Julie Richman mug - new Oct. 2022 - for Tribune column

Julie Richman

If you were in school in the 1950s or 60s, you probably remember Duck and Cover. Dive under your desk and cover your head. Do it fast and keep quiet. Duck and cover drills began when the U.S. feared a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Emergency preparedness programs were created and drills were practiced across America. Adults sought reassurance that at a moment’s notice, every child would know what to do. Be prepared just like the Girl and Boy Scout mottos.

On April 20, 1999, two teenagers murdered 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School. That tragedy ushered in an era that is now all too familiar, the mass shooting era. According to research, since Columbine there have been 377 mass shootings in American schools. After Columbine, schools started holding active shooter drills to prepare teachers and students in case someone came into the building with a weapon. Some schools taught the 3-step ABC method: Avoidance, Barricade, and Confront. Another method is Run, Hide, Fight. A third widely-used approach is ALICE which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate. Reports now indicate that nearly 95% of schools use active shooter drills throughout the year. By the time high school graduation comes around, students may have participated in hundreds of drills. It’s logical that the more that kids practice these drills, the more prepared they’ll be if a situation occurs. Practice can enable muscle memory which is an automatic, subconscious action carried out because of repetition of the action. Do it over and over until it’s automatic.

Step-by-step methods like ABC and ALICE are used in many professions. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) are taught to Think Fast to determine whether someone has had a stroke. Using the FAST method, EMTs look for indications of a stroke in the person’s Face, Arm and Speech. After these 3 steps, it’s Time to call 911. First aid protocol teaches the ABC method: Airway, Breathing and CPR. In case of a fire, some people are trained to RACE: Rescue/Remove, Alarm/Alert, Confine/Contain, Extinguish/Evacuate. There are many methods like these, but little research on how effectively such methods can be learned. Yet, most people believe that memorizing them is essential and practice makes perfect.

To fend off an attack from someone, consider using the three Ds: De-escalate, Disengage, Defend. Each of the Ds requires skill and practice because they’re used in situations of surprise, threat, and fear. Although Fight or Flight is an instinct, none of these step-by-step methods are natural. Because of that, most self-defense classes start by educating people to avoid dangerous situations. Beware of your surroundings. Look for escape routes ahead of time. Don’t walk or run alone and avoid isolated areas. Go to social events with a group and don’t accept drinks from strangers. Keep your cell phone charged and easily accessible. Bring a taser if you know how to use it.

Avoiding dangerous situations is important, but when faced with a serious threat, self-defense techniques may help. Punch the attackers eyes, groin or windpipe and be prepared to do it forcefully. Scratch them with your fingernails and use your elbows as weapons. Carry and use a whistle, a taser, or pepper spray. If you’re armed with a gun, know when and how to use it properly.

Routinely, sexual assault victims are questioned about such techniques especially in court. In New York, a highly publicized civil trial has been underway regarding E. Jean Carroll’s accusation of rape against Donald Trump. Carroll is suing him for battery and defamation. The way Ms. Carroll has been questioned by Trump’s attorney reveals some of the assumptions people make about handling threatening situations. During three days of questioning, Trump’s attorney asked Carroll, “You never screamed for help?” Ms. Carroll had pushed him off of her, stomped on his foot, hit him with her purse and kneed him all while being pushed against a wall in a department store dressing room. She stated she was “in too much of a panic to scream, I was fighting.” In a trial against an Oscar winning director, the attorney asked the plaintiff, “You never once kicked him, am I right?” In a case against a Canadian man, the attorney said, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” Some other examples: “You stayed in the room where you say you were attacked?” was asked in a lawsuit against a powerful Hollywood producer. “Did you twerk?” was posed in a case against a Grammy award winning musician.

Does it all come down to that simple Girl Scout rule to be prepared? Count on our muscle memory because we’ve practiced self-defense moves over and over? Carry a whistle. Carry mace. Hold car keys with a key pointing out from between the fingers of your stronger hand. Park in a well-lit place. Never travel alone. Walk with confidence and purpose. Get certified in self-defense techniques and be prepared to use them. Carry a gun in your purse or backpack, know how to use it properly, and be prepared to use it.

If only we could memorize the foolproof actions to do in the correct order time after time. Above all, don’t forget to scream.

Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at jdrichman6845@msn.com.