Nov 27

Christmas Shopping and Situational Awareness

We would all like to believe that nothing bad could happen while out navigating the crowds and various sales during the Christmas shopping season.  Sure the congestion is an inconvenience but for the most part everyone should be full of Holiday cheer, nothing really to worry about right?  Unfortunately that is not the case as there have been several recent incidents which all of us should be aware of.

Gunmen Kill Dozens in Terror Attack at Kenyan Mall

Parents hurled their bodies over their children, people jumped into ventilation shafts to save themselves, and shoppers huddled behind the plastic mannequins of designer clothing stores as two squads of gunmen believed to be linked to a Somali terrorist group moved through the mall, shooting shoppers in the head. Hours later, the mall’s gleaming floors were smeared with blood as police officers dashed through the corpse-strewn corridors, trying to find the assailants.

New Jersey mall gunman found dead hours after shooting

“He had more than enough opportunity to be able to shoot other people,” including a group adjacent to him, but he didn’t, Molinelli said. “Instead, he shot randomly at different locations.” Shots hit the ceiling, an escalator, an elevator and a storefront, the prosecutor said.

Mall Shooter Took Gun While Briefly Alone

The night before the Omaha mall shootings, Robert Hawkins’ mother went Christmas shopping for an hour. In that hour alone in his ex-stepfather’s house, reports the Omaha World-Herald, the 19-year-old stole the assault rifle he used to randomly kill eight people the next day. At dinner, Hawkins told his mother that he’d lost his job, but seemed “neutral.”

Clackamas Town Center shooting: 22 minutes of chaos and terror as a gunman meanders through the mall

“I was waiting for these two kids who were coming up next to sit in my lap, and then it was just this long string of pops,” said Wilson, 68. “I don’t know where that family went, because I just hit the floor as fast as an old guy like me can.”  He stayed down against the red carpet of Santaland for two or three minutes. He heard screams, pounding footsteps from the mall’s upper floor, the rattle of store gates rolling down and then a horrible silence.

Those are just a few examples of how things can get sideways really quick while out in the local shopping centers.  The common thread I noticed among all of those stories were the comments from bystanders or family members.  Almost all of them revolved around the fact that they couldn’t believe something like this could happen, but then again nobody believes anything bad can happen until it actually does.  I guess that’s the difference between being reactive and proactive.  That in mind I feel there are three reasons why, if you choose to go out into the Holiday chaos your SA level should be on high alert.

  • People are increasingly desperate / depressed during this time of year.  Maybe they have been out of work for a very long time or have been separated from family.
  • Large crowds in confined spaces equal plenty of targets for a would be shooter.
  • I’d have to imagine that from the terrorist’s perspective, what better time to strike fear into the hearts of everyday Americans than during the Christmas season.

So what can be done to mitigate the risk?  I guess the easiest answer would be to stay home and avoid the crowds altogether.  That’s my personal preference although sometimes it becomes impossible to do so.  I try to avoid the mall but still have to hit up a few local outlets to get my shopping done.  I can’t do mail order as my wife and daughter would spot the package and the surprise would be ruined.  Since staying home is not an option for me (and maybe you too) here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Get in and get out.  Don’t wander lazily around the store, the less time spent inside the better.
  • Keep your face out of your phone.  A basic one here, but it’s easy to get lost in a smartphone while out in public which obviously impacts one’s ability to pay attention to the surroundings.
  • Pay attention.  Nobody says you have to be 007 but just paying attention to what goes on around you is more than most will attempt to do.  If something seems out of place it might raise a flag.  Someone with a large backpack in a mall, someone with a large coat who doesn’t appear to have any interest in shopping (not moving like the rest of the herd) but rather appears to be somewhat distraught or angry.
  • Keep an eye out for the exits.  You don’t want to get crushed in a stampede for the main exit so make a point to identify other emergency exits.  We’d all like to believe that we could stay and fight it out with the bad guys but sometimes that option is simply not possible.
  • If there are large crowds gathering in one spot, try not to get stuck in the middle.  Work your way around the outside in order to get to your destination.
  • Be polite, smile, and use your manners.  Many times people are on edge while shopping, running late, fighting over the last sale item (read: turning into children).  No need to get caught up in that craziness, diffuse a situation before it occurs by remaining calm and keeping your cool.

If you have any more points to add feel free to do so in the comment section and remember to stay safe out there!



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  1. Yum Yucky

    I do love to shop but never really thought about situational awareness until now. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Gonna need me one of those predator invisibility cloaks if something goes down. 😉

  2. The Maj

    Very good points PJ.

    Also to consider this time of year is “tis the season” for home and vehicle break in’s. The crooks know cars and homes will be filled with gifts and many will be away from their homes during the holidays.

    They will usually start casing homes around Thanksgiving and hit targets of opportunity. If you see unusual cars or people in your neighborhood, go ahead and call the local PD/sheriff and tell them your concerns (along with vehicle descriptions). It will at least give them a starting point.

    1. PJ

      Great additional points Maj. I definitely stay on the look out for suspicious vehicles because you never know who might try to take advantage of you when your guard appears to be down.

  3. Mike Clifford

    Situational Awareness was drilled into us when I took my CCW class in MI. Take for instance filling your car with gas, even if you have a S&W M&P .357 on your hip. I stare at the numbers like a zombie completely unaware of anything around me and a mugger could get the drop on me easily. Now try to pump with your back to the truck checking your perimeter and imaging where a perp would approach from. This should be done all day regardless of where you are.

    This skill takes a lot of time to master and I constantly drift back to zombieland.

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