How To Be Safe in Crowds: Adopting a Bias Towards Action - ITS Tactical

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How To Be Safe in Crowds: Adopting a Bias Towards Action

By ITS Guest Contributor

Airport Crowd

I’ve been asked several times since the Boston Marathon Bombing about how to manage risk in a large crowd environment. One answer is simple: Unless you are absolutely required to be in attendance, AVOID large crowded environments. Of course, when there are times when you have limited choice and must venture into that environment, then use good habits of situational awareness and adopt a “bias towards action.”

Large groups of people will always attract a certain amount of risk. Never underestimate the volatility of people in large groups. Any significant event, even a “perceived” event, can result in a stampede. People are injured and die every year during Black Friday Sales events when they become victims of a frenzied mob. A fire, an explosion or an active shooter can all create a mob mentality that will take on a life of its own.

The KEY to surviving any event in a crowded venue will depend almost entirely on your ability to control personal panic, to assess the situation and to take immediate action. If you panic, you drastically increase your odds of injury or death.

Here are a few strategies that will decrease your risk. Concentration is initially involved, but after practice, these habits can become natural and seemingly effortless.

1. Maintain your awareness. Keep your eyes up, off the smart phone and scan your environment. This can be challenging due to the large volume of people. But try actively scanning and looking for “out of baseline” behaviors. People moving upstream and against the flow, for example, are out of baseline. People moving faster or slower than the baseline, or whose gestures or furtiveness do not match the event.

I have a friend who works in a department store in theft prevention. In a glance, he can spot someone about to shoplift. Their behaviors are out of baseline. A shoplifter will always stand right next to the shelf before he pockets the item, whereas a normal shopper stands back to be able to see the contents of the shelves. Out of baseline.

2. Identify specific threats or threatening behavior. Look for menacing behavior or people who by their looks cause you to feel uncomfortable. Trust your gut. There may be a valid reason why they make you feel uncomfortable. If you are in proximity, move away. As always, look for “orphans:” bags or packages without owners. Alert security if you see them, but do not stand next to them waiting for security to arrive.

3. Identify exits. Whenever I enter a room, or area, one of the first things I do is scan for exits. Are there emergency exits? Are they alarmed? Are they locked? What about windows? Can they be opened? Is there a heavy object like a chair I can throw through the window to create an exit?

4. Look for exits on the opposite side of the room from the entrance or at right angles to the entrance. Most people will bypass emergency exits in close proximity to them to go back to the entrance they came in through. This behavior has led to many deaths in ballroom and concert fires. People who are panicking seek the familiar.

5. Identify cover. Cover refers to safety from fire. A brick wall may stop bullets, but sheetrock walls will not. Solid furniture may seem solid, but even a two inch thick oak table will not stop a 9mm round. You must find something substantial if shooting starts. The engine block and front axle of a car for example may provide enough cover for one person. The car door, not so much. There generally isn’t much cover inside of a building and it’s best to head for the exit.

6. When an event occurs, grab your family members and head for the exit. Pick up and carry children. Have your family members (spouse, others with you) grab a hold of your belt. Move assertively towards the PRE-SELECTED exit. Move with the crowd “downstream,” but also in a diagonal direction until you can reach a wall inside. If outside, move along the edge of the crowd, where you can better control your movement. Don’t be afraid to damage or destroy the fixtures, or even the building itself to get out. This may include breaking open windows, kicking open doors, or breaking locks. Timidity will not be helpful, your primary concern must be your family. Once they’re safe, you can decide whether or not to render aid to others.

7. Carry essential gear. Essential gear for an outside event: Water bottle, First Aid Kit that includes a Tourniquet, knife, multi-tool, sunglasses that also provide eye protection. For indoor essential gear, add a small pocket flashlight, as cell phone flashlights will not penetrate smoke and haze.

It’s impossible to anticipate every event. However, most events will precipitate the need to move. MOVEMENT to SAFETY will generally always be your highest priority. If the event is localized to your immediate vicinity, then safety generally lies elsewhere. The most important trait here is a BIAS TOWARDS ACTION. Take action to improve your crowd situation.

Editor-in-Chief’s NoteKevin Reeve is the founder of onPoint Tactical, training professionals and select civilians in urban escape & evasion, urban survival, wilderness survival, tracking and scout skills. I’ve personally taken onPoint Tactical’s Urban Escape & Evasion class and highly recommend it as a resource!

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  • Brandon Franklin

    “…how to manage risk in a large crowd environment. One answer is
    simple: Unless you are absolutely required to be in attendance, AVOID
    large crowded environments.”
     This isn’t risk management, this is
    risk avoidance.  And it’s not even smart risk avoidance.  Driving is a
    bigger threat to your safety than domestic terrorism and violence. 
    Unless you aren’t driving, avoiding large crowded areas is avoidance
    based on fear, not on rational risk assessment.  The data just doesn’t support the conclusion.
    That said, I
    wholly agree with the fundamental concept that you need to consciously
    prepare yourself to take action in _any_ environment. Getting caught in
    “fright” mode and freezing is the worst thing you can do when something
    goes down.

    • GulfVet91

      Brandon Franklin
      Your analogy “Unless you aren’t driving, avoiding large crowded areas is avoidance
      based on fear, not on rational risk assessment.” is only partially correct. Avoiding crowded areas is NOT a basis due to fear. It’s just a smart thing to do. Sure, there are times when you can ‘perhaps’ use that assessment, but many times we don’t need to be in an area with huge crowds. But we “choose” to be there because of an event we just can not miss due to having a child’s school event, sports event or perhaps just a local Fair. I know I do not “fear” being in any large crowd but i’m smart enough to know the “potential” dangers in them too. Uncle Sam taught me some good lessons, and what I didn’t learn from them I learned myself. My No 1 priority now is my families safety and I teach everyone I know how to be safer in these types of environments especially in light of the current “Knockout” crimes occurring nationwide.

    • Brandon Franklin

      @GulfVet91 Where’s the data? You cite the knockout crimes, but from what I’ve read, those are happening in attacks on isolated individuals so the perpetrators have a chance to escape.  Most advice from police forces also recommends avoiding isolation rather than avoiding crowds to stay safe (not that police forces always get the risk assessment correct, but they do in this case).
       Avoiding crowds may be a better idea if you’re in an area that has a legitimate risk of terrorism.   Domestically in the US, though?  Your risk of a terrorist event like Boston is lower than your chance of winning the lottery.

  • iaa12345

    “Getting caught in
    “fright” mode and freezing is the worst thing you can do when something
    goes down” Agreed, but what are some ways the average joe can train himself to avoid “fright mode?”

    • Brandon Franklin

      iaa12345 The best way to avoid fright mode is to, as the article suggests, constantly have a mindset of “if something goes down in the next 5 minutes, where am I going and what will I do?”  You make a habit of having a plan, and having the will to act. I’m also a very big fan of #6 in the article — unless your only egress is through the threat, do not engage the threat. Leave that to professionals.

  • abdullahhnaqvi

    Dear All and worthy writer of the article, 
    first of all i appreciate you for providing such valueable information but the major or most inportant things are absent in this article .
    let me start with telling you that crowd, mob, possession, gathering of large no of peolple its not all the same .Now a days science has advanced so much that now we have very exact information about different types of gathering of people and psychy of all such gatherings if any one ineterseted i can send him a detail of all of it . But basically there are some patterns which all such gatherings show while in panic . a gathering if taken as a fluid is like a convex lens its thickness and intensity of damage is most in centre and least at edges secondly there are some pattern lines for movement of such un controlled gatering of people so i think in the article these things ahve to be discussed and methods of getting save with repect to this psychy should be told to people . another very important thing is staying tall and avoiding to fall in such situation but unfortunately if one falls then how one can safe himself must be told . so i think in next episode the worthy writer should focus on such things rather than just playing with the words and telling to avoid a mob and in a building or room situations .
    i am not criticizing but trying to clear the core issues positively so that right guidence to the people .

    Thanks and Regards

    • 56oadf

      abdullahhnaqvi Can I see a link to the scientific studies you referenced? I’m interested in an in-depth examination of the topic.

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