Sunday, October 23, 2011

Situational Awareness On Foot in the Suburbs

     Situational awareness is a critical component of security and defense. Whether you're securing and/or defending your home, your family in your car, yourself in a mall, or whatever the situation may be; you have to be aware of your surroundings. Always thinking two to three moves ahead. Like defensive driving to avoid accidents, you have to practice defensive living to avoid dangerous situations.

     An important part of situational awareness is recognizing when a situation could become dangerous, not waiting until it is already dangerous and then trying to figure a way out. Your mindset is your greatest asset in these situations. Many of the followers of this blog will recognize the next statement, as I use it often: Trust in your instincts. Instincts have kept the human species alive for millions of years. If your "gut" tells you something is wrong....something is very wrong.
     I will write a post before the Holiday Season is in full swing about security and another post about defense in public areas. But for now Lets focus on situational awareness. Situational awareness is a critical component in both personal security and in self defense. Situational awareness is a skill, and you can learn it if you haven't already. You can improve it if you already have some fundamentals. I use the crawl-walk-run methodology when addressing these issues.  You have to learn to crawl first, then walk, then run. By the time you have reached the run phase, you'll be able to read post incident reports and pick up things that you can add to your skill set.

     I apologize if I'm writing under the level of some of my readers understanding, my intent is not to bore you. People with varying levels of  security skill set read this blog, and I'd like to reach them all. For those of you who are more highly trained than most, please feel free to comment or e-mail me with suggestions. This is a learning process for us ALL, and the more we pass ideas back and forth the stronger we all become.

     For those of you who are familiar with Coopers Colors Code, please be patient. For the rest, please familiarize yourself with this color scheme. This is a fundamental of personal security and defense. It will be reference many times in coming posts, and is the first step (excuse the pun) in your learning to crawl.  If you'd like to learn more about The Cooper Color Code or about Jeff Cooper himself (considered by many to be the father of the combat mindset), please go to the Wiki Page about him, you can find that HERE

    In summary of that page, the colors are:
  • White - Unaware and unprepared.
  • Yellow - Relaxed alert.
  • Orange - Specific alert.
  • Red - Condition Red is fight.
    It is very difficult to keep a medium to high level of situational awareness in a suburban or urban environment. People are densely packed into relatively small areas. Just look at the parking lot in a large shopping mall. For every car there, there is at least one person inside the mall. You can't maintain a reactive buffer around yourself in a crowd. It's just not possible. Avoiding crowds just isn't possible. As we approach the Holiday Season the crowds will only get worse. As the economy worsens, the number of people lurking in those crowds who intend to do bad things will only get larger. 

     Most often you're going to be shoulder to shoulder with people you don't know, in a relatively unfamiliar environment. Most people will have two things on their minds: Shop and Leave. There are a few with other motives, find and avoid them. They're looking for easy prey, don't be easy prey. Be aware of them, act aware of them. They'll look for another target. They want easy targets, they don't want to work for it....or they wouldn't be doing what they're out there doing. The sad fact is they're going to get someone. Your job is to make sure it's NOT YOU.

     Travel in Condition Yellow. Look around you, look at people around you. Don't look through them, look AT them. One analogy I see used a lot is a shepherd over the flock. Be a shepherd, don't be the flock. If you look at twenty people, and one person catches your attention. Analyze why that person caught your attention. Remember that childhood game "one of these is not like the others"? Where several things looked similar, but one of them was different? One thing is different enough to catch your attention....what is it? Look at that person, really look them over. If they notice you looking at them and get nervous....that's a HUGE red flag. Move away from them. If you see them again near you, another huge read flag. Condition Orange time. Begin moving out of the area and mobilizing your family with some urgency. Act quickly and decisively.

     By being aware of your surroundings, you're buying yourself reaction time. You have to react to what the bad guys do. They ALREADY know what's about to happen. You have to figure it out and react. Bad guys rarely act alone. There's several reasons why: Courage in numbers, more guys can carry more loot, and advantage through numerical superiority are just a few. My point is continue your scan. Don't get so caught up in the one person 40 feet away that you don't notice the other person 10 feet away with a knife.

     Be especially alert when entering and exiting your vehicle. Be aware of the vehicles next to you, and if they're occupied. If you're inside the vehicle, make these observations before you turn the car off and get out. If your gut tells you something is wrong, find another parking space. If approaching your vehicle on foot, make the necessary observations before you get to the car and open the doors. If your gut tells you something is wrong, turn around and walk back in the direction you came. Scan your surroundings for additional bad guys, and check behind you frequently. Keep your family into a small cluster and move quickly.

      Be extra vigilant in "safe areas" like schools, churches, banks, etc. This may be a little known observation, but most bank robberies occur in banks. Bad guys know these are "safe areas" and also know that rules about safe areas only apply to law abiding citizens. If you're obeying the rules about safe zones, the only option you have is avoidance. Get out of the situation as fast as you can. If you're wrong about how things appear, you can always come back later. You're better off trusting your instincts even on the off chance they are wrong, than teaching yourself to ignore them altogether.

     Having a spouse actively engaged in situational awareness is a big plus. My wife notices unusual things that could be potential problems. Sometimes we'll play a game to keep our observation skills honed when we're out. I'll ask about 10 minutes after we arrived at our destination "what color was the car parked on your side". She usually remembers. Or she'll ask me "what color hair did the man who just walked past us have".

     Here are some tips to help you improve or maintain your awareness level:
  • Keep your heed on a swivel. Look around constantly.
  • Keep a mental tally of where all members in your party are at all times.
  • Make a mental note of exits as you pass them.
  • Make a mental note of people who arouse your suspicion.
  • Communicate your plans before you enact them.
  • Don't follow the crowd if something doesn't seem right.
  • At  night, park under street lights/parking lot lights if possible.
     I'm not an expert and I don't play one on the Internet. Always, survive to fight another day. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home Defense in the Suburbs

     This is another topic that I feel very strongly about. One of my primary responsibilities as a father and a husband is to protect my family. One of the most common threats to my family are other people. People who wish to do them harm, or are willing to do them harm if my family gets in their way. We'll discuss self defense and defense of others while in public at a later time.

     The topic of this post is home defense. Home defense is different than home security in that home defense is reactive while home security is proactive. With home defense you're reacting to someones breaching of your homes' security precautions. With home security you're making your home the least attractive target in the area, being alerted if someone is on your property, and making it difficult for someone to gain entry without your knowledge.

     I'm going to make references to The Cooper Color Code several times in this post. Basically the color code refers to your state of awareness of your surroundings, and to your sense of alertness to the presence of danger. If you'd like to learn more about The Cooper Color Code or about Jeff Cooper himself (considered by many to be the father of the combat mindset), please go to the Wiki Page about him, you can find that HERE

    In summary of that page, the colors are:
  • White - Unaware and unprepared.
  • Yellow - Relaxed alert.
  • Orange - Specific alert.
  • Red - Condition Red is fight.
     One of the problems you have to overcome in defense of your home is that you're in condition white while you're at home. You should be in condition white while you're at home. It is your domicile, your castle, your refuge from the world. Most people are in condition white when in their home and when in their car. This is why you look over at a red light and the person in the car next to you is knuckle deep in their nose picking boogers. They're completely unaware you're even there, much less looking at them in horror from 4 feet away.

     Being in condition white is perfectly natural while in your home. However, it increases your reaction time significantly. It's very difficult to go from condition white straight to condition red and react to a threat correctly. Seasoned combat veterans have trouble doing it, the average civilian home owner is justifiably behind the 8-ball so to speak. You have to understand the dynamics of violent crime. First of all, bad guys rarely come by themselves to do bad things. The bad guys already know what's about to happen, and they're prepared. You, the homeowner, have no idea what's about to happen. You have to figure it out on the fly once it's already in progress, and react to it accordingly.

**** I'd like to preface the following discussion with a caveat: The following is what I would do.  I know the laws of my state, it's legal to use deadly force (under certain circumstances) in the defense of your home in the state of NC, and I can legally own a firearm. It is your right to keep and bear arms, it is also your responsibility to own them responsibly and to exercise good judgement when they are in your possession. I don't want this post to turn into a gun debate. It's simply my opinion of how I would act if the following  hypothetical scenario occurred in my home. **** 

     Now that the disclaimer stuff is out of the way, lets get down to brass tacks. We'll cover what tools I would use, and why, later in the post. But for now let's look at what I would do.

     So....there's been a violent breach of your home. Either a door has been kicked in, or a window has been smashed in and bad guys are coming into your home with bad intentions. What do you do? How do you react? I know how I would react.  I would arm myself, position myself between my family and the threat, take cover, and engage the threat with a reasonable level of force. Would that be legal? I don't know, I hope so. I'll worry about the legality later. If it's not legal....I can get out of jail, I can't get out of dead. So let's break the reaction down into manageable pieces, because in our scenario...a lot has happened in the last 90 seconds.

         First, I'd arm myself. Why would I arm myself first? Because I believe that to evaluate a dangerous situation then go arm myself is backwards, and takes a lot more time. It allows the bad guys to gain momentum, allows them to possibly gain scene dominance, and allows time for the reactions of my wife and children to breakdown into chaos. This will create more danger for my family, and put them in harms way longer and more frequently in the long run. There are three rules to being the winner of a gun fight: 1- Don't be there when it happens. 2- If you're there when it happens, have a gun.  3- Be the one who fires the first accurate shot.

      Secondly, I'd position myself between my family and the bad guys. Or between my family and the closest threat to them if there are more than one threats. This would most likely be on the upstairs landing opposite the children's rooms and looking down onto the front staircase. Our family plan for this kind of thing involves getting to the children's rooms, which share a bathroom between them. Closing and locking both bedroom doors, and moving into the specified "safe room" bedroom through the bathroom doors, closing and locking them as they go. Once into the "safe room", they are to slide a heavy piece of furniture in front of the door, blocking entrance into the room and providing cover should stuff go really wrong. The furniture is already sitting on those hard plastic discs used to move furniture over carpet, so it's easy enough for two children, or my wife, to push it 5 feet to block the door. Once the furniture is moved, they are to call 9-1-1 from the hard line phone inside the room, and not open the door no matter what they hear happening outside.
     Next I would take cover. I'm already at the top of the stairs, so I'm in an elevated position to start with. That's a good thing, ask a combat veteran why. My cover would most likely be concealment behind a corner of a wall sticking out, but some concealment is better than no concealment. What's the difference you ask? Cover will stop a bullet, concealment will not stop a bullet but makes it hard for your adversary to see you. Thereby making it hard to apply gun fight rule #3 to your butt. Firing from cover is a skill, and you should definitely learn it. It's one of those responsibilities of owning a firearm. Being able to use it effectively, and minimizing the danger to others around you.

     Last, I would engage the threat with whatever force I thought was necessary to neutralize the threat. Hopefully they'll turn out to be unarmed idiots who kicked in the wrong door, realized the home was occupied and run like hell.....hopefully. Otherwise, I'm going to actively engage the threat. That means I would shoot them until they were either on the ground and not moving, or had fled my home. That's it in a nutshell. At the end of the day, your goal is to not bury members of your family.

     In our scenario we went from condition white directly to condition red. Hopefully you'll hear the dog going nuts, and go to condition yellow. Then see people you don't know looking into your windows or jimmying your door and go to condition red. This will give you time to react, put your plans into effect, arm yourself, and get your family into a safer place, and call 9-1-1 before the trouble finds it's way into your home. Hopefully that's how it will happen, if it happens at all. Hopefully it'll never happen in the first place.

     Lets discuss what I would arm myself with and why. I would have a Glock 23, and a flash light. Why a G23 you ask? Because it's what i have, it's what i carry everyday, and most's what i have trained with. A lot. Why it is the gun I have is a discussion for another day. The bottom line is it's what I have in my hand, or near my hand, or accessible to my hand within 30 steps, when the trouble starts. It has night sights on it, and I keep a flashlight beside it all the time. The point is, have something handy you can defend your family with. A stick, a can of pepper spray, a slingshot, a pot of boiling grits, anything besides harsh language and a cell phone.

     If you can't have a firearm in your home, or you simply don't want a firearm in your home....I understand that. Honestly I do. Have SOMETHING. Review gunfight rule #2. While we are in the mindset of understanding, understand the bad guys to aren't going to throw down their guns, and one of them isn't going to leave so it's a fair fight. Understand that bad guys going into a home invasion expect there to be violence, expect to be the ones dishing it out, and are equipped to do so. Understand that a burglar who gets trapped in your home by you unexpectedly coming home or waking up and going to "check out the noise", if he is a 2 strike offender....or even if he's not, will most likely kill or seriously injure you to get away. Understand that if you comply to a home invasion, or unsuccessfully resist it, you and your family will most likely be killed or seriously injured. Understand that once someone in your family gets seriously hurt or killed, the rest of you are witnesses against the bad guys, and will be dealt with accordingly. Understand that it's all or nothing in most cases.

     Here are some of my recommendations:
  • Get a firearm to defend your home with. Learn to use it. Practice with it regularly. Shooting is a perishable skill. Practice in all weather conditions in all light condition, practice clearing jams, practice reloading.
  • Have a plan for your family to follow. Practice it with them three times in a row every 6 months. Play the bad guy and have your family react. You'll learn things to improve your defense, and your family will learn to react better.
  • Have good home security systems and practices in place.
  • You can buy yourself time with good practices in place, make the most of it. Act swiftly, act decisively.
  • Have your house number painted on the curb in contrasting colors next to your mailbox. Make sure the mailbox also has your house number prominently displayed on it, as does your front door. If you call for help, make sure first responders can find your house. 
  • Have a flashlight handy in every bedroom. While a flashlight can give away your position to the bad guys so can tripping over an end table, sprawling out on the floor, and losing your gun.
Again, I'm not an expert, and I don't play one on the Internet. Always survive to fight another day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Home Security in the Suburbs

     This is a topic I believe very strongly in. One of my primary responsibilities as a parent, and husband, is to protect my family. If you think it through, that's a very broad statement which includes everything from putting on seat belts to carrying a concealed weapon. I won't pretend to be some super qualified, special forces trained, junior g-man, security expert. I'm just an average guy, living in an average subdivision, in an average metropolitan area.....who just happens to have an above average interest in the safety and security of his family.

    Some of you are familiar with the Cooper Color Code. For those who are not, it defines levels of awareness in dangerous situations. It's referenced many many times in discussions around self defense and security. You can learn about it on the Wiki page about it's founder Jeff Cooper, which can be found  HERE.

   The purpose of this particular post is to bring up some ideas for security of your home, not DEFENSE of your home.....those are two totally different topics. Home security covers what you can do proactively to prevent intrusion into your home. Home defense covers how you react to unwanted intruders in your home, or to repel them before they get in. I'll write about my ideas on defense of your home in the next post. Be advised, as you read these posts on security and defense, that I may not live in the same state as you. Your state and local laws are almost certainly different than mine. It's your responsibility to adhere to those laws, as I adhere to the laws in my arera.

Lets look into WHO you're wanting to keep off your property.
    The Professional: You should understand that you're probably not going to be able to repel a professional theif. They're professionals, who have already staked out your property, know what they want is inside, have a good idea about where it is probably located, are taking a calculated risk based on reward,  and will be in and out in under 5 mins. The cops might (MIGHT) catch them, but in all likelyhood they're going to get in.

     The Common Criminal: Your typical opportunist. Looking for the easiest target, crimes of opportunity. Might pass your home many times and do nothing until you leave your garage door open, windows open, or laptop on the car seat while you're not home. This guy you can defeat 100% of the time if you take moderate precautions.

     The Idiot:  The vandal, the drunk, high school student skipping school looking for somewhere to steal beer or smoke pot, the casual passerby, the rogue contractors helper doing work 4 houses up the street, etc. Again, this guy you can absolutely defeat 100% of the time by taking moderate precautions.

     The Home Invader:   This guy is going to try to either trick you into breaching your defenses for him, a,bush you before you enter your home and force you to breach your own defenses, or brute force his way into your home. Eventually your doors or windows will fail, but you can buy yourself some precious reaction time to arm yourself, flee to a safe room and prepare your defenses there, trigger your panic alarm, or flee the house.

     They ALL have a few things in common. They ALL hate things that make them visible like lights and cameras. They ALL hate things that make their presence known like alarms and dogs. They ALL hate being exposed to public view and having nowhere to hide.

     So, with all that being said, lets start with perimeter security. In the suburbs perimeter security is pretty tough to accomplish without a fence. There's lots of legitimate activities going on like people walking by all the time, kids playing, a fair amount of  drive by traffic, solicitors canvassing the neighborhood trying to earn a buck, workers doing everything from cutting grass to remodels, etc, etc. I have developed more of a sense of perimeter awareness than perimeter security. By working out in the yard, and being outside as much as possible, I learned who's kids play where, who walks when, who's having work done and by what companies, who drives what cars and parks where, etc etc.  In short: Know your people, know what they do, and know when they do it.

     I have created a buffer zone inside the perimeter of my property. It's about 10 feet deep from the boundary and begins with an invisible dog fence which keeps my dog (known to the world as The Dalmatian Alert System) 15 feet or so inside my property. Anyone crossing her boundary gets scrutinized and barked at. Motion activated lights are an absolute necessity for home security. Spend the money and get some good ones. If you have to go outside to either investigate something or engage a bad'll appreciate the light. Anyone looking out of their windows to see what the disturbance is at your house, will appreciate the lights also.

   I also keep ALL of the shrubs around my house cut well below the bottoms of my windows. This serves two purposes, it lets my family SEE our property from inside the house, and it reduces places for people to hide from me or the Dalmatian Alert System.  I have a wireless video camera covering all of my doors and the garage doors. You can view them from any computer, ipod, ipad, monitor, or wireless capable TV in the house. They are powered by AA batteries, and are motion triggered. So to me that addresses my needs of making the bad guys visible. Knowing who is outside your door before you open it is very important, them not knowing you see them can be an advantage as well. Once you're near the door, you're more vulnerable to attack.

     Fortify your door frames and window frames as much as you can within reason. I'm not putting iron bars over my doors and windows, being able to get out of a bad situation is as important as keeping a bad situation out of your home. I put 3 1/2 inch steel screws into my door frame at the strike plates and door hinges to reinforce my entry points. This costs about $6 and took all of 20 minutes. All of my exterior doors are metal and two have storm doors on the doorways outside. ALL outside doors should have dead bolts with as long a bolt as will fit in your door frame.  They can still be breached, but it's not as easy as a hollow core door with 1 inch screws holding everything together. Again, you're buying yourself time to react. How you react is for another post altogether.

     Get a good alarm, and get it professionally installed. Alarms vary greatly in quality, features, monitoring options, and price. Again, consult a professional....know what your money buys you.  My alarm also beeps once anytime a door is opened, whether it's armed or not. This lets me know someone has opened a door. Usually it's a kid going in or out, but how many times have you thought to yourself "did I hear someone open a door?" Now you'll know.  It also has an outside siren, which will wake the dead and draw the attention of all of my nosey neighbors. Hopefully they'll get pissed off enough to come outside and see what the ruckus is.

Here are some tips for increasing your security:
  • Have a plan. Have a plan for fire, robbery, natural disaster, etc.  Practice them twice a year.
  • Have your house number painted on the curb in contrasting colors next to your mailbox. Make sure the mailbox also has your house number prominently displayed on it, as does your front door. If you HAVE to call for help, make sure first responders can find your house. 
  • When you pull into your driveway, look around for a few seconds before you do anything. Then gather your belongings, unlock the door and get out of your car. Don't get ambushed in the driveway and forced into your house.
  • If you have a garage, take a moment to look into your garage before you pull your car inside. Take another 5-10 seconds to look around before you close the door. You don't want to get locked into the garage with someone who is hiding in there.
  • When you first enter your home, again, take a few seconds to gather your wits and observe your surroundings.  
  • Trust your instincts. Instincts have kept the human species alive for millions of years. Your instincts work at a subconscious, basic, and visceral level. If your "gut" tells you something is wrong, something is most likely very wrong.
Again, I'm not an expert, and I don't play one on the Internet. I hope this will motivate you to at least consider your security, and explore some options. Above all else, stay safe and live to fight another day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Growing Food in the Suburbs

     Growing a garden in the suburbs as part of a self sufficiency lifestyle is a great option for generating food for your table. If you plan to harvest your own food and preserve it for later use gardening is a great option for increasing your food storage preparations. Lots of people use pressure canning, water bath canning, or dehydration to preserve fruits and vegetables they grow in their own gardens. I'm new to the gardening concept, and I'm learning lots of new things every week it seems like.

     I wish I could have a traditional garden, but I can't. I live in a neighborhood that has a strict Home Owners Association (HOA).  I cannot have any part of a garden visible from the street, and I live on a corner lot, so my entire backyard is visible from one street or the other. As a result, I have to be very careful about what I can plant and where I can plant it. I have to be very conscious of using "blocking" plants and shrubs, so the things I do plant can't be seen.

     The soil in my yard is another problem I have to contend with. It is almost entirely red clay. If any of you are familiar with southern red clay, or even SEEN southern red clay, you know exactly what I'm talking about. One solution I came up with is digging a trench in the clay 1 foot wide, by 1 foot deep, by 3-4 feet long. Next I line the trench with old newspapers.  Finally I fill it with a mixture of 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. Basically I have created my own clay flower pot that will hold 3 or 4 plants and I can plant directly in that.  I top it off with some mulch to hold moisture, and water with a 2 gallon pitcher 3 times a week. It's low to the ground, away from the house, and is easily camouflaged behind a couple of Knockout rose bushes.

    The things I grow are Garlic, Jalapeno Peppers, Banana Peppers, Bell Peppers, and herbs like Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Rosemary and Fennil. I even have a peach tree, a fig tree, an olive tree, and a black berry bush. I think I'll try some container tomatoes, and blue berry bushes next spring. For obvious reasons I can't grow corn, pumpkins, watermelons etc. Even traditional tomato plants are too tall with the stakes or cages required to help them grow straight.

     The herbs and several pepper plants are grown only in containers. The picture above is an olive tree on the left and Spicy Basil on the right. I like to be able to move them to follow the sun, or expose them to rain. I would not recommend growing anything within 15 feet of your house because most residential pest control treatments spray up to 15 feet out from the foundation. I would take precautions against food plants being sprayed with lawn treatments designed to kill weeds or promote green grass. If you have anything in the planted in the ground, cover it with trash bags prior to spraying. You don't want to eat anything that has been sprayed with poisons. I don't yet have any solutions for avoiding chemicals that can seep into your plants through water that has run off of chemically treated areas such as a neighbors yard.
     I'm sure we will cover this topic several more times in coming posts as it is a broad and interesting subject. My adaptation of  container gardening and variations on square foot gardening are still in the trial and error phase. I hope some of these tips might work for you. If any of you have suggestions please share them with me so I can see if they work for myself and others.