Outbreaks of violence like the deadly shooting spree in Kalamazoo on Feb. 20 make us wonder how we would have reacted – and how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.

It is a natural response.  While there are some things we can keep in mind as we go about our lives,  I must be clear about this situation: This appears to be an ambush.  It is very hard – if not impossible – to defend against an ambush, short of never going out in public – which of course is not realistic.

So how can you feel safer, especially in the aftermath of such a heinous act? For one, be ready to react if something seems out of the ordinary.

The reality is the average citizen generally goes about the day in what we in law enforcement call “condition white.” People are fairly unaware of their surroundings and have a low heart rate that matches the situation. It’s how people want to live, understandably so.

Those of us with law enforcement training tend to live our lives, even our civilian lives, in what we call “condition yellow.” It is a heightened awareness, paying attention to surroundings, recognizing something could happen at any time.

Now, probably everyone has experienced “condition yellow” on a temporary basis at some point. Think of how you feel walking alone at night, maybe to your car in a dark parking lot, or along a dark alley or street. You are likely to be looking around more, maybe have your keys out so you can quickly get in the car – or defend yourself.

We need to know when to switch from “white” to “yellow.”

If you see a stranger approaching you in a building or while you are in your vehicle, and something feels wrong, find a way to get out of that situation.

This means overcoming what we call a “normalcy bias,” which is to say that most people frame a situation to one that is acceptable to us – for instance, we hear gunshots and tell ourselves it is firecrackers, even if that doesn’t make sense.

That causes a delay in your response. And make no mistake, your body and your brain recognize when a situation is uncomfortable; if you listen to the cues, and not let the normalcy bias override them, you are better equipped to handle a situation. Trust your intuition.

And know this: In general, non-verbal communication tells you way more about a person’s intentions than what he or she is saying. People can trick you with words, but their body language tells the real story: Noticeable breathing, clenched fists, eyes darting around and other non-verbal cues are important to note.

In the event you are in a position to give eyewitness information in such a traumatic situation, it is important to take a couple of deep breaths. When your heart rate goes up, your critical thinking skills go down, so be sure to pause before taking in what you see: vehicle and suspect description, the suspect’s clothing, if at all possible a license plate number and the direction of travel.

Constant paranoia is no way to live our lives. While we need to be on guard, using some of these tips can help ease the anxiety these tragedies can produce for everyone.


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