Protecting Yourself-Part 4

In part  3 of our series Protecting Yourself we covered securing windows, alarm systems, and dogs, in Part 4 we will touch on ways that you can protect yourself if you live in an apartment, while at work and out “on the street.”

Apartments
Example of an apartment complex.

Example of an apartment complex.

Where houses typically offer a predator more points of entry than an apartment or condo, apartments and condos have their own set of security concerns because of the increased traffic of strangers in and around your complex. Managers, Landlords, and maintenance people may all have keys to your apartment, or access to them. Your neighbors may not be as security conscious as you are, or they may be the very predator you are trying to guard against.

The layout of your building or complex may offer predators concealed access to your doors or windows, or even you in elevators, laundry rooms, and stairways. In spite of these challenges YOU CAN still protect yourself by being aware of these locations and how predators use them.

Keys

Your first concern when moving into a new apartment or condo should be the locks. Remember that unless the building is literally brand, spanking, new many people have lived there before you and you’d be surprised at the number of keys to YOUR door are actually out there. One industry estimate says there are between 5-7 WORKING sets of keys to EACH apartment in any given complex 5 years old and older still held by former tenants! The number of key sets varies depending on the age of the complex and the security mindedness of its management.

With that in mind, there is a really simple and cheap solution. Replace the damn locks the day you “move in”! Once YOU have replaced the locks (assuming there isn’t a clause in your lease that says specifically you can’t) take a spare key and place it in a sealed, notarized envelope and give it to management with very specific instructions that the key is ONLY TO BE USED FOR EMERGENCIES  and any “routine maintenance” is to be scheduled for times when you are home. This is a simple little act but it should discourage “management” from taking advantage of your key and entering your apartment whenever they please. If it doesn’t you may be living in the wrong complex.

Elevators
Example of predatory behavior in an elevator

Example of predatory behavior in an elevator

Elevators can be one of the most dangerous environments in an apartment complex. Predators often use this environment to trap their “prey” by hitting the emergency stop button or by forcing them to a floor where they have friends waiting or they know no one will interfere with their mugging, rape, or murder.

A few tips for riding an elevator, not just at your apartment complex but anywhere, don’t stand close to the doors while you are waiting for the elevator. This prevents you from being grabbed and pulled inside and makes it more difficult to push you in from behind when the doors open.

When  you are on an elevator with a stranger position yourself next to the control panel so the stranger can’t hit the emergency stop button and it gives you the opportunity to exit quickly on the next floor should the need arise.

If you are waiting for an elevator and there is someone on the elevator when the doors open and you feel uncomfortable you DON’T have to get on you can wait for the next car. If you are already on the elevator and a stranger gets on and you feel uncomfortable GET OFF! The few minutes you spend waiting for the next car is nothing and worth the peace of mind you’ll have.

Stairways
Apartment stairwell.

Apartment stairwell.

Stairways can be as dangerous  as elevators, if not more so, since by law they have to be fire-proof and quite often the heavy doors are sound-proofed this could put you in a bad position. If you are confronted by a predator in a stairwell fight like hell and yell “FIRE!NOT “HELP” as loudly as you can. Most of the time people “don’t want to get involved” when they hear someone yelling Help! on the other hand, people will go out of their way to see a fire. It is a sad fact that most people will allow someone else to be victimized and not risk helping but they will turn out in droves to either see a fire or save their own ass if they think they might get caught up in a fire. So use that to YOUR advantage!

Just like an elevator, if you feel uncomfortable, LEAVE.

Laundry Rooms
Example of an apartment laundry room.

Example of an apartment laundry room.

Laundry rooms are often the ideal environment for a predator. Often they are located in an obscure, unpopulated basement corner and more often than not they are deserted and dangerous, especially during off-peak hours. They often have windows that are left open or unlatched for ventilation thus allowing a predator an easy way in. If you have to use the laundry room do so at times you know others will be around and make sure that the windows haven’t been propped open for ventilation allowing a predator to get in.

Secured Entry Ways
Example of a "secured" entryway.

Example of a “secured” entryway.

There are many complexes that require someone without a key or code to be “Buzzed-In”, while this may seem like a great security feature in reality it will be a small deterrent effect for a predator that really wants to get inside.

Predators will pretend they have legitimate business and simply slip in with someone who has a key or code. They will often time simply push every button knowing that someone will “buzz” them in without checking to see what they want or who they are. Another simple trick is to simply press a buzzer and claim to be there for maintenance reasons or that they are some authority figure such as a cop, fireman, or EMS worker.

Unless you and your neighbors take security at that first line of defense seriously and NEVER let a stranger in no matter what, if they actually had legitimate business in your building they sure as hell wouldn’t be buzzing you, they’d buzz the person they came to see.

never leave a door “propped opened” as a favor to a friend and if you see a door that is propped open remove the prop unless it is there for a legitimate reason (someone moving in or out, etc.)

Apartment, Condo, and Dorm Safety Tips
  • When looking for a new apartment keep in mind that smaller complexes while offering a more neighborly and intimate surroundings are often very lax when it comes to security. Larger complexes tend to have lower crime rates over all.
  • Most apartments and condos have at least one sliding glass door which are very easy to breach. (please refer to part 2 of our series on securing sliding doors).
  • Make sure your front door has a 180 degree peep-hole that allows you to see down both outside walls so a predator can’t hide on either side of your door and that it can’t be removed from the outside.
  • If you are under physical attack, as we said before yell “FIRE!” at the top of your lungs, people are far more likely to check out a fire than to come to someone’s aid who is yelling “help”.
  • Leave something semi-valuable, like a watch or old cell phone, on a table that is plainly visible as soon as you open the door. If it is missing when you open your door, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY, and call police! You don’t want to surprise a burglary in progress!
  • Most burglaries occur during the day, find out if your complex has increased security during “normal” working hours.
  • Be sure that there is at least one solid core deadbolt in your front door (see part 2 of our series for more on locks). A door chain is also a good idea though the only door chain worth anything is the kind that is bolted deeply into the door frame, loops over the door knob, and is made of hardened steel. Most other types of door chains are flimsy and easily broken or torn from their mounts.
  • If you are in college and living on campus while it may be tempting avoid “Greek Row”  where alcohol consumption is rampant like the plague. Why? because according to the latest FBI Crime Stats alcohol is involved in 90% of campus crime over-all and up to 95% of reported rapes on campus. After dark DO NOT WALK ALONE! Most campuses have an escort service so you don’t have to walk alone, if it doesn’t, ORGANIZE ONE, you might save a life.
Protecting Yourself at Work

According to OSHA in 2012 (the last date data is available) workplace violence cost employers $13.5 billion in medical costs and $7.8 billion in lost wages and other support costs and more than 3.5 million people reported being the victim of workplace violence.

If You Work in the “Field”

police at house

If you handle patients, inmates, go to people’s homes, or can enforce laws and rules you are 250% more likely to be the victim of workplace violence. If this describes you your employer should provide you with:

  • A “buddy system”
  • A work plan for keeping track of your location at all times
  • Cell phone, radio, or other means of making “instant” contact
  • Training in self-defense and hostile situation resolution
  • Additional measures may include deterrents like pepper spray, personal alarms, or firearms.
If You Work in an Office

office1

If you work in an office, factory, or any other type of building your employer has a responsibility to maintain bomb threat and emergency plans that include:

  • Procedures for handling bomb threats including training for those who answer phones or greet the public
  • Procedures for evacuating the building and accounting for all personnel
  • Procedures for calling EMS personnel, this can include on-site EMS personnel
  • Contingencies for evacuating and securing single work spaces
  • Training in recognizing and reacting to workplace violence
Workplace Violence

Contrary to popular belief and sensationalized news stories most incidences of workplace violence are committed by a customer or other stranger, rather than a disgruntled employee.  This means that those who deal directly with the public are at greatest risk when it comes to workplace violence.

Training  in recognizing the warning signs that potential violent people give off prior to an attack is one key to protecting yourself in the workplace. If your employer doesn’t offer this kind of training seek it out yourself. Another key to protecting yourself from workplace violence is having an “exit strategy”. Just as you should have a plan for exiting your work space in case of fire or bomb threat you should have a plan for getting out of your work space in case of a violent encounter.

Your plan for getting out of your workspace in case of violence should include cover (something that will stop a bullet) and concealment (something that will hide you from getting shot at in the first place). Another part of your plan should include how you will fight back. Other “experts” always say that you should hide and hope the shooter will simply pass you by and fight only if confronted, I disagree with that strategy, all that does is make you an easy victim who is doing exactly what the predator wants. You have access to all kinds of weapons in your little cubical, pens, pencils, scissors, fire extinguishers, and countless other everyday, humdrum items that can be used to defeat an attacker.

It doesn’t take any specialized training only available to Special Operations soldiers to grab a pair of scissors or a pen or a pencil and stab an attacker repeatedly, it just takes the balls to do it! Only you can make the determination of whether you are going to defend yourself or cower in a corner and wait for a bullet to find you.

If you decide that you are going to be pro-active then there are ways to do so that reduce your risk and greatly increase your chances of success.

  • Contrary to what you see in movies and on TV that evil-looking black rife WILL run out of ammo at some point (usually 30 rounds) and the shooter WILL have to reload.
  • Hide until the shooter passes you or has to reload and then strike with all the violence and hate you can muster! Violence of action has won more than a few confrontations!
  • Once you begin your attack DO NOT STOP until the threat is completely neutralized! That means simply you keep plunging that pair of scissors into the attacker until he/she is either laying on the ground without a weapon (which you then take) or dead, PERIOD. There is no middle ground here, you simply can’t take the chance the shooter might regain the initiative.
  • If your workplace has a “No Resistance” policy to workplace violence you need to ask yourself a simple question, “Would you rather be dead and comply with the policy” or “Would you rather be alive and looking for a new job?”

Now, I AM IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM saying by fighting back you aren’t going to get hurt or maybe even dead, not by a longshot am I saying that! You may very well end up hurt or dead and that is just the fact of the matter. I am simply giving you an option to REFUSE to be a victim and do something pro-active to possibly save your life and the lives of others. I have seen first hand the carnage wrought by workplace violence when everyone cowered in fear and did nothing proactive. I have also seen what happens when even one person chooses to fight back and the outcome is usually far less death when they do fight back. In the end only you can choose whether you will be a good little victim and wait patiently for your death or if you will refuse to be a helpless victim and do something, anything to try and stop the violence.

Domestic Violence in the Workplace

More and more domestic violence is getting into the workplace. According to the FBI there are between 15,000 and 25,000 incidences of workplace violence directly related to domestic violence reported each year. In part 2 of our series we touched on protecting yourself from domestic violence in your home, here we will cover a few steps you can take to protect yourself at work.

Your first, best defense against domestic violence spilling over into the workplace is to be empathetic with your co-workers. Watch for the warning signs of domestic violence (assuming you aren’t the victim), erratic attendance at work, phone calls that leave a co-worker upset, reluctance to establish any friendships at work, and of course bruises.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse at home there is a 60/40 chance it will spill over into your workplace at some point according to DoJ statistics. It is up to you to do something to prevent it. Report the abuse to one of your co-workers, your boss, and better still the police.

Your employer is under NO OBLIGATION to protect you, however many employers do have assistance programs that you can turn to.

Unlike other forms of violence workplace violence is HIGHLY PREVENTABLE because there are usually a very long string of warning signs that precede an incident of workplace violence. Training is the key to protecting yourself from workplace violence.

A few things you can do to protect yourself in your workplace are:

  • Always use a third-party to help settle any disputes with co-workers
  • Avoid your workplace after hours, when not on duty, or any other time you don’t have to be there
  • Use the “Buddy-System” after hours (if you have to be there) or whenever you have to go home to home if you work in the field
  • Get to know the security guards where you work. Very few states have strict regulation on who can become a security guard so it is fairly easy for convicted felons and other predators to get a job as a security guard. Take the time to get to know as much about the security guards at your workplace as you can by engaging them in conversation. Trust your instincts, if something about them doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t
  • Get to know contractors that are in your workplace for the same reason you get to know security guards
  • If you handle cash DON’T BE PREDICTABLE! Don’t make your deposits at 3pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week, vary your schedule for deposits. By doing so you don’t give predators the opportunity to simply wait for you to leave the office at 3pm on Monday headed for the bank.
  • If you are an employer make sure that your company has well-lit, well guarded facilities, that visitors require escort at all times, bathrooms are not available to the public. Your hiring techniques should include pre-employment and yearly background checks and drug testing (especially in states where Marijuana has recently become “legal), your company should take sexual harassment and threats of violence very seriously and have policies in place to address them.
  • Offer your employees training in recognizing the signs that precede workplace violence and how to recognize domestic violence.
  • Consider offering your employees training in self-defense
Protecting Yourself “On the Street”

mugging

 General Tips for Protecting Yourself “On the Street”
  • Don’t walk, jog, or bike while wearing headphones. While doing so may help the miles go by it also distracts you and makes you less aware of your surroundings
  • Never flash “rolls” of cash or expensive jewelry in public
  • Always check the area around ATM’s before using them. Don’t hesitate to hit the “Cancel” button and walk away and never use an ATM that isn’t well-lit and in public view
  • Lock your car doors while driving, carjackers and “Red-Light-Robbers” look for and prefer cars that are unlocked while occupied
  • Keep your ID and your keys separately. If your wallet or purse is stolen you don’t want the thief to have your keys as well as were they can be used.
  • Check the surroundings, especially at night, before you exit your vehicle to enter and store or gas station. If you see suspicious people or anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, leave. Always trust your instincts!
  • If you feel uncomfortable in ANY SITUATION, get to a populated area as fast as you can. If you are being pulled over by a police officer in an unmarked car it is acceptable to continue driving while you or someone in the car calls 911 to verify that it is actually a police officer behind you. Once you have verified it is a legitimate traffic stop PULL OVER! Stay on the phone with the 911 operator and explain calmly and politely to the officer why you didn’t stop right away. Most officers will be understanding, especially if you are a female.
  • Carry yourself with confidence and intent, keep your head up and make eye contact with people. Strong body language and eye contact are very powerful deterrents to predators
  • Avoid using secluded bathrooms such as those at the end of long halls in malls or unlocked gas station restrooms that are “around back.” Bathrooms in restaurants, department stores, and supermarkets are prefered.
Training for Handling Predators

FBI statistics show that the vast majority (85-93% depending on the nature of the crime) assaults, rapes, and murders are committed by someone the victim knew, a husband, wife, lover, parent, or friend for the sake of love, money and quite often, petty arguments. If you find yourself in or near a heated argument, LEAVE!

Should you fight back if you are being mugged or attacked? That is a question that if you ask 100 different “experts” you will get 100 different answers and it is truly a question that ONLY YOU can answer. Personally I would fight because I flat-out refuse to be a victim. I have spent the majority of my adult life running towards the sound of gunfire, so to speak, to aid others as a soldier, SWAT officer, and paramedic so fight back comes naturally to me at this point, it may not for you.

As a very general rule, if you suspect that all it is going to cost you is a few dollars, give the mugger what they want and call police right away, cancel credit cards, etc. But if recent events have shown us anything it is that more often than not the person trying to rob you is actually out to hurt you as well just for kicks. They get a kind of “rush” out of hurting people and the feeling of power it gives them.

If you feel that something larger than losing a little property is at stake you should fight, and fight like hell! One of the most important things to remember if you do have to fight is that there is NO SUCH THING AS A FAIR FIGHT! Unless you are in a ring with a referee and gloves on you are literally fighting for your life! That means you bite, scratch, kick, gouge, grab his balls, WHATEVER it takes for you to walk away! Always remember that the predator will show you no mercy and as such deserves none.

I can’t stress enough the value of getting some training to deal violently with a threat if you need to. Women should take anti-rape training, which is available through most YWCA’s and offered by many police departments and martial arts studios. I don’t recommend taking one of the typical martial arts like karate or aikido. While you can learn some valuable techniques it takes years to truly master those techniques and they are often far too rigid to be effectively used in a street confrontation.

If you do seek out training (which you should) I would suggest Krav Maga or something similar. Krav Maga was designed for the Israeli IDF as a fighting system that was easy to learn and that a tired, wounded soldier could use and still come out on top.  I have used Krav Maga to best trained martial artists and guys literally 3 times my size and strength while working as security manager of the largest bar in Key West, so I know it works and works well. I taught my 120 pound, 5’7″ wife Krav Maga (she worked in the same bar) and she has used it to deal with customers who thought it was ok to try and get violent or sexually assault women to devastating effect.

Once you have some training you will be better equipped to defend yourself should you need to use violence to escape a confrontation.

Car Safety

carjacking01

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself while you are driving, as I mentioned before the first thing is to lock your doors. Unless you absolutely have to be there avoid the “bad areas” of your city or town, if you find yourself in one of the bad neighborhoods get out of it as quickly as you can.

If you think someone is following you make a series of right and left turns that will take you back to your original route, if the car you thought was following you is still there after the series of turns go straight to a police station or other highly populated area. Carjackers often cruise around in pairs looking for a likely victim and an opportunity for one of them to jump out and strike. Under no circumstance if you are being followed should you drive home! And don’t ever stop and confront them.

Always look in, under, and around your car BEFORE you get in it. You can check under and around your car as you are approaching it and if you see anything that makes you uncomfortable, leave. Once you are at your car, look in the back seat and both the front and back floor boards.

Plan where you park, that nice looking, well-lit parking garage may not be so inviting after dark. Use the “buddy system” whenever you park in a parking garage, if possible, and plan accordingly. If you have to enter a parking garage alone have your keys ready to go, after you’ve done your “check” around, under, and in your car, unlock the door, get in quickly, start the car and drive away. You can fasten your seatbelt and situate your stuff AFTER you have pulled away.

Don’t get caught by the “Bump and Grab.” Carjackers will often “bump” your car from behind and as soon as you pull over and exit your vehicle to check the damage they strike. If you are bumped from behind pull into a well-lit populated area before stopping, once you have stopped call police and let them know about the accident. Don’t exit the vehicle until they arrive and be ready to drive off quickly if you have to.

If you are bumped in a legitimate accident, don’t give the other driver any information except your Drivers License number, your insurance policy number, and the name and phone number of your agent. If they become upset you won’t give them more or press for more information calmly explain that you are doing what your insurance agent told you to do. If they press the issue get back in your car, lock the doors, call police, and be prepared to drive away. Better you get a ticket for leaving the scene of an accident than having your head caved in by some anger road rager.

Beware of signals from other drivers that something is “wrong” with your car. if you are receiving such signals from a single driver don’t pull over immediately, unless you absolutely have to. Drive to a safe, well-lit location before you stop to check out what may be wrong.

If you see a woman hitchhiker on the side of the road be aware that this may be “bait” for the trap. If you have any doubt don’t stop but rather call the police and give a location so they can check it out.

Keep a cell phone in your car, if you find yourself stuck on the side of the road, call for help, open your hood, get back in your car, lock the doors, and wait for the cavalry to arrive. If you fear your car may be hit while on the side of the road open your hood and watch from a safe vantage point while you wait for help.

Always keep your car in good running condition with at least 1/2 tank of gas.

Keep an emergency kit in your car that contains at least:

  • Flashlight w/ spare batteries
  • Food
  • Water
  • Blankets
  • First Aid Kit
  • Tools

As I said before, avoid the “bad neighborhoods” unless you have to be in one. It is better to take “the long way” and get home without any trouble than to save a few minutes and put yourself at risk.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone has entered your vehicle and is demanding you drive them someplace specific DON’T DO IT! They are trying to get you on “their turf” where they can do far worse than steal your car. There are a couple of things that you can do in this situation, but they are considered HIGH RISK. If you are alone in the vehicle either of these may work. You have to remember that YOU ARE IN CHARGE because you are driving! The predator may have a weapon but they are only in as much control as you WANT them to be!

More often than not the predator will not be wearing a seatbelt and you are because you ALWAYS wear your seatbelt, this fact gives you a couple of opportunities to get out of the situation. One thing you can do is let the predator know you are not going to go where he wants and head for the nearest freeway on ramp and then accelerate and keep doing so,  and that if he shoots you then he gets to die too since you are now going 100 mph. Demand he give you his weapon and DO NOT even begin to slow down until he does. If the predator has any sense of self-preservation (which 99.9% of them do) he will give up his weapon to you and then you can slow down to 25-30 mph before telling them to get out of your car at gunpoint, or you can simply stop if you are really nice (I recommend stopping) and hold them until police arrive. If you were lucky while you were on your little drive with the predator you passed a cop who is now right behind you, if not use that cell phone and call one. The key here is don’t give in to demands that you slow down, go where they want, or stop.

The other thing you can do that has a slightly higher risk factor is to crash your car into a light pole, a wall, or other sturdy object in a highly populated area. Remember that in all likelihood the predator isn’t wearing a seatbelt and you are, or you should be!  Most modern vehicles will allow someone who is wearing a seatbelt, properly, to walk away from a 35 mph impact with nothing more than a few bumps and bruises, the unrestrained predator on the other hand not so much. If you choose this option avoid hitting another vehicle if at all possible, you want to hurt, maim, or kill the predator not the family of 4 going to the park.

In part 5 of our series Protecting Yourself we will cover deterrents such as pepper sprays and firearms. Until then I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!

Tom

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