In Know Your Surroundings, Joe Dolio of Tactical Wisdom talks about awareness, assessment and map studies.
An important part of personal safety and tactical awareness is understanding your surroundings and how to find help or refuge in an emergency. That’s our topic today.
What does the Ultimate Tactical Manual (The Bible) say about it? Before Joshua led his people over the River Jordan, he sent out a recon team, telling them:
“…Go, look over the land…
Joshua knew that he shouldn’t just blindly rush into a location with no idea of what was already there, and neither should you. He wanted to know the general area, as well as his specific goal.
Think of the places where you normally go and ask yourself if you can honestly answer these basic questions:
1. How many emergency exits are there?
2. Where is the nearest hospital?
3. What police agency covers the location and where is the nearest station?
4. How do I get out of the parking lot if the main entrance is blocked and what road does that put me out on?
5. In the event of an active shooter, where is there a strong point with only one entrance that I could possibly defend myself and others from?
Knowing the answers to these questions doesn’t make you paranoid, it makes you SAFE. It really doesn’t take long to gather this information and it could easily save your life. In our age of handheld electronic devices, you can literally develop this information in seconds, even on the fly.
Start small; begin with your home, then move on to work and other places you frequent. As you develop the skills, it becomes a fun habit and you get faster at doing it.
Lets talk about how we do it.
The first step is called a Map Study. While it can be done on a cell phone, cell service may not be available in an emergency. I’m also not a fan of letting Google know where I am at all times, nor where I plan on going.
I’m a huge proponent of having paper maps. I keep a binder at home filled with paper maps, each opened and folded to an 8 ½ by 11 area of somewhere I frequent. I keep these in sheet protectors, so that they can be written on. This makes it easy for me to grab the applicable map and throw it into my Battle Board (and excellent product that lets you write on maps with dry erase markers – www.battleboard.us) or my clip board with a clear dry-erase cover.
I also recommend buying large-format “gazette” type map books, which are combined outdoor and street maps generally covering an entire state.
Another good source for maps is your local township or county clerk. They generally give free maps to residents of the township or county. I’m not advocating lying to a city official, but I’ve never been asked to produce identification proving that I live or work in a city when getting a free city paper map.
Using the map, learn at least 3 and preferably 4 routes into and out of every area that you frequent, or where you are going. At least one of these routes should avoid major roads and intersections, which will be clogged in an emergency.
While looking at the routes, note any hospitals, fire stations, and police stations along that route. In everyday travels, these are “safe havens” you can use to seek help. In an emergency, they are places where people will congregate and should be avoided.
Maps, especially paper maps, will tell you which police and fire departments respond to the area and where their stations are.
As far as hospitals, note their location and at least 2 routes to the nearest hospital from anywhere you go. Most people say, “An ambulance will take me, why would would I need to know that?”. Review the news coverage from the last few mass shooting incidents; most people arrived at the hospital by private vehicle. I’m not to willing to leave my life in the hands of a government employee, so I’ll ensure that I can get there myself or take others there myself if I have to.
Also study ways you could leave the immediate area on foot; you may have no choice but to leave on foot and come back to your car later.
When you arrive somewhere, a quick drive around of the building only takes a couple of minutes and you can develop vital information on a drive-around.
First, you can note any graffiti in the rear alley, indicating roughly the propensity for criminal activity in the area.
You can also inspect the fence that surrounds most retail shopping centers – Not because we care about the fencing, but because if you have to escape an active shooter or other threat like fire, it’s good to know that you can get through the fence and not be trapped inside.
You will also see where emergency exits will let you out of the building at. If I escape through an emergency exit, only to be trapped in a locked utility space, I haven’t done myself any good.
You’ll also be able to determine the general security posture of a business by seeing if the back doors are locked & secure, or if they are standing open. You have to decide if you’ll patronize a business that doesn’t even care about their own safety, let alone yours.
Many retail strip centers also have more secure parking for employees in the rear with a walkway out to the main area, which may provide you with a safer place to park with less foot traffic.
PARKING LOT PAUSE
Before getting out of the car to head inside a business, do two things:
1. HANG UP THE PHONE – Also, put it away completely to resist the temptation to scroll social media while you walk, distracting you.
2. Look Around – take a quick panoramic look around the lot before exiting the vehicle. Be honest – you don’t do this right now.
ON SCENE ASSESSMENT
The on-scene assessment is very brief pause you can take anytime you enter a building; it only takes a couple of seconds and could save your life.
As you enter a building, step to the side of the doorway and glance quickly around your surroundings.
1. Note first what people are doing closest to you – people have walked in on robberies.
2. Note the emergency exits (look for the red signs).
3. Note any additional data – for example, in most businesses, a large red dot on a pillar or wall indicates the location of a fire extinguisher.
4. Locate restrooms immediately – not because you need one, but because they are strong points that have a single door, and the walls are generally tile on the inside, giving better protection than drywall.
Remain aware of changes the entire time you are in the location, especially if it’s open to the public.
REMAINING ALERT ON DEPARTURE
Before leaving a building, stop just inside the door and look outside first (there’s a reason the door is made of glass), to make sure that you aren’t blindly stepping out into a bad situation.
Try to see the entire route to your car.
While walking, resist the temptation to check your phone or make phone calls.
Remain alert the entire way to your car.
Stop in the driving aisle, before stepping between your car and the one next to it. Take a look between the cars before stepping in to that enclosed space. If you don’t and someone attacks you between the cars, you can only get away in one direction. Stopping in the aisle, you have many other escape options.
Once inside the car, lock the doors before doing anything else.
A side note on the remote unlock feature on your car – set it so that one press unlocks only the driver’s side door. Many default to unlocking all doors, but that’s unsafe, especially if you’re alone.
Planning ahead is smart, only takes a few minutes, and is a good habit to get into.
Take a few minutes to plan ahead, and you may well save your life.