Survival is an Attitude – Part 1

Some time ago, while watching a bird at one of our feeders I was amazed to see a hawk suddenly swoop down and snatch it right off the perch. Whap! A small puff of downy feathers drifted to the ground and the hawk swooped away with its “McBird” meal firmly clutched in its talons. The subject of the attack never saw it coming.

Animals are almost never so single minded that they concentrate only on eating and ignore everything around them. They take a bite, glance around, up and down and then quickly snatch another bite followed by more scanning of the area for threats. That’s called situational awareness and animals which don’t perfect the technique don’t last long.

Situational awareness, as any bird worth its salt will tell you, means you notice anything that “doesn’t look quite right” and prepare to evade and escape. They spend their lives on constant yellow alert, watching, scanning and listening. If something out of the ordinary shows up, their awareness goes to orange – threat sighted. Preparations are made in case the highest level – red – is needed. A red alert means that an attack is in progress. The fight or flight response goes into overdrive. If they’re fast enough or sufficiently combative, they live to see another day. Otherwise there is no tomorrow.

The field and forests are filled with denizens that are constantly engaged in a survival of the fittest battle. The residents there learn to recognize by behavior, colors, patterns, sounds, shape and motion those animals that pose a threat. There are no practice exercises and tests are not graded on a curve. Wild creatures quickly learn “this is not a drill.” Dangers are real and at the least, unpleasant. At the worst they are painful or fatal.

Unfortunately, our society has become more like a jungle than ever before. Crime and terrorism are on the increase. Yet too few of us have increased our alert level. We operate at the “white alert level.” Brains in neutral. Completely unaware. In Star Trek parlance, neither our sensors nor our shields are up. We leave our homes and cars unlocked and valuables left lying in plain view on the seats. We walk around looking at the ground. We act like that bird on the feeder. In short, we look like victims or prey.

How do we improve our chances of survival in today’s world? The answer is simple. In over 30 years of teaching emergency preparedness I’ve preached one basic rule. “SURVIVAL IS AN ATTITUDE.” Prepare for every eventuality. Don’t plan what you’ll do “if” an emergency happens. Plan for “when” it happens. That mindset puts you several steps ahead when life suddenly turns to worms.

Always be aware or your surroundings. Is someone behaving strangely? Are they dressed, pierced or tattooed in ways that create concern? Are they alone or in a group of similar looking people? Your kids already know these danger signals. Do you?

Is someone watching you? Are they approaching you in a parking lot? Standing beside your car? Is a car that looks out of place repeatedly driving through your neighborhood? Are its occupants suspicious looking? Is there someone you don’t know knocking at your door asking to use your phone because their “car broke down?”

Do your children know how to call 911 for assistance? Can they give their address in case it doesn’t show up on the 911 operator’s screen? Do they know not to tell callers that their parents are not home? Why are your kids alone to begin with?

What will you do if you see someone in a mall carrying a gun? What will you do if they start shooting? What if that happens in school? In church?

What if you see an explosion? Do you know not to go see what happened? Terrorists often set two explosive devices, one to go off after some delay in order to kill or injure gawkers and first responders.

Since September 11, 2001, global safety levels are at an all time low. Awareness and preparation for worst case scenarios are now mandatory for everyone everywhere. If my questions and comments made you uncomfortable and nervous – good. If not – you are probably still living a dream and looking like a victim. Talk about these things with your family. It’s easy to get started. Simply take a vow that “I will not be a victim.” My next column will explain how.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.