Pre-Attack Indicators

While we do post about the ridiculous on occassion, for the most part we try to keep things (semi) serious on this blog. Humor is necessary, but the reality is that working Security in any type of setting is dangerous. Add alcohol to the mix (no pun intended) and the potential for violence and danger increases. I’d like to touch on a subject that is often overlooked by many when discussing violence: the physical signs that an individual will exhibit prior to attacking.

If you look back through the various posts I have written Use of Force, the focus tends to be on what you as individual or your Staff should be doing to mitigate violent reactions. But how do you know whether or not an individual is about to be violent? Is there a way to tell? As a matter of fact, yes. But first you need to understand the “Why” of how a body under stress – in this case, adrenaline – works.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

We’ve all heard the saying “fight or flight” and it is exactly what it sounds like. When your body is dumping adrenaline into your system, whether you are amped and want to attack (fight) or scared and want to run (flight), there are physiological changes that your body will experience:

  • Time Distortion — Time slows or speeds up.
  • Depth perception/Visual Distortion — Things appear closer or larger than they are.
  • Tunnel Vision — Peripheral vision will crop away and all you see is the perceived threat.
  • Auditory Exclusion — Partial or total loss of hearing.
  • Pain Tolerance — While damage may still be done, you won’t necessarily feel it. Many people die of their injuries AFTER a violent confrontation due to the fact that they don’t feel anything during the confrontation.
  • Speed and Strength Increase — Known as the “mother lifting the car off the baby” symptom. Yes, it is possible. But no one ever discusses the fact that there are usually physical injuries that accompany these acts. Remember pain tolerance?
  • Fine Motor Movement Decay — This is also known as loss of fine motor skills. You probably won’t be able to tie your shoes, much less dial a cell phone.
  • Changes in blood flow/heartbeat – This is due to the body wanting to divert blood where it is most needed to oxygenate your body.
  • Changes in respiratory rate — From fast, sharp inhales to hyperventilation, your body will do it.
  • Unconscious Muscle Tension — Clenching or relaxation of  muscles.
  • Mono-emotion/Emotional Detachment — Anger, Fear, Happiness, Sadness. One emotion will block out the others. It is possible that there will be NO emotion attached to what you are doing.
  • Bladder/Bowel Release — This is your body removing what it feels is “excess” in order for you to fight or run.

These effects will be seen in EVERYONE in some way, regardless of how experienced they are with working in an adrenal state. So how can we spot someone in an adrenal state, with violent intentions? Actually, it is pretty easy if you know what to look for in the moment.

The first thing to consider is what circumstances lead to this individual being angry or agitated? Did you just break up a fight? Has a couple been arguing loudly? Was a Patron just ejected from the bar? Is it the way you have been interacting with them? Any of these could lead to an angry action or reaction towards you.

PRE-ATTACK INDICATORS

Muscle Contraction: Remember that unconscious muscle tension? Well, this is where you will see it. Clenching of the jaw, baring of the teeth, clenching and unclenching of the fists, tensing of the neck muscles, puffing of the chest, even tightening or shrugging of the shoulders. All of these are possible indicators that the body is preparing for an assault.

Blinking eyes: Most people blink an average of about 20 times per minute, or every 3 seconds. However, under the effects of adrenaline this can leap to double or triple that rate (40 to 60 times per minute). Have you ever heard of the “thousand yard stare?” This can happen if the body takes the opposite adrenal approach and slows its blinking rate to 2-4 blinks per minute. It’s as if the individual is looking “through” you.

Blading: There are different names for this body movement: “the fighting stance,” “boxer’s stance”, “squaring up”, but they all indicate that an attack is imminent.  The stance is demonstrated by a shift in weight, with the strong side (or leg) usually place behind the aggressor. If you see this, prepare yourself for physical interaction.

Targeting:  Some people know this as “sizing up an opponent”. While the individual may indeed be checking what size you are, they are more than likely trying to decide which part of you to attack first. An individual preparing to attack will “target” a particular part of your body: chin, throat, eyes, etc.  If they are fixating on a part of your body – or on your weapon – be prepared.

Scanning: Scanning means the person in front of you is looking at everything but you. There is usually little to no direct eye contact. Why? Well, they are looking at their environment: scanning it for escape routes, witnesses, his buddies (or backup), or your co-workers. They are preparing to attack you and get out – or figuring out whether or not it is safe to do so.

Flanking: This is movement by multiple individuals in order to attain the best possible position for an attack. While you are distracted by the individual in front of you, his compatriots are coming around your side. Even more reason for you to be aware and to have back up!

One thing to keep in mind is that the majority of these displays are sub-conscious, meaning that the individual exhibiting them may not be aware of that fact that they are doing so. When dealing with an individual in an agitated state, keep your cool, keep you distance, call for back up, and PAY ATTENTION!   Buying yourself just a little time with an agitated individual may just keep you out of the hospital…or worse.

Until next time…

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