I did something recently that I have not done in many years! I went to the mall; not just any mall, mind you, but the Mall of America, the nation’s biggest mall! I went for a work event, and since I hadn’t been there in almost a decade, I thought I would walk around and see what I could see.
I came up with several observations and suggestions that could help one stay alert and safe in a crowded situation. This could be a mall, a state fair, or, in an emergency, it could be an evacuation route or center.
Practicing situational awareness in any public setting can be difficult at times. It can be nearly impossible when you add hundreds or thousands of people. I’m a big believer in theCooper Color Code. For those unaware, this is a system of mental readiness that uses four colors to differentiate the levels.
Read the link above for a deeper explanation. Below is a brief overview.
White: This is a state of being unaware; the state you’re in when at home.
Yellow: Relaxed but aware of your surroundings; the state you should be in any time you’re away from home. This is where you scan for potential threats.
Orange: Alerted on a single threat; must make decision on when and how you will react if the threat escalates.
Red: You are ready to fight.
Using the Cooper color code is an effective way to gauge potential threats in low to moderately busy situations. However, if you are in a situation where you have, not only to scan for threats, but also need/want to take in the sites or look for someone you’re meeting, it is quite difficult to assess every passerby for more than a second or two.
In large groups of people, I change my scanning method somewhat. For example, a young teenage girl who is giggling with a friend is usually not going to be a threat. This being the case, I then dismissed groups of teenage girls as potential threats. The same could be said for a group of elderly gentleman, or any group of similar people. Now, of course, they would get a second look if they did something that got my attention, such as following me.
Because I was in a setting where people were there with purpose, I expected them to act in certain ways; looking at merchandise, walking to or from a store, looking for the next store to shop at, you get the idea. Anyone who did anything outside of these expected behaviors got more of my attention.
For example, there was a group of people sitting on benches. Some of them were talking, others were people watching and one of them was watching me. Because I thought it odd that a man in his late thirties or early forties was watching me, I made a point to look behind me as I passed. I then noticed that he got up and followed me. This could have been a total coincidence, but knowing my biggest threat in the mall is pickpockets, I decided to act instead of waiting to see what happened. I moved off to the side of the walkway and stopped, watching him as he passed. When he got a bit ahead of me, I went on my way again, making sure I knew where he was.
Maintaining awareness also makes you much more polite than the average person. At 6’0 tall and 220 pounds, I’m a fairly big guy. I lost count of how many people I had to dodge to keep from knocking them over or, in one case, getting run over by a motorized scooter. Playing this kind of leapfrog and trying to keep people at as much distance as I could also made me a harder target to pickpocket
Written by Chris Ray
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