Violence in our society is getting increasing media attention. It also gets attention in the law offices, HR departments, security departments and police/fire/EMS agencies. Violence is here to stay, and while a decidedly unappealing topic of conversation, it’s a conversation we must have. Terrorism isn’t going away. Neither are people with mental health issues. Both of these factors are amplified by media attention to them and create copycats; arguably the single biggest factor in wanton violence.

Unfortunately, our traditional approach to active threats is wholly inappropriate — it’s backwards. A heart attack victim needs an AED and/or CPR within minutes to survive. A person facing violence needs help within seconds. The focus on police response for violence would be like looking to the ambulance or trauma center for help with cardiac arrest. It ignores the victim. If we approached medical emergencies like we do violence there would be no such thing as first aid or CPR.

More: Central York talks to parents, students about safety amid threats

Active threats take innumerable forms:  imminent danger posed by weapons, explosives, or the human body (hands, feet, heads, teeth, etc.). It’s not just shooting. And while we can’t prepare people for every contingency, but we can give them principles that are useful for most. Active threats are immediate problems which must be solved. To do this, the defender needs to understand certain things.

First, responding to violence requires proper assessment and decision making. Factors of time and distance must be taken in to account. Some folks have difficulty with this; especially if they haven’t experienced an assault or armed encounter.  The reactionary gap between seeing an assault and the time it takes to mount a defense is generally misunderstood. Bottom line: it takes more time to defend than attack. The Force Science Institute may be a good reference in understanding time and distance.

“CANE” is a method that can be used to train and educate people regarding the best response to active assailants. This includes employees, students, residents, etc. but it should start with supervisors and security staff. The assumption that someone knows something due to rank or job title must never be made. Managers need training. Protection officers need training. And line employees can’t be left in the line of fire.

CANE stands for: Cover/Concealment/Calming; Assessment; Notification and Escape/Engagement. Using the acronym as a guide helps ensure that all the bases are covered (no small task). It also helps present a broader, more holistic problem solving approach rather than dictating a set of responses to a singular threat scenario.

More: Central York talks to parents, students about safety amid threats

CANE can be used in teaching people how to respond to an active threat by experienced, qualified instructors, not just veteran law enforcement, security or military personnel, but folks with a background in firearms, defensive tactics, etc. All too often we aren’t critical enough about instructor qualifications. Instructors must also be able to relate to the learners and their needs. They can’t be arrogant and out of touch.

Students can’t be like some who think they know about violence from TV or the internet. Prior learning must be put aside and hopefully integrated later. Prior knowledge can’t block new information. Learners must also understand the importance of reiteration and repetition, even if it’s boring.  

Learners must approach this with an open mind.

— Chris Hertig, Spring Garden, has written and taught personal protection for over 30 years. This is Part I of a two-part series on responding to violence. Next up: Implementing CANE.


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