In a Post-Charlie World: Situational Awareness and Self-Preservation

gun-cabinet

World events have a way of reminding us that sometimes “they are out to get you”. And today a healthy bit of “paranoia” is not necessarily a bad thing. Which means keeping your head on a swivel. A friend of mine just penned the following short post about situational awareness (he is also the author of a couple of good books, in my opinion). He brings up some great points. A huge number of people are oblivious to what is going on in their environment.

Some friends and I were having a beer and the topic of the recent shooting in France came up. And as you might guess, the liquid courage fueled delusional discussions of “If I’d been there with a gun, things would have gone down differently. What do you think, Tom?”. Listening to the banter really made me take a step back and evaluate the use of firearms and their place in a defensive situation.

The very next day, ironically, I was asked to write this article. I want to state that the views expressed here are my own. This is a vitriolic topic. I am by no means an expert, just as no one really is. We can all have opinions on this subject, and hopefully never have to test our ideas, as the only way to vet them is to be involved in a situation. It would also be impossible to cover all facets; the “what ifs”.

We can armchair quarterback the tragedy in France, and we probably should for our own mental tool bag, but as a learning tool. What ultimately killed the staff of Charlie Hebdo (and the others)? Complacency mixed with an effective ambush. Let this be a lesson to you; and to any of us. Despite previous attacks and even having security personnel, it still happened. The best chance of success to avoid something similar is to get early warning about an attack (which could be as short as a matter of seconds), and then to have a way to delay an attacker so you can respond. Unfortunately some situations will not give enough time for that warning, and the results can be devastating. For the purpose of this article we are going to discuss having a defensive plan and thinking through some simple strategies.

A Layered Defense

It is really easy to say “Just get a gun for defense”. And while I highly recommend having a gun in your “tool bag”, it is just a tool. It should be one of many tools. It should also be a tool you are comfortable operating, and of which you understand the limitations.

A firearm you cannot get to is useless in a SHTF scenario. How fast can you draw from your IWB holster/ankle rig while you are sitting at your desk? Can you dig your gun out of the bottom of your purse/tacti-cool bag? Do you keep your gun in the night stand while you are out in your living room watching TV? ITS Tactical has a simple and easy tutorial on making a gun mount that you can put really anywhere. Office desk. End table. Bed Frame. Next to the toilet paper roll (you do keep a weapon in your bathroom, right?).

What gun? What caliber? Shotgun? Rifle? Pistol? Who cares. The best phrase that sums it up is “the working gun you can put your hand on when you need it, and that you can accurately put rounds on target with”. One of my earliest instructors made me memorize that after I opened up the dumb question of “which caliber/gun is best”. He may have added in some expletives in for emphasis. Make sure your equipment is in good working order. A good friend said “a gun makes a sh**ty hammer and a worse knife”. Keep your tools maintained and functional.

But as I said before, a gun is just one part of a defensive plan. And if your goal is survival, your best bet is to not be in the “kill zone” when the bullets start flying. Know when to fight and when to retreat. And to be able to effectively make that decision, you need to be aware of what is going on in your environment. Ultimately you want some sort of alert system (to indicate an attacker is incoming and to assist or amplify your awareness), some way to delay an attacker gaining access to you, and finally the ability to respond.

I used to teach FAST Defense (and did a lot of time in the armored assailant suit). One of the big takeaways from that course was not so much the hand-to-hand and physical techniques, as it was to be able to read the situation. One of the scenarios we would set up was a “bar”. We’d set up some tables with chairs, put the TV on in the corner, etc. Students would be intermingled with the instructors. The setup was that one of the instructors was there with his wife/girlfriend/sig-other and I was sitting alone nursing a beer. I’d pretend to catch the other guy eyeballing me, and I would initiate a confrontation. The first time we’d run it in the class, he’d talk back, we would argue and I’d pull out a blank starter pistol, “shoot” him, and then “shoot” a couple of students/bystanders for effect. After that we would do an after action and debrief the class as to what they’d experienced. Most every student in the class knew something was not “right”, and had a strong urge to get out of vicinity. And they all recognized that in a real situation, before that demonstration, they probably would not have left the venue.

I also used to assist with a force-on-force class (using Airsoft). One of the shoot/no-shoot scenarios we would do in that class was a bank robbery. Instructors were the robbers, and three out of ten of the students would be armed (concealed) and the instructors didn’t know which students were armed. We would corral them all in a group, make them give up wallets and cell phones (putting them in a bag), “rob” the bank, and then ex-fil. On the way out, the “leader” would give me a nod and I’d start shooting the hostages, 2 rounds to the chest each. We ran that drill on two classes. The first class I shot everyone, including having to reload my pistol. Not one single student drew. The second class the third “hero” was in the #8 position (of ten) and was the only one to draw, and even then only got me in the leg before I shot him. Most of these students were also students of the Kenpo school that the chief instructor owned. No one attempted any unarmed resistance, despite me being about 7 feet away. A couple of common responses in the debrief was “I didn’t think he was going to shoot me” or “I didn’t think I could get to him before he shot me”.

Both of the scenarios above were engineered to elicit the responses we got. In both cases the students knew they were in a safe environment but still experienced enough of a stress response to not fight back or, really, to resist. Essentially it came down to not having a plan, or a general set of guidelines for response. After those scenarios we would then work in smaller groups and help coach the students through more appropriate responses.

So how do you address improving awareness and working through plans in real life? Scenario based training is about the best you are going to get, short of being in a live situation.

Next is an effective alert system will enhance your awareness and extend its range, and will allow you to reduce the intensity of your awareness. You can’t live in a constant state of hypervigilance.

It is helpful to have a way to delay an attack to buy time so you can mount an effective response (be that escape or engagement). The method of delay can take the form of obstacles or deterrents.

And finally, tools. Could be a gun. Could be a car. Basically whatever you need to enact your planned response.

Home

I joke with friends and family that my preferred home defense technique would involve me charging out of my bedroom, bereft of clothing, wielding a Maasai spear bellowing some sort of Nordic battle cry. If a home invader is able to survive that, we would both have a great story to tell the grandkids…

For the most part, your home is your own refuge. With the exception of a few places, you have no duty to retreat from your house when an assailant enters. Your home is unique in that you can harden it, but that is also it’s biggest drawback. You don’t want to create a place that also traps you.

Early warning is pretty easy to set up in your home. You can install a commercial alarm system (if you have one, you DO turn it on every time you leave right? And engage the perimeter when you are home?). There is also my favorite system of all–Thor and Twinkie. My Rhodesian Ridgeback mutts. Dogs generally make an excellent alert system. They can also provide a delay.

There are ways to harden your dwelling to make it difficult for assailants to gain access. Install security screen. Install door jamb anti-kick plates. Install deadbolts and keep the doors locked and bolts thrown. Don’t let people in that you don’t know. All the common-sense stuff. There are tons of articles out there talking about how to do most of this stuff and really outside the scope of this post.

In terms of firearms, what should you have and where? What considerations are there? If someone unauthorized gains access to your home, and you are in a situation where retreat is not an option (be that physically or by choice), and the situation is escalated to shooting, well, you need to have a gun. Cooper’s rule #4 is “know your target” (and what is beyond it). Since every round fired out of your gun potentially has a lawsuit attached to it, you want to make sure that those fired rounds are not exiting your walls. You want to make sure that people/animals/etc that are supposed to be in your house are not hit by a stray round. So I would promote having a weapon that won’t over penetrate your walls (with windows you are pretty much screwed unless you have armored windows).

You can see how your firearm will do by building a target constructed like your walls. Get some studs and hunks of drywall (which you can generally find as discards at home improvement stores). Make a small section, take it to a range and shoot it. If you have block walls, get some blocks. You get the idea. Test for your own piece of mind. You might be surprised at the results.

As far as where to keep them in your house? Again, your situation will dictate. Do you have kids that are incapable of the responsibility of firearms? Other people there that are incapable? How many do you have? Can you afford to put one in each room? Personally I find it easier to just carry. That way I know exactly where the gun is at all times, and I have control over it. I know where the fallback points are, the best shooting positions, and the best places for cover and/or concealment (very few houses actually have cover inside). All that because I have taken the time to have a plan. Is it paranoid? Maybe. But I don’t obsess over it. I have a plan, and I hope I never have to test it.

Workplace

Your place of work is likely different than your home. Unless you can telecommute (which I HIGHLY recommend if you are in a industry that supports it), you are not generally going to have a lot of leeway in hardening your office.

At one of the previous places I worked, the business had a strict no gun policy (and not even a carry knife). I worked in a remote building about 2 miles from the main campus. We had an “active shooter” incident at the main campus. Basically some thug got mad at his girlfriend and in a show of “manliness” cooked off a round into the ceiling. Of course he did not obey the big posted signs about no guns in the building (but, really, is anyone here surprised?). He was caught, and then the business set about coming up with policy to handle active shooter scenarios. They hired some high priced consultant that basically pushed the idiotic “cower-in-fear-under-your-desk-and-wait-to-be-executed-or-rescued” technique. It also included such gems as “barricade the doors from the inside so the shooter won’t think anyone is inside” (for doors that open OUTWARD). Needless to say I went into my supervisor’s office to express my concern. He was in there BS’ing with one of the managers of the HR Department, which I respectfully interrupted. I basically informed him that if there was an active shooter event not to expect me in the body count, errrrr, head count at the conclusion. I would be at home after immediately leaving. The HR manager stuttered “But, but, the policy says you have to cower under your desk and wait to be killed there. If you violate policy you will get written up and possibly fired.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course, with the exception of the “violate policy” comment). My response was something along the lines of “Tell you what, if you happen to survive, feel free to write me up”. There may have been some more discussion, but you get the gist.

What this should illustrate is that I already had a plan (seeing a theme yet?). Which is what you should do. Always. Have. A. Plan. What is your primary exit? What are your secondary and tertiary exits? If you can’t flee, what is your plan for fighting? Where is cover? Where is concealment? Where can you set an effective ambush? What tools do you have at hand? Are YOU carrying concealed despite your organization’s idiotic “no carry” policy? Can you effectively lob a computer monitor at an attacker? Is your desire to survive overridden by your desire to make sure you don’t violate an order on a piece of paper?

What can serve as early warning? Not really all that much. Unless you work in a secured environment, likely it is going to open to the public. The only warning in a bad situation might be the start of shooting. There may be shouting or something else out of place. Again that is why it is important to know your environment, and to maintain awareness. That said, being heavily involved in your work can really detract from your awareness.

At most workplaces, you don’t have the ability to harden your environment. Installing a Door Devil and steel core door is likely not going to happen in your average office. And if you are a cube drone (been there, done that) your options are even more limited.

Fire code in most places will require at least two exits. Know them, and know how to get to them. Are there windows? Are you on the ground floor? Generally you can learn your fire escape plan, and that will help you find your egress. Learn how to get there. Practice it until you are comfortable being able to get out. Try it with your eyes closed (or turn the lights off if you can). You can generally find a way to practice without looking like a “nut job” (if you care about such things).

If you can carry at your workplace it is likely going to be a pistol. I’m not sure many places would be comfortable with rifle-toting employees (though power to you if work in such a place). Again plan for your environment. Same considerations with construction of walls applies. A difference is that most workplaces are going to be more densely packed with people than your house.

Public Venues

Public venues are the hardest environment to handle as you can’t really control any of the factors. There are very few ways to have any early alert system. You can’t harden them. Really the best you can do is be very aware of your environment. Pay attention to lines of egress and look for cover and concealment. If shooting starts, get off the “X”. And if you return fire, try and be cognizant of Rule #4.

Conclusion

What it comes down to is that you (and you alone) need to make a choice. You need to decide how far you are willing to go to protect yourself and your loved ones. No one can decide that for you, not even the laws of society. The caveat is that you have to also be willing to fully accept the responsibilities for that choice.

Can you be 100% vigilant, 100% of the time? Probably not if you are human. Do your best and always have a plan. Try and have an alert system, or way to monitor changes in your environment. If you can harden your environment, do it and give yourself the potential to buy some time. And make sure you have the tools you are prepared to use (and are comfortable using) close at hand. Educate yourself on options. ITS Tactical (my own recommendation, they are not affiliated with TFB in anyway) is an amazing resource.

The issue with an article like this is that everyone has an opinion. And unfortunately they will only ever be opinions until put to the test, which is the absolute worst case. That said, what are some ideas you all have to survive an attack? Let’s have a civil and productive discussion and talk about some products/ideas that can be part of your defensive plan.



Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of IronSights.com; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


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  • Thomas Gomez

    Amazing article. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  • Blake

    Excellent article. Far too many people are completely clueless about this stuff, & therefore usually tend to be more of a hindrance than help in a “situation” (getting in the way, giving away your position, etc).

    My question is: in a weapon-averse society like France where you’re lucky to be able to get pepper spray & self-defense laws are very different from the US (e.g. if someone attacks you bear-handed, defending yourself with a weapon is illegal), what could reasonably have been done to mitigate the impact of these attackers?

    The building has already been attacked in the past & had police protection, but clearly no one (other than possibly the police guards) had any kind of incident training or plan (other than possibly the typical corporate “cower under your desk & wait to be executed” policy you mention).

    A simple thing I can think of is that employees should have had a few minutes of training when it was decided that the building was going to get police protection. If the woman that was forced to type in her security code had typed in a “silent alert” panic code, I would speculate that the situation would have gone down very very differently:

    – the police inside the building would have been alerted instantly and moved a lot of people to a secure area or evacuated them. Even if this kind of security/evacuate plan had not been put in place beforehand, at least the on-site police would have known that something was going down long before the shooting started & been ready to react.

    – the central police dispatcher would have been alerted instantly and any patrol cars would have been at the building by the time the attackers reached their intended target. Since the officers on-site would already have been in high alert, they would have been communicating details of the situation in real-time to the police outside.

    – even if the attackers had been able to overcome the police guards inside (likely, given their available firepower), the building would have been surrounded by police by the time the attackers attempted to leave, & would likely have been struck down at egress or at least unable to flee without being followed by several patrol cars.

    The outcome would have been radically different if only the employees had been given a panic code & a few minutes of training…

    • Blake

      While I’m at it, another thing that anyone should think about in a situation like this: even without a “silent alert” code, she could have simply pulled the fire alarm after the attackers left her to go slaughter people. Not only would people evacuate & the cops be alerted, but if the perps were in the elevators when she pulled the alarm they would have automatically returned to the ground floor & stayed open unless reactivated with a fireman’s key…

      • Doc Rader

        I didn’t read anything about the layout of the building where the shooting was. Dumb question on my part, but do French elevators behave the same way?

        In any case that is a useful bit of knowledge and a decent tactic. I’d make sure to exfil the area after pulling. I can imagine an attacker might not be too pleased to be returned to the ground floor to the sounds of klaxons…

  • Nicks87

    TL;DR. I’m sure it was informative though.

    • Doc Rader

      TL;DR. Have a plan. Be aware. A gun is just a tool, not the only answer.

  • echelon

    The phrase: “What ultimately killed Charlie Hebdo (and the others)?” Has me wondering if the author thinks that is a person when it is the name of a magazine publication…

    The mag surely wasn’t killed…just the staff.

    • Doc Rader

      Crap. That was an editorial mistake. I was originally going to word it Staff of Charlie Hebdo, and then was going to go back and list it naming the editors (with the others referring to the other people killed offsite). Mea Cupla. Article has been amended.

      Good catch.

      • echelon

        No problem. I just wanted to make sure there was no confusion. Thanks for the clarification.

        • Doc Rader

          It would be a bit like saying Jethro Tull is a member of the band…

          • echelon

            Wait…he’s not?

  • Bill

    I always have issues with the idea that we are “post” anything: “post-Charlie, post 9/11, post-Katrina,” etc. Evil and disaster has alway existed, this is literally nothing new. What “kills” us is the idea that it is “new,” that it can’t happen here, or to us/me. Then when it does, we are stunned, and engage in the typical over-reaction.

    • Doc Rader

      Good point about use of “post”. We tend to have a short memory about things. I’d imagine in another week or so the vast majority of people will have forgotten about this event as new “shiny” stories are published in the media.

    • n0truscotsman

      right on!

      Im tired of the “post-(place event here)” line of thinking.

      Look, some of us live in this world called “reality” where they know things like this happen and prepare accordingly. Its nothing new.

      Some need to wake the hell up and smell the ashes.

    • Sulaco

      Islam has been openly attacking the west and US since 1990’s starting with iran moving on to the first attempt to bring down the towers. Their hate of the west has been around since 850 AD.

  • Don Ward

    Having worked in news agencies, there isn’t a “stack of news stories … reserved for that purpose”.

  • Smiddywesson

    Well, you can’t plan for everything, but there’s a few things I have laying around that might help.
    1. I have quite a few solar lights in boxes and on my lawn. Put them in a coffee can full of sand, and you’ve got a lit home every night. They are great for stairwells, bathrooms, and the store room.
    2. In countries where the currency collapses, robberies are a problem. With modern day construction materials, your house will barely stop an angry badger. With that in mind, I’ve got some empty plastic barrels, sand bags, a big roll of chain link, some landscaping timbers, and a bunch of sand. Don’t know if I’ll ever need them, but barrels full of sand can close off your driveway. Sandbags can secure unused doors and create kill zones for push in robbers (this was a problem in Argentina) and chain link can be bolted up against the back of the house with the timbers to close off windows and doors. Don’t forget a ladder for the roof in case of fire, closing off doors and windows can be dangerous. Speaking of fire, if the grid goes down there should be a bucket of sand in every room, several in the kitchen. The nice thing is all this stuff appears innocent, and doesn’t need to be deployed unless it needs to be deployed, which is, hopefully, never.
    3. Another long term prep you can do now is to reengineer the yard. I moved a shed and some bushes to remove cover and afford a better view of my environment before I open the door. Everything is now oriented so I can see around or over it from the house.
    Is this paranoid? Nothing is paranoid at this point with what’s going on in society, so you do the basics that have to be done, and anything else that’s painless. This was painless.

    • Doc Rader

      Yep, clearing away cover and concealment from someone infiltrating your area is good. If you are a tricksy sort you could also put in known distance markers only visible from your house (depending on where you live and actually having some distance to work with–urban dwellers won’t generally have that option). You know, so you can tell the cops “attacker is 300 meters out and closing…” 🙂

      • Blake

        …or so you know how many mildots to dial in to compensate for elevation…

        • Doc Rader

          Shhhhhhhh. That sounds like pre-meditation….

  • Smiddywesson

    My active shooter policy is to rely upon the obesity of my cow workers (pun intended) to shield me as I beat a hasty exit. I would love to defend their lives, but frankly, the world is better off without most of them and at these ammo prices, I gotta ration my bullets.

  • Doc Rader

    Yeah, I would agree. There is a difference if you have a duty to act or not (that could encompass a moral duty). And most importantly if you have the capability. Going against thugs with rifles when you are armed with a pistol is very, very chancy. That said, if you can funnel them into a kill zone, or something else that can mitigate their advantage, you increase your odds. But those still might not be odds you are willing to roll against.

    Maybe your best course is to gather solid intel to give to the 8 guys with guns coming in later…

  • Doc Rader

    Yeah. That is a hard one to deal with. Hopefully there is a fire door (or windows) that could be used. Generally when I am writing code (or just writing) I have headphones on and am in the zone. I dare say if I had been in the Charlie Hebdo offices working I likely would have been killed.

  • Blake

    BTW the gizmo in the pic is a neat idea, but I’d never keep my guns in a nice chest of drawers like that; it’d be one of the first places a thief starts rifling through when looking for silver, jewelry, watches, etc.

    Our guns are in the big ugly safe in the basement (along with the jewelry & good silver), except for the S&W 9mm in a little “quick gunsafe” in the nightstand.

    • Doc Rader

      Right? Though there are definitely some clever furniture pieces being made.

      And your safe is, of course, bolted to the concrete floor…? I’m pretty sure the rest of my house would come down before the safe could be removed… I think that will have a be a feature of the house if I ever sell it–no way am I getting it out.

      • Blake

        It took a hydraulic pallet jack to get her in there, & she’s bolted to the foundation & the wall studs. If you knocked a few holes in the wall you could probably rip it off the floor with a medium-duty truck & a lot of steel cable (or break the frame on the truck, not sure which would give first as it’s all steel). However I’m guessing that by that point the neighbors would notice…

  • Doc Rader

    Same pretty much everywhere…

  • Doc Rader

    Thanks! I wasn’t sure how this one was going to go over–it can be a “sticky” subject for some.

  • Doc Rader

    Just put your rose colored lenses back on and crack a PBR. Nothing to see here… 🙂

  • Sulaco

    Not to take anything away from the author but the article is basically a rehash of the personal and individual safety issues and concerns, (Massad Ayoob has written about these issues as have many others) carrying weapons issues, hardening sites and weapons over penetration issues, carry, don’t carry at work etc. Nothing wrong with that it needs to be restated every so often like repeating “First rule of gun fights, have a gun”. One other point on the Paris shootings, seems to me that the killers were not only armed with automatic AK’s but reportedly RPG’s and were wearing body armor. Body armor of the field combat armor types that would stand up to rifle fire. So throw that into your survival prep planning. As I have no longer a moral imperative (retired) to close with active shooters in the name of the job my imperative is 1.Family 2. Me and getting them safely out of the target area as fast as possible with the least use of the carry weapon as possible, hopefully no use at all. Shoot to defend another victim? Yes depending, see above imperatives 1 and 2. Selfish? Yes but that’s the world both political and legal we live in and allow to continue to our detriment.

    • Doc Rader

      Yeah. Definitely a rehash. The only new stuff that can really be added to the concepts are different “stories” to illustrate the ideas, and perhaps give an “ah-ha” to someone new.

      If only this stuff was taught in grade school (or by proactive parents), perhaps less of these shenanigans would occur. Or at least the body count wouldn’t be so high…

  • This is about saving your backside not politics.
    pol·i·tics
    ˈpäləˌtiks/Submit
    noun
    the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.

  • Don Ward

    Fair point.

  • Blake

    To put it politely, Nutnfancy is not exactly the top shelf of youtube gun channels…