When operating in unfamiliar or potentially threatening environments, it’s best to look as much like a local as possible. But if you are ethnically challenged, like a Viking in Bangkok, for example, you’ll need to closely observe the ebbs, flows and habits of the local populace so you won’t stand out in ways you can control. Stick to neutral utilitarian clothing that resembles the local garb. But no matter how you dress, being alert and aware but not aggressive or apparently lost will help keep you off many predators’ radar and give you the early warning you need to prepare for conflict.
The best way to avoid trouble is to not let it find you. You are not traveling with an armed platoon of paratroopers, so taking the offensive in the face of a threat is a poor choice unless it’s the only choice. Avoidance means staying away from not just the unfamiliar but also the potentially compromising routes and structures. For example, well-lit streets are always preferable to darker alleys. If it takes extra time to take a safer route, take the extra time.
Remember that attacks can defy all common sense and are perpetrated because the attacker believes that they can get away with it. Such people are also on their home turf and know the terrain. They know the response times and perhaps the families of local law enforcement, and they know the back eddies where strangers get lost, slow down or become disoriented. If you find yourself in one of these areas, retreat to the light. This means moving toward well-lit and crowded areas where a potential attacker knows he is more likely to be seen launching an attack or caught fleeing from one. Sometimes avoiding an attack is a simple matter of putting people between you and the potential attacker.
Public places such as hotels, train stations and restaurants are rarely the first choice for an attacker. However, the “in between” places that create choke points between common public areas should be avoided or moved through quickly. For example, if a popular restaurant requires a short walk down a dark street to get to a taxi, it is more prudent to wait for a small group to leave and walk with them, or proceed with utmost caution.
Upon entering the street, the same rules apply as good driving: Looking deep down the street can tell wonders. I have been in countries where everything was normal in my immediate area but full-blown riots were taking place two blocks away, complete with Molotov cocktails and street brawls with steel pipes and armor-clad police. What was truly amazing was to watch how many Westerners would walk in oblivion straight toward the riot until eventually looking up and scampering off in the opposite direction.</br></br> “The same rules apply when coming to an intersection of a street: Assessment begins taking place before you even get to the intersection. Think of intersections in the same way as you would a door.”
When in a particularly dangerous area, you should take an assessment of the street before you even walk out of the doorway of a building. For example, if you are in a hotel or restaurant and preparing to leave, make an assessment of your immediate surroundings before you get to the front door. Are street noises absent or the very opposite? Any of these can lead you to believe that there is a potential problem. Once you can see out the door — but are still not at the door — what does the street look like? Are people running? Is there a crowd? Just as importantly, is the street now mysteriously deserted?
We asked Jeff Kirkham for his preferred assessment method. Kirkham is a retired Green Beret Master Sergeant, so it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about. “Once at the door, a snapshot assessment should be made of the area,” says Kirkham. “The snapshot should be to the left, right, up and down — yes, down: Walking through open sewage that is a cesspool of disease will kill you just the same as a punk with a sharp piece of scrap metal.</br></br> “It is important to understand that ‘deserted’ has a broad definition that’s subject to interpretation. Is the street deserted of normal activity? Are the taxis nowhere to be seen, or are the drivers missing from their taxicabs? One of the biggest telltale signs of potential danger is the presence (or absence) of children. If you look into a street and the only people present are men, this can be a major indication of brewing trouble.
Depending on your situation, you’ll likely depend on someone else for your transportation or at least to fuel your own vehicle. Both cabs and gas stations can be vulnerable to ambushes, but given prudent measures, most problems can be averted.</br></br> When riding in cabs, know your route before you get into the car. Many local cabbies might have preferred routes, which could save you time and money, but be aware of where you are as well as your route. Most importantly, read the vibe of the driver. For a crooked cabbie intent on driving you into a trap, you are a mere target of opportunity, and they will get a cut of whatever their partners in crime take from you. Pretending to get sick is a good way to get a cabbie to pull over and let you out. If you feel the environment is particularly shady, keep your baggage in the seat with you when possible. This will prevent them from driving off with your property.
Gas stations are particularly vulnerable travel locations. Many times, drivers will pull up to a pump, open the door to their car, which blocks their exit to the front, and insert the hose into the tank, blocking themselves in with the hose. At this point, they take out their wallets, insert their credit card and enter their PIN. A potential attacker now has them trapped with their cash out, keys available and car open—not a place you want to be. </br></br> To avoid this, take a lap around the gas station — perhaps more than one if you are arriving at night. If you detect nervous-eyed patrons or vagrants eyeing your vehicle suspiciously, move on to the next station. When you do choose to stop and fill your tank, take a look around your vehicle before you unlock the doors and exit. Pull forward of the pump, and don’t block yourself in with the door. Take a second look around before you take out your wallet and always lock your vehicle if you enter the gas station. Predators will know you are likely going to use the restroom and will wait until you can no longer see your vehicle to attempt entry.
Basic adjustments such as paying a little more for a nicer hotel in a better part of town can sidestep a large percentage of problems simply by avoiding the proximity of those who would do you harm.
Imagine yourself in a city you have never visited, around people you don’t know and with limited resources. You are not in a position to change anything, but must find a way to adapt and avoid danger. Where do you start and how do you proceed? You must think “gray” and adopt a “switched on” mindset, which is the key to executing simple and intelligent practices consistently.
Who Is The “Gray Man”?
We frequently hear the term “Be the Gray Man,” but what does that mean, and is it even worth emulating? To some, the Gray Man is someone who could be anyone — a person who is capable of stepping in and out of compromising scenarios without being noticed or threatened. That’s great if you are a highly trained assassin, but for the average person in an unfamiliar and potentially threatening environment, being “gray” means not being a target for predators.
The Gray Man, for those without a van full of intelligence agents and geosynchronous satellites tracking their every move, is the guy who presents no particular reward for an attack, but also does not appear to be a weakling waiting to be victimized. The Gray Man is in between. He is neither blinged-out nor loud, but also not a head-down, foot-shuffling sheep. What does this mean to the average person?
Ultimately, being the Gray Man is about a mindset and means flowing through locations and scenarios that allow you to avoid problems, survive and ultimately return to safety and loved ones. Scroll through the gallery above to learn about 10 ways to blend in and survive.
For more information, visit http://www.readyman.com, an online training and readiness community. Len Waldron and Jeff Kirkham, the authors of this story, created Readyman to help people prepare for the unexpected.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of BALLISTIC™ magazine. Print Subscriptions are available here.
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