How Not to Be a Victim
- Tuesday, November 16, 2004
A lot has changed since 9/11, and nowhere is this more evident than at our nation's airports. Before 9/11, the briefings given to people traveling to high-risk areas on what to do in the event of a hijacking were pretty simple: stay calm, do what you're told, and you'll probably come home. Above all, don't do anything to interfere with the hijackers; they're either unstable people or else calculating people out to get something and, thus, subject to negotiation and settlement. The strategy certainly has changed since 9/11. Specifically, it changed with flight 93 over Pennsylvania when Todd Beamer said, "Let's roll." The die was cast, and air travel will never be the same.
Over the last thirty-five years, I've briefed, trained, or talked to thousands of people about staying safe in hostile situations. Many of these people have been high-risk media personalities or government figures. They all ask the same question: "How can I keep from becoming a victim of crime and steer clear of dangerous environments?" Most of us are looking for a magic formula or some easy way to make sure we come home safely. Let me first say the same thing I tell my media clients: there is no such thing as 100 percent security. Our goal is to reduce the risks to an acceptable level. When I consult with companies or individuals, I first talk to them about their risk and what they see as their exposure. Then we talk about what level or risk they want to achieve. I have said at conferences and on television that the only way to have 100 percent security is to build a high wall around your home and never leave. Then, after a pause, I remark, "Of course, even that isn't foolproof." Some trusted person could turn on you, or a piece of equipment could explode and kill you. I think it's safe to say there isn't any totally safe environment. What we want to do is reduce the risk to an acceptable level. I'm confident, though, that with a little planning, some of the right equipment, and training in how not to be a victim, one can greatly reduce the risk of being harmed by a violent act.
Let me explain what I mean by not becoming a victim. I usually start my seminars with this illustration: image you're watching an older lady walking alone on a cool fall day in any major city. For that matter, it could be Smalltown, U.S.A. This woman has on a coat with a scarf and hat. She is walking slowly with her purse dangling from the arm closest to the street. Her shoulders bend forward, and her head is hanging down with her eyes on the pavement. She looks dejected and unaware of her surroundings. Now picture another woman walking down the same street, except that this one is moving briskly with her shoulders back, head up, making eye contact for enough time to tell each passerby, "I see you." Her purse is tucked under the arm away from the street, and she walks with an air of confidence. Which one do you think the street hoodlum will try to attack? If you said the first one, you're right. This fact, based on a study of victims, confirms my own personal interviews with hundreds of suspects we arrested in L.A. for crimes against people and property.
The first thing that virtually every suspect says when I ask, "Why did you do it?" is, "It was easy." He – or she – invariably responds that the victim looked unprepared or the business had no visible security measures. What goes for street crime also goes for business and internal crime. When I brought a business theft suspect in, the accused said, "Well, the business obviously doesn't care. They don't have any security measures, and they never talk about theft or losing product." I could write a book of stories, but I think you get the picture: we must move from looking like victims to looking like we're prepared. We must send the spoken and silent message: if you try and attack us or steal from us you will be stopped. What works for personal or corporate safety also applies to staying safe from terrorism.
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