One of the most important things we stress to our Critical Incident Response Training (CIRT) participants is the importance of having a solid understanding of the different elements of the environments in which they may find themselves. This is especially important when in crowded public spaces. Identifying and understanding the different strengths and weaknesses of these environments, from a vulnerability standpoint, can make you much more efficient and effective in navigating a critical incident should you find yourself experiencing one.

Critical incidents, especially violent ones like mass shootings, can be very disorienting. Typically, people can easily process all the information our senses are sending to our brain when we are in calm and peaceful settings. In violent or chaotic scenarios, it can become very challenging to process the huge increase in information our senses are sending. The inability to process this sensory information is commonly referred to as sensory overload. Additionally, stressful and dangerous events can cause an elevation of the heart rates of the individuals that are nearby. Elevated hearts rates can negatively impact an individual’s decision-making capability.

Someone who is both disoriented and has a diminished decision-making capacity is going to have a very difficult time making the right choices to protect him or herself during a violent incident. That is why it is so important to gain that environmental awareness. Knowing details about where you are can allow you the ability to remain at least partially oriented. 

Asking yourself a few simple questions about your environment when things are calm and peaceful can assist in making the right choices if things become dangerous and chaotic.

Getting a good awareness of your environment, as it relates to critical incident response, does not have to be an exhaustive process.  It can be as easy as asking yourself 4 to 5 basic questions such as:

  • Where are the exits near me? (Identifying at least 2-3 is preferable)
  • Where is the closest securable space to me? (Identifying 2-3 is preferable)
  • Are there any materials around me that I can utilize to quickly cover or conceal myself?
  • Are there any materials in close proximity I could utilize to help defend myself?
  • Where is the best place for me to go during a severe weather event?

At SEC, we firmly believe that committing to making a habit of developing environmental awareness can potentially make a huge difference if you ever experience being part of a violent critical incident.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently released a report analyzing all the active shooter events in the United States during 2020. The FBI defines an active shooter event “as one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” According to this report, 40 active shooter events occurred in 2020, which is the highest number in the past four years and is double the number that occurred in 2016.

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group, has cataloged every incident of gun violence in the United States since 2014. Their data indicates, to date, the United States is on pace to experience a higher number of mass shooting events in 2021 than in any of the past six years. They define a mass shooting as an incident when four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter. At the time of this writing, the number of mass shootings that have occurred in this country is 20 percent higher than it was at the same time in 2020.

Over the most recent 4th of July weekend, according to multiple media reports, at least 150 people died due to over 400 shootings across the country. In the city of Chicago alone, 108 people were shot, 17 of them fatally.

Because these disheartening trends do not appear to be abating any time in the near future, over the next few weeks, we will be providing reminders of some of the fundamental concepts we emphasize during our Critical Incident Response Training (CIRT) sessions. Like the other topics we have recently covered in our most recent series of posts, we will focus on three main topics. The topics will include the following:

  1. Assessing Environments – The effectiveness of your critical incident response can be greatly enhanced by having a better understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses, from a vulnerability standpoint, of the environments in which you may find yourself. For example, taking the time to find at least some of the entrances and exits within proximity can improve your ability to evacuate from that area if efficient.
  2. Maintaining Situational Awareness – It is not only essential to getting a solid understanding of the elements of the environments in which you may find yourself, but it is equally important to have an appropriate level of focus on what is happening in those environments. Additionally, the process of obtaining situational awareness can begin long before you are actually in the situation. 
  3. Developing Response Options – Decision-making can become incredibly challenging during high-stress violent incidents. It is why it is essential, whenever possible, to develop response strategies before an incident occurs. By simply asking and answering questions about what you would do if certain situations occurred, you will be giving your brain a script that you will be better able to access and follow during an actual emergency incident.

Be on the lookout for more details about these fundamental concepts in the next few weeks. As always, if you would like more information, please reach out to us at [email protected].