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June 17, 2012, Sunday

Awareness and avoidance

It can be scary to read about acts of violence, but it is a reality of life. Knowing how to protect yourself can save your life. Nobody likes talking about doom and gloom, but as my brother says these days, you should always keep your guard up as though everyone is out to hurt you until proven differently.

In my previous piece, “Travel, terrorism and tips” (June 16), I explored the topic of travel and terrorism and gave a few basic tips on what to do when in a situation where you need to defend yourself. These days nations have to be aware of potential threats of terrorism and expats should be prepared to manage crises and emergencies abroad.

Western nations perceive terrorists as being members of al-Qaeda, or individuals who have splintered from a larger group of extremists and say they are committed to using all of the legitimate tools of law enforcement to combat tyranny. As I mentioned in my last piece, terrorism is an act of violence against innocent victims with the aim to create fear and to cause political or social change. It could happen anywhere -- in your hometown or abroad. In this day and age there is no such thing as 100 percent security.

While I was back in the United States recently, I was having coffee with my brother, who is retired from law enforcement and the military. He wanted to give me some advice on this subject that is close to his heart as he is concerned for me living abroad. However, to make his point on avoiding crowds, he used an example that happened in the state where I was born: the story of two boys, aged 11 and 13, who in 2008 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, pulled off an ambush by pulling the fire alarm at a school. The boys pulled the fire alarm and then were able to shoot and kill five and wound 10 at the school. Other similar incidents have occurred around the world since then. When I hugged my brother and said goodbye to him, we agreed that really nowhere is safe and expressed how we hope to see each other again soon.

Acts of ambush, attack and terrorism can happen anywhere. The US Embassy in Turkey sends out notices to citizens to inform people about planned protests held at Taksim Square and Kadıköy Square in İstanbul. The State Department website and emails sent from the US Embassy advise US citizens traveling or residing in Turkey to be alert to the potential for terrorist-related violence and/or violent protests. It is a precaution to periodically remind people of the fluid security situation in Turkey and the need to maintain constant awareness of one’s surroundings.

The British Embassy and Consulate also post, as necessary, on their website helpful information. Whether it is a terrorist act or another form of violence, the attacker, thief, rapist, kidnapper or ambusher seeks an element of surprise, anonymity and speed of action. The more of these that are denied, the less the chance of attack! The long and short of it is to take prudent steps to ensure your personal safety: remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings; listen to news reports; avoid crowds and demonstrations; and vary times and routes for all travel. To be honest, it is probably wise to practice this at home or abroad. You may just keep your home or work place from being burgled or God forbid -- something worse!

Last weekend a visitor staying in the Kadıköy area mentioned to me that he saw a crowd gathered at the main square and wondered what was going on. My visitor said he was curious but stayed away. He remembered that curiosity killed the cat.

Being aware of the environment around you is crucial. Try to understand the overall threat level of the country where you are; and its region, and the local city, town or village. Crisis management experts call this environmental awareness. It is good to also develop the skill of knowing what is normal and what is not normal where you are. Situational awareness means continuous observance and diligence and the ability to distinguish threats. Awareness is the key that can save a life!

Definitely the best place to be when an attack or crisis occurs is nowhere near!

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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