Shop Safely During The Holidays
By Anthony Yeary
Time moves faster than we would like and the catch-all that we call “The Holidays” are coming up quick. That entails a few events that I’d like to touch on: Halloween, Christmas shopping and Black Friday, plus New Years’ partying. We’re all making plans for the holidays right now and I hope that all of you are taking a moment to make plans for your own personal safety, as well as that of your loved ones. When it comes to avoiding, running from and confronting danger, the concept of environmental and situational awareness is where your planning should begin.
It seems like a no-brainer: don’t get caught with your pants down. But that’s what happens every day to people who become victims of the world’s predators. As we are all responsible for our own safety, we need to learn to be more aware of our surroundings and situation in order to deal with an attack on ourselves and our own. Lucky for us, a philosophy for this has already been developed a long time ago and it still bears significance. Colonel Jeff Cooper (May 10th, 1920- September 26th, 2006), a Marine and veteran of World War II and the Korean War, wrote the book Principles of Personal Defense where he spelled out his philosophy of situational awareness and dealing with a threat if escape is not an option. I’d like to share with you the broad strokes of Colonel Cooper’s defensive mindset and how they can help you plan out a safe holiday (and overall existence for that matter).
The Cooper Color Code
The Cooper Color Code is a concept used to help you understand your situational awareness in an easy to understand way. The holidays are an especially good time to get acquainted with what the color code is.
White: In white, you are completely off-guard. Your level of awareness is low and you are not really prepared to handle a crisis. Good examples are when you are watching TV, reading a book, or playing a video game. Ideally, you should never cruise in this gear while you are outside of your home.
Yellow: In yellow, you are relaxed yet aware of your surroundings. To be in this state of mind should not be stressful as you are just making a mental note of what and who is around you. This is the mindset you should be in while outside the home.
Orange: You stay in yellow so that if necessary, you will be able to go into orange. Orange is when you notice something wrong that arrests your attention. Something isn’t right. It is at this point you must identify if that something is a threat or not.
Red: Red is the time for action. You have encountered a threat and you now have to deal with it. Your fight or flight reflex has kicked in and you are left with two choices: stand your ground and fight, or escape if possible (more on this in a bit).
Things You Can Do to Stay Safe
Awareness is the foundation of being safe when out and about, but here are some specific things you should do, depending on what holiday event you’re participating in.
When you think about it, Halloween night is primarily about your kids’ safety. Most of Halloween safety is common sense and I’m going to try to not get too patronizing about it. Just remember to always accompany children under 10 and if they’re old enough to not need you, make sure they’re in a group so that there is some safety in numbers. It wouldn’t hurt to pin a piece of paper with their name and your address and phone number in their pocket. Don’t visit houses that are not well lit. Make sure you have flashlights and cell phones (if your kids don’t have phones, make sure they at least have watches).
Set ground rules- don’t let them eat any candy until you inspect everything. Be sure to discard anything that’s not sealed, any torn packaging, or anything questionable. If you’re staying home to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters, turn your house lights on and replace any burned out bulbs- maintain good visibility for everyone’s safety. Do not admit strangers into your home and if you’re out driving on that night, watch for kids, because they are going to be everywhere and not paying attention to you.
For human predators, Black Friday is like bringing the mice to the trap, so be extra careful on that night. When you get to a store or the mall, make note of where you parked. Because it’ll be hard to find your ride in the sea of other cars, take a picture with your cell of the view from your car to help relocate it if necessary. Again, go with a group for safety and if you must split up, have your group decide on a central meeting place and a time so you can find one-another. Never leave children unattended- don’t take your eyes off of them for very long. Make sure your cell phone’s battery is charged up and leave it on vibrate, because you may not be able to hear it ring among all of the noise in the store and it may be an important call.
Never purchase more than you can carry. When paying at the register, don’t flash cash and safeguard credit card and check numbers. Make sure your credit card numbers are written down at home in case they’re stolen and you need to cancel them; plus save all receipts to verify bank statements later on. It goes without saying, keep your purse close to your body and keep your wallet inside a coat pocket or in your front pocket.
When you’re leaving the store, have your keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. When you get to your car, check the backseat and walk around car looking for people lying in wait for you. If you drive a car, try to keep your purchases hidden away in the trunk. If you have to spill over into your backseat, or if you have an SUV, keep a blanket with you to cover your gifts up. This way you can try to prevent attracting thieves with unnecessary eye candy. Even if you don’t do your holiday shopping on Black Friday, remember to stay alert even in the daytime- the sun wards off vampires, not criminals.
Safety on New Year’s Eve is more about you. Obviously, don’t drink and drive. Know your limits with alcohol and don’t get too wasted. Eat before you drink so you’re not getting loaded on an empty stomach and drink plenty of water before you pass out so you don’t get dehydrated (to lessen your hangover in the morning). Don’t accept drinks from strangers, especially ones you didn’t see poured. If you’ve had too much to drink, crash at a friend’s house if possible. Try to get your most responsible buddy to be a designated driver if you can (and make it up to the poor sober guy later with a good gift, because dealing with drunks while sober is a real pain!). Again, remember that there is some safety in numbers. If something feels unsafe, it probably is. Also, don’t ignore calls and texts. Something important may have come up and you don’t want to miss it.
The Personal Defense Mindset
If the worst should happen and if you end up in a fight or flight situation, don’t leave survival to your instincts or pure chance. Occasionally take the time to consider Cooper’s seven principles of personal defense and visualize what you might need to do. Your mindset is just as important as your awareness if you’re going to escape danger.
Alertness: Remember what we discussed earlier about Cooper’s Color Code? Be aware of your surroundings and maintain a level of personal preparedness.
Decisiveness: If escape is your best option, commit to it and go. If that isn’t possible and you have to fight, proceed down this list. To be indecisive and not act one way or the other may cost you or your loved ones dearly.
Aggressiveness: If your mindset and retaliation are not aggressive, you’ll likely not perform well.
Speed: Be as quick as you can; the idea being to strike first if possible of course. If you’re alert and decisive, speed will come much more easily.
Coolness: Keep your emotions under control and your wits about you. This way your decisions in a fight are the best you can possibly make under the circumstances.
Surprise: As an attack on you or your loved ones will more than likely be a surprise, this last point may seem nonsensical. Remember that the idea is not to get the drop on the perpetrator (that will likely never happen), the idea is to surprise him/her with your own unpredictability when they think they have you dead to rights. Producing a firearm will almost assuredly surprise an attacker, but just the fact that you will stand and fight, weapon or none, is surprising within itself.
Ruthlessness: Attack with all the strength you have! Note that this applies to your physical strength just as much as your defensive weapon of choice if you have one (back to personal preparedness strategies again).
In our world of smart phones, i-Pods, and tablets, it’s all too easy to walk around in public in a self-absorbed bubble. Although you should always maintain that “code yellow” level of awareness when away from home, the holidays are a time when you should be more alert than usual. This is because we make ourselves more vulnerable at this time of year. During Halloween we’re wandering around in the dark and accepting food from strangers. On Black Friday we’re throwing cash around (I hope only figuratively) and buying large amounts of expensive goods. On New Year’s we’re purposely removing our environmental awareness with alcohol. No wonder criminals like to target us between Halloween and New Year’s Eve; there’s more marks walking around than usual- please don’t become one yourself this year.
(For more information on Jeff Cooper and his personal defense mindset, check out his book Principles of Personal Defense which is still in print and easily found online.)