RESTON, Virginia – Increased terrorism around the world means an increased risk for travelers – but that doesn't mean you need to throw away your passport and stay home.
At the Center for Personal Protection and Safety in Reston, Virginia, instructors help frequent travelers learn how to spot trouble and respond to anything from a terror attack to a pickpocket.
"We're living in a pretty extreme world environment right now. There have always been risks, but we're seeing areas that have traditionally been pretty safe to travel to, that as you look at extremism, terrorism--areas like Paris, Nice, France, Belgium, even London – we're seeing other types of risk that historically just haven't been there," said the center's CEO, Randy Spivey.
Practicing Situational Awareness
One participant at a recent training course says she's preparing for an upcoming trip to Europe.
"We're already planning, how will we carry ourselves, what will we carry with us, how will we respond to crowds and all those kinds of things, so its very useful for us right now," she said.
Spivey points out that situational awareness is needed by more than just frequent travelers.
"If you think about it, the skills we taught today apply when you travel but they apply when you walk around Norfolk, Virginia, as well, because we're teaching how do you recognize potential warning signs before they occur," Spivey explained.
Staying Calm in a Crisis
Knowing how to react in a crisis can pay off in the rare event that you find yourself involved in one.
"There's a huge difference in how people who are trained, versus untrained, respond in a crisis...An untrained individual, if they find themselves in that crisis, they're going to be startled, afraid and then more than likely they're going to freeze and lock up. A trained individual is going to be able, they'll be startled and afraid but then they'll recognize, 'Oh I have some options,' and then they're able to move with purposeful action," said Spivey.
Learning 'Stress Inoculation'
CPPS uses a training method called stress inoculation. Through realistic role play, participants must respond the way they might if they were actually in a crisis. Reactions include increased blood pressure, feeling shaky and having trouble putting together thoughts.
"With the intensity of his voice it really became more and more real, so it did get more stressful with his continued fidgeting and the gun and the high pitch," one participant said after going through the role playing exercise. "I forgot in a lot of ways that it was a training, it felt real," she said.
What if a Terrorist Asks, 'Are You a Christian?'
One scenario involved terrorists demanding Christians raise their hands. According to Spivey, this is where people often make a mistake.
"They feel like they have to answer that, to answer it 'no' would be denying their faith, to answer it 'yes', they wind up getting shot. And so what we try and teach people is it's not denying your faith to not answer that question or to answer it with something other than yes or no. You might be able to respond with, 'You know, I am a person of faith' or 'I'm so scared right now I'm having a hard time even thinking about what you're asking me,'" Spivey said.
He believes that refusing to confirm that you are a Christian doesn't deny your faith, it takes away the legitimacy of the person asking the question.
The initial capture phase of a hostage situation is the most dangerous.
"You have individuals who are trying to come in and take control of a situation and they're not in control," Spivey explained.
He says to remember three C's to help get out of trouble: Calm, Connect, and Capitalize. Be a calming influence, especially at first. Connect with your captor on a personal level to become more than an object and then capitalize by encouraging a negotiated release.
In today's world it's about reaching a balance between two extremes – paranoia and oblivion. Being somewhere in the middle might just save your life.