One of my friends related a situation that happened to her. She was at a conference when an alarm sounds instructing everyone to evacuate the hotel. No siren, just flashing fire alarms and the voice telling the guests to evacuate.

Not one of the attendees at this professional conference moved until the speaker told them to evacuate.

We discussed this on the Book of Face as to why no one moved or reacted. There was some discussion that we’ve become so inured to alarms, our reactions are muted. That may be part of it, but I wonder if because it wasn’t a traditional alarm, there wasn’t the automatic reflex to evacuate.

What are the lessons?

1. Plan. “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” No matter where you are or who you’re with, you need to plan. If I need to leave in a hurry, where are the exits? Where are the most likely areas an attack could come from, and what actions can I take to deter and what tools do I need to protect myself and those under my care? Don’t just make one plan. Try to have at least three for the most common situations. Planning also means having the tools available. Do you have a gun, knife, flashlight, lighter, and/or first-aid kit? If you can’t carry some of these items, do you have something that can substitute for them? Have you trained in shooting, fighting, first-aid? These are all parts of planning for emergencies before they happen.

2. Be aware. When something unusual appears in your environment, you can’t just brush it off. It may be an unlocked door, a suspicious person, or an unfamiliar alarm. If it sets off your “spidey-sense,” it did so for a reason.

3. Act. All of your planning and awareness is useless if you don’t act. It can be hard to be the first one in a professional conference to stand up and walk out while everyone stands there. It may be difficult to call about a suspicious person because of fear of falsely accusing someone. Don’t be afraid to act, and don’t be afraid to tell other people to act. They may be thinking the same as you, but need that small kick in the pants to get moving.

4. React, Adapt, and Overcome. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” You can’t plan for everything. There will be something that your plan didn’t take into account. This is where a level head and constant evaluation is necessary. In many ways, this is Plan, Be Aware, and Act at light speed. I know, “How do you plan for the unexpected?” Some of this will be helped by planning, it may just not be a plan you had for the original situation. Having a large “database” of plans and reactions can help when confronted with new situations. Also, being aware of alternate uses for the tools you have and the items in the environment is extremely helpful. The most important component of this is still to keep thinking. The situation doesn’t end when you put your plan into action, it ends when you are out of harm’s way.

5. Evaluation. Once the emergency is passed and everyone is safe, you have to evaluate the incident. Best to start as soon as possible, when the details are fresh. Try to have as many sources as possible to overcome your own perception issues. Ask “What went wrong/right?”; “Was there a better way?”; “What tools/training would have made this easier?”

6. Communicate. Talk with your friends and family so they can learn from your experience. Post it on Facebook, your blog, whatever. Don’t just keep it to yourself. Most of what I’ve learned isn’t because I’ve been in those situations, but because I’ve studied what others have done.

To help kick start this process, I would highly recommend the Practical Defense podcast.