How We Can Prepare for the “What Ifs” in Life

I have been receiving inquiries on my professional opinion of the recent events in Florida and California and most recently Ohio.  First, my personal thoughts.  My heart goes out to all that have lost loved ones, or been injured.  My heart also goes out to all law enforcement, first responders and medical personnel who were involved in saving lives and caring for the lost.  For all, the scenes and sounds of the carnage will haunt them always.  Also for all involved, in quiet moments for the rest of their lives, they will likely be haunted by Survivors’ Guilt and the “What if/Why me” thoughts.  Often it is the “What If” and “Why Me” thoughts that cause the greatest anxiety and halt the process of healing.  This is a human trait and we all experience it at different degrees of severity.  All of us at different levels are dealing with the “What If and Why Me” events of life.  Perhaps the best way to aide in the healing is just share ourselves with each other.  I pray God’s grace for us all.
  Now, my professional thoughts.  Some may ask why most of the victims didn’t act or react in any way by fighting/running etc.  The sad fact is that most have not been trained or mentally prepared to act or react in any way to events like this.  While we as a nation are very good at training law enforcement and first responders, we are woefully behind in teaching the citizenry in how to mentally and physically respond to catastrophic events like this.  I am not talking about weapons or hand-to-hand combat training.  I believe passionately that with the current threat environment we as a nation would all benefit in basic familiarization in subjects that deal with topics like:

  What our bodies are doing chemically in response to being victims of this type of event.  Our bodies are dumping high levels of adrenaline and other chemical cocktails, our blood flow is rushing to major muscle groups, which can lead to auditory exclusion (hearing and speech difficulty) the loss of fine motor skills.  The upside is that it leads to extra physical strength (we’ve all heard stories of people lifting a car up to save a loved one).  In extreme cases it can lead to the situation where the brain is forced to do a total shut-down similar to a computer needing to reboot (i.e. fainting or shock).  

  Mental preparedness – what if scenarios, basic threat assessment, identifying possible escape routes etc.  On a personal note – whether I am at a shopping center, restaurant, walking through an airport or just enjoying a walk outside, I always take a quick look at “what ifs” and where can I effectively avoid, evade, escape, and as a last resort what alternative weapons are available if my only choice is to fight! With very basic training we can all do this quickly and then focus on the enjoyments of life.

  Basic Medical Triage, self-assessment, stop the bleeding, clear the airway treat for shock etc.
Training or familiarization may not save us but it surely does increase our chance of survival.
Here are some facts – if we are caught in an event we are our first line protectors/medical responders/evaluator and ultimately responsible for ourselves and others until the Calvary arrives.
In most cases Law Enforcements and First Responders will not enter a building or area until first containing the situation and then evaluate call in swat/negotiators etc.  This process can take from several precious minutes to hours until doors are breached.  During this period, we are by ourselves. This is not a criticism of Law Enforcement or First Responders.  This is a sound policy.  No one should just rush in not knowing what the situation is – this mentality usually ends with greater casualties.  For those of us that have been trained we know that fear will not kill us, but surprise and lack of planning will lead to failure.
  Investigators of hostile events found that many casualties had survivable wounds if they had just received basic medical treatment.  Often first treatment is not difficult and can be performed by non-medical professionals.  With many wounds we are mentally alert and able to self-triage and treat ourselves and others.  It is often the lack of basic treatment that results in fatality “Remember the rock climber that cut his own arm off to survive and climb down to safety” he had almost no medical training.  Also most first responders are only trained in basic medical treatment and are not even certified to start an IV or issue drugs.  But, their basic medical training is effective in sustaining life until they can get patients to medical professionals.  As an aside often basic medical triage training is free and available to the general public.  Check with your local hospital or county/city office for availability.

  I’ll close this by just stating we owe it to ourselves and loved ones to raise our awareness.  We need to mentally prepare (put on our game faces) for the “what-ifs” in life.  Not that we expect it to happen, but we are as ready as we can be if the worst occurs.  Terrorists win by creating an environment of fear.  As citizens we will win by continuing our daily lives in a normal fashion but we must make a basic adjustment to our awareness and reaction to hostile events.  If we see something even remotely suspicious we need to report it, either to law enforcement, wait staff, managers, security, spouses, friends ETC.  I would rather be alive and embarrassed than dead or wounded with my last thought being “I wish I would have said something”.

  With regard to the recent events, we can’t Monday morning quarterback, but I will offer this.  What would have been the outcome if patrons had started throwing chairs/tables/glasses?  Would the attacker have raised his arms to block the barrage, would he have ducked and turned his body in defense?  Would this have created a moment where the victims could have overwhelmed and restrained the shooter?  Would it have saved more lives?  Ultimately, we cannot know the outcome of any scenario but what I do know is inaction is usually not effective and often leads to failure.


Steve Skeen is the President of Threat Awareness Consultants. He is a retired CIA Special Operations Programs Officer/Para-military Skills Officer dedicated to countering the terrorist threat. He has trained with Delta Force members, Navy Seals and Incident Response Teams. He has trained CIA, NSA, FBI, DEA, military forces, university and schools to assist them in combating the terrorist and isolated shooter threat. Steve is a member of the International Association for Counterterrorism Security Professionals (IACSP) and is dedicated to educating the innocent on surviving a hostile or catastrophic event.