Depending on your background and experiences in life, your brain has developed what I
call “file folders” for all the things you’ve experienced in life. The problem comes
when you must deal with a problem or threat that you’ve never experienced before. What
happens when you don’t have a “file folder” to reference is that your brain will draw a blank.
People who are charged with safety and security cannot waste precious seconds in a dangerous situation.
Below you’ll find 5 tips and tricks that can help you react properly in a dangerous incident and
keep those around calm in the middle of the storm. This is the first thing I have people
understand before moving on identifying threats in our Live Training.
YOU ARE THE LEADER!
I put this first as it’s the most important and it ties all the other points together. You are the
leader. So, you better behave like one when an emergency happens. Everyone will be in a
wide-eyed state of denial looking to you for answers and you better have them at the ready.
If you find yourself in this situation take a page from the ancient Stoics, take a big deep
breath, and in the calmest, most even voice you can fake (being afraid doesn’t mean not
acting) and say “Peace. All will be well. Follow me.”
The number one thing FBI Negotiators attribute to a calm outcome is an even and calm
tone. Calm, cool, collected. You are in charge and that message should be coming off of
you in waves. This takes practice and intent to pull this off and I’m telling you it will be scary,
that’s not an excuse for a leader that fails to act.
At the end of the day, all that matters is how people around you PERCEIVE your behavior
and they will follow suit. If you give them panic, they will panic. If you give them bravery in
the face of fear, they will follow. Imagine a great actor that you think of as heroic or stoic and
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT!
DEFAULT TO FREEZE AND DENIAL
You’ve probably heard the terms freeze, flight or fight many times in your life but I bet you
didn’t know that an unconditioned person, when presented with a threat, will automatically default
to freeze. Then they will attempt to flee, and fight will only come if forced. Ask yourself this
question “In my line of work can I afford for freeze to be my first reaction to danger?”
The answer should be a resounding NO! Even worse, you can have such a hard freeze reaction that
you fall into the dreaded denial.
ACTION STEP: Whenever you go to an area, try to observe for what the behavioral norms are
for that area. Once you establish that, you can start looking for anyone “not playing by the rules” of that area.
Worse than just freezing, someone with no training can flip from freeze right into denial. If you’ve
ever said or thought something like “No way did I just see that happen” or “There is no way this is
happening to me right now” you were in a form of denial. Your brain has been so overwhelmed that is
trying to rationalize the threat away. You hear it all the time after a bad incident. Witnesses come
forward and say things like “I thought it was fireworks” or “I thought it was a prank.” Denial, Denial, Denial…
ACTION STEP: Research what the top 5 injury producing events that happen regularly in your
workplace and visualize those events taking place in your home or facility. Then have an open discussion
with the staff on what they would do.
HOW TO STAY OUT OF DENIAL
AND FREEZE RESPONSES
The only way you can prevent this from happening is through mindset exposure. Not that you must
go through one of these horrible events, but that you understand the brain’s limitations in a time
of stress or danger. Just knowing that these things happen makes you smarter than the average
bear and better prepared to handle it if it comes. You know it’s a possibility, so mentally prepare
yourself for it BEFORE the danger presents itself! Another technique you can use every day is
looking at the setting you’re currently in and ask yourself “What COULD happen?” This simple exercise
alone can help keep you in the proper mindset. You and your staff should be practicing these all
the time. They don’t cost anything, it’s not a new piece of technology and you can take it with you
wherever you go.
ACTION STEP: In any given setting you should always take in the area and ask yourself
“What COULD happen in this area that might threaten me or people around me?” Once you have any
idea, then you can start looking for any behaviors that would lead to those events.
HOPE IS NOT A TACTIC
People get so worried now a days when they turn on the tv or log in to social media because of
all the incidents happening. People see this stuff (trust me, they are conditioning you
to react) and get overwhelmed, so you start to hope or pray these things never happen to you.
Well I am sorry to tell you, but hope is not a tactic. Hope does not put out fires. Hope won’t stop
bullets. Your planning and mindset will. The best part of having this mindset is that it
doesn’t cost anything to maintain, it’s not another new app or software and you can take it with
ACTION STEP: Delete the word hope from your emergency planning vocabulary. You
should always assume no one is coming and you must handle the situation with what you
have in front of you. Emergencies are not the time to come up with wish lists.
I heard this great line from an Iron Man movie where Tony Stark is trying to get his friend
Pepper to safety as explosions are going off around them. She yells at him “What do I do?”
and he yells back “Stop Stopping!” These 2 words could save the lives of you and the people
Our brains try to think their way out of dangerous times and what happens is you fall into a form
of denial. Paralysis by analysis. Your trying to take in all the information when all you really
need is part of it. If you forget everything in this article, PLEASE remember these 2 words.
When things are falling into chaos and people around you are asking “What do we do?” you
know what to tell them! The 70% solution right NOW is better than the 100% solution TOO
In the military we would call this “red cell” or “red hat” training to test out our plans and
procedures. We would turn the tables and act like the bad guy and attack our plan as much as
we could. You can do the same thing with these emergency drills. If you never physically test
them, you never know what you might have missed in the planning stages.
You have to run these drills, so you can identify weak spots and make sure everyone
understands their roles and actions during an emergency. I don’t know how many times I’ve
done this on a great plan just to realize some serious gaps when we played it out in real life. As
Mike Tyson use to say, “Everybody’s got a plan till you get punched in the face.”