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Of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world, I have visited five of them and live in the third most dangerous city in the world: St. Louis, Missouri. It occurred to me that many of the lessons I learned growing up and living in St. Louis carried over to security work I’ve done in dangerous places across the globe. For instance, a blade instructor once asked where I had received my first training in combat with a knife. When I answered “junior high art class,” he thought I was being facetious. I wasn’t. See below to read about six life and death lessons from dangerous cities around the world.

 

Give Yourself Time to React - If you have a weapon in those circumstances, be prepared to access it, whether it’s a gun, knife or impact weapon.
Give Yourself Time to React – If you have a weapon in those circumstances, be prepared to access it, whether it’s a gun, knife or impact weapon.

Give Yourself Time to React: Don’t walk too close to doorways or alleys so you have time to react—and think in advance of how you will react. If you have a weapon in those circumstances, be prepared to access it, whether it’s a gun, knife or impact weapon. In those days of my youth, I used to keep a look out for any potential improvised weapons lying about, and continue to do that today. Once, walking home late at night, I was chased by a pack of vicious dogs into a phone booth. I took my knife, cut the phone cord and created a flail, which I started swinging at the dogs as I exited the phone both. I think the vandalism statute of limitations is long up.

 

Parking Lots - I generally situate my car so I can pull directly out of a space, whether that entails backing in or pulling to the foremost of two spaces that adjoin.
Parking Lots – I generally situate my car so I can pull directly out of a space, whether that entails backing in or pulling to the foremost of two spaces that adjoin.

Parking Lots: The things I learned about parking lots over the years I’ve applied in several bad locations. I prefer to park away from other vehicles when possible so I can see anyone that might be lurking. Moving between closely packed vehicles on a parking lot can be conducive to an ambush. I also prefer to park under a light post. Cockroaches don’t like light and neither do criminals. I generally situate my car so I can pull directly out of a space, whether that entails backing in or pulling to the foremost of two spaces that adjoin. That way I can aim better if someone jumps in front of me with a weapon!

 

Locally, I apply a few basic principles when using parking garages.
Locally, I apply a few basic principles when using parking garages.

Parking Garages: St. Louis has had its share of rapes, murders and muggings in parking garages, as have most big cities. Locally, I apply a few basic principles when using parking garages. Since lighting is usually poor throughout, I prefer a space closer to the stairs or elevator to limit exposure. If I can board an elevator with other people who don’t set off my “radar,” I do but still stay alert. If I don’t like the looks of those around the elevator, I’ll take the stairs. Be especially alert on the enclosed staircases in parking garages. “Cut the pie” when turning corners and look up and down frequently. Be very alert to sound because the enclosed area will normally magnify it. And, always be ready to take immediate action. That can include leaping feet-first for a flying kick at anyone coming at you from below.

 

Approaching your vehicle can be dangerous. Canvas the entire area before you get near your vehicle. Know a "safe" zone if you need to abort your plan.
Approaching your vehicle can be dangerous. Canvas the entire area before you get near your vehicle. Know a “safe” zone if you need to abort your plan.

Be Aware & Use Your Vehicle: When I travel in many areas of St. Louis, I follow the same procedures I do when working security teams in dangerous foreign places—or vice versa. I am always aware of what’s going on around me and alert to anything that strikes me as potentially bad (e.g., thugs on a street corner). I make every attempt to always have a way out by turning, reversing or going into four-wheel drive onto a sidewalk. I normally try not to pull even with other cars, but to stop halfway between them so that it’s harder for someone to shoot or throw something directly at me. I am especially aware of any attempt to box me in.

 

Know the Neighborhood - Going one block off a main thoroughfare can often put you in a war zone.
Know the Neighborhood – Going one block off a main thoroughfare can often put you in a war zone.

Know the Neighborhood: A very important aspect of driving is knowing the local neighborhoods. Going one block off a main thoroughfare can often put you in a war zone. Knowing the neighborhoods around where you are tells you where you can go if you have to bug out, and where not to turn into by mistake. That’s why when I do security jobs in a foreign city I like to have a local who knows the players and the terrain on my team.

 

Light is Your Friend - If lights should be on and are out, consider that a bad sign and avoid the area.
Light is Your Friend – If lights should be on and are out, consider that a bad sign and avoid the area.

Light is Your Friend: By the way, whether in neighborhoods, parking lots, parking garages or elsewhere, if lights should be on and are out, consider that a bad sign and avoid the area. That’s also true at home. If the light doesn’t come on in your garage when you hit the opener, then don’t pull in until you check the garage out. Or, if your lights are out and there doesn’t appear to be a neighborhood-wide outage, use extreme caution. Any time I come home, if my Airedale does not greet me at the door without any indications of a problem, I draw my gun and enter with caution.

 

I think the greatest gift that I retained from growing up and living somewhere that required some effort to stay safe was learning to stay switched on, to expect that bad things might well happen—and to be prepared to act if they did. Good training courses help instill those same tenets, and I’ve been on some courses that certainly made me better prepared to face danger. But, a lot of it still stems from the day when I was in elementary school and came running home because two boys were picking on me. My grandmother told me to get my butt back outside and stand up to them or I’d never be able to walk down the streets around where we lived again. Then she locked the door on me. Today, this would never be considered appropriate, but at the time she was right, and it was an important lesson.

Most of us here in St. Louis bleed “Cardinal red” during baseball season, but a lot of us have learned lessons to keep from bleeding real red on the streets! Knowing how to apply those lessons in other dangerous places has been a lifesaver.

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