Be Safe — Know Your Surroundings
Lt. Brian Murphy’s Top Tips For Practicing Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is the ability to identify information regarding immediate surroundings and process how to survive in an emergency. Practicing and mastering this skill could save your life or someone else’s.
When it came to breaking down this topic further, we sought out 23-year law enforcement veteran Lt. Brian Murphy, who has been training law enforcement officers around the country on situational awareness techniques and strategies as well as educating citizens on what it means to be “aware of your surroundings.”
Lt. Murphy’s top five tips for practicing situational awareness are:
1. Pay attention
This one sounds like a no brainer but being intentional about noticing where exits and doors are located, as well as practicing simple habits like looking over your shoulder in a parking lot before you get into your car, should be part of your daily routine.
“It’s not paranoia, it’s just understanding and being able to process what’s going on around you – it’s a skill and a habit that takes practice – something that shouldn’t be ignored,” said Lt. Murphy.
2. Put the phone down
This is in line with point number one, but it’s worth standalone recognition. In today’s world, people always have their head buried into their phones and because of this, they’re not looking up to notice what’s going on around them.
“How much are you willing to sacrifice to be ignorant?” asked Lt. Murphy. “Now, that may sound harsh, but to say that ‘it’s not going to happen here’ is giving yourself permission not to be aware of what’s around you.”
3. Be prepared
Does your school, university, workplace, or place of worship have a response plan in the event of an active shooter or other emergencies? If the answer is no, be sure to create one with the help of your local law enforcement as soon as possible. If the answer is yes, great! However, when was the last time you ran a drill to ensure every member of the response team, including law enforcement, understood and were able to carry out the proper procedures successfully? Does everyone have a copy of the response plan readily available if an event were to occur? These are all great questions to ask to start the conversation around running training drills.
A great place to house the response plan so it’s readily available is in the Guard911 app. One of the most overlooked features of the Guard911 app is the dedicated space to upload individual response plans. With the press of a button an emergency response plan is readily accessible right on the user’s phone. No more sifting through papers or tracking down a handbook often locked away in a filing cabinet.
Also, having technology in the hands of people in active shooter incidents can cut down on the response time and save more lives.
“I was part of the response team during the active shooting at Sikh Temple in 2012,” said Lt. Murphy. “If people inside the temple had access to something like Guard911 they could alert each other faster, and we would have had more officers on the scene sooner.”
Another issue Lt. Murphy discovered, not just in his home state of Wisconsin but countrywide, is the process of when someone dials 9-1-1 on their phone.
“If someone uses a mobile phone to dial 9-1-1 it goes to the county sheriff, the county sheriff discerns who gets that call – what jurisdiction – then it goes to them,” said Lt. Murphy. “There’s a fair amount of time lapse that goes on; sometimes a whole minute can go by before the message is relayed to the boots on the ground.”
One minute can make a world of difference when it comes to saving lives.
In the case of Sikh Temple, Lt. Murphy did arrive at the scene in under two minutes, but if he were to have been only 15 seconds later, “there would have been another 15 people killed based on how the shooter had people cornered,” according to Lt. Murphy.
4. Take it seriously
Emergencies are serious business. Preparing properly for these emergencies is essential, especially stressing to all involved in the drills how seriously they must be taken when put into practice.
By downplaying the importance of the drill or neglecting to pay attention to how procedures are carried out could lead to more lives lost if an emergency were to happen.
As an example, Lt. Murphy was on-site at several schools during their active shooter drills. One of the elementary schools passed the exercise while the high school in the same district failed.
“We teach them the simple ‘locks, lights, out of sight’ as a way for people to remember to lock the doors, turn off the lights and hide if a situation like this were to occur at their school,” said Lt. Murphy. “During the drill, we went up and knocked on doors, and people answered them! They were just trained on Friday, and I was there running the drill with them on Monday.”
Lt. Murphy’s experience during these exercises is just one example as to why having these consistent training and drills for schools, offices, and places of worship is so important. In these active shooter situations, there’s no room for complacency.
5. Stay calm
In an emergency, an incident can and often does escalate quickly due to panic. Panicking breeds more chaos and leads to snap reactions, causing people to abandon all protocol and act in a fight or flight mentality.
“I tell this to the law enforcement officers all the time when I’m speaking,” said Lt. Murphy. “If you stay calm, you can think, and if you can think, you can make good decisions.”
The habit of staying calm in chaotic situations takes practice. First, closing your mouth is crucial so you can be aware of your surroundings rather than verbally reacting. Next, take a deep breath through your nose. Taking a moment to do this will allow the body to calm down and the brain to declutter to react to the incident appropriately.
Whether you’re a citizen or law enforcement officer, adopting these simple tips into your daily routine can have the power to become habits that may ultimately help save your or someone else’s life in the case of an emergency.
Learn more about the Guard911 Response Plan Feature here.