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

    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.


    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.


    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.


    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 teaches wilderness medicine and writes for a number of publications, including The Prepared, a site devoted to self-preparedness. 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.

    You can reach him at tom.r AT