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I was born and raised in Manhattan. As such, I have a built-in situational awareness barometer that helps keep me safe. It’s a sixth sense that city-kids have. We just “know” when things aren’t right. If we listen to our gut, we can stay out of trouble almost 100% of the time.
However, I grew up in the 80s, when New York City didn’t have the same “Sex and the City” siren’s call that it has now. In the past ten years, I’ve seen more people come to NYC without a clue in their heads – Doing the most irresponsible stuff known to man (or woman.) Taking the subway home at 2am, drunk off their ass. Pulling out their $600 iPhone on the A train at midnight. Lost in their iPad, reading away, completely oblivious to their surroundings, and the dangers that exist.
I’ve wanted to write this post for a long, long time. If it helps one person, or prevents one mugging, (or something worse) it’s been totally worth it. I encourage you to Tweet it out, Facebook it, and pass it along to friends, family, and coworkers. There’s nothing worse than being a victim in a situation where you totally and completely didn’t have to. Sharing buttons are at the bottom for your convenience.
I want to thank Ty Francis (if you think a 6’1″ former head of security for some of Southampton’s toughest clubs doesn’t have any good safety tips, think again) as well as retired Law Enforcement Officer Clement Tang for their most valuable tips that have made this article as helpful as it is.
I’m breaking this article down into different sections, but know this – There’s not one section in here that can’t help you. Read it. Please. If we can prevent one more NY Post Headline that screams about how a young woman left a bar at 3am and wound up dead, we couldn’t ask for anything better from this article below.
General Safety Tips you should always follow, whether you live in a big city or a small town.
Don’t develop a pattern of behavior.
- A pattern is what allows bad guys to plan an attack or ambush. It allows them to track your comings and goings. So they can plan when they can safely break into your apartment.
- Vary the times you come and go.
- Vary your routes to work, school, gym and coffeehouse
- Ever notice that when President Obama goes for a run, or even travels anywhere, he never goes the same route twice? There’s a very logical reason for that. Patterns can get you in trouble. Don’t have them.
Know your surroundings
- Beware of what is normal in your neighborhood…or anyplace you frequent.
- Is that a new car on the street?
- Have those guys always hung out on that corner?
- Knowing what is normal allows you to notice the changes. Noticing changes makes you more aware of potential dangers. Those changes will cue you as to when something unexpected might be about to happen
We have a “gut” for a reason. 99.9% of the time, going against it is bad form.
The number one clue that something isn’t right will more than likely come from inside of you. Your gut – That “something doesn’t seem ok here” feeling you get in your stomach. Don’t ignore it! There’s a reason we have those feelings. They’re ingrained from primal instincts, from millions of years ago, when we’d turn around and find a Tyrannosaurus Rex walking behind us, sizing us up for lunch. DO NOT IGNORE YOUR GUT. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut. You have it for a reason.
Situational Awareness is your best friend. Not using it turns your surroundings into your worst enemy.
- Yes, it’s fun to play Angry Birds on the subway. But don’t you think people are looking for those who are doing exactly that? If you’re busy throwing birds at pigs, or landing planes, or even reading a book on your device, the following things are happening:
- You’re focused almost entirely on whatever you’re doing, and not on your surroundings.
- You’re not holding onto your device with any level of strength – Rather, you’re just resting it on your hands. You can’t fling birds or turn pages if you’re grasping onto a device, so you don’t do it. Instead, you just rest it there, just waiting for someone to grab it and run off the train at the next open stop.
- This isn’t limited to transportation. Using your phone while walking down the street is just as bad – It’s so easy for someone going the other way to focus on your device, grab it, and be in a running start while you’re still like “What the hell just happened?” The thief is already ten feet away and running by the time you turn around and even realize what’s going on. Good luck catching up and getting your device back.
- In the end, I know we’re not going to stop using our devices in public places. That would defeat the entire purpose of the device. What we can do, though, is at least be more aware of our surroundings when we do it. Can we look up for a second after every level and just assess our situation? That’s not that hard to do.
Have your keys in your hands
Whether going to your car, work or apartment, have your keys in your hand before you approach the door. This allows you quicker access through the door and avoids the major distraction of fumbling for keys as you reach the door. An attack is most likely to occur when you stop at a door and try to find your keys. Your head will be down and you will neither be looking around or listen for unusual sounds (like steps coming your way). Attacking a victim at this time also has the advantage of gaining access to whatever you were about to enter. Also, being hit with a large set of keys can often discourage an attack and holding the keys between your fingers and punching someone with them can make them very unhappy.
Small things we should all do, but rarely do.
- Wherever you are, a small powerful flashlight is one of the most important things you can have. Even with something as innocent as a power outage, think of all the places you’ll be on any given day that have no outside windows to let in light…hallways, stairs, elevators. A flashlight will always allow you to find your way to a safer place.
- In that same vein, don’t fall into the movie plot setup of investigating noises in the dark…that is why you have a cell phone and know how to call 911 (or just walk away)
- A whistle or other noisemaker is your friend. Attach a small whistle onto your keychain. There. Now it’s always there. Do NOT be afraid to use it to attract attention.
- Instead of yelling “HELP” when something goes wrong, yell “FIRE!” People are more likely to respond to “Fire” than to “help.”
Have a buddy system
This doesn’t mean you always have to take a buddy when you go somewhere. It means letting someone know when you are doing something different or going someplace you haven’t been before… Also, when you plan to return. It doesn’t mean where to start looking for the body when you are kidnapped (although it does help), but it can be very useful if should you be stranded or injured in an area that doesn’t have cell coverage. You think it’s an exaggeration? Some very logical examples that could easily happen to you
- You leave work late one night, and get stuck in the elevator, long after everyone else has gone home.
- You fall asleep on the subway and wake up lost (or worse, in the yards. I’ve seen it happen.)
- You get in a car wreck and skid off the road, down a 200 foot hill into a ravine, hidden from sight of the road.
- You get sick. Your appendix bursts. You hit your head. You name it.
Know the people in your neighborhood. When I’m walking to the gym in the dark at 5am, there’s a homeless man on the corner of 46th Street. I bring him a cup of coffee each morning. In turn, he keeps an eye on me in the dark. It’s a good trade. Do you know the people in your neighborhood? Can you call for them if you’re running away from trouble?
Don’t look like a Victim
- Victims of violent crimes like a mugging or robbery call attention to themselves by either being oblivious to their surroundings (defenseless) or by looking helpless (unable to defend themselves).
- Walk down a street with your head up and looking around. Don’t hug either side of the sidewalk…especially not the inside where you have to pass close to doorways. For God’s sake, don’t text and walk at the same time. You’re screaming out “ROB ME!”
- Don’t stare (it can be taken as a challenge) but don’t be afraid to look at people (it isn’t an elevator). You can nod or smile if you’d like, but beware of offering an unintended invitation.
At the end of the day, personal security and situational awareness comes down to not being clueless. I encourage you all to not be clueless.
Don’t be clueless
- Yes, it is a wonderful new world out there to explore. But try to pay attention to the unusual when out walking.
- Has that person been behind you for a while?
- Do they stop when you stop and continue when you do?
- Do they look away when you turn to look at them?
- The easiest thing to do is go into a public place, like a coffee shop or an eatery, and have a seat…if they stop too, you might consider calling 911 and have them check out your stalker.
- The worst thing to do is continue on your way is it takes you to a less traveled area…if you can’t stop; take a longer but busier route.
I’d love to hear your tips, as well. Please post them in the comments below.
Stay sharp, stay aware, and stay safe, my friends.
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My husband and I got robbed at gunpoint when we pulled up in front of our house three days ago after Christmas shopping. A thief came up on both sides of our van, and we didn’t know they were there until we opened our doors. They both aimed a gun at our heads and said: “Give me your money or I’ll kill you.” I panicked and kicked at the one on my side. I wasn’t being brave, I was just in fight or flight mode. He shot the gun–whether to scare or shoot me, I’m not sure, but it missed. At the same time, my husband set off the van’s security alarm, which blared away. It didn’t detour these thieves, the one on my side repeated his threat. Finally, realizing that they meant business, I threw my purse at him and said, “There. You have it. Go!” And he did. The other one followed. I lost my credit cards, checkbooks, ID, prescription medication, personal items, and $400.00 in cash–my kids’ Christmas money–but at least we’re alive. Now, we’re both suffering severe PTSD. I alternate between fear, anger, and despair. I keep looking over my shoulder, and I’m afraid to be alone. My greatest fear is that they will return.
I have anxiety disorder, so I have a “bad gut feeling” pretty much anytime I’m around another person. How do I work with that? I can’t just stay in my house forever.
I see a lot of people jogging alone in isolated places as I am driving. I think that people should not do that. Try and find a group online or go to a park when a lot of people are there. Lots of crime happens at night. My dad always said nothing good happens after midnight. Have your drinks at nice restaurant bars not places with bouncers at the door they are there for a reason lots of fights.
Thank you Peter, for sharing all this wonderful information. I wish you could be on a TV show or live streaming show. Love what you have done to help us.