Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to Use Pepper Spray: Five Steps

If you’re going buy pepper spray you might hesitate with the simple question: “How do I use it?” Fortunately, pepper spray is extremely simple to use. Nevertheless, you should practice and visualize how to use pepper spray in an emergency. (Make sure that when you practice, it’s with a substitute object the same size as the canister to avoid accidents.)

Proper pepper spray techniques can be boiled down into five easy steps. All of the above also apply when you buy mace spray, since “Mace” is actually a brand name – modern Mace is pepper spray.

Draw Easily: Make sure you can quickly and easily draw the pepper spray from wherever you keep it, but that when you put it away, it’s in a secure spot where it isn’t likely to fall out by accident. You may have to try out several locations and practice a bit to ensure a quick, smooth draw. Many pepper spray brands come with a carrying case. Consider using it. If it has a snap release or other two step process to draw, practice doing this quickly, but if you feel threatened, release the snap ahead of time.

Safety Release: The other aspect to consider is the safety. Become familiar with any safety mechanism on the pepper spray. When you practice, mentally note when you would release the safety and practice the movement with a substitute. (We do not recommend that you actually release the safety in practice in case of an accident.) This should be a smooth motion and part of the drawing process.

Aim and Posture: Pepper spray is designed to cause facial irritation above all else, so that’s your target. However, you should never just hold it in front of you. Using the spray should be part of an overall self defense posture. Keep in mind that the attacker may be striking or grabbing at you while you draw the spray. To defend against being struck, grabbed or jostled, take a step back so that your knees are bent and your feet are more than shoulder width apart. Taking a step back creates distance, and reduces your profile, making it harder for the assailant to hit you. Keep both hands up, protecting your face and body. Do not push the hand holding the spray out so far that your ram is fully extended.

Center and Fan the Spray: One handy tip for properly aiming pepper spray is to look at the attacker’s face while bringing the spray in line with your eyes. Move them in one unit. When people feel threatened they often close their eyes, but don’t do this! It won’t protect you from any spray that comes your way and blinds you to any movement from your attacker. Once you release the spray, fan it back and forth to account for poor aim, the attacker’s movements and other factors.

Yell, Fight and Escape: Yell. YELL! Yell throughout the entire incident! “Stop it!” is a good catch all. You should actually practice this, because in many cases, surprise over an assault may otherwise render you speechless. And once you’ve used the spray enough to create an opportunity, get away as fast as you can. Pepper spray takes some time to work, so you have to shove, hit and run fast in addition to using the spray. You should also be prepared for the risk of being hit by some of the spray, since it scatters and can be affected by wind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Situational Awareness: The First Step to Using Any Self Defense Product

You need one critical thing to use a Taser gun, pepper spray or any other self defense product. That’s situational awareness: the ability to properly observe your surroundings, identify danger and understand your options for overcoming it. Without it, you won’t have an opportunity to protect yourself. You may not even see the danger coming.

Criminals rely on surprise; the kinds of duels you see in the movies almost never happen. Attackers don’t waste time threatening you first. They attack first, then threaten to exert more psychological leverage. The only exceptions are some bar fights and school fights, and in those cases, you can often get away simply by refusing to participate and removing yourself from the situation.

Situational awareness is one of the core concepts taught in policing and the military. You can notice things, but are you paying attention? Do you immediately think about your relationship with events around you? There are many ways of modeling this, including the OODA Loop in military aviation and SWOT Analysis in business and combat strategy. The average person can develop situational awareness by using a few simple principles.

Active Seeing and Listening: Many people walk down the street paying more attention to their inner monologues than the world around them. Instead, treat looking and listening as an active process. Look around you as you walk and think about what you see. Try to identify sounds. Don’t fixate on any one thing. As an avid hiker, I try to bring the sense of observation and exploration I feel on the trail with me around Atlanta, as it’s a very similar attitude.

Sense of Self and Others: You should develop a mental “landscape” where you pay attention to your place in the surrounding environment as well as where other people are. This includes paying attention to being observed. Are you being followed, or is someone just walking your way? How far away is from the nearest brightly lit location? Note that this is not paranoia or fear. Be cautious, but you should notice the positive as well as the negative. There are a lot of happy families and fun things out there. Notice them as well as potential sources of trouble.

Mental Rehearsal: You should mentally rehearse what you will do in case of danger. Do this as you’re out in the world. Where can you run? Would yelling for help do anything? How would you draw your pepper spray or a cell phone stun gun? Remember that you should assume a sudden attack without warning. If you do notice it coming, that’s a blessing. Visualize yourself resisting and surviving as soon as you make contact, and prevailing despite the assault. Again, if you do better that’s great, but be prepared for the worst.

Post-Situation Assessment: After the emergency, go through the previous three concepts. Look around to see if there’s more trouble. Assess yourself. After an assault you may have injuries you didn’t notice. Get away from other hazards and locate the nearest source of help. Even if you feel fine, do your civic duty and report the incident to the police. Even if they didn’t help you, your information helps them record and understand local crime trends.