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Playing it safe

In the aftermath of national tragedy, we ask local expert to give quick lesson on avoiding harm

The country is still healing from the tragedy that occurred at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.

It’s hard not to feel vulnerable.

“The odds are that most Americans will never be confronted with an armed assailant or active shooter,” says retired Dayton police officer William Parsons, whose company, Nine Lives Solutions, offers training and consulting on active shooters and other work-place violence issues. “The probability is very low that most Americans will have to deal with interpersonal violence, but it’s possible that you may someday be confronted with an armed gunman or robber and you should be prepared to deal with it.”

We talked with Officer Parsons about some simple steps anyone can take when confronted with a personal safety threat.

Q: What are some of the basic things we can do to help ensure our own safety and the safety of others on a day-to-day basis?

A: It’s very individual, of course, but each of us has to accept responsibility for our personal safety.

We should all be looking out for each other all of the time. If you’re an observer and see somebody having a problem or stranded on the side of the road, or it looks like a bank or convenience store is being robbed, call 911 and give the details. Always report behavior that you think is suspicious or dangerous.

Have situational awareness. That means I need to be alert and aware in the present moment: for most people the past and the future are more real than the present. We’re busy on our cell phones — texting, talking. We’re thinking about dinner, an argument we had with our spouse, about rotating our tires. All of that occupies our brain space and pushes the reality of the present out.

Force yourself to be more in the moment — not necessarily when you’re home cooking in your kitchen, but if you’re walking from one place to another — from a parking garage, for instance. Pay attention to who is standing around.

Q: What if someone grabs your purse (or wallet)?

A: The general rule is to cooperate fully. Be as observant as you can but not obviously so. Be compliant. No piece of property is worth getting hurt for. Don’t go running after him.

You should also limit what you carry — just take a limited amount of cash, your ID, a credit card.

Q: What if you just have a funny feeling about a situation?

A: Trust your intuition. At gut level, our subconscious picks up information from the environment and our five senses are working against the backdrop of our personal experiences. If I can’t figure out exactly what’s going on, step away from the situation.

If you have a feeling someone is walking behind you, do what you can to be safe. If you’re walking to your car in a shopping mall and you can return to the mall and ask for security to escort you, do that.

Q: What do you advise people to carry with them to protect them?

A: I recommend a mini baton or kubotan, a self-defense key-chain sold at police uniform stores like David’s Uniforms (342 Troy Street) and D’N D Uniforms (120 E. Third St.) . They also sell pepper spray, and it’s best to get the Fox brand; it’s cheap but effective. These things are empowering. I’ve been a cop for 26 years, and I can count on one hand the times I ever carried a gun.

Q: Should you fight back when you’re attacked?

A: None of us like to think about having to fight back, but we’ve got to think about that possibility. The idea is to fight back mentally before we encounter a critical event. If we don’t, when it unfolds you’re trying to figure out what you would do and that may be too late. By reconciling, you begin to think about the possibility that you might face a car-jacking or an armed robbery or even an active shooter, so you need to think about what you would do if that ever occurred.

Q: What other things can we do to be safe?

A: Plan things in advance. If you’re going from Point A to Point B, think ahead about the safest route to take. Have a map with you as well as a GPS. Know where you are going and how you are going to get there.

Q: What if my car breaks down?

A: If you’re in a safe traffic location, stay in your car and call the police. Have a towing company programmed into your phone. If someone comes along and offers help, read the situation and if it doesn’t feel safe to you stay locked in your car and tell that other person you’ve already called the police. Have a sign in your car that reads: “HELP! CALL 911!”

Q: Any other advice?

A: Never be taken. Never allow yourself to be taken hostage or moved from Point A to Point B. You need to fight or run. If you let them move you, the chances of the situation turning out well are limited. If don’t think you can run fast enough or you have no place to go, you’ll have to defend yourself. Every step away from where you started is more risky. They are moving you for a reason.

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