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Situational Awareness: Practical Application

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As anyone who has read any of our articles or books knows already knows we place a high premium on developing and using situational awareness as an integral component of personal security.  In fact if you were to do only one thing to make yourself safer – and nothing else – it would be to develop and employ situational awareness.

Still many people struggle with this for a variety of reasons.  In some cases it is because they have not received proper training on it before:  they are told to be alert to aware of their surroundings but are not told how to do this or they have been told its “common sense”.  Others equate situational awareness with hyper vigilance.  I addressed that question previously here: https://protectiveconcepts.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/situational-awareness-and-the-danger-of-hypervigilance/.    Another problem is dismissing the concept of Coopers Colors based on a very strict understanding of the color code.  One instructor discusses his dislike of Cooper’s Colors as a method here:  http://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/article/the-myth-of-situational-awareness/.  While he makes some interesting points I strongly disagree with what he says – his position only aligns with a very rigid interpretation of the color code.  Further the notion that situational awareness is not useful is ridiculous.

I believe that Coopers Colors is a guide to follow – not a rigid doctrine.  The four main colors that are used – White, Yellow, Orange and Red – form a framework for us to gauge awareness.  In reality there are sublevels or gradations within those colors in my opinion.  You might be in a low Condition Yellow or a high Condition Yellow as an example.  While you should not be in Condition White in public places as a general rule, you may be in Condition Yellow and move momentarily into Condition White for a moment while you look at a map, answer your phone, etc.  I think that is normal and fine as you are not walking around in Condition White for an extended period of time.  You should be positioning yourself in a more protected position to do those activities – i.e. stepping into a doorway to look at the map.  You are not lingering in Condition White – you go into it and come back out quickly.  Throughout the day you should mainly be in Condition Yellow which is a relaxed state of awareness.  You will likely shift briefly to Condition Orange from time to time – either due to some outside stimulus / observation that you make such as seeing a person exhibiting behavior that causes you some concern or because you are entering a perceived danger area or transition area where you know you should be more alert due to the increased potential threat.  You may drop briefly into Condition White while looking at a menu in a restaurant or taking a phone call.  This is only a brief interruption and only after assessing your environment and assuming a more protected position.  This is very doable and a very easy way to live your life.

How do you apply it?  There are a number of ways to begin introduce situational awareness behavior:

Establish Baselines:  It’s important to understand the baseline or pattern of normal activity for a given environment or location.  This baseline may change based on the hour of day and day of the week.  By establishing a baseline you determine what type of behavior is normal in that environment at that given time.  This allows you to detect behavior which is not normal (an aberration or anomaly) as well as the absence of normal behavior or activity.

Watch People:  Pay attention to people in your environment and learn to assess them rapidly.  We will look more at what constitutes suspicious behavior and other indicators of danger at another time.  We previously discussed some elements of it here: https://wordpress.com/stats/post/269/protectiveconcepts.wordpress.com

Look for Exits:  Train yourself to identify exits whenever you enter a room, building, public transportation, etc.

Recognize Points Where You Need to Raise Your Awareness: Recognize that arrivals, departures, choke points and danger areas are all situations where you need to be more alert to potential threats.

Eliminate Distractions:  This means moderating your smart phone, tablet, ear buds, etc. use in public areas in order to better focus on your surroundings.  For many people this takes real discipline.

You can condition yourself to be aware of your environment – specifically potential threats in your environment – in much the same way.  It takes some deliberate effort – especially at first but it is a worthwhile endeavor.  It doesn’t require hyper vigilance or rigid adherence to a strict interpretation of Coopers Colors.   With practice and a good understanding of how to employ it, situational awareness can be a habit that you use daily to keep yourself safe.

Review – Left of Bang

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If you are looking for a resource to improve your ability to be aware of your environment and identity threats before an attack occurs then look no further than Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley.
While there are other books that discuss reading body language and detecting potential threats none really address it as comprehensively and in such a user-friendly, applicable way. In my opinion this is the definitive work on situational awareness, yet it also readily complements other books like Gavin De Becker’s Just 2 Seconds (which we will review separately in the future).

 
The material in Left of Bang is taken from the US Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program. The Marine Corps implemented the Combat Hunter Program to better prepare Marines for counterinsurgency environments like those found in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the counterinsurgency environment the enemy hides among the civilian population, which presents a real challenge for warfighters. The material used in the combat profiling portion of Combat Hunter is also incredibly useful for the average person in terms of their personal security.

 
The term left of bang refers to the time before a violent incident. If you are looking at a timeline and “bang” is the attack, the IED detonating, the ambush, the kidnapping or whatever, the left side is the time preceding the incident. Right of bang is the time following the incident, the reaction, the response and so forth. While it’s important to be ready to deal with the incident and its aftermath, if you can deal effectively with the time before the incident you may be able to prevent the incident from occurring or at least remove yourself from the scene before the incident occurs. Getting “left of bang” means being ahead of the threat, seeing it coming and recognizing it and taking the appropriate action, this book gives you tools to do that.

 
In the book you will learn about baselines and anomalies, the six domains of profiling, the combat rule of three and how to make decisions based on your observations and make them quickly. I have not found this level of detail or techniques that are as useful anywhere else. The book in available in paperback and e-book version through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Left-Bang-Marine-Combat-Program/dp/1936891301/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413499479&sr=8-1&keywords=left+of+bang

 
I also had the great opportunity to take a tactical analysis training class with Patrick Van Horne prior to the book being published and found that to be incredibly insightful as well. Van Horne’s company CP Journal (Combat Profiling Journal) now also provides an online training course now too. More information about CP Journal and their programs can be found here: http://www.cp-journal.com/.

 

Guile & Deception as Kidnapping Tools

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Most people when they think of a kidnapping think of a violent, dramatic event. The victim is ambushed, dragged from his car, threatened with weapons and restrained before being moved to a location where he is isolated. Many kidnappings do follow this model or something very similar. Speed, violence, “shock and awe” are effective tools for the kidnappers – allowing them to gain control of the victim quickly and effectively, dramatically reducing the likelihood of resistance of escape.
There are however kidnappings that don’t follow this model. Circumstances where victims are lured into their captivity induced to put themselves in a vulnerable position and sometimes even controlled through duplicity as much as physical restraint. It’s important to understand and recognize this methodology to be able to protect yourself against it.
A number of these events evolve out of sophisticated scams. The victim is lured to a specified location with the promise of a lucrative business opportunity and then abducted. Many but certainly not all of these incidents have occurred have occurred in West and Central Africa. In March 2014 KR Magazine (www.krmagazine.com) outlined the case of an Australian businessman who was lured to Togo in West Africa, in December 2012 by an opportunity to purchase gold bars. He entered Togo by land from neighboring Ghana, did not get an entry stamp in his passport and was told by his “hosts” that he faced immigration and money laundering charges. He was then held captive “for his own protection” and forced to call his business partner and estranged wife for ransom payments. This incident was also controversial in the sense that after the victim purportedly escaped or was allowed to escape there were allegations that the entire incident was a fraud. Regardless – the case provides numerous examples of a modus operandi that has apparently become increasingly common. There was also a notable case in May 2012 off a US commercial airline pilot who was also lured to Lome, Togo by an opportunity to buy gold bars. The pilot was subsequently held captive in a village in neighboring Benin until a ransom was paid. Similar cases have been reported in Uganda, South Africa and numerous other countries.
The Colombian Facebook Gang – which we have previously discussed (https://protectiveconcepts.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/social-networks-and-the-threat-to-personal-security/) used social media to identify and target wealthy men. Using fake profiles depicting beautiful women the kidnappers enticed the men to “meet in person”. The victims were then abducted when they arrived for the meeting.
Even the well-publicized and tragic case of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan contains elements of the use of deception to lure the victim into captivity. Pearl went to what he believed was an interview with a Pakistani militant – Sheikh Gilani in Karachi. After being taken willingly to the safe house where the interview was to occur, Pearl surrendered all his personal items and allowed himself to be restrained “for security reasons”.
Kidnapping through the use of deception and guile, rather than a gun offers a lot of advantages to the criminal:
• They can get the victim to do the work for them by getting them to isolate themselves and in some cases willingly put themselves into captivity.
• It gives them deniability. If it goes bad and they are caught they can argue it was all a misunderstanding on the part of the victim. If no violence was used and the victim was not physically restrained they may very well prevail with this argument.
• It reduces the physical risk to they face. The victim is unlikely to fight back or physically resist and they are less likely to draw the attention of law enforcement.
• It creates an opaque environment they can manipulate to their advantage. Is the victim free to go? Does the victim know that?

 

Common Elements and Mitigation:
There are some common elements that occur in cases where guile and deception are used and ways to mitigate your risk:

• Many of these situations have the hallmarks of a scam. If it seems to go to be true then it probably is. That said it is worth noting that many of the perpetrators of these crimes can be very sophisticated and can work on developing the mark or victim over time – this is true for both kidnappings and straight out scams. It’s important to do your due diligence in these situations and know who you are dealing with as well as watching for some of the other indicators below.
• Many have an illegal or at least unethical component where the victim knows he or she is getting involved in something that is not legitimate. This allows the perpetrators to require a level of secrecy that would not be typical in most business dealings. It also provides the kidnapper with the leverage of reporting the victim to the authorities. You can mitigate this by not engaging in business deals or other activities that are questionable.
• Be wary of unsolicited approaches from people you don’t know or unsolicited calls or emails requesting a meeting or offering a prospective business opportunity.
• There may be a requirement to go to an isolated location or to accompany the perpetrators to an unknown location. Additionally there may be a change in plans or meeting places at the last minute that isolates the victim. To avoid this it’s important to insist on holding meetings in public locations – preferably that you are either familiar with or have time to assess in advance. You should not agree to last minute changes in meeting venues and if pressed its best to cancel the meeting. Criminals will try to create a sense of urgency to get you to go along with their plan.
• The perpetrators may say certain measures are “for your own protection” or are “security measures” to control you. Do not allow yourself to be willingly confined or restrained under these circumstances.
• There may be an attempt to isolate you and make you dependent. This may include surrendering your passport, mobile phone, etc. We strongly advise travelers – particularly in the developing world – to create multiple layers of contacts or parallel contacts. Do not allow one person or one group of people to control your agenda and activities. Have alternate means of transport, communication, etc. to eliminate this dependency. Also have check in procedures and let others know where you are going and who you will be meeting. We have discussed this in our article on dealing with local contacts (https://protectiveconcepts.wordpress.com/?s=dealing+with+local+contacts ) and in the book Safe Travel Abroad (http://www.amazon.com/Safe-Travel-Abroad-Individual-Expatriates/dp/1484871987/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1402518982&sr=8-1).
Being aware of this type of crime is the best way to reduce your risk of being a victim. Recognizing the criminal modus operandi and identifying the signs will allow you to avoid these situations in most cases.

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention Now Available in Paperback

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Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention from Integrated Protective Concepts is now available in paperback format from Amazon.com.  The book was previously released in E-Book format for Kindle and compatible readers.

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention is a 70-page book that covers proactive measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of falling victim to a kidnapping.  Here is a little bit about the content:

A confused tourist gets into the wrong taxi and is expressed kidnapped. A businessman is lured to a bogus meeting and held for ransom. An expatriate consultant is kidnapped after being stopped at an impromptu roadblock. A journalist goes for an interview that turns horribly wrong. A bank manager’s family is held hostage to force him to access bank funds. Kidnapping is a pervasive crime that takes many forms around the world. Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention will help you understand the different types of kidnappings, how they occur and how to identify ways you can better protect yourself, your family and your personnel. In this book you will learn:

• About different types of kidnappings

• How kidnappers select their victims and the process and methods they use • How to assess your vulnerability

• How to recognize potential ruses and traps

• How to limit information about yourself and your movements

• How to recognize surveillance and other pre-incident activity

• How to use OPSEC principles to protect yourself

 • How to use force multipliers to mitigate risk

• Where to find additional resources

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention doesn’t discuss hostage survival or how to handle a kidnapping event; rather it concentrates on proactive measures that can be used to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a kidnapping.

Both paperback and Kindle versions are available here:  http://www.amazon.com/Kidnapping-Avoidance-Prevention-Integrated-Protective/dp/1494762943/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389880826&sr=1-1&keywords=kidnapping+avoidance

Both versions are also available on many international Amazon sites such as France, UK and Spain.

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention

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Protective Concepts is pleased to announce the release of  the new book Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention.  Originally planned for first or second quarter 2013 it got a bit delayed but is now available as a Kindle E-book.  A paperback version of the book is in production and should be available in January 2014.  Please see a brief description below:

A confused tourist gets into the wrong taxi and is expressed kidnapped. A businessman is lured to a bogus meeting and held for ransom. An expatriate consultant is kidnapped after being stopped at an impromptu roadblock. A journalist goes for an interview that turns horribly wrong. A bank manager’s family is held hostage to force him to access bank funds.Kidnapping is a pervasive crime that takes many forms around the world. Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention will help you understand the different types of kidnappings, how they occur and how to identify ways you can better protect yourself, your family and your personnel.

In this book you will learn:

• About different types of kidnappings
• How kidnappers select their victims and the process and methods they use
• How to assess your vulnerability
• How to recognize potential ruses and traps
• How to limit information about yourself and your movements
• How to recognize surveillance and other pre-incident activity
• How to use OPSEC principles to protect yourself
• How to use force multipliers to mitigate risk
• Where to find additional resources

Kidnapping Avoidance & Prevention doesn’t discuss hostage survival or how to handle a kidnapping event; rather it concentrates on proactive measures that can be used to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a kidnapping.

Some additional administrative notes:  The Kindle E-Book version sells for $4.99 USD.   The paperback version when it becomes available will sell for around $14.00 USD.  The original formatting was done for the paperback version so there may be some awkward sections in the E-Book version depending on the particular reader you are using.  Regardless any version should be completely readable.
Questions and comments are welcome and should be emailed to integratedprotectiveconcepts@gmail.com.

Probability: Looking at Likelihood When Assessing Personal Risk

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There is a tendency to be drawn to the more exotic, spectacular or exciting threats when considering personal risk rather than the more likely but more mundane threats.  In many parts of the developing world your greatest risk is a vehicle accident.  Poorly maintained vehicles, lack or total absence of professional driver training and licensing, bad roads and sometimes a lackadaisical attitude towards safety in general make this a real concern many places.  This is often compounded in places where modern medical care is severely lacking and all but the most minor medical issues require evacuation.  In an environment like this injuries sustained in a traffic accident that might be very manageable elsewhere in the world can be fatal.

While conducting a recent threat assessment in East Africa following the Westgate Mall attack, it was difficult to get the consumers of the report to appreciate the full spectrum of threat that exists apart from terrorism.  Yes, terrorism is a very real concern and the relative success of the Westgate attack (a low tech attack using limited numbers that produced high casualties and went on for days capturing worldwide media attention) may encourage further, similar actions.  Any further attacks will likely occur at soft targets where visitors and expatriates are likely to be such as hotels, transit hubs, shopping venues and so forth.  That said, Nairobi is a city racked by violent crime and for the average visitor or resident this is a much greater risk than terrorism.  There is a much greater chance of being carjacked, and possibly murdered in the process than there is of being present during a terrorist attack.

When assessing your personal risk in a particular location and perhaps basing whether or not you will go or what mitigation measures you will put in place, it’s important to consider the full threat spectrum and consider the likelihood or probability of each type of threat so that you don’t get so caught up with the more spectacular threat that is receiving massive coverage on CNN that you ignore the more probable threats that might be right in front of you.