By Kevin Reeve
You live in Pasadena, but you work near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX); a distance of about 20 miles. It’s late in the afternoon and your family is home and apparently safe for now, but you must get to them. Between you and home is a maze of collapsed freeways and high crime neighborhoods. The streets are jammed and sirens are blaring.
Imagine there is a major terror attack in New York City where you work. Your office building on the Upper East Side is one of dozens that has been evacuated. Law enforcement officers are warning of other potential attacks. You live in Brooklyn across the East River. You have to get home with each of the standard transportation systems shut down.
Imagine you are in Atlanta when a major event occurs that causes a loss of civility. There are masses of rioters in the streets, some with weapons. Fires rage. The police are obviously outnumbered. You have to get home from work to rural Cobb county where your family waits.
The keys to survival are like a three legged stool. You must have; 1) the skill, 2) the will and, 3) the tools to prevail. If any of the three are missing, your chances of survival diminish greatly. Some people gather gear and supplies with the idea that just storing them will save them. The fact that they have them stored is an indication of will, but without the skill to use the gear, and the ability to survive without the gear should it be lost, gear alone will not do much for you. The focus needs to be shifted towards skill.
Over decades and through vast amounts of trial and error by myself and thousands of students, I’ve developed and honed eight primary skills which can save your life in an urban disaster. While there are a host of other skills, these basic eight are the foundational ones upon which more advanced skills are based:
The ability to endure stressful situations is essential to survival. There are people who not only maintain calm under pressure, but seem to get into a flow state that allows them to function at their highest level. The film Metanoia about famed climber Jeff Lowe provides an example. His friends all said that the more intense the situation on a climb became, the calmer Jeff was. I have a friend that is a military tier one operator. He is the same way. Cool and calm under fire. The more dangerous the situation, the calmer he becomes.
Stress inoculation is achieved by realistically simulating stressful events in training for the real situations. First skills must be practiced and learned, then they must be executed while under stress.That is why the third day of my Urban Escape & Evasion class is a daylong immersion exercise that introduces stressors and requires students to overcome them. When military operators are trained, stress inoculation is often provided in the form of sleep deprivation, food deprivation, coldness, wetness, darkness, extreme physical exertion, confrontation of personal fears and uncertainty. These can be great tools to strengthen, but they can also be tools to break people if they are wielded without expert care.
The big question is whether mental toughness is innate or learned. I have a friend who is as tough a person as I know. He has been that way his whole life. I know another person who as a teen seemed very vulnerable. He developed greater strength after a series of challenging events because he faced tough challenges and met them. To me, mental toughness is a combination of resilience and relentlessness. Social sciences have on occasion called this “grit” or “hardiness.” “Hardiness” is comprised of three parts: “(1) the belief one can find meaningful purpose in life, (2) the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and (3) the belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.” (see Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, Andrew Zolli, and Ann Marie Healy).
The only way I know of to achieve this is a combination of personal decision and experience. I am motivated by the need to take care of my family. I’m confident in knowing I can alter my surroundings and events because I have done so in the past. The experience portion comes from doing hard things. I have a friend who runs in “tough mudders,” another who does 100 mile plus adventure races, and another who climbs big walls. These guys intentionally put themselves in situations that require them to persevere in tough situations, and they become greater athletes in the process. Hardiness, or “antifragility” as I mentioned in a previous article (see Antifragility by Nassim Taleb), is as crucial for urban survival as it is for wilderness survival, yet urbanites, accustomed to modern conveniences and comforts, often tend to have a much steeper learning curve.
The ability to monitor one’s environment and observe changes in the baseline is perhaps the most important skill one can develop. I have found myself in undesirable situations that could have been avoided had I been more aware of my surroundings. Avoidance is always better than reaction. Awareness requires that one focus on the here and now.
Many of us get into a state of mind where we daydream about future events or past conversations. We get absorbed in our electronics, or numbed by drugs and alcohol. These altered states cause us to lose our present focus.
Present Focus means that we monitor the sounds, sights, smells and activity level around us and look for variations. Those variations, like the noise of an approaching car as we walk, or footsteps close behind us, represent an event that should usually be avoided. How many times has a witness said, “I thought it was fireworks,” and yet they failed to notice that the context of the event was less likely to support the use of fireworks than crime?
While dining with a friend in Philadelphia, we were startled by loud popping noises originating from the sidewalk immediately outside the window. We hit the floor. It turned out, they really were firecrackers, which are routinely part of the baseline in Chinatown during the New Year celebration. We laughed at the irony, and created a bit of a scene, but were both glad to have been safe, rather than sorry by defaulting to our awareness training in an urban environment.
At another event held in a grand ballroom, the people around me started looking in one direction; toward someone yelling from a far corner. The crowd surged forward toward the cries, some standing on tip toe to see, even raising their phones to get video. My response was to stifle my curiosity and move toward the fire escape door. All of a sudden, the gawkers turned, and started running and shoving away from what turned out to be a fight, as one of the parties involved in the altercation drew a weapon. It nearly became a stampede. I was ahead of the game and out the door before the crush of people started to squeeze through the bottleneck. My awareness training had made the difference.
Skills designed to monitor the baseline and recognize disturbances are essential to avoiding trouble. Awareness skills allow us to anticipate incidents while they are starting to unfold, rather than being forced into responding blindly to a potentially dangerous situation. It’s the difference between beating the crowd out the door vs. competing with the masses. The difference is sometimes only seconds.
Well, that covers the first three skill that an urban survivor should know. In Part #2 Kevin will cover the last five skills.
That article will be published tomorrow morning so keep your eyes open for it!Part #2 originally scheduled for 1/28 has been moved to publish on 1/29 due to the SitRep on Burns, Oregon. Sorry for any confusion and the delay.
Kevin Reeve is the founder and Director of onPoint Tactical Tracking School (www. on-pointtactical.com). Kevin has provided train-ing to law enforcement, SAR teams and the U.S. military in the arts of tracking, survival, escape and evasion and urban operations. Kevin also worked at Apple Computer for five years doing organizational development and executive coaching, as well as platform training and curriculum development.
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Related Articles –
- 8 Skills for the Urban Survivor (Part #1)
- 8 Skills for the Urban Survivor (Part #2)
- Situational Awareness
- Contributing Author – Kevin Reeve
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