Editor’s Note: Josh Campbell is a CNN analyst, providing insight on national security, crime, justice issues. He previously served as a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI, special assistant to the bureau’s director, and is currently writing a book on recent attempts by elected officials to undermine the rule of law. Follow him on Twitter at @joshscampbell. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
We live in an era where it is ridiculously easy for anyone with a grievance to get a deadly weapon and shoot people. And since feckless leadership from our policymakers has left us all with little confidence of any lasting change, each of us must unfortunately take proactive steps of our own to increase our chances of survival, should we encounter a situation like this weekend’s deadly shooting in Jacksonville, Florida.
The grim reality is that increasing our situational awareness may be the difference between life and death.
There is still much we do not know about the 24-year-old man who opened fire, killing two young men and wounding nine others before killing himself at the GLHF Game Bar Sunday afternoon. But in the coming days investigators will pore over his life, digital footprint, and associates in an effort to make sense of this violence.
The national conversation will turn, as it always does, to potential warning signs, missed signals, and the availability of guns on our streets. There will be anger from the public at the carnage, then calls for action, and then elected officials will quickly move on to other issues once the latest tragedy recedes into memory, as we return to our lives – helpless to do anything.
But are we?
Although concerned citizens must keep applying pressure on our representatives to act on issues of mental health that, along with shamefully easy access to weapons of war, produce mayhem in America, we must also realize there are small actions we can individually take to prepare for the day our own worlds are rocked by violence.
And for this, it will help to start thinking like a law enforcement officer.
At police and defensive academies around the country, instructors teach the “color code” concept made famous by the late security professional Jeff Cooper. Cooper suggested four conditions of situational awareness that help officers prepare to identify and respond to deadly force situations.
In condition White, an officer is completely oblivious – a state of mind no one recommends. In Yellow, a law enforcement professional is relaxed, but aware of their physical surroundings and the people around them. They are not overcome by paranoia, but naturally observe and process the actions of those nearby and mentally run through a series of “what if” scenarios.
In conditions Orange and Red, a police officer moves from identifying a potential threat to breaking leather and drawing their weapon.
From a practical standpoint for average citizens, it is condition Yellow that we should maintain while out in public, at the office, or in any environment over which we do not have complete control.
For example: When you’re out to dinner, do you know where the exits are located? At the school or office, have you thought of where you might go in the event of an active shooter? When you’re out for a run, where are the places on your route that may leave you the most vulnerable?
The time to gather this critical information and formulate a plan is well before tragedy strikes, since coursing of stress hormones and tunnel vision that occur when you are under threat make it nearly impossible to effectively assess surroundings and plan a response.
How many times have you seen someone walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, head buried in a smart phone or simply spacing out, unaware of the world around them? We’ve all seen it and we’ve all done it. If something begins to happen, how long would it take to snap out of it and react?
The goal in avoiding condition White and instead living in condition Yellow is not to achieve a state of debilitating paranoia that makes us afraid of living our lives normally for fear of becoming a victim, but merely to maintain a state of awareness to match the uncertain times in which we live.
A security professional talking about lessons learned so soon after a tragedy like the one in Jacksonville risks the appearance of questioning the response of those who were injured or killed. That is not the purpose here. I was not there, and never would I second-guess any victim’s actions from afar with the benefit of hindsight.
All indications are the shooter – himself a gamer – had what was on the surface a valid reason for being at the GLHF Game Bar Sunday. We cannot fault those who were simply there enjoying their day alongside him, unaware that something was terribly wrong.
But we can try to add a small element of situational awareness into our own lives going forward from this weekend, another in which a firearm was used against a crowd of innocent victims. It is a sad occurrence that has become all too common in modern day America, and one followed – like an endless loop that goes nowhere – by an outpouring of thoughts, prayers, and inaction by national leaders.