Thursday, March 19, 2015
Personal Security: Understanding Your Enviroment
|September 17, 2014 | 0900 GMT|
AnalysisThe first step to understanding your surroundings is establishing an environmental baseline. This is a process by which one can measure the activity occurring around them to a predetermined standard. Establishing an environmental baseline is quite simply acquiring a detailed understanding of what is normal for an environment and then looking for things that are abnormal or that represent a change to the normal. The practice goes hand-in-hand with situational awareness. It is formed in large part by practicing situational awareness, and once it is constructed, it becomes an important filter through which one processes the things they see while practicing situational awareness.
The importance of having and using an environmental baseline is illustrated by the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in a Latin American country. Upon his release from a brutal captivity, the U.S. citizen told the American special agent debriefing him that he noticed something new and unusual in his neighborhood shortly before he was kidnapped, but he chose to ignore it. He said that about two weeks before his abduction, he saw a couple sitting on a bench in the park adjacent to his home in the morning as he left for work. He noted this was odd because, though people often used the park in the afternoons, he had never seen anyone sit there in the morning. He then began to see that same couple on that same bench every morning as he left for work. He ignored the anomaly and paid a very high price — emotionally and financially — when he was forcefully abducted. After he was ransomed, he never again saw the couple sitting on that bench in the park.
In addition to merely identifying what is normal in the area where one lives, works or goes to school, an environmental baseline should also incorporate some general research on crime history and statistics for these areas and the travel corridors between them. This gives a better understanding of the types of crimes being committed, the modus operandi of the attackers, and the most likely time and location of an attack. The potential for natural disasters, civil unrest — and in some cases, the possibility of terrorism or even war — should also be considered. As we noted in Part 1 of this series, people should not just ignore the threats they do not want to think about. It is extremely important to be prepared by staying proactively informed about things one might not otherwise hear or think about.
Environment can also influence a particular person's potential to become a target. This is true not only at the macro level, meaning what part of the world or country one lives in, but also at the micro level — different parts of a city often have different threat environments.
On the macro level, a mid- or low-level corporate employee who might not be very notable in the United States or Europe could be considered quite wealthy in a poor country such as Haiti or Kenya. Furthermore, the baseline crime levels in places like Sao Paulo or Lagos are far higher and the capabilities of the police forces are far lower than those one would see in Seattle or London. This difference is seen in crime rates and in the types of crimes committed, with kidnapping, carjacking and gratuitous violence being much more common.
At the micro level, one should create an assessment of the threats in all the locations they visit regularly — and in the areas they need to travel through to get there. One might live in a safe neighborhood, but that does not mean the neighborhood between their home and office is safe or that the parking garage next to their office has an identical threat profile as the office building itself.
Vulnerability AssessmentOnce this baseline has been established, one can then evaluate their vulnerabilities based on the types of crimes committed and the tactics the criminals employed. Where are burglaries occurring? Do the burglars strike during the day while the homeowners are at work? Are they sophisticated enough to disable alarm systems? Where and when do most car thefts happen? Are thieves stealing vehicles or just smashing the windows and grabbing valuables? Who are the criminals kidnapping? Are they targeting local victims from wealthy families or expatriates with kidnapping and ransom insurance policies? Are they abducting children or adults? What types of vehicles are being stolen? Are carjackings occurring outside the city or in the business district? Do burglaries occur while people are at work, or are armed home invasions more common late at night?
One should also analyze their daily routine to identify points where they are vulnerable by virtue of being at a specific place at a predictable time. Do they run every morning at 6 a.m. on a predictable route? Do they leave their home every morning between 8:15 and 8:20 a.m. or arrive at the gym every afternoon at 5:15 p.m. sharp? In some environments, such predictability may not pose much danger, but it can be very dangerous in other settings. When in hostile environments, one should make an effort to alter their travel times and routes as much as possible and, if this is not possible, to practice heightened situational awareness. There may also be a need to think about taking enhanced security measures such as arming oneself, using an armored vehicle or using a protective detail, depending on the threat and vulnerability assessment.
But even in less dangerous environments, criminals can still find weaknesses to take advantage of, and it is prudent to practice good situational awareness when at a given place at a predictable time. In a safer city, one might not be kidnapped or assassinated, but one could still be raped or robbed by a criminal who observes their patterns.
It is also sensible to examine one's regular travel routes for choke points, or places one must pass through on their route to get from point A to point B. Obviously it is best to vary one's routes and times, especially in more dangerous environments, but sometimes geography places constraints on the ability to alternate routes. There may be only one bridge leading from one section of town to the other. When a choke point happens to be in a place that constrains movement, provides attackers with a good place to hide and wait for their victim, and offers them escape routes, it is considered to be a potential attack site. People passing through choke points and potential attack sites should take their situational awareness up a step — especially if they pass through such areas at predictable times. During this time, it is best to look for signs of preoperational surveillance.
A heightened state of situational awareness at such locations will help a target identify an attack as it develops and help them react to a potential attack more effectively. In the final part of the series, we will discuss how to recognize and respond to attacks.