Asking ‘what if’ is a good way to plan for personal safety, local expert says

Expats should do some safety planning before an unfortunate incident occurs in a new culture, according to Darren Friesen, who stresses situational awareness.

Friesen operates an academy in Alajuela specializing in reality-based self-defense and contributes from time to time his opinions on personal safety  to A.M. Costa Rica.

“Go over in your mind, what could I do if….? Who would I or could I rely on when….? If this were to happen, I’d….it could save your life,” he said as a caution to expats.

Although he is a martial arts instructor, he preaches avoidance of tense situations for expats. But if there is no way out, he says that the No. 1 skill to develop over time is to examine surroundings for potential weapons such as hair spray, cup of hot tea, scissors, paper weights, umbrella, keys, water bottles even clothing that can be used for what he called environmental weapons.

He has these other suggestions for expats venturing out where they might encounter trouble:

1. Always examine your surroundings to avoid ambush attacks from dark areas, cigarette smoke, obstacles, near flight transportation (bus, car, train), length of time to safety. Are you capable of running that far. How is your physical fitness? Are there security guards present or police there who can and will help. This mindset includes escape paths/strategies.

2. Dress comfortably when possible, keep your hands free, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to act if needed.

3. Avoid the victim mentality and appearance. This means using powerful body language that gives off an air of self-confidence and a hard target.

Criminals often look for targets who appear: distracted, weak, pale, fearful and carry themselves in an unsure, nervous manner; remember, they oftentimes want a victim, not a fight.

4. Don’t let testosterone get in the way. Resist challenging others and give another person the option to avoid conflict through an honorable way out. Often a fight can be avoided with a little common sense. Act confident not arrogant. Don’t insult or taunt. Don’t challenge or make crude remarks. Don’t leave them optionless as it may be something very minor that triggered the reaction and violence can very easily be avoided.

5. Use tactics that mislead an attacker:  Act crazy or disgusting or pretend to call out for help from friends in the area. Even criminals are often leery of seemingly unstable behavior or the cavalry coming to help.

6. Sit or walk with your back to the wall. If in a restaurant or bar environment, try and sit with your back to the wall so you can have a clear picture of everything going on around you in the room. If walking, keep a wall to one side of you to limit the possibilities of a potential surprise attack.

7. Cellphones, iPads and iPods can distract your senses in public. Be aware and pay attention to the people around you and their body language.

8. Change your routine, your route home, your habits, the time you leave the office. Do anything that can prevent someone from picking up on your daily activities. And never put your holiday times, locations and the whens and wheres of your leaving home on social media. Many a home invasion or stalking has started this way.

9. Some locations are more exposed and popular for certain types of crime: outside of airports or hotels and other tourist places are known for high pick pocketing rates, outside of ATMs are known for holdups or high-tech ATM scams to take your money.

Expats should be aware of these higher-risk areas.

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