Sadly the world is not all sunshine and happiness, there are some unpleasant individuals out there that might want to do us some harm for various reasons, I assume we can all agree on that, if not read this post first. But what exactly are you supposed to do about it? Should you now hide from the world to be safe or walk the streets in fear? How do you actually know what kind of threats are of real concern to you personally and could you eventually simply ignore some? Let’s find out, shall we?
Identifying real threats to your safety
As a security professional, it is a very common task to have to explain threats and vulnerabilities to clients or senior leadership. Although in the business world it is not really necessary to convince anyone that there are risks and they need to protect themselves against them. They are very much aware of that, but the reality is that not every risk can be completely eliminated, especially not at any cost. Security measures are always restrictive, and it’s fair to say, not popular, as they take away a bit of your freedom in order to reduce certain risks. Our job as security professionals is to find the appropriate balance on how to achieve the best possible protection, whilst keeping the enforced restrictions on the normal way of operation to a minimum. We do that by performing an individual “risk assessment” for each client or threat situation. Obviously, not every threat is applicable to the same extent to every client or situation. This is very much dependant on the type of asset that is identified as being at risk and related factors like how valuable it is, how easily accessible it might be, where it is located, how it can be protected and of course how big the impact would be if it got stolen or destroyed.
A simple risk assessment
When we apply the same approach to personal safety, it will help us identify what potential threats there actually are that might affect an average person in everyday life. Now you might think, do I really need a professional risk assessment tool for that? Well, there might be people out there that live in constant and intense fear and that might not be rational at all, on the other side, there might also be people who have never given their personal safety any thought at all. I would say, ideally you should be somewhere in the middle. Be aware of the things that do happen to people like you, but be smart enough to take simple steps to reduce the risk of this happening to you. Whenever we talk about any kind of prevention, this comes with the assumption that we know what we are up against. Only by knowing what kind of threats pose a risk to us, what methods criminals use, what their motivation and mindset might be, can we build effective strategies and tactics to avoid and deter. For the purpose of this exercise let us concentrate on harmful actions by other individuals, with the intention to make us compliant in order to gain something from us, or simply to hurt us. We will exclude here things like war, civil unrest and natural or man-made disasters, as this will make it far more complex. So, let us think of everything that we can think of, that can happen to you in your daily routine and falls into the above category of threats to your personal safety. You can do this as a fun brainstorming exercise with your family members or friends like a little game, who comes up with the most or best ideas? At first just list everything that comes to mind as a potential threat, like kidnappings, home invasions, muggings, sexual assault, carjacking, road rage, assault, etc. As we already concluded, not every threat is equally applicable to everyone, there are always factors that affect a certain situation, like using public transport vs. driving by car or bicycle to work, or leaving the house alone or together, the time of the day you have to go to or from work, is it dark then or not, what areas do you have to pass, etc…
How to use the risk matrix
When creating a risk assessment, we are looking for two main factors: the “likelihood” that something might actually happen to you, and the “impact” it would have on your life, should it happen. We then use these two factors by multiplying them with each other, and we get a number that indicates how serious of a risk it is to us according to the risk matrix shown above. This helps to decide what kind of threats need to be addressed and mitigated and what might be simply accepted as it is either unlikely to happen or the impact would be negligible. All results that fall into the green category can therefore be treated as nothing to be seriously concerned about, or at least there is no need for any serious preventive measures to be taken as we can accept the risk. The orange category identifies risks that might need some attention, and certain mitigation measures are recommended as they potentially pose a more serious risk to us. And finally, the red category represents risks that are critical, that either is very likely to occur and will have a very serious to a catastrophic impact on us and therefore absolutely need action to be taken to reduce and mitigate those risks.
Now do your own personal risk assessment
Now go ahead and create a list of all the threats you could think of, that you think do apply to you. Evaluate them using the risk matrix and label them accordingly on your list. Try to think out of the box here and be creative, for example, if you would say there is a risk of getting mugged in your area, but because you only carry cards with you and no cash, the impact would be low, right? But how about the criminal being smart and forcing you to go to the nearby ATM and pick up money, or worst case, him getting upset as he did not get what he wanted, and he then tries to hurt you? As you see, things are not always black and white here, criminals often lack any kind of compassion and they are often aggressive and nervous, easily getting into a rage. Just try to be as honest with your assessment as possible and consider all options. Remember the purpose of this is for you to become fully aware of all the situations that can happen to you. How thorough you want to be with this assessment depends on your needs and concerns you might have. If you are in the UK, you can find information on actual crime statistics from CSEW – Crime Statistics England and Wales but there are also easier ways, just google how safe is my neighbourhood. Some real estate platforms share this kind of information broken down into boroughs. There are also some free apps available, like “WalkSafe” which show local crime data based on latest police reports. In general, my advice would be to use common sense here, don’t become paranoid now, but also don’t be naive and clueless. Remember that bad things happen to good people, so now you just need to be smart and use the knowledge you have to your advantage.
What to do with your risk assessment?
Have you completed your risk matrix? Well done, now let us take a look at what you can actually do with this. As I mentioned before, this is not a sales pitch, I am not trying to talk you into something nor do I sell anything. This is simply an insight into how professionals work, giving you the opportunity to use the very same approach to evaluate your own personal safety risks and the next step is of course, how to manage or how we like to call it, “mitigate” the risks that we have identified. I know it might have started a bit complicated, but after this step, it should all fall into place, so stay sharp. You see, if you say that you are concerned about your personal safety, many people will gladly give you some kind of advice on how to address this. You will however find out that everyone has a different idea on how to protect yourself efficiently, especially on social media I regularly amuse myself reading the sometimes brilliant comments from certain individuals. That being said, if you know what you are looking for, it will be so much easier to find the exact answer to your problem. There is clearly more than just one way of dealing with those threats and this is the moment of truth where many of the “experts” out there lose interest in providing them to their clients, because they cannot monetize them. In order not to make this post too long of a read, I will continue with the next step, the “risk mitigation” in a separate article.
I hope this was informative and useful, if you want to find out more about personal safety and self-defence training check out some of my other posts on the subject in the Personal Safety category.