The holiday season will soon be upon us. This time of year, many women are leaving their homes more often and staying out later in the evenings. People are shopping for early holiday gifts, buying groceries for Thanksgiving dinner, and attending holiday parties. Situational awareness is more important than ever. Read on to discover how to prevent risky situations and safely tick off everything on your list this year.
Search for the right spot. “When you pull into a parking lot, always try to park under a light and as close to the store as possible,” advises Fred Mastison, professional firearms and combatives instructor, and president of Force Options USA. “The further you have to walk, the longer you are exposed to a criminal.”
Learn to “read.” According to Mastison, situational awareness is more than just keeping your head up and your eyes open; “It’s learning how to read the environment and people. How are they carrying themselves? Are they doing something that catches your eye? Look for activity where the person is actively scanning the area and their behavior is not calm. When most people are walking from their car to the store, or when exiting a store, they are calm and relaxed. But when you see someone jittery and nervous or agitated, and their eyes are scanning around, that’s a sign.”
It’s also a good idea to check out their hands. Are their hands under their shirt or inside their coat while walking? “If so, that’s a sign there’s a weapon involved 99 percent of the time,” warns Mastison. “Also look at their clothes for printing. Is there a bump or bulge showing? Are they constantly reaching at their waistline? If so, they could be readjusting their firearm. Are they pulling their pants up time and time again? The weight of a firearm could be pulling their pants down.”
Scan the entire store. “When you walk into a store, turn your head and look around,” says Mastison. “Try to look as far as possible, not just in your immediate area. The more lead time you have to remove yourself from a bad situation the better.”
Don’t go it alone. Try not to leave the store alone, especially at night, when more crimes happen. Chances are, if you wait a few minutes, you can leave when other shoppers do. When grocery shopping at night, it’s also a good idea to ask for assistance taking the groceries to your car. You may have to wait a few minutes for the cashier to get help, but your safety is well worth the wait.
Check your car. Unlocking your car from a distance can be a mistake. “You don’t want to unlock your car until you can see all the way around it,” says Mastison. “Unlocking it from a distance allows somebody who’s potentially on the side of it to slip in without you even knowing it.” Look underneath the car and inside the car. When inside, take your rearview mirror and dip it down so you can look into the back seat. If someone is hiding there, you can see them. If you can get in the habit of it, it’s a good idea to turn the mirror down before exiting your car, so when you return to your car, you can check the rearview mirror from the outside before getting inside.
“It’s always a good idea to keep a small, extra-bright LED flashlight in your handbag so you can shine the light around, under and inside your car,” says Mastison. “When leaving the store, have the flashlight in your hand ready to go so you don’t have to waste time fumbling for it in your handbag.” Mastison likes the Streamlight brand of compact flashlights..
Use all your senses. “Scan the entire area when approaching your vehicle,” advises Steve Mittman, self-defense instructor and third-degree black belt. “Listen for running cars. Look for parked cars with their lights on. Watch for people sitting in their cars and people walking or standing between cars. This is all unusual behavior and could be a sign that the criminal is waiting in their car or walking around the parking lot for their next victim.” Mittman also recommends that you should also deploy your sense of smell to detect out-of-place aromas such as cigarette smoke, cologne or perfume around your vehicle. “It may sound funny to do this,” adds Mittman, “but that means someone was just there or is still right there near your car. They may be hiding, but you can become alert to their presence giving you enough time to react.”
Evade if you can. “If you are inside your car, and someone is banging on your window, they will not be able to break in unless they have a glass-breaking device,” explains Mastison. “In that case, speed away and immediately call the police. You are in the safety of your vehicle, and you have the opportunity to escape quickly.”
Fight if you must. “Now, if you two are in physical contact and you get grabbed, if the criminal is trying to yank you away to get at your car, let them have your car as long as there is no one else in it. If you have someone else inside the car, turn into a jaguar and fight them to the ground! You need to go ballistic and fight them like your life depends on it, because it does. Unfortunately, the chance of survival after a kidnapping is very slim.”
Fine-tune your training. If you find yourself in a life or death situation, you have the right to defend yourself. “If someone approaches your car and points a gun at you, they have the drop on you,” explains Mastison. “Unless you’ve had advanced, close-quarters tactical training, it’s best to drive away as quickly as possible. There are many factors in a situation like this, such as: Is their finger off the trigger? Do you have time to draw your weapon, and if so, how fast can you do it? Are they jacked up on drugs? With the proper training all these factors will be explored, and they will teach you how to react given each specific scenario.”
Mastison likes to keep his firearm holstered by his console. “In a life or death situation, seconds count, so the quicker you have access to your firearm, the greater your chances of survival.”
If you can’t have a gun, improvise. Mastison also recommend carrying OC or pepper spray with you at all times, particularly if you cannot have a firearm with you. “Their eyes will begin to water, and they will not be able to see, making it easier to escape. I am also a big fan of a taser.” While pepper spray is legal in all 50 states, there are some restrictions, so be sure to check out your local laws and regulations.
If you don’t have any of these items available, use whatever object you have nearby, such as a pen or any other sharp object. “One of my students used a knitting needle to stave off an attacker,” notes Mastison.