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Government LawyersThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

June 2013, vol. 14, no. 4

Becoming more aware: A few tips on keeping you and your family safe

Situational awareness: Understanding the current environment and being able to accurately anticipate future problems to enable effective actions.1 Why is this important? Why is this important to a government attorney?

Situational awareness may protect us. The recent news of the murder of the Texas District Attorney and his wife in their home makes everyone’s heart skip a beat and wonder. Wonder … what if? Wonder … could this happen here … to me ... to my family? Although a lot of us don’t deal with the bad criminals who we presume are the threat, being aware of our surroundings is still important for both ourselves and our families. So, the question becomes, what can we do to be safer?

My office recently participated in a safety training class. Here are some of my take-aways (expanded with some of my own thoughts and comments) that may be useful to you:

1. Don’t be predictable. Take a different route to work. Leave a little earlier. Leave a little later. Go to the store on a different day. Go to a different store.

2. Be aware of your surroundings. First, notice your surroundings. When you know your surroundings, you can take better notice of the things that are out of the ordinary. Consider, whether you need to tell someone or react. Don’t presume changes in your surroundings are innocent or fine. (In other words, be just a little paranoid.) Just because you are at home, in your world, does not mean you can let your guard down.

3. Play the “what if” game. As you are taking your different route to work, ask yourself, what if that car pulls right out in front of you … where will you go? What if that truck doesn’t stop at its red light, do you have time to stop, someplace to go? What if the driver of the car in front of you slams on his brakes? Do you have time and distance to respond? You probably already do this, it is called defensive driving.

4. Be prepared. Mentally prepare yourself, believe and know that you can protect yourself and your family if you need to. In the training, we saw a video of a man who starts whacking a car that is sitting at a stop light with a large metal pipe. What would you do? Did you leave yourself enough room to maneuver away? Does it matter that the light is red? Would you go through it anyway? What if this was happening to the person in the car next to you? What would you do? By being mentally prepared, you can have the upper hand. Your aggressor will be surprised at your response, take advantage of that. But, if you are taken by surprise your ability to respond appropriately and adequately is limited. This does not mean to be provocative and ask for a confrontation. This is to be prepared and know how to respond if you are confronted.

5. Don’t make yourself vulnerable. Trust your gut. It has been said, your gut feeling is not just a guess, your gut feeling is your body reacting based upon knowledge or experience before your mind can fully process the information it is receiving. If you are out shopping and you notice someone frequently and they appear to be overly observant of or interested in, or acting out of normal (remember, point 4), trust your gut. Maybe he isn’t so innocent. Watch yourself when you would be most vulnerable … down the hall to the bathroom which is tucked way back in the corner or in the parking lot when no one else is around. If you feel vulnerable don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. I recently had a personal experience here. I was going into a store. A man standing a few stores down yelled and asked me for bus money. I told him I didn’t have any. He started yelling at me louder. I went into the store. When I was checking out, I noticed he was now standing in front of the store I had entered. I asked the clerk for someone to escort me out.

6. Be aware of who you are in the electronic world. A lot of information is out there about you. Public officials have records of where you live for tax and property ownership purposes. If you participate in any type of social media, are your settings the most secure they can be? What about your friends? Do they talk with you and then everyone can see? Be careful what you put out there and how much information you put out there about your family.

I did not write this with the intent of making you afraid of everything and discouraging you from leaving your house. But, the points that I took away from the training session were that you can protect yourself. But, you must be proactive to do so. You need to be aware of your surroundings, and you need to have an idea of how you will respond if you are faced with a threatening situation. So, go out there, do your job as a government attorney and keep safe. ■

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1. Griffith D, and FL Greitzer. 2007. “Neo-Symbiosis: The Next Stage in the Evolution of Human Information Interaction.” International Journal of Cognitive Informatics and Natural Intelligence 1(1):39-52.


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