Security expert Darren Morton, a former police officer with experience in the Counter Terrorism and Armed Offenders squads, in June this year wrote that we have entered a time in history where security awareness is a constant part of daily life.
On an almost daily basis, somewhere in the world, we are increasingly exposed to the violent acts of criminals, extremists and terrorists.
As we sit in our lounges contemplating our futures and the current global situation, we can all unfortunately be assured of one thing based on history and current global trends, and that is that the world will never be safer than it is today.
In many ways, the thing we hold dearest, democracy, may in fact be our greatest threat, allowing environments where extremists' views are tolerated to a degree.
Governments and security services the world over struggle to mitigate evolving threats, often playing catch-up regarding new terrorism techniques, perpetrators and cells.
As a former member of the Prime Minister's protection team we were well aware that to protect the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, we had to get it right every minute of every day. On the other hand, the bad guys only have to get it right once.
This is now the massive task facing security services the world over, trying to pre-empt an ever-increasing, ever evolving and often unknown threat.
So globally, we find ourselves in the current situation where rightfully, security is now seen as everyone's responsibility, at an individual, community and national level.
We have now entered a time in history where security awareness is to become a constant, a major part of our culture, a base technique to be exercised as we go about our daily life.
Many years ago, Albert Einstein said something that is as relevant today as it was when said, just prior to the second world war. He said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing".
History has shown that evil individuals and groups have always existed and today is no different. We can't change them but we can change the environment they need to operate in.
Instead of sitting by oblivious to our surroundings, we all need to be more aware, ask questions and pass on information as appropriate. Anyone who thinks this issue need not be addressed in New Zealand, is part of the problem.
The optimists among us will view what's happening globally from a self-reassured perspective, believing that our neutral stance on many global issues, remote location, societal values and general way of life will ensure the violent issues affecting the rest of the world continue to evade us.
While it is true that New Zealand is a relatively safe environment, we must measure our use of this phrase as a safe environment for us.
New Zealand is a great place to live, a welcoming country committed to global peace - we must never forget these are our values and not the values of those who may seek to do us harm.
Advancements in technology and travel combined with evolving ideologies will ensure we, like the rest of the world, should never consider ourselves immune.
We all hope that our peace, safety and way of life will be preserved, but it is not something we should assume will occur by default. Like the rest of the world we must all work to protect it, citizens, visitors and immigrants alike.
Kiwis are inherent travellers and coming from a generally low risk country many adopt the same approach to personal security when travelling abroad as they do when travelling throughout New Zealand.
It is true we must get on with life, but we must also learn to manage our safety and not rely on the fact that 'it will never happen to me'.
This article is primarily in response to the recent events that have occurred in the US, the UK and Europe, however the information below is designed to be used anywhere you may find yourself facing a similar life-threatening situation.
The worst thing that can happen in a terror situation is that you freeze or make ill-informed decisions, these personal safety techniques are designed to assist your decision-making process and help maximise your safety and that of those around you.
If each time you go out you mentally practice the techniques as detailed, they will soon become second nature.
When in public
Basic techniques to proactively manage your safety while in public areas and buildings.
• No matter where you are, you should remain aware of both your surroundings and those people within it
• Where possible, walk on the side of the road that faces the oncoming traffic, this will allow you to identify any potential concerns with vehicles and take evasive action
• If carrying a backpack remember this can be used as a shield if required
• Every 100m or so identify a 'safe haven' - a shop, building or area where you could seek refuge if required in an emergency
• Monitor the crowd around you, identify any concerning reactions, movements, groups or individuals
• Keep a map of the local area on you at all times, either a hard copy or on your phone via a GPS or mapping app
• When in unfamiliar shopping malls find the information kiosk and get a map of the mall
• Know the local emergency services contact number
• Take note of exit locations in public buildings and malls. Mentally take note of at least two exit routes and at least one place you could seek secure refuge.
• If attending public events, try not to meet or spend too much time at obvious gathering areas i.e. outside the front of the venue, outside the ticket offices, main entry and exit points. These will be areas that terrorists, extremists and criminals may target due to high numbers of people so entering and exiting outside of peak times is recommended.
Fast-moving incidents: 'Active or mobile threat' scenarios
These are incidents that will occur quickly and are often planned to cause confusion and disorientation but always with the goal of maximum impact and devastation.
These incidents could involve IEDs (Improvised explosive devices, VBIEDs (vehicle-borne IEDs), vehicles, firearms or sharp-edged weapons.
It is important to remember that in times of high stress or crisis your body will initially be overwhelmed with information to process.
This often causes you to freeze and additionally causes confusion, disbelief, shock and loss of fine motor skills, making it harder for you to conduct basic tasks and make safe and well-informed decisions. This will only last seconds but in such incidents, seconds can be crucial.
It is therefore important that you initially take a second or two to process what is happening to ensure you make the right decision to either run or hide.
While considering these options try to find somewhere close that is safe such as behind any nearby cover (pillar, counter, desk, wall, vehicle) or if you are in the open simply reduce your profile by kneeling or crouching down.
You should now use all your senses to try and identify as best you can, what is happening. Do not just blindly run as you may end up running towards a threat or into an area where you become trapped.
Try and determine:
• Was there a noise or are people panicked without a noise being heard? In a security context, the latter could indicate that sharp edged weapons or knives are being used.
• If a noise, what was it - explosion, firearm, screaming, banging, a vehicle? Determining these factors will assist you to decide whether to evacuate and if so, how.
• Where did the noise come from? This will identify the direction of the known threat or incident and will therefore assist you to determine the safest direction to evacuate by. Some indicators will be the direction other members of the public are running as they tend to run away from a threat. Police or emergency services, on the other hand, will most probably be running towards the incident.
• What are people screaming or saying?
• Are you safe where you are or should you evacuate?
• Are you injured? This may affect your choice
This should take no more than 5 seconds but is necessary to ensure you can plan your survival. Having assessed as much of this information as possible you can now make an informed decision regarding one of two options: immediately evacuate the area or if not safe to do so, find a safe location to hide.
Whatever your decision you must remember you will need some form of cover to protect yourself.
Two basic types of cover
• The first is cover from view (this will only prevent you from being seen by an offender) and could involve hiding behind racks of clothing, shelving, desks, promotional hoardings or large rubbish bins, to name a few.
• Cover from fire is the second type of cover and relates to more robust structures designed to stop bullets such as thick cement walls or vehicle engine bays as examples. Basically, you are looking for anything that will stop the penetration of a bullet from a firearm.
Having determined which response will give you the greatest chance of survival we will now look at how we implement these two methods.
The current acknowledged best practice promotes a 3-stage response. This response would be conducted after your appreciation of the situation and includes the stages of 'Run, Hide, Call'.
In summary, this means: Run from the threat. If you can't run, hide, and finally when you are clear of the area or secured in a safe place, call emergency services. If you are unable to contact emergency services, contact a friend and let them know what you saw and where you are and get them to make contact on your behalf.
If you decide to run
• If you are in an unfamiliar environment and aren't sure which way is out, look for and follow staff in uniform, officials or locals as they will know the best exit.
• When running try and reduce your profile as much as you can, even if it's only hunching over slightly.
• Keep monitoring your surroundings, don't just run blindly. The situation may change quickly and you could end up running towards a new threat.
• Run in short bursts of 50-100m while going from cover to cover. Running in a straight line for a long time could make you an easy target.
• If the initial incident involved an explosive be aware there may be a secondary device. These would normally be placed near main exit routes or routes from venues or on main roads where the offenders would expect people fleeing to use. If you can use alternative back roads, alleys or safe secondary routes do so.
• Again, in the event of an IED, don't run to the most obvious meeting point, ie a nearby park, carpark or other central point. If it's obvious to you to go there then it will have been obvious to the offenders who may have placed a secondary device at that location.
• Be aware that some IEDs can be triggered by cell phones, so don't use your phone until you are clear of the area, unless you are unable to move and have no choice.
If you come across armed police while running away
• Do not run or charge directly at them, this may be a natural instinct but remember they will not know who you are and you could match a description of an offender.
• Do not grab at them.
• Drop anything you are holding that you may have had for protection.
• Do not reach into jackets or bags.
• Raise your hands.
• Follow their instructions.
If you decide the best option is to stay put
• Only stay if evacuating is not safe, the best option if possible is always to evacuate the area.
• Keep calm, use all your senses to determine what is happening.
• If you are with others ensure everyone keeps quiet.
• Look for somewhere that will separate you from the offenders, a separate room, secure hallway, garage or other location that will form a barrier between you and the offenders.
• If there are no rooms your only option may be to hide behind a counter, table, bar, car etc. Remember the offender may come in and look around so the more secluded or obscure your hiding place the better.
• Start considering what your options are should the offender come in, this may include running to an identified safe area or as a last option, fighting back. If the latter is your only choice remember there are no rules, do what you must to survive.
• If the room you are hiding in is dark, remove the light bulb if possible. If the offender opens the door they will not be able to see into the room.
• Lock or barricade yourself in. If safe to do so secure all doors and windows with whatever you can find to prevent someone pushing their way in or looking into your location. Do this quietly and in a manner that will not attract attention.
• Remain quiet and out of sight.
• Ideally your position should have a second secure but optional exit point.
• While playing dead has saved some people in the past, this is not generally recommended.
• Plan what you would do if the offender managed to break their way in. Options may include escaping via a secondary point, using a fire extinguisher to disorientate the offender or cover your escape, or even attacking the offender.
• Turn your phone to silent and dim the screen if in a darkened room.
• Text your location, how many people are with you, any injuries, what you saw and what you can see to several associates and the authorities.
• Be wary of anyone outside the door or in the venue walking around saying they are the police, generally tactical police units who are looking for an offender will not walk around advertising their presence.
If you are rescued by the police while hiding.
• Make sure you put down anything you are carrying that you were going to use as a weapon to defend yourself.
• Do not suddenly charge at the officers.
• Don't make any sudden movements.
• Do not reach into jackets or bags.
• Do not grab at them.
• Raise your hands.
• Follow their instructions