Maintaining Safety in Calamity – Toby Cowern


The latest spate of terrorist attacks and the clear assessment that these type of attacks are likely to increase in the near future has highlighted to many, the need to have a ’shift in thinking’ towards seizing control of their personal safety. There are many excellent training opportunities available even for civilians although some of you may not have the time, inclination or resources to afford comprehensive training in this regard. So below, there are some ‘top tips’ to consider, should you find yourself caught up in a ‘mass casualty’ attack.

  • Stay alert, especially in public areas. Minimize or ideally eliminate distractions (using smartphone, listening to music, reading etc.) while in public areas. You CANNOT react to a situation if you do not know it is occurring! Note minimizing distractions is NOT the same as staying alert, you need to actively observe what is going on around you in order to be alert.
  • Acknowledge the situation. This is probably the single most challenging part. Seeing a situation occurring, acknowledging what it is, and reacting. The ‘freeze’ of unexpected events happens, but must be overcome. Dealing with the freeze is comprehensively covered here:
  • Identify exit routes. To quote Rory Miller, when reacting “don’t run away from danger, but towards safety”. Remember point 1 about staying alert? Included in this is identifying possible threats around you and always looking for escape routes and exits from your current position. This is easy to practice and after a while can become instinctive. Be creative about escape routes; don’t just think about the door you came in through, but all other potential options available to you. ‘Reading terrain’ is expanded on here:
  • Make other people aware. As you exit the situation, try and alert other people to the danger. This is not only just being a decent human being, but the more people are aware of the situation, the swifter it can be dealt with.
  • Take stock of injuries. Once you reach a safe place, check yourself over thoroughly to establish if you have any injuries. The adrenalisation that occurs in your body during such a situation can easily mask wounds, injuries even gunshot wounds for a period of time. Once you’re safe, it is essential you check and start to treat any wounds you may have.

Linked to point 5. As you ‘come down’ from the adrenal high, it will be perfectly normal to feel VERY shaken and distressed. It is essential you do not let yourself panic at this stage. You are likely in a very dynamic and fast flowing situation and may need to react further, so keeping calm is a top priority. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to use established ‘breathing drills’ that will help your body remain calm. Mike Gonzales, Head Instructor at San Antonio Systema suggests some short breathing options to reduce heart rate and calm yourself:

*All drills are in the event of panic, fear, accelerated heart rate, etc., but can also be used at any time

not just under threat.

(I)  Burst Breathing:  Similar to a women giving birth using the ‘Lamaze Method”. Short and sharp inhales through the nose and short and sharp exhales through the mouth. The inhales/exhales are not complete and full, they are only about half/second long and should be rapid. This is to be used under high stress, or as an alternative to reduce pain.

(II) 3XPX3P :  Having escaped the situation and reached safety begin inhaling through the nose for 3 seconds, then pause for 1 second, exhale through mouth for 3 seconds, pause for 1 second – repeat. This incorporates a short pause/breath hold in the rhythm, which helps reestablish the “natural respiratory pause” that goes out the window while under stress. You can modify this breathing drill, inhaling for upto in for 5 seconds and out for 5, and increasing the pause to 3 seconds, all depending how severe your need is.

  •  Communicate with authorities. If you haven’t already done so, alert the authorities to the situation and provide as much detail about the threat presented as possible. Continue to stave off panic, and, if you can, try to write down or record in any way possible, details of what just happened.
  •  The last point is actually a pre-emptive one. Find and familiarize yourself with the security plans in your workplace. Actively contribute to keeping your work area secure by ensuring you follow the plans and report any discrepancies or issues with compliance. Also take the time to review your personal approach to security (you have begun this already by reading this article!) and think about ways you can improve your security both at home and when travelling. Do not give in to fear and try to ‘ignore’ the reality of the world around you, and understand, a small amount of planning and preparedness goes a long way to making you safer.

If you want to explore reacting to violent situations further I highly recommend reading ‘Facing Violence’ by Rory Miller.


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