Top 10 Personal Safety Tips – How To Keep Yourself Safe

By Constable Anne Longley
Community & Public Affairs Vancouver Police Department

Everyone knows the sayings, “Don’t walk alone down a dark alley,” or “Be aware of your surroundings,” but how often do you actually think about strategies to keep yourself and your family safe?  In the tradition of Dave Letterman’s Top 10, here are my Top Ten Personal Safety Tips:

10.     If it’s predictable, it’s preventable. 

This is where common sense rules and you should trust your gut or intuition, and change your action to stay out of harm’s way.  If you know something is not a good idea, don’t do it.

9.        Prevention is the key. 

Keep in mind that criminals or predators plan their events, choose their victims and predict their outcomes. A predator needs intent, the means to commit an act and, most importantly, the opportunity.  For the victim, the outcome is uncertain, the event is unplanned and the attack is often a surprise.  Do not create this opportunity by taking unnecessary risks that could be prevented by choosing a different course of action from the outset.

8.        Fail to plan?  Plan to fail. 

If you’re taking a trip or planning an evening out, do you know the route you’re taking ahead of time?  Do you find out whether parking is available or how far away it is?  Know where you’re going and plan your route and details ahead of time, and avoid areas that may be unsafe. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.   Another part of planning and preparing for the unexpected is to carry or store both car and home emergency kits.

7.        Think tactically! 

This is a police term, as we like to plan and practice “What would you do if…” to prepare for situations ahead of time.  When you’re driving or walking to work, think about situations that may occur and how you would respond.  What would you do if there was an aggressive panhandler approaching you on the street? How would you deal with an intoxicated person acting out at the bus stop and causing a disturbance?  What would you do if someone tried to snatch your purse, or you were in a bank when it was being robbed?  These scenarios aren’t meant to make you paranoid, but to get you thinking tactically about what you would do and how you would respond if faced with unexpected situations. Discuss situations with your family –- especially children -– about what to do in certain situations. You don’t want to leave it to chance to determine the outcome.

6.        Practice, practice, practice. 

It’s great to think about what you would do, but you also need to practice. Do some role playing with a family member or friend to see if you are comfortable and capable of “doing” the actions that go along with your tactical thinking. Can you scream loudly for help when you need to?  Are you able to push someone out of the way using a palm heel strike to their chest? If you don’t feel confident about your own abilities, seek out some self defense classes that could give you the confidence and techniques.

5.        Personal preparation – what does your body language say about you?

Do you…

  • walk tall with your head high?
  • look where you’re going?  (no texting!)
  • walk with purpose and confidence and know where you’re going?
  • use eye contact to your advantage to let someone know you’ve seen them?

4.        Use the 3 Ds…defuse, disengage and defend.

Usually, the first line of defense is verbal, and that’s where defuse comes in.  We often call this “verbal judo” and the goal is to let the person know they’ve been heard while trying to keep them calm and defuse the situation. The type of language used is different for everyone, but learn some phrases that work for you.

Here are some examples:

  • “I can understand why you’re upset, but if you can lower your voice I’ll be able to help you with your problem.”
  • “Sir, I’m not ignoring you and want to hear what you have to say, but you’ll need to calm down first.”

If verbally defusing the situation isn’t working, then it’s time to disengage and make sure there is a safe distance between you and them. This is where you want to be giving clear verbal warnings for the person to stay back.

The third D is to defend. Sometimes the 3 Ds can move rapidly, and there isn’t much time to do the first two, so you must be prepared to defend yourself if you are in danger.  

3.        Know your rights.

You are justified in using force to defend yourself (or anyone else under your protection) from assault, by using no more force than is necessary to prevent the assault. In other words, as long as you use only as much force as is necessary to defend yourself, then it is justified.

2.        Fight or flight? 

This is a basic autonomic body response to threats and stressful situations. Do you know what you will do — will you want to turn and run, or stand and fight? With adrenalin coursing through your body, you may experience shallow or rapid breathing, a narrowed field of vision and loss of fine motor control, all of which can impact your ability to react.

1.        Adopt a winning mindset.

If you’re faced with a life-threatening situation, you MUST believe that you will win the fight and survive the attack. This is where your visualization of what you’re going to do and practicing how you will react to situations will help you survive. Never give up!

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