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Avoiding Surprise Attacks | Active Response Training

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This post is a guest article written by my friend Ron Borsch.  Ron is a Viet Nam veteran, (1965-66 U.S. Army paratrooper 101st Airborne) and is retired from two careers, 30 years as a police officer including SWAT and 17 years as a police trainer. Supported by seven SEALE Chiefs of Police, he founded, managed and was the chief trainer for SEALE Regional Police Training Academy in Bedford Ohio, which was attended by officers from 10 other states. He has also presented before international law enforcement trainer audiences in several states and two countries. Ron is a hobby writer, and does pro-bono presentations for local civic groups, schools and churches. 



“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: The expected, for which you’ve refused to prepare.” – Mary Renault 


Of all attacks, great or small, surprise attacks have generally been the most devastating. In this regard, we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. For example, when sharing safety tips from my Stopwatch of Death© research and experience from studying active killer attacks in public places, (schools, churches, malls, etc.), too often I get a very concerning generic response:


“I would rather not think about it”


Those folks are a hard nut to crack. By not realizing that personal protection is the furthest thing in mind, in reality, they have mentally handicapped themselves for either prevention or doing something effective. We should never value comfort over safety. “Of all human lamentations, without doubt, the most common is, ‘If only I had known!’ But, we don’t get to know! Days of death and fire begin no differently than those of love and warmth!” – Tom Clancy.



“Who naively believe that their personal safety can be effectively “managed” by others, is a fool”!-John Farnam.


It is true that when you need an Ambulance, Firefighters or Police in seconds, they are only minutes away. It is also true that the potential for Rapid Mass Murder© can be one attempted murder per second, (rounded down from 1.27). “Be aware of the danger and risk of an active shooter/terrorist incident today.  Yes, it may be a statistical low probability event, but that is cold comfort when it happens and you are there”- Stewart Rhodes.


Even a nearby School Resource Officer would take +/- 15 seconds to cover 100 yards and he or she cannot be everywhere. That is why I favor Both SRO’s and the arming of volunteer teachers and staff who are actually physically present when an active killer invades a school.  In Ohio, the Buckeye Firearms foundation, through F.A.S.T.E.R., trains teachers with Firearms and First Aid for free.  




Small things such as keeping your car or home doors locked whenever you are inside buys precious time to respond in case of a car-jacking or home invasion attempt. Of course, a brick through the window of a car or home door window would shorten your time to respond.




Normal defensive driving is a great example of anticipation and awareness. Good experienced drivers, consciously or subconsciously, are constantly evaluating possible threats of a collision as they proceed down the thoroughfare. Whenever stopped in traffic, allow yourself enough space between you and the vehicle ahead to give you a quick escape option left or right. Why? The nick names for typical traffic attack crimes are Bump and Rob; Bump and Rape; Assault and Battery, Carjacking, etc. When we are a pedestrian is perhaps the most important time to be “AAA”, Alert, Aware and Anticipating possible threats.




A custom of consciously reducing opportunities where you could be surprised is key. In nature, predators prefer to attack their prey, (food), from the rear, in order to achieve maximum surprise and minimum resistance. Human predators have a different motive, however they also prefer the effectiveness of rear surprise or at least some sort of distraction to get close enough to their unsuspecting victim.


Therefore, whenever you have the choice of position, having your back against a wall behind you reduces by 50% the access opportunity to approach you. Both military and law enforcement value the term “Watch your back”, or situational awareness. About a decade ago, I designed a round orange check six sticker that I passed around to fellow trainers at international training conferences. The check symbol and “6” were referring to the clock positions, whereby everywhere ahead of you is “12” and “6” is behind you. Check 6 is a quick mnemonic reminder to watch your back.


I know of at least one police department that has check-six stickers on the rear of their hand-held portable radar guns. Taking personal positioning further, and you are alone in an office or restaurant intending to read or use a computer, positioning yourself in a corner watching the doorway, reduces by 75% the approach access opportunity. These are basic principles that you can incorporate in your own life.


Of course, there are tasks, times and places that are most challenging, such as loading kids. (child-seats), groceries, or various items into or out of your vehicle. Alone, it is far more difficult to watch your back, when there is no trusted partner to watch for you. Potential predators are always watching for a lone person who is not paying attention to their surroundings, especially when they are exposing their back. My advice would be to not become totally involved in any task, to periodically stop and make surrounding assessments.   



We now have an Electronic Pacifier generation that is addicted to their hand-held computer, apps, games, texting, Face-Time and telephone. Typically Heads Down, they may think that they are multi-tasking with their awareness and personal protection responsibilities. Science however, says they are actually Multi-MISSING.


See Heads-Up, Avoid MAWOL, (Mentally-Absent-With-Out-Leave), article. Slightly more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they were distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while using a cellphone to talk or text.


Perhaps the best, though most tragic example of MAWOL was the assassination of four on-duty Lakewood WA officers gathered for roll-call on their laptop computers in a Washington Coffee Shop in 2009. If one coward can quickly murder four on-duty officers, the worst case scenario for heads-down citizens is not encouraging.




A decade later, Greg Ellifritz published his valuable experience and photos in the article African Counter-Ambush Tactics. This is virtually lifesaving information! If every one that reads this article or subscribes to could be aware of and apply the principles in Greg’s article, many lives could be saved.


Biblically, there are references to having a designated WATCHMAN or guardians of a group, neighborhood or village. Many of Greg’s far-flung vacations and valuable personal protection tips are chronicled in his excellent book Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places, recommended!        




If we were always looking out for ourselves and each other, bad occurrences would be greatly reduced. America got caught napping during an American wake-up call in the 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii. We got caught napping again in the surprise attack in 2001 Islamist hijacking of four passenger jets that were used as virtual bombs, targeting four heavily populated American landmarks.


That we have enemies both foreign and domestic should never be forgotten. “We let ourselves get so used to ‘being fine,’ that we lose track of just how ‘not fine’ we are.”-Martina Boone. Eternal vigilance is required both to avoid surprise attacks as a country or individual. To allow ourselves to be Mentally-Absent-With-Out-Leave is almost begging for misfortune.  




Stranger Danger is a factor just as important for adults as it has been for children. Not everyone is friendly and innocent. Unfortunately, there are those that think and say that the best response is to cooperate with felonious criminals and that you are less likely be hurt. Aside from that being true in many cases, we really should examine the potential where that logic could go wrong. Primarily, your default here would be allowing your life to be in the total control, whim and hands of a felon stranger who is likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While many outside law enforcement are not aware, there are three instances where there can be an unintentional discharge. According to Dr. Roger Enoka, they are the startle effect, loss of balance, and maximum exertion with the non-gun hand.


The criminal is almost certainly unaware of this, (or would not care anyway). He or she is also unlikely to know about key safe gun handling practices, (“Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy; Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the intended target; Be sure of your target and what is beyond it”). All that is how the criminal pointing gun with NO intention of shooting you, presents a very serious danger of killing you. Even worse is the risk of your being a victim of intentional murder, whereby the aspiring gang member, as a prerequisite initiation requirement has to commit murder to join a gang. Pre-think how and when you could explosively react to save your life.


Extremely helpful in pointing out items to think about are Ellifritz’s articles Boundaries and Plan for the worst.




Rarely is anything ever 100% perfect. Avoiding or preventing surprise is easier if we know and understand Murphy’s Law: “Nothing is as easy as it looks; everything takes longer than you expect; and if anything can go wrong – it will at the worst possible moment”.


As well, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”– Helmuth von Moltke. These types of logic can be helpful in our planning and preparation to avoid surprise attacks, ambushes, etc.


Perhaps the biggest lessons of Murphy’s Law is to seriously believe in both effort and work, no matter how long it takes, have simple alternative back-up plans, and anticipate surprise challenges anytime!



Copyright 2020 Ron Borsch


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