Many of us hate going to the mall. But we all love shooting. We wouldn’t be reading this blog if we didn’t. In an ideal world most (if not all) of our weekend would consist of some firearm-related activity. Being at the range, at a match, out hunting, or cleaning our firearms and reloading would fill our downtime. Yet down here in this place I like to call reality, we always have to reconcile our wants and wishes with those of our families. And with our need to accomplish other tasks. In general, we ensure there is some sort of balance in life.
Effective EDC is much more than shooting and firearm manipulation
Balance is, after all, the most important element of our shooting development and our preparedness. We should not focus our training solely on shooting and firearm manipulation. Fitness. Combatives. Knowledge of the law and legal process. Security awareness and threat analysis. And a plethora of other subjects should enjoy equal primacy within a well-balanced, strong and prepared mind.
In this issue I want to unpack one of these concepts; the contextual analysis of the environment that you are in, and pre-incident preparation steps you can exercise every single time you move through the physical space integral to all aspects of your life.
That’s a fairly complex manner of saying that you can use those shopping trips to the mall to continue your training. Even when you are spending it as much-needed family time, or just getting groceries.
Before we delve into the “how” part of this, indulge me whilst I stop at the “why” sign. I do a lot of security awareness training for executives and executive staff members. One of the key points I always make during training sessions, is how effective pre-incident procedural development is. As well as how analogous it is to developing good business concepts or patterns. Just as we use modelling and contingencies to provide us breathing space, and allow for immediate actions to business disruptive events, so we use mental preparation and environmental analysis to ensure that if something bad suddenly happens whilst we are out living life, our brain doesn’t get stuck in a “WTF now?” loop.
The hard truth: as long as we keep making decisions and accomplishing tasks, the more we are developing the situation. In turn, by doing so, we are making the situation more survivable. At risk of sounding cliché, it’s neither the person who shoots first, nor who thinks first, who wins the fight. It is the person who thinks and shoots the best first that wins the fight.
Going to the mall is a test, not a chore
I could literally fill pages on the psychology of critical incident response. But for the sake of brevity, let us agree that the “why” part has been covered. So, onwards to the “how” as we go back to our scenario.
Here you and your wife are on a typical Saturday morning, at a fairly typical suburban shopping mall. I am no mall rat. And I am certainly not one who is drawn to environments with large amounts of people in them. However, as I mentioned when we started out, sometimes you have to do what others want you to do. So, back to walking down the hallowed halls of consumer madness. All is not lost, and you are actually presented with a unique training opportunity.
Going to the mall is a great test opportunity for your daily carry. For the sake of the article, let’s not delve off into the insanity of those little no gun stickers at some shopping malls. Nor the absurdity of the security theatre behind it. It is indeed another topic upon which I can, and indeed have, filled reams. Where was I? Of course; daily carry.
Is your EDC practical?
This is an excellent opportunity to test the comfort levels, concealability and practicality of how and what you carry. Or at least should be carrying every day. So go through your checklist: firearm, spare magazine, phone, knife, impact device, and med kit. Do you have it all? Are you able to spend the entire day on your feet with it? While carrying bags, herding kids, and keeping up with your significant other without your pants falling off? Can you add all of that to everything else you need to carry? Like your wallet, nappy bag, handbag, etc?
Before you leave home, indulge in an old soldier’s trick: do a jump test before you walk out the door. It is simple – just jump in place a few times. What rattles, what sticks out, and what stays put? You will find out what chafes at the end of the day. Why is that important, and what does that have to do with environmental analysis? Simple – it’s a variable that you own. Controlling what you can is an important element to being able to move through your environment smoothly. Chafing thighs, sagging pants, and being uncomfortable also detracts from your ability to be aware of all that is going on around you.
Also think about the image you project. I am a former police officer and security contractor. Hence I have lots of clothing which is branded as being supportive of law enforcement and soldiers. I don’t wear it specifically for the messaging, but rather because that is what I feel comfortable in. Yet I am also aware that dressing in such a manner could influence how I am viewed. Especially if a critical incident were to take place. I don’t let that change me, but I am aware of it. And I need to have a plan should the situation become intrusive. Even though I am sure that the main image I portray is that of dutiful husband, or frazzled father, trying to herd my energetic kids.
Park your car to leave easily, not arrive conveniently
OK, that’s done. Now a mental jump back to our shopping trip, and let’s find some parking.
Get there earlier if you can, and try to get the parking spot most convenient to the last shop you plan on visiting. Doing so grants you the ability to leave as smoothly as possible. Also, reverse in: parking is always about setting you up to leave easily. Not about arriving conveniently. Take a second to look at the route from your spot to the mall entrance. Make sure it will be easy to find for everyone in your party, including kiddies. Involve them by asking them to help you remember the parking bay number. If the little ones are still fairly young and cannot remember numbers, then make sure that they have your cell number on them. You can write it on their clothes’ labels, arm tags, or just use a koki on their arm.
Does the route force you into a plethora of blind spots? Where would you divert to if you came back, and didn’t like the look of the people standing near your car?
So now into the mall you go. Grab a trolley on your way in if you can. It is a very useful device for keeping those younger kiddies in check. And for carrying that EDC bag, or simply for use as a crowd-management device. Yes, a crowd-management device – that trolley becomes a very socially acceptable method of owning space and keeping a physical barrier between you and others. (In this era of “social distancing” it is certainly apt! – Ed)
Inside the mall: familiarise yourself with the environment
Take a deep breath as you enter the mall. Or better yet, go grab a cup of coffee or tea first. It is not so much the nourishment you seek, but rather the opportunity to acclimatise to this new environment. And to allow you time to become familiar with the layout. If it is a regular haunt, then you still want to do this. Look for things that have changed since your last visit. And look out for the exits and maintenance passageways. The key element here is to ask yourself; “what would I do if an armed robbery happened right now?” The key answer is of course being able to safely and quickly get yourself, and your family, away from the action. Hence you need to understand how the geography is going to facilitate that.
Whilst you are having that tasty beverage and examining the layout of the mall, take note of what would stop bullets, and what just looks pretty. Work out how you would get to the bullet-stopping parts as quickly as possible if something happened right now. Make sure that you have key numbers for the mall, security office, etc. on hand. Have you ever lost a child in a shopping mall? It can be incredibly frustrating trying to find a helpful mall security guard. Save those numbers.
Designate a family meet-up point
Designate a meet-up point for the family. The military would call it an ERV, or Emergency Rendezvous Point. I am not that tacticool, and I get overloaded with acronyms at work, so I simply call it a meet-up point. Make sure that your older kids and spouse understand that if you get separated, and for whatever reason the mobile phone doesn’t work (be that because of a terrorist attack, sun spots, or phone battery life), that this is where you will meet-up by whatever time is appropriate. I like to designate that spot outside of the mall itself, or at a specific shop rather than a food court.
Plan your trip, minimise risk
Plan your route. Do your banking first. Indeed, I would say don’t do banking at the mall at all. But I know sometimes it is unavoidable. If so, just do not do your commercial-type of transactions at this time. If you have an aversion to cards, and it is simply to draw cash for your shopping, then now is the time to do it. Doing your banking just before shopping will certainly mitigate against the nasty habit some criminals have of following you home from the bank. They want cash, not groceries.
After the banking go do your browsing. Use this opportunity to further develop your knowledge of the mall’s lay out. Remember exits, maintenance passages and hard bits. Also use this opportunity to practice some of your observation skills. Look at the people around, and try to work out what they do by their appearance. Yes – profile them. Try and remember distinctive features. Every so often try and give a description of a person. Quietly and to yourself, of course. You will be amazed at how quickly this enhances your memory.
Use the mall to exercise and test your mental agility
Onwards to the shopping! Clothes first, then the pharmacy, and have a meal break. At the very end it is time for the groceries. When you are in the shops, another useful exercise in mental agility is to work out an alternative shooting, training or defensive use for everyday items. Some are easy, like duct tape. But other will tax your imagination. (Think John Wick – Ed)
Try working out what to do with 25 sparklers at a range day. And let me know what you come up with. Remember throughout all of this the importance of staying hydrated. With water as opposed to sugary drinks. Stay comfortable and you will vastly improve your mental stamina.
People watching. Mind games. And looking out for maintenance passageways and hard bits. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well, not quite; what you are doing is keeping your mind agile and engaged in your surroundings, instead of being suckered into the abundance of distractions that those types of environments present.
This mental agility is incredibly important, because should something happen right now you won’t have to cycle as far into the shock-lag as other people will. You won’t have to figure out that, yes – something is happening! It is happening to you, and now you have to decide what you should do about it. You have already short-circuited the entire response directly to: “Yes, I have a plan. Let’s go!”
Written by Bryan Mennie.
Bryan is a former South African police officer. After leaving the police service and following years conducting protective work in Afghanistan, Iraq and North Africa, he joined the corporate world as an incident management specialist for a Fortune 50 company. He continues to train with active duty professionals and concerned citizens.