What Should I Do?

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

Every quarter as I ponder what I should write to you about as a part of our newsletter, I try to think of something that is worth your few minutes of reading time. I had a few things on my mind and was trying to narrow it down when something happened. Something out of my control. Something out of your control. Something that made history and has had a profound impact on all of us – Sunday, October 1, 2017, 10:08pm, Las Vegas, Nevada. It no longer mattered what I wanted to write. It was about what I needed to write.

Like so many others, when I first began hearing the initial news reports, questions bounced around my mind like a ping pong ball. Was this a planned terror attack, or was it a random act of violence? Do I know anyone who is currently visiting Las Vegas who might have been at risk? Then, as I followed the news reports, I began to form my initial, perhaps unfounded judgments, as all the facts were not yet available.

Next, I started asking myself: How I would react in similar circumstances? Would I duck for cover? Run from the scene? Would I try to protect others, both those that are familiar or those that were strangers? Would I think or would I just react? Would fear take over? Would I have some smidgen of intelligent response to preserve my safety? I sure don’t know the answer to these questions but you can bet they, and many others like them, have consumed my thoughts over the last few days.

Now, as time continues to inevitably move on, I have begun asking myself “What should I do?” I know I am not alone in this type of questioning. Many of us find ourselves sharing similar thoughts when tragedy strikes.

I struggle with the answer to this question because at this stage of my life, I know I am not going to become a law enforcement officer or get involved to great depths in the political scene. I am not going to scream or shout for more or less gun control, or more or less monitoring of suspicious persons—whether it be because of how they appear physically or mentally. I will leave that up to the experts.

But, I will react to this tragedy. We all will. In our own way, we will all answer the question “What should I do?” Although my reaction may be more subtle than others it will require a change in my behavior.

One of my personal hobbies is to read more about what is going on in the world. I consume more information about geopolitics from different sources that I ever have done in my past. It is something I find interesting and it challenges me to think about some pretty large issues. As events such as these have occurred around the world, I have become more aware of the environment around me. Security experts would refer to this as improving my situational awareness. While I don’t believe any of us should alter our lifestyle in response to events like these I do think we should be more aware of our surroundings. Here are a few thoughts for you to consider:

  • As you move around in the public environment, spend less time looking at your handheld devices and more time paying attention. Take some time to observe your surroundings and be aware when things might look a little different than they should. I am not suggesting you live in a state of paranoia, but be aware of where you are and what is going on around you. And, on the rare occasion when you sense that something is amiss, do something about it. Contact a nearby security official or other appropriate authority and inform them what you have seen. You might even use your handheld device to take an appropriate picture.

On a very limited number of occasions in the past, I have done what I suggest above by contacting building security personnel, a local enforcement officer and, in one case, a federal law enforcement officer. In all cases, nothing negative happened—no harmful event occurred. But I felt it was appropriate to act as I did and my comments were welcomed by all the individuals I addressed and they expressed their appreciation for my doing so. Consequently, I felt better. Like I had made a small contribution to public safety.

I am not suggesting we all act like we are in a 1984-ish, Orwellian environment. But I do think we owe it to ourselves, our loved ones and others around us to up our awareness game a little especially given the distracted world in which we live.

  • Many of you work in large office or other building and service environments. In many instances, these are somewhat protected by the use of security cards or other types of electronic controls for access and egress. But, that doesn’t mean we can assume that everyone who is in our place of business, the entertainment venue we are attending, even our local community activities – including churches – belongs there. Once again, don’t be paranoid, but be alert. If someone or something looks out of place in the building, on the subway platform, in the train station or the airport, don’t be afraid to point it out to appropriate personnel.
  • When you are in a public place, be aware of entrances and exits that you might need in any type of emergency. Pay attention to your physical surroundings and note areas of concealment and areas of cover. Recognize that an area of concealment, such as a wallboard panel in a shopping center will not provide sufficient cover, as would a vehicle, a brick wall or concrete abutment.
  • Ensure that your loved ones are familiar with basic security procedures and practices. Local schools, fire and police departments provide information about them and you should be well-acquainted with them. Have conversations about these types of issues and protections from time to time. It is important that everyone’s level of awareness is somewhat higher today than in the past. We must keep those close to us informed in an appropriate fashion. Think about how often we participate in office building fire drills – and really don’t listen to the instructions being given. We just want to get back to our cubicles. Or, answer this—when was the last time you paid attention to the security announcements that flight attendants make on the airline? It’s only a few additional minutes of our time to pay more attention to these messages.

Many friends and family members often harken back to the “good old days” when discussing some of these matters.

  • “When we were kids we would play all day in the summertime. Mom or dad would only be concerned that we were home for dinner.”
  • “We could ride our bikes all over the city or the countryside, past local businesses or local farms, neighbors would wave and say ‘Hi’”.
  • “We used to hang out at the mall regularly and we never thought about any harm coming to us.”

Why can’t it be like it was back then? Why do we have to worry about these things? We were never that concerned about where the kids were playing. We never had to pass through screening machines or walk by security guards to travel or to just get into the office or hospital.

But, it’s a different world. We need to understand that and up our games with respect to our own personal security. And remember, increasing our awareness does not mean we stop doing the things we enjoy or make major alterations to our lifestyle. It simply means we should be more situationally aware.

I hope that this article does not sound too much like the little boy who cried “Wolf”. None of us know how we would react in one of these tragic situations. But I hope it encourages you to think about your own level of awareness and personal security and helps you adapt as you feel necessary.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts. With respect to more details about this particular subject, if you are interested, I have a couple of newsletters that you might consider. Feel free to write me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com.