Since most of us choose not to live like a paranoid fanatic with cleared fields of fire from our front door to the keep-out signs surrounding our houses – life is about managing risks. Everything we do from the moment we are born until the day we pass involves making risk assessments and developing various means of avoiding or mitigating the risk we choose to accept. We all do it every day and in many aspects of our lives we are experts. Unfortunately, it’s in the big-ticket items where people tend to make mistakes in this arena – and that unfortunately results in a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
For starters – stop worrying about things that don’t happen and spend a few of those minutes preparing for the inevitable. If you simply plan for the things that are likely to happen to you – you’ll be light years ahead of the general population! In order to do that we really need to take a look at what negative events are most likely to occur and unfortunately the media, the internet and our personal experiences are generally poor indicators.
We are inundated with poor sources of information
The Internet is an incredible collection of a variety of sources of information, and some of which is even true! Anyone with an opinion can write an article on any subject they choose and post it for the world to view. The days of having some expertise, journalistic integrity, editorial oversight and even fact checking are for the most part over. Lets look at that last sentence. Sounds accurate, connects with most readers on a base level – but the fact is, I just made it up. It is a single source opinion (mine) expressed as a fact, and I am confident someone will have quoted it by the end of the week… Perhaps it’s even true, but other than the absolute falsehoods I see reported, I have no factual basis for my opinion.
When we see movies, we are typically getting an adrenaline filled journey through the combined lens of a fiction writer, a Hollywood director and ultimately the producer who is writing the check. While accuracy is important to many of them, producing a movie people will pay to watch is what they get paid to do. People naturally want to connect with great stories – and mundane activities generally doesn’t make a great story. We exaggerate key components, rely on nearly superhuman capabilities and and construe a completely improbably series of extraordinary event and in that we find our hero’s. Unfortunately, preparing to meet our movie hero’s challenges does not prepare us to deal with the real risks in our own lives.
The bottom rung of the information food chain these days is the media. MSNBC, FOX and CNN are simply pandering to a political base to expand viewership and increase advertising revenue. In recent years, their penchant for un-researched opinion is with out equal. Take the same event, same facts and the same statistics and get three completely divergent OPINONS on what it means. All of which are expressed as known facts. It makes for great entertainment, but their “reporting” has no basis in fact aside from the general agreement that a spin worthy story has occurred. The line between opinion and fact has become so gray many of us have forgotten the difference between the two.
Quantity of information
When we spend time sourcing information on which to base risk decisions, the source of information is in many cases more important than the information itself. We hear the drum beat about human trafficking, kidnapping and sexual slavery. These stories flood the Internet, make engaging movies and provide fodder for the pundits like Nancy Grace to blather on about. In the security industry we call it the “Missing White Girl Syndrome”. Statistically it is irrelevant, but if a western white girl is missing, somehow that makes international headlines. We don’t talk about the 1.2 million teenagers inducted globally into sexual slavery.
If you believe what Hollywood and the media provide you, you will spend valuable time educating your child to avoid strangers to reduce their chance of being kidnapped. The fact is less than 100 of 800,000 U. S. children reported missing fall into the category of a “stranger abduction”. While you are worrying about the 100 abductions, 2,800 children will be killed in car accidents in the same year. The quality of information is far more relevant than the volume.
Unfortunately, like most things of value in life, quality information requires time and effort. Conducting sound risk assessments is the basis of establishing sound personal security plans. The reason the source of information is so critical is because it will ultimately define the quality of your assessment. If you make an assessment based on bad sources of information, you are very likely to come to a highly inaccurate conclusion.
Where to find good sources of information
The Center for Disease Control has produced an injury and fatality reporting tool that is incredibly user friendly (WISQARS). The World Health Organization is the global equivalent. Boiling this down to be user fin in a local risk can be difficult. I have found crimereport.com and healthmap.org are the simplest and easiest tools to use real time reporting for outbreaks and crime and their data is collected from quality sources of information. From here, I can make solid determinations on the real risks my family faces from injury, crime and diseases in matter of minutes.
If you are traveling, spend 15 minutes reading the CIA world fact book on that country before you go. This is a free online publication that contains a quick overview of every country on the planet. The writers study these countries in detail for a living, and do an annual update. They cover languages, customs, politics, economics and a brief overview on crime. The next step is the country studies published by the Library of Congress, which can be accessed from the state departments website. Country studies are detailed information on anything you want to dig into, but they are long and detailed so go there with specific questions and use them to answer them. Lastly the state department will have up to the minute travel advisories and warnings posted for every county on the planet.
More than likely that is beyond adequate for most people. However, if you want more data you can look at the economic intelligence unit. The economic intelligence unit collects from a wide variety of sources and produces a number of local assessments. While some of it is free, most of it requires a subscription. United Nations on Drugs and Crime and the International Center for Prison Studies can also be enlightening if you want more data on specific regions.
Using Sources of Information
Having great sources of information is worthless if you don’t use them, and collecting random snippets of quality information is equally futile. The purpose is to keep you and your family safe. Here are statistically the risks you need to be concerned with when looking at personal security:
- Illness prevention
- Access to medical care
- Crime rate and threats
- Food & water quality
- Local security forces
If you have even gross familiarity with the above in the area you live or are traveling to, you are already ahead of the locals. The goal of collecting this information is to mitigate the risk, to which you are choosing to expose yourself. After you deal with the big five, then you can worry about what to do in the event your mitigation plans have failed. Remember, you don’t have be the fastest person in the group if you are chased by a bear, you just can’t be the slowest.
Start getting informed in your local area and check back next month for the next article in our personal security series – Developing a practical risk mitigation strategy. You can see more our existing personal security curriculum here! For additional articles check out Personal Safety step one – Threat Avoidance and Social Media and the Attack Cycle!
First Published at Aegis Academy
– Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry received his operational training and experience from the U. S. Government, 22 years of which were spent in the Marine Corps where he served in the Reconnaissance, Infantry and Intelligence fields. During his active service, he spent more then seven years deployed overseas in combat, operational and training assignments. After the military, Pat worked as a contractor and as the Director of Operations at a private paramilitary company, specializing in training special operations forces and providing protective services to select private clients. His education consists of an MBA from the University of Southern California (USC), and a BS from San Diego State University with an emphasis in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology and a minor in Psychology. He holds an extensive list of security and training related certifications from a variety of government and nationally recognized entities. He has an extensive entrepreneurial background ranging from real estate and technology, to the security training and education market. He currently sits on the advisory committee at USC’s Master of Veterans Business Program, and is an active member of Infraguard and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). He has been a guest speaker at ASIS, the San Diego Industrial Security Awareness Council and other private organizations on physical security, travel security, and competitive intelligence collection counter-measures.