In the Air

Let's star with how we travel.  Remember how passengers were told to act if we were involved in a hijacking before 9/11?  By September 12, all that had changed.  I was called by many television shows to talk about terrorism, airport security, and how to act on a hijacked plane.  I spent considerable time reflecting on my own thoughts about how we should act, hoping many people, even in their shocked state, would listen to me as an expert and do what I said.  I wanted to be careful not only to keep people out of harm's way but also to empower them so they could be in charge of their own safety.

I'm not even sure how I would have reacted if I had been on one of the hijacked airplanes on 9/11.  But with time, all of us – myself included – have learned better.  We've all heard stories since 9/11 of passengers who've stood up to their would-be captors, taken charge, and subdued those who were a violent threat.  So what should you do?  How do you prepare yourself, and what could you use as a weapon to defend yourself?

First, one's mind-set has to change even before boarding a flight.  We should be observant and watch who is getting on the plane.  Look for "problem people," those who seem ill at ease or out of place.  When you get on the plane, look around to see who is sitting near you, and look for those who could be action people in the event of a problem.  Actor James Woods knows what I mean.  Shortly before 9/11, while flying from Boston to L.A., he observed several men of Middle Eastern appearance acting in a manner inconsistent with simple travelers flying coast to coast.  He knew they were up to something and was unnerved to the point of notifying the flight attendant.  The rest of the flight passed uneventfully without Woods knowing what happened to his information.  On 9/11, his exact flight was one of those hijacked.  Two of the men on his flight were among the nineteen hijackers.  Woods had stumbled onto a dry run of the terrorist attack.  Sadly, before 9/11, nothing much could be done.  Now many additional measures are taken.

After 9/11, I did several shows where we re-enacted an attempted takeover of an airplane.  I went through some of the things to do and the potential weapons that are available to passengers.  First, in the event of a problem, action must be taken quickly.  Mobilize those around you; speak out commands like, "Hijacker!  I need help."  If the hijacker has a weapon such as a knife, pull off your seat cushion and use it as a weapon to swing at the suspect or to shield the blow if he stabs at you.  Books and magazines can be thrown at the suspect to distract them and fend off blows.  While this is going on, keep calling out for action from the other passengers.  Overpower the suspect with numbers, and you will likely succeed.  We can no longer assume hijackings will have a safe conclusion.  Our best hope is quick, determined action.

On the Ground

How do we secure our homes and businesses so we can avoid being targeted in the first place?  For years I have been helping people self-evaluate their homes and businesses.  Many folks don't have the resources for elaborate alarms, cameras, or other perimeter defenses.  This inability to provide security was sadly borne out several years ago when actress Rebecca Schaeffer was killed by a stalker in North Hollywood.  Ms Schaeffer had a successful show, "My Sister Sam," and was somewhat known but wasn't yet at the financial level to be able to obtain personal security or live in a high-security environment.  The reason she became a victim was because the door surveillance system was broken in her apartment.  Unknowingly, when she went to her front door, she went to her death.

I have trained hundreds of people, businesses, and families to do a self-audit of their homes, offices, and lifestyles.  First, keep in mind that what we shouldn't do in our homes and businesses is the same thing that the little old lady did in my illustration at the beginning of this chapter:  don't look like a victim.  I've interviewed career criminals who specialized in home break-ins, and they all said they cased a neighborhood, looking for the easiest home to get into.  They're not looking for a challenge; they're looking for a quick, trouble-free score.  For them, an easy home is one with no visible security measures and those that have low visibility from the street.  Even though this book focuses on terrorism, the mind-set to keep us from becoming a victim of the terrorist starts with the basic procedures we use in our everyday lives.  If we are going to travel with peace of mind – and that really is what I seek to give the clients of West Coast Detective group International – we need to know that our family and businesses are secure when we leave.