Staying Safe: A Few Easy Steps to Enhance Personal Security

Personal, home, and travel security are increasingly important topics. We’ll deal with each in a separate article, starting with personal security.
BY Bill Lindsey TIMEApril 30, 2022 PRINT

When discussing personal security, the overriding message taught by security experts is to develop and then practice situational awareness. Simply put, situational awareness is paying attention to your surroundings and nearby activity in order to be aware of and thus avoid potential danger.

Imagine you’re having a meal at a restaurant. If a fire were to break out, do you know where the nearest exit is located? Situational awareness calls for you to locate the closest exit as you choose your seat and then mentally plot the fastest route to it from your seat. Or imagine you’re walking down the street late at night, when you see a group of rambunctious teenagers coming in your direction, kicking garbage cans and yelling at passing cars. Is there someplace, such as a store, where you can duck inside while they pass? Can you safely cross the street to avoid coming into close proximity? If the answer to these is no, you might consider turning around and retracing your steps. Avoiding questionable scenarios is the most effective way to remain safe.

A heightened sense of awareness is a very effective way to enhance personal safety. (Marcel Eberle/Unsplash)

There are several items that can be useful in an unwelcome situation, with a cellphone at the top of the list. Keeping it ready for use with a topped-off charge is easier when you keep a charging cable in your car or briefcase and perhaps a portable power source to charge it when an outlet isn’t available. If you’re driving in an unfamiliar area, use the phone’s GPS app to provide the fastest route to your destination. While driving, keep the doors locked and the windows closed to prevent anyone from reaching in while you’re stopped at a red light. If you’re in the driver’s seat, practice releasing your seat belt using your left hand, lifting it away from you as you allow it to retract; this prevents the usual tangle if you use your right hand and lets you exit the car fast in case of an emergency.

A flashlight is a useful tool that is rarely routinely carried. Small “tactical” flashlights such as Streamlight’s ProTac, powered by two AA batteries, can be tucked into a pocket or purse, largely forgotten until needed. They have practical applications such as finding car keys that fell and rolled under the car (of course) but could also be useful to find your way down a stairwell after a power outage. Many tactical lights feature multiple modes, including a pulsating strobe. In the event you find yourself being accosted, this strobe can be used to disorient the attackers, providing you a chance to get to safety.

When using an ATM or paying for gas at the pump, be wary of unwanted attention and look for signs the card reader may have been tampered with. (Mikael Damkier/Shutterstock)

Loud sounds can be useful. Bad guys avoid attention like vampires avoid sunlight. A device such as a Byrna Banshee personal safety alarm tucked in a pocket could be useful if you need to attract attention. A press of the button unleashes a 130dB shriek, which according to the manufacturer is equivalent to the sound of a fighter jet taking off 50 feet away. That’s sure to attract the attention of everyone within earshot, thus discouraging the bad guy from sticking around or summoning assistance. Another innovative personal security device is ADT’s InvisaWear jewelry. A double-click on the back of what looks like an ordinary charm on a necklace, bracelet, or keychain sends a text message and your location to up to five preselected emergency contacts. It can also be configured to connect with ADT personnel to call 911.

Credit card skimmers are another tool bad guys use to separate you from your money. These devices capture your credit card information when you make a payment, such as at a fuel pump. Skimmers are difficult to spot, so look for indications the card reader seems overly large or is attached loosely. If in doubt, instead of paying at the pump, either pay inside or simply leave and make the purchase at another gas station. On a related note, look for cameras that may be positioned to capture your PIN number. If possible, use a credit card instead of a debit card, which can allow access to a bank account.

A small flashlight can be a lifesaver if you need to get down a dark staircase after the power goes out. Look for one that offers a strobe mode that can disorient potential attackers. (ReaLiia/Shutterstock)

As much as possible, frequent retail stores and restaurants where you can watch them swipe the card, rather than allow it to be taken out of your sight. While it’s unlikely your card will be compromised, this scenario is often what happens when the server or cashier is dishonest. Another time to practice situational awareness is while using an ATM, and especially so at night and if it’s located outside. As you approach the ATM, scan the area to see if anyone seems to be loitering nearby. If you see anything suspicious and you’re alone, consider coming back in the daylight. If you’re with a companion, have them keep an eye out for anything untoward, being prepared to leave quickly. If someone approaches, loudly request that they keep their distance until you’re done. Leave quickly when your transaction is complete. This is an example of a situation where the Byrna Banshee could be useful.

Lastly, be discreet on social media; don’t announce upcoming vacations or post while out of town. That could signal that your home is empty and leave it vulnerable in your absence.

Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
You May Also Like