Mobile Employees and Situational Awareness

In his book Principles of Personal Defense, former U.S. Marine Jeff Cooper outlines a color-coded system that describes certain defensive states of mind. These states vary from being completely unaware of surroundings and unprepared for an attack to full-fledged “fight or flight” mode.  Many law enforcement officers in the U.S. use this system as a mental training tool for identifying threats before they become a threat, which often results in a more effective response.

Some, or even many, mobile employees operate in Condition White while overseas:  They’re generally ignoring their surroundings, probably focused on work and secure in the knowledge that private contractors are nearby (or on call) to protect them. We must prevent this mindset; while companies and private contractors have professional responsibility for the safety of mobile employees, people can easily find themselves in situations where they must play a role in their own safety.

We should train employees to go about their daily business in Condition Yellow:  They need to wake up in the morning considering the possibility that today could be the day they have to evade or otherwise survive a dangerous situation. They can accomplish this while still being generally relaxed and focused on work by making it a part of their daily routine; as the idea becomes more familiar, the fear and uncertainty associated with such a threat will lessen. Employees must mentally prepare themselves to react effectively to a wide variety of threats. You can help by encouraging this mindset and identifying likely threats to consider.

Additionally, mobile employees must truly understand their environment, and showing them maps of dangerous neighborhoods via PowerPoint isn’t enough. Every region has key political and social attributes that make a huge difference when it comes to safety. For example, in Pakistan especially, you should avoid churches and the mosques of minority Muslim sects; these are typical targets for Taliban militants. Always avoid popular events in crowded places, but especially in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, where such gatherings are common targets for local terrorist groups like al-Shabaab (for example, the shopping mall attack in Nairobi). However, crowds can serve as an excellent shield against muggings in European and South American countries.

Travel managers and other personnel responsible for mobile employee training must emphasize this type of alert, knowledgeable, proactive mindset whenever people travel abroad on the job (and ideally 24/7). Being in Condition Yellow instead of Condition White may very well mean the difference between serious injury/death and survival.

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