In fact it has been established that there are blind people who actually have Daredevil-like echolocation abilities. While this may not be possible for most of us, it is clear that with stimulation and training, our neuroplastic brain will develop new connections that give us enhanced sensory abilities. Try the following exercises:

  • Regularly move through your house and garden in the dark. Use your entire body’s’ sense of touch to understand spaces around the house. This may involve the occasional collision between a coffee table and a sensitive shin bone.
  • Try a blindfold exercise to develop your sound localisation ability. Cup your hands behind your ears when you do this, and notice that is possible to accurately locate the source of various sounds.
  • Watch a movie scene that you have never seen before with the sound turned off. Notice how the actor’s body language, expressions and actions fill in pieces of the story. Try to interpret the story, then watch the scene again with the sound on and compare your results.
  • Develop your proprioception and sense of touch by doing blindfold wrestling and clinch exercises. This is a valuable exercise for first responders who may need to arrest and control violent people. Your enhanced sense of touch will notify you of muscle shifts that will telegraph your opponent’s intentions.

Exercise 4: Measure your flight distance through proxemics

Ecologists define flight distance as the risk and distance that an animal will allow a predator before the animal initiates escape behaviour.

In terms of situational awareness, how close can you let a potential human predator into your proximity before you need to initiate flight or fight behavior? This is an especially important concept for police and security personnel. Maintaining the correct “interview distance” may save you from a bad encounter with an unseen blade.

Casey let the predator into her flight distance and turned her back on him. Once this happened the principle of time and distance was against her and she had very few options.

Proxemics is the study of the amount of spatial separation required for humans to interact comfortably. Use your proxemic sense to create your flight distance. As you move through the public environment, consciously create distances between yourself and various people. Ask yourself the question: “How much distance would I need to take action?”. The more uncomfortable you feel, the more distance you need.

Exercise 5: Decide to fight every day of your life

In the end, 911 operator Jordan Turner convinces Casey that she needs to help herself and fight. This is not a situational awareness strategy. This exercise is the daily decision that you are not a victim. Casey transforms from panicked kidnapped victim into empowered survivor. She starts to give Jordan descriptive clues derived from her senses. The final clue that leads to her rescue, is a distinctive background sound that Jordan was able to hear through Casey’s phone.  

As a standalone tool, situational awareness helps you to navigate a world. When combined with the daily survivor decision it becomes a powerful means to change your life.

References & Further Reading

Anderson, B. (Director). (2013). The Call [Motion Picture].

Bieler, M., & Hanganu-Opatz., I. (2016, June 14). Combining Senses. Retrieved from Ask a biologist: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/How-the-Brain-Combines-Senses

King , P. (2017, August 29). How Does The Brain Combine All Five Senses Into One Reality? Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/08/29/how-does-the-brain-combine-all-five-senses-into-one-reality/#160ab43642d5

Montreal Neurological Institute / McGill University. (2004, June 23). The Blind Really Do Hear Better. Retrieved from ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040723093712.htm

Pape Møller, A. (2008). Flight distance and population trends in European breeding birds. Behavioral Ecology, 1095–1102.

Sinicki , A. (2015, May 8). How to Train Your Senses Like Daredevil – Echolocation Training, Neuroplasticity and More. Retrieved from The Bioneer: http://www.thebioneer.com/how-to-train-your-senses-like-daredevil-echolocation-training-neuroplasticity-and-more/

Stryker , G. (2008, November 12). How our Senses Combine to Give us a Better View of the World. Retrieved from Association For Psychologial Science : https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/how-our-senses-combine-to-give-us-a-better-view-of-the-world.html

Universitaet Bielefeld. (2016, June 6). How the brain merges the senses. Retrieved from ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160606082337.htm

van Dam, L. (2018, September 7). Do blind people have better hearing? Retrieved from The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/do-blind-people-have-better-hearing-102282

Walker , O. (2016, January 27). 10m Sprint Test. Retrieved from Science for Sport: https://www.scienceforsport.com/10m-sprint-test/


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4 Steps To Creating A Neighborhood Watch

How To Start a Neighborhood Watch

House crime doesn’t start in the home.

It starts in the street.

Before forking out your hard earned money on a security system, realize that you can reduce crime in your area by as much as 26% by starting a neighborhood watch!

In this post, you will learn exactly how to start a neighborhood watch, in 4 easy steps!

But first I need to explain how a neighborhood watch benefits your community as a whole.

Benefits Of A Neighborhood Watch

Some of the benefits of a neighborhood watch are:

  • It brings communities together. People share information, start looking out for their neighbors and quickly spot vehicles and people who do not belong to the area.
  • People start to take ownership and responsibility for their own security – this makes a person less of a victim and depletes the victim mindset. This is even important from a trauma recovery perspective.
  • People that get involved in patrols start to see the neighborhood through the eyes of a patroller. With their new “security eyes” they start to become more vigilant and start to see the importance of security measures such as creating lighting in the yard area.
Benefits of Neighborhood Watch

Now that you are aware of some of the benefits, here are the 4 steps to creating your own neighborhood watch:

How To Start A Neighborhood Watch

1. Recruit People

It is said that neighborhood watches bring communities together. The truth is that every community is made up of three groups of people.

  • Those that will go the extra mile. This will become the core group, they will lead the initiative. Their cohesiveness is critical to the success of the initiative.
  • Those that will contribute when they can. These community members will fit into patrols and may rotate in and out of the scheme as time, impetus and energy is available.
  • Those that freeload. Some people simply won’t assist. Under a mask of denial or resentment, they are willing to continue their lives while gaining the security benefit provided by active members of the community. Maybe this is because they don’t believe in the process, or they don’t like what the neighbor in the brick-walled house who’s tree fell on the wall seven years ago. The point is you should expend a limited amount of energy on this group. There are more important battles to win.
Neighborhood Watch

You need to collect as many people as possible. As time goes by, membership will dwindle. People will move out of the neighborhood, change jobs or lose interest.

New homeowners need to be encouraged to join and enthusiasm needs to be reinvigorated in old inactive members. Operational meetings can be important but often seem like a drag to the busy and harassed.

Community events such as fun days, picnics and greenbelt walks are a critical part of this process. Training is another valuable process, people leave with a skill, and training promotes cohesiveness within the team. The principle is simple, social cohesion reverses social corrosion.

2.  Pick Your Time and Place (How To Boost Your Success)

People willing to participate are always going to be a scarce resource. Patrol times are often not convenient. They clash with family time and interfere with sports fixtures.

As the year closes, crime patterns often increase while time and energy reserves are low. It may not always be possible to have a regular weekly patrol.

Furthermore, crime trends will change according to three criteria:

  1. When the crimes take place: days of the week and times of the day.
  2. Where the crimes take place: frequent hot spots created by weak property infrastructure or convenient surveillance and escape routes.
  3. How the crime takes place: common methods of committing the crime in your area (what the security pro’s call the “MO” or modus operandi).
Crime Watch

When choosing the right times and dates for patrols, you should analyze these crime trends. If crime generally strikes at a certain time of day, that might be the perfect time to schedule a patrol. This will boost the success of your crime watch.

This will tell you:

  • When is the best day of the week and time of day to run patrols? Scratch off the unlikely time slots so that you don’t waste precious time.
  • Where do the highest number of patrols need to take place to deter opportunistic crime? Why waste energy driving in a place where the criminals can’t see you? Visibility is an important part of the patrol’s success. Don’t let the veteran talk you into all that camo and black ops stuff.

How can neighborhood watch members patrol in the safest way that will disrupt the most criminal activity? (Click here to read an article I wrote about how to conduct a safe community patrol)

3. Use Social Media

Social media is an inevitable phenomenon in our communities. Rather than just letting it happen, it’s something that needs conscious planning and management.

There are a number of platforms available such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram, a dedicated website can also be useful. We recommend one that is smartphone focused so that watch members can use it at home or on patrol.

The app should also have a push to talk function, which can be used to substitute a two-way radio system.

Smartphone apps for crime fighting is a subject on its own, below are a few basic rules to make your use of social media successful:

  • Create a strict set of rules for members. Community members should understand the purpose of the group. The rules should be clear on the posting of pictures and videos and whether the dreaded emoticons are permitted.
  • Chatter should be limited (no annoying emojis).
  • Assign one person to administer the group
  • Encourage the reporting of suspicious behavior, such as strange vehicles or pedestrians in the area. This functions to alert other community members and creates a record of events around the neighborhood.

4.  Take Ownership (How to Lead a Neighborhood Watch)

No battle was ever won without effective leadership. The leadership of a neighborhood watch may be up to one central figure or may be shared by two people. Who should this person be?

In Extreme Ownership How US. Navy Seals Lead and Win, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain that a leader needs to be a “true believer” of the mission and that the leader needs to believe in the “greater cause”.

This is essential because at some point the leadership of a community scheme is going to be tested. Personality clashes are bound to happen. People lose impetus or opinions of how a scheme should run may differ.

Someone is going to have to smooth the egos and align people to the mission. If you have decided to be this person, then consider the following:

Design the scheme for success:

Use your start-up team to decide what an optimal neighborhood watch for your suburb would be. Then reverse engineer this process.

Set the tone:

As the leader, you set the tone and culture of the scheme. If you are authoritarian and reactionary you are most likely to irritate your members, some of which who run families or businesses. Alternatively, people will follow a calm person who is willing to communicate and take responsibility for the process.

Define a simple mission:

What is the goal of your neighborhood watch? When conflicts arise use this to realign people’s perspectives. What is the simple truth that has brought you all together?

Create a code of conduct:

Each member needs to sign a code of conduct.This should include the mission and the objectives of the watch. It creates rules of engagement and guidelines for the treatment of people in the neighborhood. The last thing you want is a person who has misunderstood the mission and feels this is his opportunity for some “good ole” vigilante action.

Prioritize and execute:

Once patrols are up and running, new issues will arise, there may even be times when you need to make snap operational decisions.

Willink and Babin use the principle of “prioritize and execute” to assist in the decision-making process. In short, you need to establish which is the highest priority issue and find a simple and direct solution that members of the team can execute.

Keep your enemies close:

There is always going to be that irritating individual in the group. You know, the one who was in the much better neighborhood watch group before he moved to this suburb.

The problem is that this person has the ability to derail the good work that has already been done. Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton used a famous maneuver, he quarantined a particularly negative member of the group by keeping him in his team. In this way, he prevented the man from damaging the group’s much needed morale.

It’s a good idea to patrol in pairs, especially in high crime areas. You may need to take one for the team and patrol with this person or assign him to a mature member of the group that is less likely to be affected by his negativity.


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Maps! – Your Essential Tool for a Successful Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch Crime Map

In a study of 36 neighbourhood watch schemes, 56% showed a positive outcome in terms of crime reduction. With the effort of creating a neighbourhood watch scheme, you want to give it the best chance of success – enter maps!

This may not seem like the most important tool for a neighborhood watch. At face value I would agree with you. Surely you would want flash lights, vehicles and a bunch of cool security gadgets, not to mention the ever-popular two-way radio? Yes, these are all tools that allow a neighborhood watch to perform its tasks (click here for a detailed discussion on this topic).

But let’s take a strategic look at your suburb’s safety. Considering the amount of effort that goes into putting a neighborhood watch scheme together; you want to ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck.  Here are some questions that need answering: Are you patrolling in the right place? Are your patrols having an effect on the local crime?

How Maps are Used

Obviously the most fun kind of maps are treasure maps. The exciting big red X marks the spot. Who wouldn’t want one, or maybe even ten, of those? But maps don’t only show the location of treasure chests. With the advent of electronic and online mapping techniques, a multitude of uses have emerged. This includes directing us from A to B in the car, or finding the closest hospital. Better yet; the local pizza joint (another kind of treasure).

Maps are a powerful way to represent spatial information. Take a road trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa (it’s a worthwhile holiday destination). A quick mapping exercise tells us that it’s a 1398-kilometre drive (that’s 868 miles for those of you who have not been lucky enough to grow up with the metric system). The map will show you that you are going to travel in a southwest direction. It will show you how many towns you will travel through and the attractions on route. It even shows that you will travel through a desert before emerging into green winelands.

But while you are holidaying in the Fair Cape, you want to know that you have not had some unwelcomed house guests and your TV stays just where you left it. So how do we make maps that will help keep your TV out of the hands of a greedy pillager?

Space Age Maps

Maps can be drawn by hand just like your childhood treasure maps. You may quickly jot down a map on a piece of paper, while taking directions down on the phone.

Luckily for us, with the increase in technology, maps can now be made using a variety of computer programs. These are commonly known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As the name suggests, these systems represent geographic information (the position of a thing on Earth or in space) in picture format.

In other words, a map. Since 2005, Google Maps and cellular technology have made the use of GIS very popular, if not essential. New uses of GIS and maps are continuously being identified, from mapping locations of street art (and categorising the good from the bad), to processing satellite imagery for crop growth and harvest volume predictions. The truth is, the only real limitation to modern maps is the imagination of the user.

Mapping crime

Let’s have a closer look at crime. In the context of mapping, we are saying that crime is spatial in nature.  Each incident takes place at a specific location, at a time or in a time frame with an unfortunate outcome. In some instances, the outcome is less severe such as a car theft. In the event of a home invasion or murder the result is devastating. Let’s add a few more variables. Were there other incidents connected to this incident? Was a specific modus operandi used? Is there a specific region that keeps getting hit?  Unless your brain is like a super computer, it is difficult to accurately place each crime in space relative to one another.

Mental Maps

To add a little complication to the issue, it turns out that perception is a powerful thing. When you start your neighbourhood watch you are going to have to decide how your patrols take place. The last piece of advice you need is something like: “We need to get lots of patrols down Francolin Street because that’s where all those foreigners live”.  This leaves you with a few options:

  1. Let your patrollers drive where ever they like and hope for the best results.
  2. Let your patrollers patrol in the areas that worry them the most and hope that they are right.
  3. Patrol all the streets because that’s what makes people feel safer.
  4. Apply some science to the system by adding extra patrols into hot spots and criminal infiltration areas.

Researchers Natalie Lopez and Chris Lukinbeal, report that there are various studies showing that there is a difference between where crime actually happens and where people perceive that crime happens. This applies to citizens and even to the police. People create what is called a “mental map”. This is a type of mentally visualised Google Earth, complete with images, locations and street names. However, mental maps don’t only include locational data. Like the old treasure maps that got you excited as a 10-year-old want to be pirate, they include emotional metadata. This often manifests as an “impression” of where an event takes place.  These maps are often informed by various events, biases and emotions. Certain publications also supply mental maps with data, including social media posts, the press or crime data that is supplied to the police.  

Studies into this phenomenon have shown that there are differences between where residents and police perceive crime hotspots. Yup, the pro’s also get it wrong.  In a paper titled “Chasing Ghosts? Police Perception of High Crime Areas”, researchers Ratcliffe and McCullagh describe how the type of crime and even the emotional effect of a crime can influence a policeman’s perception of a high crime zone. While the academics delve into this mystery, you are on holiday and worrying about the safety of your TV.  You want your neighbourhood watch to get the best results for your efforts. Enter maps and GIS.

Crime maps for your suburb

By creating a map containing all the locations of all the crime events, it is possible to very accurately, start understanding the relationship between crimes and their spatial position. A pattern then starts to unfold. For example, two crimes have taken place. One happened at 35 de Beer Road and the other at 65 Crystal Road. This is useful information, as we know that two crimes have occurred and where they occurred. Once a map is employed, it is possible to see that 35 de Beer Road is directly across a greenbelt area from 65 Crystal Road. Then comes the lightbulb moment: Everyone knows that houses along greenbelts are targeted more frequently. It’s easy to escape down the greenbelt with the bounty.

This leads to the next question: Are there any other spatial patterns that can be identified by developing a map? And the most important question is: Can we start identifying hot crime areas and target these areas for extra neighbourhood watching? By increasing presence and awareness in the neighbourhood through effectively identifying soft target spots and crime patterns, the crime in the area can be reduced.

Let’s have a look at an example.

The Murdersdrift Case Study

My folks live in small sector of the infamous Murdersdrift area. Actually, it’s called Muldersdrift, but due to the large murder count, cynical residents adopted its new nickname.

During 2013 and 2014 there was an increase in violent criminal activity in Muldersdrift. The area is composed of miles of open grassland, interspersed with large plots, or agricultural holdings. Most properties have poor fencing, unkempt dirt roads and are serviced by a struggling local police station. Security companies are active, but struggle to cover enough ground to monitor and provide a significant security presence. Facing a spate of murders, a sector of the community opted to initiate a neighbourhood watch scheme. Luckily, the community had members with experience in the security and military industries amongst their number. This helped to set up best practice strategies and safety precautions.  

The team decided that a communication network and a rotation schedule for patrolling was a good starting point. They also started asking questions such as:

  • Are there places that get hit most often?
  • Can we see any patterns emerging with time?
  • If we do more patrols in areas that get hit a lot, will the crime incidents reduce?

The team suspected that the answers to these questions may yield some interesting and important results.

The next step was to get data.

Step 1: Collect the data

To start the process, the team began recording as much information as possible about each crime incident. The most crucial piece of information that needed to be present was the location (GPS position) of the crime. Other information recorded included the time of day, date, type of crime, etc. The team recorded anything they could think of that may be of value.

Step 2: Represent the crime spatially

Because the GPS location of the crimes were recorded, a map showing the crimes could be made using GIS (Map 1). This map showed the team that there were places that had a higher concentration of crimes (as they suspected).

After hours of diligent patrols and data collection, the team started noticing certain patterns. One of which was that most of the crimes happened to people living along unfenced open areas and the river (Map 2). Immediately, all these vulnerable places were identified and placed in the map. Then the next bright idea hit! What about roads? Are there more crimes where there is better road access (for entry and high-speed escape)? And what about footpath access?

Step 3: Identify a pattern

Slowly a picture was emerging.

The team began plotting more and more things on their trusty maps. They started analysing the type of crime to see if it was location specific or maybe time of day specific (Map 3). Did houses with dogs get less crime than houses that have no dogs?

“How about the phase of the moon?” someone asked”. “Are more crimes happening when its new moon and therefore darker outside?”

There was an explosion of maps. Happily, none of them had to be drawn by hand thanks to the ever useful GIS.

As the GIS was utilised more and more, the functionality of the GIS map making programme was investigated and aggregate maps were created. Heat maps were discovered with the help of the all-knowing Google (Map 4). Filters and classifications were applied to the data. A second explosion of maps came about. At one point there were so many maps, the torches got lost under the pile.

Step 4: Create a prevention strategy

Eventually after sticking maps up like wallpaper, the team got their permanent markers out and started drawing links to common locations and having mini eureka moments. Hot spots were identified. Times when crimes were most likely to occur were identified. The team created a schedule that fitted into their predictive analysis of when and where they thought crimes would happen. In the neighbourhood, the crime dropped. Surrounding areas without such diligent methods continued on the trajectory of rising criminal activity.

The team also added some good old-fashioned prep to the scheme. This included first aid kits, radio and safe patrol procedures.

Step 5: Happy neighbourhood

The knowledge of the team combined with the power of maps allowed for an effective solution to a deadly problem. Since this time, the sector has been one of the safest in the region and the residents could get on with the day to day wonders of country life including fires, snakes and the occasional noisy party.

References & further reading

Bennett, T., Holloway, K., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). A Review of the Effectiveness of Neighbourhood. Security Journal. doi:10.1057/palgrave.sj.8350076

Johnson, C. P. (2000). Crime Mapping and Analysis Using GIS. Conference on Geomatics in Electronic Governanace. Pune : Geomatics Group .

Lopez, Natalie; Lukinbeal , Chris. (2010). Comparing Police and Residents’ Perceptions of Crime in a Phoenix. Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers,, 72, 33 -55. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/24043341.pdf

Ratcliffe, J. H., & McCullagh, M. J. (2001). Chasing Ghosts? Police Perceptioln of High Crime Areas. Brit.J.Crimnol, 41, 300-341. Retrieved from http://www.jmu.edu/icle/pdf_files/Applied%20Research/Towards%20an%20Information%20Driven%20Organization/Chasing%20Ghosts%20-%20Police%20Perception%20of%20Hgh%20Crime%20Areas.pdf

Rosenberg, M. (2018, October 06). What is a Mental Map? Retrieved from ThoughtCo.: https://www.thoughtco.com/mental-map-definition-1434793


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The Best Martial Art For Self Defense

Best Martial Art For Self Defense

I am often asked which is the best martial art for self defense.

My feeling is that the skill of self defense involves more than just the act of learning to throw a punch or breaking a headlock. There are so many situations that could take place; it’s impossible to cover all the scenarios in the martial art process.

There are a set of assumptions that must be made:

  • The attacker will be aggressive
  • He will try to impose his will and his game plan over you
  • The confrontation will also include unpredictable movement and action
  • The situation will not subscribe to the rules of “fairness”
  • The attacker’s method may vary, this may include verbal attacks to intimidate you, strikes, pushes, grabs and attempts to restrain you pin you to the floor
  • The incident will be very stressful to you

When, where, how many and with what will all depend on the spectrum of scenarios that is called life. The martial art you choose must have an answer to these assumptions. Furthermore, it must give you a set of fundamental principles that allow you to solve the various situations that unfold. There also will be times when fighting is not the best option to guarantee your survival. To find the right martial art, and develop a comprehensive self defense skill base read on…

Self Defense is More Than Just Martial Arts

The conversation usually goes something like this: “Don’t do Karate, it’s not based on reality; or “Krav Maga is the way to go; they only focus on self defense” … and of course the inevitable

“You have to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because on the street most fights go to the ground.”

But these answers cast an over-simplified cloud over a solution that is far more rooted in an ancient biological process.

Learning to fight is only one quarter of the self defense options available to you. So, before you put on a pajama suit and learn to count to ten in a foreign language, let’s explore some other choices.

Imagine this scenario. You are taking a jog one sunny morning, when suddenly a man leaps out of the bushes and tries to grab your arm. Without a thought, you pull free and run the best half mile of your life. Or, you swing your fist and savagely connect with his nose. Or, you see that he is armed with a gun so you stop and stay dead still while he helps himself to your iPhone and wedding ring.

Ryan Munsey, author of the brilliantly titled book ‘F*ck Your Feelings’, discusses this process when he featured on the KNOW FEAR podcast hosted by martial arts legend Tony Blauer.

In the interview Munsey quotes the Polyvagal Theory, which explains that we have three involuntary reactions to danger.

We freeze, we fight or we flee. Now this idea is not new to us, but Munsey adds that evolution has given us humans the ability to use cognition. With training we can use cognition to neutralize the threat.

As we become more self-aware, we take command of our bodies and can choose the best path forward. This may include a violent reaction, or simply taking a deep breath and talking your way out of the situation.

But what has all this got to do with your initial question?

The truth is that when we were born, Mother Nature preloaded us with fight, flight and freeze software. This is because in a natural environment, human beings need some self defense tools to survive.

In our man-made environment, childhood may have included a parent, teacher or mentor who added some conflict management skills to this self defense package.  So, if we are going to be good at self defense, we might as well get good at using all the tools at our disposal and not just the fist swinging one. Let’s discuss the others and then we will get to your question.

Flight

“Come on. Let’s run away.” 
“Where to?” 

Rincewind sighed. He’d tried to make his basic philosophy clear time and again, and people never got the message.

 “Don’t you worry about to,” he said.

“In my experience that always takes care of itself. The important word is away.” – Terry Pratchett, Eric.

When you are outgunned, overpowered and out numbered, a strategic retreat is a good idea. Initially this may involve you pointing your body in one direction and then making your legs move as quickly as possible. However, you can increase the efficacy of your retreat with a little strategy and skill.

  • Find the exits: The airline industry has been doing this for years. They know that once blind panic sets in people are more likely to find the way out to the emergency exit if you do a little preprogramming before the flight starts. When you enter any type of building; a house, an office block, a shopping center or an entertainment area, note the emergency exits. This sets your escape up for success and may protect you from a stampede in a mass emergency situation.
  • Take up running: That’s right, practice the art of flight. Test yourself. Could you pick a direction and run full tilt for 60 seconds? Would you be functional after that dash? This doesn’t sound like a big distance, but a lot can change in 60 seconds in an urban environment. If you can’t do this, it’s time to do a little road time jogging. I’m not talking the London Marathon, just a few miles a week. The Park Run movement has been instrumental in getting thousands of people comfortably running five kilometers at a time. Add some sprint interval training while imagining a large disheveled man or zombie, who wants you for his next victim, is breathing down your neck.  This is self defense training in action!
  • Flight and driving: You may need to escape from a situation in your car. Rather than blindly driving into oncoming traffic, you need a plan. Direct your vehicle towards a place of safety. Unless you want to bring danger to your front door, do not drive home. Pick a police station or a place where you will find security personnel. If you live in a country where you drive on the right-hand side of the road then make your first one or two turns to the right. This gives you a quick turn without having to face too much oncoming traffic (the process is reversed in left hand drive countries).  

Freeze Sucker!

The instinct to freeze is an ancient mammalian strategy. A wild hare spots a prowling jackal and it instantly freezes. The laws of camouflage dictate that movement gives away your position.

When faced with danger, you may find that you have involuntarily frozen. This reaction may save you from stepping on a snake, but for self defense purposes the story does not just end there. Freezing needs to become a voluntary strategy to increase your chances of survival. Or the freeze reaction can be a transition into another strategy such as fight or run.

To learn how to freeze voluntarily and not out of sheer panic, take a deep breath in and then purposefully breath out. Now you have a micro second to assess the situation and consider your choices.

  • When freezing is good: Many people have survived armed robberies by freezing or deliberately adopting a passive strategy. If you find yourself in the company of an aggressive armed attacker, the assailant is most likely to be full of adrenaline. Perhaps he is scared of being caught. In this case any resistance on your part is going to provoke a violent reaction that could have tragic consequences. By consciously adopting a passive attitude you have the opportunity to de-escalate the situation. In this way the robber feels he is in control and you part with your possessions and leave with your life intact.
  • When freezing is bad: There are instances after voluntarily freezing where you may instinctually know that you need to get away or fight. For instance, you are a single woman jogger and a man is trying to drag you into a secluded area of a park. There have also been active shooter attacks  such as the Christchurch massacre, where victims have deliberately played dead but the shooter has returned to make sure that his victims are dead.

Houston, We Have Cognition

In their podcast, coach Blauer and Ryan Munsey discuss the fact that a self defense scenario is going to start with an initial shock or surprise. You are attacked and you react. Tony Blauer says at this point your “startle flinch” reaction is activated. With some training it is possible to re-calibrate your reaction from “startled mammal” to “thinking human”. Now your brain is able to make choices. This gives me the opportunity to introduce the topic of “The fight”.

Often the debate about which martial art is the best, is orientated around the scenario of “one-on-one” street fighting. Or “you bump a guy’s drink and now he wants to fight you”. I would argue that these circumstances are not about self defense but rather “ego-defense”. To explore this further let’s look at the time-honored gentleman’s game of rugby.

This little scrap has all the hallmarks of the classic ego-driven street fight. The brain’s emotional panic button, the amygdala, has been activated on a mass scale. Energy used for the thinking neo-cortex is rerouted to the part of the brain required for primal survival. Neanderthal-like macro muscular punches are thrown. Headbutts, shoves and ground fights are added to the mix. The problem with this is that peripheral vision and the ability to assess threat has been forfeited.

The fact is that there is always someone faster, stronger and more aggressive than you are. And maybe you didn’t see his friend standing behind you who is willing to grab a beer bottle and smash it on your head. The principle is simple:

Fights that can be avoided, should be avoided.

To do this you need to snap yourself out of caveman mode. This cannot be done by thinking logically. You need a physiological solution. Here one is:

  • Take a step back and open your hands.
  • Breath in and then breath out.
  • Ask yourself, “how can I avoid this”?
  • Ask your co-combatant a question. Your goal is to get him out of caveman mode too and to activate his thinking brain. Try something like “Do we really have to fight?” and work it out from there.

On rare occasions, talking or running is not the solution. You want to be best prepared for this situation.

Let’s Fight!

In order to answer the question about which martial art is best for self defense, I am going to steer away from discussing specific systems or styles. Let’s discuss the characteristics of a good self defense system. That way you can make your own choice.  There are numerous styles out there.

Nowadays martial arts have divided into factions. There are traditional arts like Kung Fu and Karate. And there are functionally based contemporary systems, which cover a spectrum of mixed martial arts (MMA).

The quality of instruction can radically differ from one school to the next. The ability to inject context into a movement, gives a movement meaning. Without this you might as well be lifting weights or applying makeup.

When choosing a martial art for self-defense, I suggest you visit a few schools in your area and look for the following characteristics:

Aliveness

In 2005 martial arts innovator and founder of the Straight Blast Gym (SBG) Matt Thornton, introduced the concept of “aliveness” to the world. Thornton reasoned that for combat training to be alive and functional, it needed to include energy, timing, and motion.

Since then SGB has introduced some great martial artists to the world; including a fighter called Connor McGregor. When you watch a martial arts class, look out for exercises that include the following qualities:

  • Energy: This shows the quality and intent of the exercise. The participants must offer a level of uncooperative resistance to one another. If the opponent is compliant and allows his training partner to have his way and execute his move, the exercise has no fighting energy. It will not translate into proper self defense
  • Timing: Timing is developed when the practitioner faces an unpredictable and uncooperative opponent. Patterns and set routines will need to be discarded to achieve this
  • Motion:  In all true combat exercises, there is constant motion.  Whether fighting on the feet or on the ground, movement must take place. This can be in the form of footwork, wriggling, pushing or pulling. If the practitioners are running drills from a stationary position, they will not be properly preparing for battle. If you don’t believe me, watch the rugby game again

Ranges of fighting

Consider the rugby game. There was pushing and pulling and then headbutting. The fight progressed to punches and some wrestling on the ground. A good self defense system will cover all these aspects of fighting, including kicking. If you can’t find a school that covers all these ranges in their system; then choose the one which covers one of these ranges well, with a lot of aliveness.

Making contact

Don’t be afraid of a system that involves contact. Learning to deal with being roughed, pushed pulled and punched is all part of learning self defense. The more comfortable you become with contact, the less shocked you will be during a real-life attack, and the quicker you can progress to the cognition part of the conflict. Watch the class and check these questions:

  • Is there an element of “good spirit” and respect between the participants in the class?
  • Is the level of contact introduced in a progressive way?
  • Is safety gear used?
  • Does the instructor demonstrate in a way that people learn; or are the demonstrations used as an opportunity to bully and inflict pain? If the instructor does this, his students will most likely follow his example. This is not an environment conducive to learning.

Lastly, If the instructor tells you that it’s not possible to train using contact because his moves are too lethal; suppress your laughter because you don’t want to insult a lethal man! Walk out the door and never return.

Competition Is Not Self Defense

There is an element of truth to this. Martial art competitions take place in padded and sterile environments. They don’t take place in jeans or cocktail dresses.

You never see competition venues in bathrooms, bedrooms or parking lots. That being said; an attack requiring self defense can be very traumatic. If you freeze up and are unable to cope with the stress, it is unlikely that you will be able to execute the moves that you have learned.

Exposure to controllable stress helps you to immunize yourself against uncontrollable stress events. Scientists call this “behavioral immunization”.

Competition allows you to test your fighting skills in a different kind of stressful environment. Each time you compete, it allows for self-reflection and improvement.

A stress inoculated combatant has a distinct advantage over a person who has not faced this type of stress. There is also nothing stopping you from getting together with a buddy on a weekend and running a practice session at home.

Test your moves on hard surfaces and in cramped environments. This gives your self defense knowledge depth and versatility. You will soon discover that some moves are only possible in the gym, and that smashing your knee on a concrete floor can be a life changing event.

Ignore The Bling

When you walk through the doors of a self defense school, do not be fooled by medals and trophies on the wall, or pictures of the instructor posting with his master outside an Asian temple.

Likewise, you may find the instructor has discarded his traditional martial arts suit, usually called a Gi, and has replaced it with a camo outfit. Neither of these appearances give legitimacy to the self defense system. The exercises should incorporate an element of science and common sense.

Knuckle push-ups will not keep you safe on today’s streets and ultimately give you arthritis. But a fit and conditioned body is a significant advantage. Watch a class or two and get to the bones of the system.

Are the exercises alive? Will they help you to deal with stress? Could you transform from a shocked mammal into a human and can consciously implement a tactic? Last of all, will you have fun learning the system? It’s the fun and camaraderie that keeps you coming back for more, and will develop you into a competent self defense practitioner.

References & Further Reading

Blauer, T., & Munsey, R. (2019). Ryan Munsey – The Science Inside the SPEAR System. Retrieved from Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/321374115

Ellifritz, G. (2016, December 19). Playing Dead? Retrieved from Active Response Training: http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/playing-dead

parkrun. (2019, March 2019). Welcome to parkrun. Retrieved from parkrun: https://www.parkrun.com/

Porges, S. (2018, April 23). Dr. Stephen Porges: What is the Polyvagal Theory. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec3AUMDjtKQ

Pratchett, T. (1990). Eric. United Kingdom: Victor Gollancz / Corgi.

Santiago, N. (2019, March 28). Examples of Interval Training. Retrieved from lovetoknow: https://exercise.lovetoknow.com/Examples_of_Interval_Training

Scicurious. (2012, November 6). It’s not the stress that counts, it’s whether you can control it. Retrieved from Scientific American: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/its-not-the-stress-that-counts-its-whether-you-can-control-it/

Shutterfinger. (2011, February 17). A Punch Is Just a Punch. Retrieved from Shutterfinger: https://shutterfinger.typepad.com/shutterfinger/2011/02/in-martial-arts-as-in-life-you-dont-win-the-trophy-without-a-fight-before-i-learned-the-art-a-punch-was-just-a-punch-an.html

Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/why-aliveness/

Thornton, M. (2017, May 16). It’s Aliveness – Still. Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/its-aliveness-still/


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Situational Awareness Guide – THE PRESENT

situational awareness guide

I was ready. at least I thought I was.

Over the years I’ve had six martial art instructors and attended seminars with world renowned martial art figures. I developed a well-rounded skill base, was athletic enough to jump over the hood of a car and never tired of sparring.

But when the time came to actually defend myself, I was lacking the one skill that could have saved me from being forced to the floor and having my arms tied behind my back with my own black belt (an ironic twist of fate that sent me on a mission to complete the self defense puzzle).

personal safety

Many martial art gyms sell their programs as “self defense” training. They proficiently teach various forms of striking, kicking and grappling and yet do not incorporate situational awareness into their teaching. I don’t believe that a self defense curriculum is complete without this essential element. In fact, situational awareness is possibly one of the first skills that should be scientifically broken down for the student to master.

What is Situational Awareness?

Situational awareness is a term used within policing, military and security circles.

The term is also used loosely around the dinner table. Cousin Jane recounts how her iPhone was stolen by two hoodlums that “came out of nowhere”. At this point uncle Wally clears his voice and lowers his glasses to the tip of his nose. The table quietens as the man who guarded the local library gates in 1957 against an imminent communist invasion is about to offer some sage security advice. “You need to be more aware” he tells the family. But, how do you actually do this, and why is it necessary? Let’s examine the mechanics of situational awareness.

Definition

There are several definitions of the concept, which differ in various contexts.  

On the battlefield senior officers will use the concept when referring to the position of friendly and enemy troops. In the health and safety field, it is used when briefing workers such as forklift drivers.

I will define it in personal safety terms. What this means is how a potential Peter Parker needs to get to work and home safely on a day to day basis.

For our purposes: Situational awareness is the use of the sensory system to scan the environment with the purpose of identifying threats in the present or projecting those threats into the near future.

The National Research Council (1998) refers to three hierarchical phases in the situational awareness process.

3 Levels Of Situational Awareness

Level 1:

Perception of key elements in the environment.

Level 2:

Comprehension of the current situation

Level 3:

Projection of the future situation

We will now discuss the first two levels of Situational Awareness.

In other words:

  • You use your sensory system to identify something unusual in your immediate environment.
  • You interpret that thing as a threat.
  • Or you anticipate that there are signs of a threat in the imminent future.
situational awareness training

Principle 1: Use the Sensory System to Detect Things Out of the Ordinary

In order to perceive threat, we need to go back to the five senses. Or maybe not just the five senses. According to Professor Barry Smith of London’s Institute of Philosophy, neuroscientists have dismissed Aristotle’s famous statement that we have five senses. The truth is we have between 22 and 33 senses.

self defense

Use All Of Your Senses

Apart from the usual five senses we are familiar with, there are a range of senses functioning all the time that we are not consciously aware of. For example, there are our senses of proprioception and kinesthesia. These senses tell us how our body is positioned in space. Whether it is moving, and in which direction. Our senses are continuously interpreting information via the process of adaptation and amplification.

Situational Awareness Can Improve With Training

It’s also worth knowing that situational awareness, powered by the senses can be improved and refined with training. In 1949 psychologist Donald Hebb described the theory of how brain pathways are developed through regular repetition. Today Hebb’s theory is commonly explained as follows: “Neurons that fire together wire together”. In other words, the sensory system, which is all about nerves, gets better at what it is doing with continuous practice.  


5 Day to Day Steps For Improving Your Sensory System:

1. Stop!

When you transition from one environment to another, STOP! As you step from the parking lot into your office or out of a bus or train, pause for a few seconds and let your senses take in the scene.

Who is moving and who is standing still? What sounds do you hear close to you and what sounds register in the distance? Are there any specific smells in the area? What is the temperature like against your face and arms? Is there anything in the environment that strikes you as out of the ordinary, or doesn’t seem to belong?

safety

Criminals often create subconscious “tells” that they are up to no good via their body language.

One of the most famous examples of this behavior led to the capturing and conviction of the Boston bombers who set off two bombs at the Boston marathon in 2013. After assembling witness statements and perusing hours of video footage, it was the unusual body language of the bomber in the white cap that helped to tie the case together.  

2. Spot Something New Each Day

As you follow that same route to work that you have been travelling for years; try to spot something new each day that you have never noticed before.

3. Be Aware Of Temperature

Explore the sensation of temperature. You will notice that temperature sensitivity varies on different parts of your skin.

Try touching a surface right now with your palm. Now try the inside of your forearm and then just for fun, try your cheek. Don’t worry about what your family or that scowling lady on the bus commute think; you are in the process of enhancing your spider senses.

4. Be Aware Of Sound

Note that your sense of hearing tells you about distance. Of course, this is nothing new to dolphins, bats and rats, who have been using sound for thousands of years to give them information about their surroundings.

As you read this; notice the sounds in your immediate area. Now let your hearing leave the room you are in and venture onto further parts of the environment. Finally try to hear the sounds in the far distance.

5. Explore In Darkness

Become a night time predator in your home. Turn off all the lights and navigate from room to room. You will discover that this is a multi-sensorial exercise. Touch, hearing and special sensations become amplified. The more you do this, the more you own your nighttime space.

Principle 2: Use the Present Mind – Be Alert

As each day trundles on, our mind meanders through various states that can be measured in time. These states are often accompanied with internal dialogues and mental visualizations.

The Past

At some time during our day we may think of an event that took place in the past. This could be in reaction to something you recently said: “Why did I just say that?”. Or it could be an enjoyable childhood memory, which is triggered by the sudden aroma of ice cream.

The Future

At other times in the day our minds may project into the future. This could be a useful exercise like scenario planning. However not all future thoughts are useful.

awareness exercises

Worry is a common future projection. Our mental space is engrossed with horrors of what might happen.

In the book “Can I See Your Hands – A Guide to Situational Awareness, Personal Risk Management, Resilience and Security” (2017), Dr. Gav Schneider notes that stress and anxiety; both of which are products of worry, reduce awareness. Criminals are drawn to people who are in this state. You’ve seen the look as a seven-year-old boy is engrossed in a cartoon, or more likely nowadays a game on a cell phone! His eyes are glazed and he doesn’t register sounds around him, or the voice saying for instance, “Pick up your toys!” To a criminal; a motorist or pedestrian in this state screams TARGET!

The Present

Sometimes our minds focus on the immediate present. Our minds are alert and tuned into our direct space. Our senses absorb the environment. Intuitive feelings are produced compelling us to act against danger or toward delight. Psychologists nowadays call this mindfulness.

In the old days when swords and beheadings took precedence over “chill rooms” and lifestyle coaches; the Japanese practiced the skill of “Zanshin”; the continuous state of relaxed awareness.

The Yellow State – Calm and Relaxed But Aware

In his Colour Codes of Awareness, Col. Jeff Cooper referred to this as the yellow state. In this state we are calm and relaxed, but aware of the environment.

The moment our minds lapse into the past or future, we lose situational awareness and drastically reduce our reaction time to threat. But it isn’t possible to stay in a state of concentrated focus all day long.

Gav Schneider explains that in a ten to 12-hour period, it is only possible to devote 30 minutes of intense mental focus. So how do we get the most out of these precious 30 minutes?  Consider the following:

How To Improve Situational Awareness

  • Switch on your alertness when you sense something out of the ordinary, or when you have an uncomfortable “gut feel”. We will discuss intuition in greater detail in a subsequent post.
  • Focus your mind when you are arriving at or leaving from a location. Be especially alert when you are at road intersections or when your vehicle is stationary.
  • Known crime hot spots or locations that provide opportunity for criminal activity should make you instantly alert. This includes public transport areas, retail areas such as bottle stores, small checkout retailers and automatic teller machines.
  • Consciously switch on your alertness when using sharp objects or complex machinery. Your fingers will love you for this at the end of the day.
  • Choose not to look at your cell phone at times when you need your situational awareness switched on. According to researcher Thomas Mackain, one out of every four vehicle accidents can be attributed to the use of a cell phone. At the risk of mixing Marvel and DC metaphors; cellphones are like kryptonite to your Spidey sense.

Principle 3: Move your RAS

Luckily, we don’t have to switch on our awareness and alertness all on our own. Mother nature has equipped us with our very own Reticular Activating System or RAS.

The RAS is much like our brain’s internal firewall.

  • This system filters the thousands of bits of data that we absorb every second of the day, and raises the relevant information into our consciousness.
  • It is responsible for our state of arousal from sleep to wakefulness.
  • When we are under threat it warns us.
  • It stimulates us when we are interested in something and excites us when we interact with something desirable.  

For example, Peter Parker hangs up his webs and plans to take Mary-Jane Watson out for a night on the town. To get ready, he pops into a local clothing retailer and gets himself a new red and blue t-shirt (apparently, he likes those colors).

During the course of his date Peter, is horrified. Wherever he looks; he sees guys wearing exactly the same t-shirt.

People in the policing or security field will be attuned to spotting people carrying weapons or driving suspiciously.

The reason is that the RAS is bringing that item of information into your consciousness. The good news is you can develop your RAS to raise the alarm when you are walking into potential danger.

How To Attune Your RAS To Keep You Safe:

  • Note how specific activities around your home sound. For example, what do footsteps sound like as they approach your front door? What does the door sound like when it opens slowly? This might not need attention during your busy day, but it is very relevant at 2am during the dark of the early morning.
  • Armed criminals that target their victims in a public space need to conceal their weapons. This could be in the waistband of their trousers, under a shirt or jacket, in a pocket or even in bag. They most likely need to wear shoes that they can easily run away in; and may add a cap or glasses to conceal their faces.
  • Criminals aren’t good a playing poker. They often produce some type of sign that they have ill intent. This could be a person who deliberately averts his eyes when you greet him, or someone who subconsciously taps his waist to check that his .38 revolver is still in his belt. In his book the “Gift of Fear”, international security expert Gavin de Bekker refers to these signs as pre-incident indicators. These are types of unnatural behavior that are indicators that an impending incident.  
  • Become familiar with the driving patterns in your neighborhood. At 07h30 in the morning adults are on their way to work and children on their way to school. This produces a specific speed and style of driving that is different from a casual Sunday drive to pick up a copy of the Daily Bugle. Your RAS should alert you when a vehicle driving style is incongruent with the context of the day and time.

I am not attempting to get you to spot assassins under every skirting board. Paranoia is the enemy of situational awareness. The goal is that you sensitize yourself to danger signs in the environment, and then you take action. In other words, you are in your relaxed state of alertness, you become aware of something unusual via the sensory system and the RAS, and you say: “Uh oh, spidey sense is tingling!”. Now you need act. In my next blog I will examine some concrete action steps.

References & Further Reading

abcNews.com. (2016, April 26). Boston Bombing Day 2: How Authorities Found the Bombers in the Crowd. Retrieved from YouTube :

Barry, A. (2015, May 15). Timeline: How police caught the Boston bombers. Retrieved from theJournal.ie: https://www.thejournal.ie/timeline-dzhokhar-tsarnaev-boston-bombing-2106664-May2015/

BSR. (2017, March 19). Jeff Cooper’s Awareness Color Code Chart. Retrieved from BSR-inc: https://www.bsr-inc.com/awareness-color-code-chart/

Coaching What Works . (2016, August 7). Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together. Retrieved from YouTube :

Enkamp, J. (N.D. ). Zanshin – More Than You Think. Retrieved from Karate:
http://www.karatebyjesse.com/awareness/

Mckain, T. (2014, MAy 6). The Effects of Cell Phones on Reaction Time . Retrieved from Prezi: https://prezi.com/lfkqdekrrmwe/the-effects-of-cell-phones-on-reaction-time/

National Research Council. (1998). Situational Awareness. In R. S. Pew, & S. A. Mavor, Modeling Human and Organizational Behavior: Application to Militatary Simulations (pp. 172 – 202). Washington DC: The National Academies Press.

Norman , J. (2019, February 26). Donald Hebb Formulates the “Hebb Synapse” in Neuropsychological Theory. Retrieved from Jeremy Norman’s HistoryofInformation.com: http://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=3902

Schneider, G. (2017). Can I See Your Hands! – A Guide to Situational Awareness, Personal Risk Management, Resilience and Security. In G. Schneider, Can I See Your Hands! – A Guide to Situational Awareness, Personal Risk Management, Resilience and Security (pp. 59 -72). Irvine. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers.

Smith, B. C. (2011). 2011 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT? Retrieved from Edge: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11677


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4 Principles For A Neighborhood Watch Patrol (A Complete Guide)

There has been a great deal written about what a neighborhood watch is. There is much written on how to create one. But now for the first time, let’s look in detail at how to do the patrol safely.

An incident or a string of incidents has created a call to action in your neighborhood.  Before you know it, Whats App groups are being formed and you are scheduled to do your first patrol. Put on your cape and don’t forget your mask; your super sleuthing days have begun.


Preparation is Key

“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” ― Robert Schuller.

Preparation for the patrol is as important as the patrol itself. This is especially important in neighborhoods where there is a high crime risk.

Consider the following scenario:

It’s a quiet and warm evening and you are coming to the end of an uneventful drive through the suburb. Turning a corner, you start heading for home, suddenly a movement catches your eye.

You turn towards the house on your right. You know; the one with the annoying couple that’s always trying to get you to join a new multi-level marketing scheme promising a superior lifestyle for more points. You turn your spotlight in the direction of the movement, just in time to see a tall thin male dressed in dark clothing leaping out of a window.

Your Heart Skips a Beat

It looks as if he has a laptop bag over his shoulder and he immediately starts to run in the direction of the suburb’s park area. Naturally your heart skips a beat and your body kicks in the ancient fight-flight-freeze process that has kept your family alive since your ancestors foraged in grasslands and “ook” was an entire sentence.

Your hands start to shake and fine motor skills, like finding a number on a cell phone, are discarded in favor of gross motor skills, like running or saying “uhgg” (caveman for “oh goodness, there’s a guy running over there with something on his back”). For a second your mind goes blank before you engage the gear and start to call for help.

Let’s check a few items:

  • Do you know where your flashlight is, or is it at the back of the glove compartment after you used it to change a flat tire one evening.
  • Will your flashlight work, or has the battery run down during the patrol?
  • Do you need to dig your phone out of your pocket, or scramble in the dark for your two-way radio?

It’s at this moment that preparation will determine your success and your safety.

Principle No. 1 For Safe Patrolling: Prepare For Success Under Duress.

Prepare Your Equipment

The answers to these questions are all answered during the preparation phase of the patrol. The goal is to set your gear up so that when the adrenaline is pumping and your inner caveman is running the show, you are functional and effective. Start by checking any equipment that is battery operated. This includes your flashlight, cell phone and two-way radio (if you have such a network).

If you live in a part of the world where it is necessary to be armed, then give your firearm a check. Give the magazine a tap and check that the firearm is in the appropriate carry condition. Secure it to your body. You can’t have your weapon sliding around the vehicle because you suddenly slammed on brakes.

It should be noted that some schemes insist that patrollers are unarmed. After all, you are supposed to be on “eyes, ears and call for help” duty and not “chase, apprehend and interrogate” duty.  

Next, test any other additional equipment. Some neighborhood schemes use a flashing amber light mounted to the roof of the car to maximize visibility. If this is the case, your cars’ auxiliary charger needs to be working.

There are times when patrollers need to assist with non-security related emergencies such as vehicle accidents or helping old Mr. Jones jump-start his Delta 88 Oldsmobile. A reflector vest and headlamp are indispensable tools for these occasions.

First Aid Kit

Your car should also contain a first aid kit. You may not be able to do much medically, but silicone gloves will allow you to assist medical personnel without facing the danger of blood borne diseases.

Ensure that you have some form of legal identification on your person. If you are rendered unconscious in some form of emergency, it’s essential that first responders can identify who you are.

Last of all; if you are not armed, some form of self-defense tool is necessary so secure a pepper spray to your waste or vehicle compartment (click here to learn about using pepper spray). Mightier than the pepper spray, a pen and notepad will assist you in note taking. Yes, you are a busy person and fine details may well slip your mind.

Where Is Everything Located?

Now decide where the kit is going in the car. The rule is to securely place the gear in the same place every time. That way when the brain clicks into crisis mode, it’s easy to find what you need. If are going to panic, be a well prepared “panicker”.

Don’t leave your paraphernalia on the passenger seat. Each piece of equipment needs to be in a secure location rather than somewhere in the dark on the floor of the car. If your cell phone is your primary method of communication, then pre-program critical numbers in a speed dial or favorites list. If you are going to use a push to talk App, then have the App open and the appropriate group on. Once you are ready, it’s time to turn on the ignition key and leave the Batcave.

Planning Your Route; Patrolling With Purpose

As opposed to the drive around aimlessly without any plan method; route planning is an integral part of the success of the patrol. Your route should fit into the security plan of your scheme. Perhaps it’s going to cover a crime hotspot, or a group of vulnerable houses.

The route needs to have a purpose. A route means that everyone knows more or less where you are during the patrol. This adds an additional layer of safety to your patrol. In some instances, you may want to follow an exact route, but it’s good to have some flexibility. Predictable routes create windows of opportunity for bad guys and boredom for patrollers.

Plan Using A Map

The plan starts with a map of the suburb which should be constructed by the coordinators of the scheme. The map should be overlaid with crime locations, incident times, common criminal entry points and vulnerable points of interest.

This can be done on computer by a process called GIS (Geographic Information Systems). Now don’t go all caveman and be scared off by this term. A GIS map can easily be constructed on free applications like Google Maps or Google Earth.

Once the map is created, it’s easy to see where your problem areas are and conduct some proper planning. At the end of the process, a patrol roster should be issued. For example, Jimmy is patrolling from 18h00 to 19h00 on sector 1 of the map, Dave from 19h00 to 20h00 on sector 2 and so on.

Think Your Route Through

Think your route through. If you want to learn the details of an area, tear yourself away from the shiny Netflix box for an hour, and take a walk on a Saturday afternoon. This will give you intimate knowledge of the suburb. In many cases it’s the same process that a house breaker uses to find his target. Alternatively, internet tools like Google Maps and street view can also be used. Start to activate your security brain by using a questioning process:

  • Where are the vulnerable homes on the route? Jenny the underpaid IT teacher who knows lots about GIS, has no burglar bars on her windows!
  • Where are potential points of danger? Maybe it’s a bottle store that gets busy in the evening; or an intersection where you are going to be forced to stop and wait for traffic.

These spots will need additional vigilance before you arrive at the location. Where are the darkest areas on the route; or the narrow streets that don’t offer you a left or right turn if you feel you are in danger?

Now with your security gear engaged, lets get on with the patrol.

Patrolling techniques

Situational Awareness

You cannot react to danger if you cannot perceive danger. Situational Awareness will be covered in detail in another article, however for purposes of your patrol,

Principle No. 2: Use Your Five Senses to Identify Features That Are Out of Place in the Environment.

You scan the environment by looking, listening, feeling and smelling for something that is out of place (apart from a good cup of coffee, give the sense of taste a break for now). Your situational awareness may detect a vehicle that is driving unnaturally slowly or too fast.

Perhaps it’s parked in a strange place. It could be the way someone walks through a neighborhood, or perhaps there’s two people who don’t seem to be walking with any purpose. Maybe it’s an object like a dustbin that has been propped against a wall so it could be used as a step ladder. Whatever it is, let your senses draw you to anomalies on the route.

Observe and Report

Once you spot something that stands out, your job is to observe and report what you have detected from a safe distance.

Your vehicle lights, mirrors and flashlight will assist to enhance your sense of sight. In the instance of a two-person patrol, the driver can take care of the driving space, while the crew in the passenger seat can give extra attention to the patrol area on the passenger side of the car.  

Weather permitting, it’s good to keep a window open or partially open. This allows sounds from the environment to filter into the vehicle. Sounds of shouting, alarms ringing, or rapid footsteps should draw your attention. The open window also gives you access to the smell of smoke; a valuable warning sign in the case of house fire.

Driving Style

Principle No. 3 For Safe Patrolling: Movement Creates Safety.

It’s far more difficult to attack a moving target than a stationary target. There are places during the patrol where you are going to have to come to a stop.  These are the times of highest risk.

Plan for these places by making a conscious effort to increase your situational awareness. Scan the area before you arrive at a stop street or traffic light. Make sure you have checked the areas to your left and right. Dark zones need extra care. A cul de sac or a place where you are forced to execute a 3-point turn can be especially tricky. A complicated driving manoeuvre is going to take your attention away from scanning the area. These risky places should form part of your route planning.

Driving speed can vary. Generally slower speeds allow you to scan the environment in greater detail, however there might be times when you want to quickly double back and loop a block to check that someone wasn’t waiting for you to drive past so that they can start tampering with the door of a vehicle parked on the street.

Calling for help

Principle No. 4 for Safe Patrolling: When You Call For Help, Location, Location, Location.

The primary tasks of a neighborhood watch are to create a presence in the suburb and to provide eyes and ears support for policing and security services. The idea is to stay away from danger and to call in suspicious and criminal activity. However, since you are on the street, it’s possible that something can happen. Be it on the cell phone or 2-way radio; when people are facing danger or are in shock, it is common for them to report what is happening, forgetting to say where they are.

This happens to security personnel and civilians alike. A typical example is, “I need help. I just saw a head on collision. Lots of people hurt”.  With this message first responders know what the emergency is, but don’t know where to find you. An alternative would be “Corner 6th and 14th, serious vehicle accident, I need assistance”. Even if communications are cut at this point; people know your location and can send help. You can always add details or new locations at a later point.

Scenario Planning

One way to resolve this situation is through a process of scenario planning. Make a list of possible emergency scenarios that can take place and develop a response to those situations. Specialist military and police units do this all the time. When the moment of crisis develops, they have already developed a trained response, this is what gives them the upper hand against the bad guys. What would you do if:

  • You come across a serious motor vehicle accident at a busy intersection?
  • You turn the corner and see an armed robbery in progress and one of the assailants looks directly at you?
  • Your car breaks down during the patrol in the darkest part of the suburb?

The scenarios are endless. Don’t be afraid to confront the questions. It’s worth developing a network of experts that can help you answer these questions. Here are two framework statements that can help you solve the scenarios:

  1. Position yourself in the place that will facilitate the highest degree of safety for that scenario.
  2. Call for help providing your location and the nature of the emergency.

Arrive alive

Lastly, the patrol is not over until your vehicle is locked away and you are safely indoors. It’s possible that while you were being the suburb’s caped crusader; your house became the target. Military units that return to their base after a long foot patrol will often use specific techniques to ensure that they don’t walk into an ambush just as they are ready to drop their kit and brew up a cup of something warm.

Approach your home as if it is the first time you are seeing the property. It’s predictable for you to drive directly home, park your car, drag your kit out as you berate the dog for leaping in the car. Even if he uses his tongue to communicate his undying affection for you!

Instead break the routine by creating variations of arriving home.

  • Use Principle 2 and pass by the house, do a turn around the block and listen for suspicious sounds.
  • Remember Principle 3; once you have parked your car, you are vulnerable. You need to get out as quickly possible.

Because you used Principle 1; your kit and house keys are quick to access, and you are on the move to the appropriate door. Not much you can do about the dog though! You can hang up the super hero kit for the night or day only once you have established the house is safe and you are locked indoors.

 

 

 


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What is a Neighborhood Watch?

What is a Neighborhood Watch

Meet The Neighborhood Crime Watch

The neighborhood watch, a fascinating social convention that exists in various forms around the world. There are various characters that form part of this amateur crime prevention group:

There is the meticulous curly haired woman in her early 60’s. She’s a busy body organizer, and her efforts will give her husband some welcome relief as he turns back to watching the cricket test match on the telly.

The military veteran sometimes marvels at the inexperience of the people around him, but luckily, he is always on hand to offer a wise and much detailed military anecdote.

Johnny Rambo is a car salesman who has found his true calling as a crime fighter. Equipped with leather driving gloves and a 1 million lumen spotlight, nothing can stand in the way of this determined super sleuth.

Lastly, we have the millennial investment banker who does patrols between studying for his MBA and ordering a new polycarbonate mountain bike with rewards points earned from a side hustle run on his tablet.

Neighborhood Watch Definition

The neighborhood watch goes back as far as the 1970’s in the USA and the 1980’s in the United Kingdom. However, the concept of volunteer citizen force patrolling a town, village or even cave dweller community probably goes far back into the history of human society.

There are various definitions of the concept, but essentially:

A neighborhood watch is a group of community volunteers that have formed an organized scheme that is tasked with patrolling a community area in order to reduce crime in the neighborhood.

Depending on the part of the world, this may be conducted by groups of people on foot, or in vehicles.

Why Start a Neighborhood Watch Program?How To Start A Neighborhood Watch Program

In a paper called Communities, Crime and Neighborhood Organization, Professor Wesley Skogan, notes that “Crime is corrosive”, it corrodes our trust in one another and damages our will to act within our community.

After stating so often that “there’s nothing that can be done about crime”, we actually begin to believe it. As the corrosion grows, people shrink their psychological territories to the borders of their homes and the doors of their cars. As they enter their suburbs, they observe and interact less with their immediate environment and avoid questioning suspicious activity.

Situational Awareness

“Situational awareness” the term that security experts’ treasure, is exchanged for “it’s got nothing to do with me, and what’s for supper anyway”? The belief that “a man’s home is his castle” takes on a new meaning.

The castle walls once designed to keep out invaders now also serves to save us from greeting the neighbors. We become so inwardly focused that we don’t even notice the unknown car that is slowly driving down the road.  Areas that are not overtly monitored are natural targets for criminals.

==> Check out our Situational Awareness Guide

The paradox is that people who are under threat often contract from society, while the solution is to extend yourself outwardly and engage in with the community. South African security expert Prof Rudolph Zinn,  has noted that one of the most effective ways to prevent crime in a neighborhood is for residents to actively get involved in crime prevention initiatives.

South Africa suffers from one of the highest crime rates in the world, and yet when a case study was conducted involving well-structured vehicle and foot patrols in the suburb of Roodekrans,  it was found that 18% of crimes took place during the patrol periods and 82% during the non-patrol times (Meyer & Van Graan, 2011). When the community patrols were active, crime significantly reduced.

Benefits of a Neighborhood Watch

There is a time for people to say, “enough is enough”. The pain of constant criminal incursions is sufficient to drive home dwellers away from YouTube and Netflix screens, and into the dark of the neighborhood street. The curly haired woman stamps her fist on the table, Facebook and WhatsApp groups are alight with anger and a meeting is called. With some good planning and leadership, the neighborhood watch has been shown to be an effective crime-fighting mechanism (Bennett, et al., 2008).

Some of the benefits of a neighborhood watch are:

    • It brings communities together. People share information, start looking out for their neighbors and quickly spot vehicles and people who do not belong to the area.
    • People start to take ownership and responsibility for their own security – this makes a person less of a victim and depletes the victim mindset. This is even important from a trauma recovery perspective.
    • People that get involved in patrols start to see the neighborhood through the eyes of a patroller. With their new “security eyes” they start to become more vigilant and start to see the importance of security measures such as creating lighting in the yard area.

Reading Resources for your Neighborhood Watch

Bennett, T., Halloway, K. & Farrington, D., 2008. The Effectiveness of Neighbourhood Watch. Campbell Systematic Reviews, p. 48.

Meyer, M., & van Graan, J. (2011). EFFECTIVE COMMUNITY POLICING IN PRACTICE: THE ROODEKRANS NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH CASE STUDY, WEST RAND1. Acta Criminologica, 24 (2).

National Neighborhood Watch, ND. About Neighborhood Watch. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nnw.org/about-neighborhood-watch
[Accessed 17 November 2018].

National Sheriffs’ Association, ND. Neighborhood Watch Manual. [Online]
Available at: http://nnw.org/sites/default/files/documents/0_NW_Manual_1210.pdf
[Accessed 17 November 2018].

Skogan, W. G., 1989. Communities, Crime, and Neighborhood Organization. Crime & Delinquency, 35(3), pp. 437-457.

Willink, J. & Babin, L., 2017. Extreme Ownership How U.S. Navy Seals Lead & Win. Second Edition ed. New York: St Martin’s Press.


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