do outside lights deter burglars

Security Lighting Tips – Do Outside Lights Deter Burglars

A question I hear all the time is, ‘do outside lights deter burglars’? Yes, we all know that when you go out at night you should leave your lights on to deter criminals.

The question is…

Is this strategy at all effective?

In this post, I’ll reveal why a strategic use of lighting is one of the best burglar deterrents and how you can easily implement these lighting strategies in your home.


SECURITY SHOT #1: Alarm System Maintenance Tips

Your house alarm is a powerful home defence tool if used properly. House alarms both protect your home when you are away and can be used as an early warning system when you are home. There are four simple rules to getting the best out of your house alarm:

  1. It must be in good working order. 
  2. It must be checked frequently. 
  3. House alarms connected to a response service are far more effective than a standalone system. 
  4. The system must be designed and maintained in so that false alarms are eliminated. 

House Alarm Maintenance Tips

  • Test wireless sensor batteries: If you have a wireless system, check the batteries. This is important before you go away. Many systems will warn you when a battery in a sensor is running low on power. 
  • Clear foliage and vegetation: Clear foliage in the path of and around external sensors. This will ensure that the sensor is monitoring its full area and will eliminate false alarms, especially during windy weather. 
  • Test alarm signals: If connected to an alarm response provider its worth checking that they are receiving signals from your alarm. Periodically giving them and call and confirm that they have received your signal. Test your different signal types. Separately test panic buttons and sensors. 
  • Check your motion detectors: Inspect each motion detector and ensure that they are mounted correctly and not hanging loose. Remove dirt, debris and spiderwebs (this can be done with a vacuum cleaner). Its also important to note that insects have not invaded your sensors, ants are particularly good at doing this. If you find ants in the sensor, remove and open. Spray the inside of the detector with an insect spray. 
  • Check your detectors are working: Put your alarm on “Test” and activate each motion sensor and door contact. 
  • Check the backup battery: The system should have a backup battery that will keep the system running should your power go down. If the battery is old, or there are frequent power problems in your neighbourhood, the battery will probably need replacing. 
  • Schedule annual maintenance: If you have a service provider that maintains your alarm, schedule a maintenance visit. This is best done before you leave your home for a well-earned holiday. 

Getting the Most Out of Your House Alarm

  • Activate when not at home: Turn your alarm on every time you go out. Yes, even in the daytime. Burglaries often take place during the day when people are at work. 
  • Cover all the entrances: Cover all the possible entrances to your home with the alarm system. There should be a PIR (Passive Infrared Sensor) or door sensor in every room where there is a door or window that provides access to the outside world. The room without this protection is the weak link in your security chain.
  • Use cellular technology: If you are upgrading or purchasing an alarm for the first time, make sure you purchase one that can link to an APP or sends messages and alerts to your cell phone. This is an important tool if you self-monitor your alarm. The phone will give you remote control of the system from anywhere in the world. It also enables you to monitor activity and call for help remotely. 
  • Close your doors and windows: When you go out, its important to get into the routine of closing doors and windows. Windows left open will allows curtains to blow on windy days and cause false activations. 
  • Get a pet friendly system: Eliminate pet initiated false alarms by installing “Pet Friendly” sensors in your home and garden. 
  • Partition your alarm & prevent home invasions: Create zones in the alarm system for time when you are out or at home. When you are out the entire house should be armed and monitored. At night select the “living area” of the house. This area will not be monitored, the rest of the house should be armed and alarmed.
  • Monitor status alerts: Monitor your control panel for alerts that may indicate that there is a problem on your system. 
  • Distribute your panic buttons: You never know where you might encounter an intruder in the house. For this reason, it is advisable to have more than one panic button in the house. Children and house employees should be trained: to use the panic button in an incident.
  • Connect your alarm and panic button to a siren: In the event that there is an intrusion you want the bad guys to run. It is very unlikely that they will stick around if a loud siren activates. 

Best Self Defense Technique

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

To answer what the best self-defense technique is first to 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. 

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 schoolyards, 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. 

The Lesson That Changed It All

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 attacker’s 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

It’s natural for people to put their heads 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:

Brodala, T. (2011, May 31). S.P.E.A.R. System: “Outside 90”. Retrieved from YouTube:

Danaher, J. (2003, March). Fighting in the Clinch: A Key Skill in Real Fighting. Retrieved from Realfighting: (2019). Functional Clinch. Retrieved from

Grant, T. P. (2011, December 24). New Fan’s Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts: The Clinch. Retrieved from

Lucanus, J. (2016, January 21). FINALS Josh Waitzkin vs. “The Buffalo” – 2004 Tai Chi World Cup – Moving Step Push Hands. Retrieved from YouTube:

Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from

climate change crime

Do Natural Disasters Create an Opportunity for Crime?

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. 

==> We created the ultimate guide to Martial Arts.

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:

anon. (n.d.). Natural Disasters. Retrieved from BasicPlanet:

Barsky, L. (2006, January). Disaster realities following Katrina: Revisiting the looting myth. Retrieved from ResearchGate:

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:

Berger, D. (2009, August 14). Constructing crime, framing disaster: Routines of criminalization and crisis in Hurricane Katrina. Retrieved from SAGE Journals:

Berger, D. (2013, April 18). Constructing crime, framing disaster. Retrieved from ResearchGate:

Frailing, K. (2016, February 25). Understanding crime in communities after disaster: A research brief. Retrieved from Journalist’s Resource :

Garthwaite, J. (2019, February 6). Polar vortex: The science behind the cold. Retrieved from PhysOrg:

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:

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:

none. (present day). Current World Population. Retrieved from Worldometers:

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:

Reid Ross, E., Caris, E. M., Bea, M., & Moses , V. (2019, February). 5 Unsung Superheroes Who Rose Up During Natural Disasters. Retrieved from Cracked:

Ripley, A. (2008, September 3). Why Disasters Are Getting Worse. Retrieved from Time:,8599,1838400,00.html

Routine Activity Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from ScienceDirect:

SHELDUS (Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States). (n.d.). Retrieved from Princeton University Library:

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:

Vahedifard, F., & Aghakouchak, A. (2018, October 22). The risk of ‘cascading’ natural disasters is on the rise. Retrieved from PhysOrg:

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:


Crime Rates And Climate Change – Is There a Link?

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. In this post, we will explore the connection between weather and crime.

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Weather and Crime


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 colonization 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 goosebumps, 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 to 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.


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 acclimatize 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 heatwave, then acclimatization 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. 


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 behavior, 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.


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. 


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.  


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. 


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. 


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:

Anonymous. (n.d.). Temperature. Retrieved from Earth in the Future:

Asher, J. (2018, September, 18). A Rise in Murder? Lets Talk About the Weather Retrieved from The New York Times:

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:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2000). Emissions Scenarios. Retrieved from IPCC:

Mares, D. (2013, February). Climate Change and Levels of Violence in Socially Disadvantaged Neighborhood Groups. Retrieved from Researcg Gate:

Matthew, R. (2012, November 10). Crime, Weather and Climate Change. Retrieved from

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

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:

Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (1998, January). The Pleistocene and the origins of human culture: Built for speed. Retrieved from ResearchGate:

situational awareness training

5 Situational Awareness Exercises – Getting Practical With Self Awareness

You open your eyes. You are in the dark enclosed environment.
You are in the trunk of a car. Could situational awareness be the key to your freedom?

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How to Start a Neighborhood Watch

How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program (In 4 Easy Steps)

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!

neighborhood watch statistics

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 program 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

How does a neighborhood watch work? Here are the 4 steps to creating your own neighborhood watch:

How To Start A Neighborhood Watch

1. Recruit People

Neighborhood Watch Program

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.

Are neighborhood watch programs effective?

Statistics have shown that neighborhood watch programs can reduce crime as much as 26%.

What is the definition of a neighborhood watch?

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.

What are the benefits of a neighborhood watch?

1. It brings communities together.
2. People start to take ownership and responsibility for their own security
3. People that get involved in patrols start to see the neighborhood through the eyes of a patroller. 


Crime Maps! – Your Essential Tool for a Successful Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch Crime Map

In a study of 36 neighborhood watch schemes, 56% showed a positive outcome in terms of crime reduction. With the effort of creating a neighborhood watch scheme, you want to give it the best chance of success – enter crime 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 flashlights, 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 has 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-kilometer 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 unwelcome 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

You can draw Maps 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 categorizing 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 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 supercomputer, 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 neighborhood 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 visualized 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 also gets 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 neighborhood watch to get the best results for your efforts. Enter maps and GIS.

Neighborhood 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 neighborhood watching? By increasing presence and awareness in the neighborhood 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 a 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 pool 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 neighborhood 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 was recorded, a map showing the crimes could be made using GIS (Crime 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 (Crime Map 2). Immediately, all these vulnerable places were identified and placed on 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 analyzing the type of crime to see if it was location-specific or maybe the time of day specific (Crime 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.

Crime Map

As the GIS was utilized more and more, the functionality of the GIS map-making program 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. This resulted in mini eureka moments. They identified Hot spots. 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 neighborhood, 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 Neighborhood

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/

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

Ratcliffe, J. H., & McCullagh, M. J. (2001). Chasing Ghosts? Police Perceptioln of High Crime Areas. Brit.J.Crimnol, 41, 300-341. Retrieved from

Rosenberg, M. (2018, October 06). What is a Mental Map? Retrieved from ThoughtCo.:


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. Are martial arts useful in a street fight?

My feeling is that the skill of self-defense involves more than just the act of learning to throw a punch, breaking a headlock or learning a fighting style. 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 in any defense situation:

  • 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 for 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…

Best Martial Art For Street Fighting

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.


“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 outnumbered, 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 about 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 microsecond 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 leaves 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 defense situation 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 neocortex 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.
  • Breathe in and then breathe 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! – Best Martial Art for Street Fighting

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:


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, the 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 gives 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:

Ellifritz, G. (2016, December 19). Playing Dead? Retrieved from Active Response Training:

parkrun. (2019, March 2019). Welcome to parkrun. Retrieved from parkrun:

Porges, S. (2018, April 23). Dr. Stephen Porges: What is the Polyvagal Theory. Retrieved from YouTube:

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

Santiago, N. (2019, March 28). Examples of Interval Training. Retrieved from lovetoknow:

Scicurious. (2012, November 6). It’s not the stress that counts, it’s whether you can control it. Retrieved from Scientific American:

Shutterfinger. (2011, February 17). A Punch Is Just a Punch. Retrieved from Shutterfinger:

Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from

Thornton, M. (2017, May 16). It’s Aliveness – Still. Retrieved from


Situational Awareness – The Complete Guide

situational awareness

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. This ironic twist of fate that sent me on a mission to complete the self-defense puzzle.

Situational awareness.

What is Situational Awareness

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 self-defense 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.

==> Check out our situational awareness for first responders guide


What is situational awareness?

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 self-defense 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 levels of situational awareness. These three phases in the situational awareness process are hierarchical.

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.

Click here to watch a video about the 3 levels of Situational Awareness

situational awareness training

How to Practice Situational Awareness Self Defense

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

In order to perceive a 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 is 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.

Heighten Your Senses With Situational Awareness 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. This means with a little practice you can also be a situational awareness self-defense master. 

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?

space situational awareness

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 traveling 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 in 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 by 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”; a 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 Your 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 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 an 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.

Check out these 5 situational awareness exercises that will fine-tune your awareness.

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 2 am 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 a 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 (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

BSR. (2017, March 19). Jeff Cooper’s Awareness Color Code Chart. Retrieved from BSR-inc:

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:

Mckain, T. (2014, MAy 6). The Effects of Cell Phones on Reaction Time. Retrieved from Prezi:

National Research Council. (1998). Situational Awareness. In R. S. Pew, & S. A. Mavor, Modeling Human and Organizational Behavior: Application to Military 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

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.