Amidst corn mazes, costumes, haunted houses and trick-or-treat fun … real danger lurks. The ability to defend yourself in a life-threatening situation starts long before you even own a weapon with situational awareness. At Safe Life Defense, we want to help make your Halloween as safe as possible with a few tips for first responders (and civilians, too).
Situational Awareness Training
So what is situational awareness? It’s the improvement of one's perception of their environment, the comprehension of the meaning and the prediction of future status. In short, it means being aware of what is happening around you and any potential threats in that space within your day-to-day life. By checking ‘your six’ you can prevent a scenario from happening, escalating or even remove yourself from it altogether. Practice may look like exploring what-if scenarios, as well as enhancing your awareness by cultivating your self-defense skills beyond basic training and pursuing realistic, repetitive hands-on training.
Meet the Methodology
There are two main assessment practices you can consider. The first is the Cooper Color Code. It was created by Jeff Cooper, a US Marine, to assess one's mindset from one level to another and determine the condition in which we live and react.
Within this tool, we find four main color levels of awareness: white, yellow, orange, and red. Again, this isn’t a threat indicator, but rather an evaluation of your readiness to respond to a threat in terms of your mental state at any given time.
- In condition white, you are completely unaware of what is going on around you and assuming nothing bad is going to happen to you. We’re often at this level while at home, work, or where we feel safe.
- In condition yellow, you’re relaxed but aware of what is going on around you, taking mental notes and constantly scanning for potential threats. You may be looking for things that seem out of the ordinary, whether that be in your environment, a person or a sensory trigger.
- In condition orange, you’ve noticed something out of the norm that is concerning. It is likely to be a potential threat and you’re watching it closely to see if anything develops so you can determine your next course of action. It’s an excellent time to get into your body armor if you haven’t already. You’re still scanning your environment and creating distance between yourself and the potential threat. This will continue until you have determined it’s either safe or you’ve found an alternative solution.
- In condition red, the threat seems to be real and you’re either waiting for it to fully materialize or are confronted with it directly. At this point, you should be prepared with a plan and ready to defend yourself without hesitation. If possible, you’ll seek to deescalate the situation and create distance again.
The Cooper Color Code is simple and easy to interpret. Next time you are out and about, assess which one of these levels you are at throughout your day. The end goal? You should always be living in condition yellow, even at home.
The OODA Loop is a four-step decision-making process that was created for combat by John Boyd, an Air Force fighter pilot. The OODA acronym stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It’s used for situational awareness, decision-making and explains how our minds react to different stimuli. This one is a great tool for evaluating and avoiding a potential defensive situation. Here’s an example:
- You OBSERVE that you are on edge parked on a dark road while you wait for a dispatch call.
- You ORIENT yourself by remembering that there is a familiar local diner and well-light street a few blocks away.
- You DECIDE that you’ll go to the diner.
- You ACT by driving to the diner and parking out front under a street light.
When applied to situational awareness, observe and orient are the key stages that will be used in combination with one another. We must observe what is happening in our environment, take in any red flags we see and then orient ourselves based on what we observed in order to be able to decide on the best course of action, and carry out that decision. It's really about understanding that situation and filtering out what doesn’t matter, so we can focus on what does.
If we take this one step further, from the above example, things you may be noticing in that environment are people walking on the street, a motion light turning on or a blocked road. You may look for an area away from pedestrians, plan possible alternate routes or choose to park close to an exit. These are all things that you can easily act on or use to your advantage should a threat arise. And as always, it’s better to be safe than sorry ... get suited up in your armor, just in case.
Not Everything Is as It Seems
With lots of people out and about compared to the norm, Halloween can add to the amount of danger that officers have to encounter on duty. There is an abundance of extra stimuli to take in, costumes that can mask identity, festivities after dark where alcohol and other substances can impair decision making, change behavior and heighten the probability of an incident occurring. It’s as good of a time as any to consider another acronym JDLR, which stands for Just Doesn't Look Right. If you plan to trick-or-treat safely and want to help your local police departments, here are 5 things police want you to know:
- You should AVOID wearing professional gear for your costume and carrying realistic weapons or replicas of firearms. It creates additional challenges for us to determine what’s a real threat and what’s not. Choosing to wear concealable armor underneath, is another story.
- Our #1 concern is keeping citizens SAFE. We want you to have fun, but pranks can be dangerous so please be respectful to officers in your area.
- If you approach us in full costume, we can’t see WHO you are or what you may have hidden. We have to be cautious for our own safety, too.
- We’re JUST like you, but as public servants on duty, we may not have time to stop and chat with you. It’s nothing personal, we have to prioritize those at risk.
Most departments post safety TIPS online to help citizens at home and on the go around the holidays. Check with your local station to see what they recommend in your area (It might even be backpack armor or FRAS® plates for your kids.).
Tips for the Evening Events
It takes 2-5 seconds on average for someone to recognize that a dangerous situation is happening and start to react to it. That’s why bad guys are always seeking to catch their intended victims off-guard so they can have the tactical advantage. Your ability to be aware that something is happening sooner rather than later gives you the opportunity to take control of the situation, greatly reducing your overall risk. The more aware you are, the quicker you can run, hide or fight. Below is a list of ways you can stay safe long after the streetlights turn on:
- Be prepared with proper fitting gear that will be comfortable for 12+ hours
- Load up on non-lethal tools like a tactical flashlight, baton or Taser
- Don’t announce your location or absence on social media
- Use the buddy system and rotate who’s on the primary watch to prevent fatigue
- Change your routine up so your patterns can’t be mapped and used against you
- Stay in condition yellow and identify objects and people around you consistently
- Keep your ears open, your head up and your hands-free at all times
- Identify entry and exit points in all internal and external locations you’re in
- Expand visibility when possible and walk the perimeters of crowds rather than through them
- Avoid entering dimly lit or dark spaces that can add to your vulnerability
- Understand the pace of your environment, what’s normal and your unique perception
- Practice prediction and consider any subconscious cognitive or hindsight biases
- Watch for any red flags around you and listen to your gut when something doesn’t feel right
- Beware of both human and electronic distractions that can prevent you from noticing a risky situation
- Make eye contact with people you pass on the street to show them you’re aware of their presence
- When stationary in a vehicle, stay alert, lock your doors and close your windows
- Always check over your treats for tampering, especially those that are not securely sealed
Safety tips like these aren’t meant to be scary, they’re meant to be empowering. The more situationally aware you are, the less likely you are to become a target for criminals. Risk reduction is vital, so always put yourself in a position to observe, detect, and avoid (or react). The best fight is the one you’re NEVER in because that’s when you and the other parties involved really win. Being prepared in any way that you, like training to be more situationally aware, owning body armor and practicing your defensive skills regularly can stop bad things from happening.