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Fight Or Flight: Survival In The Dangerous Times We Live In

Preparation Is Key To Survival

We live in dangerous times. One glance at the daily news will confirm that. During my post retirement from my real profession, I’ve been associated with a number of large retail organizations and have taken note of their preparations for those dangerous situations. There is only so much they can do, so preparing yourself has become of paramount importance.

The first and most important thing is to be aware of the potential danger and to be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. This process of observation and evaluation will with a little practice become automatic. As I walk into a store, the first thing I do is a quick scan to locate the emergency exits. When I stop at the maître d’ station in a restaurant, I similarly look around to figure out how I can get out of there in an emergency.

Even at a fast food place, there will almost always be a service entrance for food deliveries in the back of the kitchen. I always know all the ways to get out. Paranoia?  No, healthy mental preparation “just in case.”  It doesn’t stop me from doing anything, but it does lessen my chances of being a victim. Let’s look at a few situations:



The first thing is to recognize that an earthquake is a possibility and move it up in your awareness list. I live in central Texas which is a very seismically quiet zone and hence my trembler mental preparations are of minor concern. However, when I travel in earthquake areas, I automatically start considering the possibility. I stay away from heavy things on high shelves – away from large glass plates – and I’m mentally prepared to find something strong to get under without hesitation. If it’s minor, I consider that is could be a fore shock and as soon as the initial shaking stops, I’m heading out the door to an open space away from power lines and overhanging structures.


If you live in the mid west tornado alley as I do, this is a constant threat. If I walk into a store and the weather outside looks like the end of the world, I’m prepared for the possibility that a twister could develop. I’ve been through two tornado retail experiences. In both cases, we made an announcement, “Attention customers and associates. We have received word that there is a tornado on the ground nearby.  Do not run, there is time to reach safety. Please walk to the area next to the store restrooms and store personnel will direct you to the reinforced strongest and safest area of the store.”


In most jurisdictions, fire drills are required on an annual or semiannual basis. If it’s a drill, there will be an announcement before the drill starts. If it’s not a drill, the first indication will be the fire alarms sounding. Modern building requirements are such that fire detection and fire suppression is required in every part of the store. It might be a false alarm – doesn’t matter – head to an exit and get out.

When we had an electrical power panel catch fire, the alarm went off and we announced, “This is not a drill. There is a minor fire in the back of the store. Do not panic and do not run. Please walk to the front exits and move to the far side of the parking lot to allow fire department access.”


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All retailers have “private” codes to indicate to their employees the nature of some situation. Most are trivial, “I need change at a register,” “There is a spill on some aisle,” “I need a manager override on a purchase,” etc. In my personal experience, the “real” codes are mostly not used and an announcement is made of the danger. Code ADAM is one used by most retailers to indicate a missing child. In most cases, the child is playing hide and seek. But, store personnel will guard the exists to prevent child abductions. If you have a child with you, wait until the code is cancelled before trying to leave and avoid the hassle.

There are a couple of codes that I have seen used for more minor problems. A page for “Mister” someone to report to whatever aisle is likely a good reason to stay far away. Hospitals also have their own codes. I was writing software for one when I learned that a page for Doctor Leo to ER was a bad sign. There was no Doctor Leo – LEO stood for Law Enforcement Officer. The best thing to do when you hear a “code” page is take a look at the nearest associate. They know what the codes mean. If they are “business as usual” then there isn’t a problem. If they are heading for an exit, follow them!

Active Shooter

It’s a sad commentary but there seems to be a new incident almost everyday. A mass shooting can happen anywhere and at anytime. So – how to prepare for the unpredictable? Again, be aware of your surroundings and know how to quickly get out. Be aware of the people around you. Unless you are near the shooter, the first indication of trouble is likely a gunshot.

Don’t stop, don’t hesitate, get the hell out through the nearest exit. Go out with your hands in the air, palms open and to the front in case law enforcement is arriving. The best defense is to be somewhere else in a hurry. If you are near the shooter, don’t stand there as a jack lighted deer in the headlights target – RUN!!!  A moving target is a lot harder to hit. You will never run faster than if you are running for your life.

In full adrenaline pumping panic mode, you can probably run 15 miles an hour for a few seconds. That’s 22 feet per second. In one second – One Thousand One – you’re 22 feet farther away. If the shooter was initially 11 feet from you, in one second, you’re now 33 feet away and your target area is ONE NINTH as big as it was – you’ve made it 9 times harder to be shot. Two seconds makes it 25 times harder – three seconds 49 times harder for you to be hit. RUN – don’t hesitate – react and get the hell away.

Run to the closest area that you can be out of sight and keep running for an exit. If you can’t find an exit, try to make one. A window or other plate glass breaks pretty easily. If you can’t get to an exit, then you either have to hide or fight. If you hide, go for a door that can be locked and pile as much as you can against it so it can’t be forced open. Turn out the lights and turn off your cell phone and stay as quiet as the proverbial mouse.

When It’s Time To Fight Or Flight For Your Life

But – be ready to fight. There are likely potential weapons all around you. Forget Hollywood and balsa chairs – a swinging chair is lethal. So is a heavy laptop. Even a keyboard hitting the shooter’s face will cause serious damage. A groin kick is debilitating, but hard to do as we reflexively protect it. Kick a knee from the side and the shooter is going to the ground. Then kick everything – and kick the gun away. Remember, you are fighting for your life!

I’ve mostly worked on the ground floor, but when I had a fourth floor office, I kept an innocent autographed Louisville Slugger on the wall.  I’d have preferred a Remington 870 combat pump shotgun, but a baseball bat will stop anyone. If you are trapped, this is the only time to think about your concealed weapon if you are carrying one. If you are in the open – RUN – DO NOT get into a stand up fire fight with the shooter – your odds are way too long of being killed. Let the SWAT team handle the fire fight.

Above all – be aware and be mentally prepared to act instantly. Don’t hesitate. If you see a gun or hear a gun – get the hell out.  Coach your spouse, kids, and friends to do the same. They need to instantly react right along with you.

Paranoid Or Prepared?

Again, am I paranoid? Or just mentally prepared?

August 1, 1966 – I was in class when Charles Whitman killed 16 and wounded 31 firing from the University of Texas tower. I saw some of the horror through a narrow stair window. You can read about the carnage here.

If you look at each item and the scenarios, you can see that some casualties could have been prevented.

I survived the military and I survived three “street” incidents that could have been very bad. In each case, I recognized the potential for danger, was mentally prepared to react – ready for “Fight or Flight” – and survived unscathed.

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Reeves Motal
Reeves Motal
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