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In this section we discuss: The Three Principles of Personal Security, Coopers Colour Codes. Learning how to look after your Principal by looking after yourself and Understanding the link between Adrenalin and Awareness
Like the landscape gardener who’s grass at home always needs cutting, and the painter’s house in dire need of decorating, the security operative should never be guilty of neglecting the security of his most important asset, himself. Being an expert in security and security systems is how a Close Protection Officer earns a living, but ‘personal security’ has nothing to do with making a living; it’s about ‘living’ and about how you live. A part of us has to be given up entirely to monitor our personal security. We should not do anything in life without considering what impact our actions or surroundings will have on our security.
On many occasions, operators who are the most diligent persons at work are sometimes the same ones that do not check under their own vehicles, and let strangers, such as meter readers, into their own home without scrutinising identity cards. They would never be this negligent during their ‘working day’, but allow themselves to switch off at home.
When a Close Protection Officer takes on an assignment, he or she can place him/herself in the very same danger that their client faces. In fact, their very association with their new client can make the Close Protection Officer a legitimate target in their own right. Targeting members of the security team to ‘get at’ the Principal is not uncommon. Officers may be followed home and then put under duress with threats to their family if they do not give away information. They might simply be captured and tortured for the information that they have, or they could be harmed just to send a ‘message’ to the Principal. This means that the protection officer must make every effort to ensure his personal security procedures are effective.
To ensure our personal security, many of the security measures that we carry out on a daily basis for our client must be carried over into our private lives, ensuring that we, and our families, are never followed, that our houses are secure, and that we have laid down procedures for action to be taken in the event of attacks. These attacks might include shooting, bombs, telephone threats, kidnap attempts, etc. Not forgetting fire, flood, earthquake and tidal waves and the hundred and one other things that may have an impact on our personal security.
Much of the time, most Close Protection Officers are working away from home. So it’s even more important that their families are security conscious and exercise good personal security. The Close Protection Officer’s family might be inclined to leave all the security planning to the Close Protection officer in the family! Nevertheless, as we will learn later, they are ultimately responsible for their own security and should be one hundred percent involved in it. Criminal and terrorist organisations have used families of the security officer to put pressure on him or her to assist them in their objective(s). Do not let it be you or yours.
The personal security issues we deal with from here onwards apply to everyone, no matter what their occupation. You have a moral duty to ensure that anyone important to you is at least made to understand the principles of personal security. There are only three of them. These three Principals should form the basis of your personal security whether you are working as a BG or not. They are principles that you live by in your normal daily life. It is difficult – if not impossible – to put the three principles of personal security into an order of importance as they are equally important.
- Everyone is Responsible for their own Security.
- Security should be Commensurate with the Threat.
- Constant Awareness is the basis of Good Security
Everyone is responsible for their own security
This means you! And it means your Principal, and for that matter your wife or your husband; all of these people are responsible for their own security. No adult can entirely hand over the responsibility for their security to another. When we go shopping, do we hand over all of our own security responsibility to the security officer at the entrance with the blazer and two-way radio? If we are walking alone at night, are we relaxed about our own security just because there are some closed circuit TV cameras in the area? Of course not! We are ultimately responsible for our own safety and security. It is when we take our own or our family’s security for granted that we will be taken by surprise when our security is breached. Also, as we will learn later, it is when we are surprised, that we are at our weakest.
A VIP might be rich enough to go some way to discharging his responsibility by employing a Close Protection team, e.g. hiring a security consultant and buying the latest security equipment for his home, car and workplace. But if the VIP chooses the wrong equipment or the wrong security team or employs a dodgy consultant, and if any of these things cause a security meltdown, it is not the fault of the kit or the team. The responsibility for the security failure is ultimately the responsible of the VIP. No matter how many experts the VIP hires, he is still ultimately responsible for his own security. He should have bought the right equipment, sought advice which was more professional and employed someone who wasn’t going to let him down! Your Principal is responsible for his own security, even if he passes some or even all of that responsibility to you.
If your Principal ignores the good security advice you give him, he is being responsible for his own security (you might say irresponsible!). Suppose you allow the Principal to ignore your advice, for example to go to a particular venue without backup, and you go with him. When some incident happens and you get hurt trying to deal with the problem without the backup you asked for, whose fault is that? Yours. It’s not his fault that you got hurt, it’s yours; you are responsible for your own security. You made a decision to go without backup. Neither you nor anyone else can shirk this responsibility or delegate it to someone else. Everyone is responsible for his or her own security.
Security should be Commensurate with the Threat
Security at most international airports is very thorough these days. We have to turn up three hours before take-off. We cannot check-in the Principal’s bags anymore; he has to stand in line like the rest of us. Even though the first or business class check-in lines are much smaller than economy, it’s still a queue, and our Principal is asked the same questions, as the economy class passengers. Do you have any banned articles? Have you packed your bag yourself?
Applying too much or too little
security can cost you your job
All this additional security before flying is a major inconvenience, for short flights it might even be quicker to drive! But is all this extra security resented? No, not really. Most responsible people actually like the fact that everyone on the plane has undergone a strict security check before boarding. They feel so much safer because of it. Many people won’t fly anywhere if there’s no security at the airport.
Imagine if people could buy a ticket and then just queue to catch a plane with no real security checks at all. Not so long ago, domestic flights in many countries used to be just like that. Even if the law allowed it, an airline with no security checks would very quickly go bust through lack of customers. So, even though people are really inconvenienced with three hour check-in times and lots of searches, they don’t really resent the security measures. Essentially then, you can inconvenience people a lot with your security measures, and, as long as they think it’s necessary, they will put up with the inconvenience.
All security is inconvenient. How convenient would it be to be able to leave our cars unlocked in the car park when we go shopping, no fumbling on our return with locks, alarms and shopping? How much more convenient would it be, to be able not only to leave the car unlocked but the keys in the ignition? We could just get in and drive away. Except that in real life and in most places in the world today, when we got back to the car park the car would not be there, it would be stolen. So we go through the inconvenience of choosing a well-lit car park, preferably one that is manned or is at least covered by a camera. We park where we can be seen by the guard or the camera, ensuring that no valuables are visible, locking the car, ensuring that it is alarmed and the keys are kept secure. We accept this inconvenience because we know that we will lose our car if we do not.
If you take a set of scales and load one side with your security measures, convenience, which is on the opposite side of the scales, will always suffer as a result. Security is inconvenient. This inconvenience will only be tolerated if people think it is a necessary inconvenience. Always try to keep the scales of security and convenience in balance. Remember that people will not consider a high level of security to be too inconvenient if they understand the threat. If they don’t understand the threat then you are not doing your job. Everyone involved must understand why your precautionary security measures are in place. If they don’t, you will be labelled as an over-zealous ‘jobsworth’. It can be difficult to keep these things in balance but normally your job will depend on it. Too much or too little security are each a sacking offence.
Constant Awareness is the Basis of Good Security
How long can you remain constantly aware? Let’s say you have just secured a three week job looking after someone. Could you remain constantly aware for the full three weeks? Or would your awareness drop within a couple of hours as soon as you ‘relaxed’ into the job?
How can you remain constantly aware? If you are working as a Close Protection Officer then your client is paying you to be constantly aware. What about your family? Are you going to be constantly aware with regard to their safety and security? Of course you are! Constant awareness means just that: constant, continual, complete.
Some people seem to be naturally more aware than others, noticing everything and never being taken by surprise. Trust me when I say there is nothing natural about it. It’s a skill that you must learn. Some people learn quicker than others, but this is a skill that is hard to master and takes many months to acquire. Even then, considerable practice is required to keep you truly constantly aware. This skill is so important that we will now cover it in some detail.
The reason that you must remain constantly aware might appear to be obvious. Yes, you need to be acutely aware of your surroundings if you have any chance of doing your Close Protection job properly or making it to your 21st birthday. But, if you are aware, then you are much less likely to be taken by surprise. Essentially this is the reason why being aware is so important: when we are taken by surprise we are next to useless, as will see later. It is very easy to ‘switch-on’ and become aware. The hard work is to stay there. It takes a conscious act to switch on but switching off is normally an unconscious act. You’ve got the very best intentions; you switch yourself on and then before you know it something happens to show you that you have drifted in to an ‘unaware’ state.
A classic example of drifting into an unaware state can happen when driving on the motorway. We know it is dangerous and we try to stay alert, but it is difficult. It’s boring, there isn’t a lot to stimulate us. We should be stimulated, travelling at 80 mph in a tin box, surrounded by concrete and in many cases having idiots doing their very best to kill us. That should be stimulus enough! But before we know it our eyes close and we sleep. It might only be for a second, or a split second, but we switch off totally and become as unaware as it’s possible to be. We’re asleep! We then wake; maybe we were drifting across a lane, or woken by the shudder of the vibration-line at the side of the carriageway. We are now wide awake and alert. But for how long? Soon, we will be drifting off again. Coffee and fresh air may help in this instance but we cannot go through life high on caffeine with our window down!
We cannot go through life high on caffeine with our window down
Cooper’s Colour Codes
For reasons that we will learn in the next chapter, if we are switched off, unaware and ignorant or oblivious to our surroundings, then when we are inevitably taken by surprise, our reactions will be poor. In situations where lives can depend upon good reactions, we have to be aware. Many people owe their life to one Jeff Cooper for keeping them alert and alive.
Who was Jeff Cooper
Jeff Cooper was born John Dean Cooper on May 10, 1920, and known all over the world as ‘Jeff’. He is a former Marine Lt Colonel, who served in WWII and Korea. He is recognised as the father of what is commonly referred to as ‘the modern techniques of shooting’. This modern technique deals with ‘practical’ shooting. That is the use of firearms in their intended roles as tools for personal protection rather than sport or recreation. Whilst his skill with firearms is almost legendary, he is best known for his colour codes, which depict levels of awareness. While teaching law enforcement he devised the colour codes so that police officers wouldn’t get taken by surprise when finding themselves in life-threatening situations. Such situations might require their having to think about what to do while under pressure and the effects of adrenalin, when they really should be already doing it! Cooper chose four codes or levels of awareness: white, yellow, orange, and red. These are explained below:
Relaxed, unaware and completely unprepared. This is where it is said that 95 percent of people spend 95 percent of their time. Totally switched off. If he is attacked in this state, his attacker has everything on his side, that is, surprise and everything that goes with it. If we get an adrenal dump when in Code White, it will be a big one. An attack will be over before we were aware it was even underway.
You can see people in Code White all of the time. Just look around you; it’s rare that anyone will notice you looking. Anyone who has worked in surveillance, following people, will know just how oblivious people can be of the people around them. Code White is no place to be!| We should always make the conscious decision to move our level of awareness to Code Yellow.
Relaxed alertness. Running scenarios through your mind, and thinking of ways to overcome them while remaining switched on. Your mind-set is: “Today could well be the day I have to defend myself.” There is no specific threat, but you are aware that anything could happen and bad things happen when you are not expecting it! You are bristling with anticipation; you use your eyes and ears, and your carriage says “I am alert.” You need to concentrate to stay in Code Yellow. It is a conscious decision to move from white to yellow but if you don’t maintain your awareness you will drift back to Code White without realising it. With a little practice, however, you can live in Code Yellow indefinitely.
We drift unconsciously into Code White but it requires a conscious thought to puts us back into Code Yellow
Specific alert. Because you are alert in Code Yellow you will often see or hear things that push you to Code Orange. You shift your primary focus to whatever your alert mind has noticed. This is an evaluation stage, in which you start making decisions on the situation. You will be getting adrenalin. Your mind-set is: “If this situation develops as I think it might, I may have to fight or run away.” What is that? What I am going to do about it?” You can maintain this heightened state of awareness for several hours.
Fight trigger. “We See Red.” When we were in Code Orange we made decisions, or if time hasn’t allowed at least started to make decisions about what we might do if this or that happened. Well, it’s HAPPENED. Now we are ready, we have had a massive dose of adrenalin but because we were already receiving it, via a tiny drip feed in Code Yellow and then another larger doses in Code Orange, the adrenalin doesn’t have as many of the debilitating effects. It’s our friend, we’re harder, smarter and more likely to win.
We learned in the chapter on personal security that to maintain our awareness we have to be continually assessing situations for threats and then planning our responses to them. When something unexpected happens that requires a positive response from you, that moment is not the time to begin planning what you are going to do about it. If you weren’t expecting it then you were probably surprised by it and when you are surprised, your reactions will be poor. This is due to a failure to understand the effects of adrenalin on our bodies. Not only that, if we are continually exposed to adrenalin, unless you know how to cope with it you can become seriously ill. Understanding and managing our adrenalin is a skill so fundamental to our industry that it requires us to look into it further.
Adrenalin and Our Reactions
Think of the times that you have been surprised, when someone ‘made you jump’, perhaps on purpose. Maybe they shouted ‘Boo!’ or possibly you were just ‘switched off’ and then saw or heard someone in your space. This type of surprise has happened to most people at some time. When it did happen, you were lucky the person that made you jump wasn’t holding a video-camera. If they had of been, the camera would have recorded your surprise as your ‘emotional mind’ tried to work out what was happening; the silly face you pulled, the colour draining from your face, the jerk away from the noise, arms flailing, your mouth open as if to say something but merely emitting a small scream or grunt. The camera would record your un-focussed eyes, and then the sudden realisation as your ‘rational mind’ took over from its emotional counterpart. It would highlight your realisation that you are in no danger, just the subject of a prank. The camera would make good, but rather embarrassing, TV.
A Positive Reaction
When things go wrong, Close Protection Officers are expected to react positively to the situation, making lightning fast decisions and taking the correct actions. We must always be expecting someone to metaphorically say boo because when we are expecting it, there is no shock value or at least the shock is minimised. Because our anticipation/expectation has caused us to release small amounts of adrenalin into our bodies, it ‘charges our system’ and makes it much more difficult for us to be surprised.
Everone gets adrenalin. We are hard-wired to release it when we are faced with danger
Mother Nature was not in an optimistic mood when she endowed early man and of course, women, with the capacity to make good judgments about how to survive in a life-threatening situation. To counter this she made our stress reaction and survival system work with lightning speed. Millions of years of evolution have endowed us with a set of automatic weapons, which take over in the event of an emergency. The hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain, sends a message to the amygdalae, which recognise the data and immediately associates it with danger.
So at the sight of a sabre-toothed tiger or a charging rhino, our amygdalae – which are basically almond shaped masses of grey matter, found deep inside each of the hemispheres of our brain, and which can be thought of as the ‘alarm company’, which handles all our body’s emergency alarms – sends out messages to alert the body of the impending danger.
The amygdalae send messages to every major part of the brain and triggers secretions of hormones such as adrenalin, which mobilises our centres of movement, makes us almost impervious to pain and activates the cardiovascular system, along with the muscles and the gut. Within seconds we can run faster, hit harder and with more accuracy, see better, hear more acutely, think faster and jump higher than we could just seconds earlier.
I can testify that under the effects of a lot of adrenalin, the body just doesn’t feel pain. I once witnessed a novice skydiver leave half a little finger trapped in a plane as he leapt out; the finger was literally torn off. He didn’t notice it during the one minute of freefall but in the second or two after the parachute opened, the pain became apparent as the adrenalin left.
We have all heard stories of adrenalin-charged mothers lifting heavy objects, such as cars – which they couldn’t ordinarily lift – to save a child. These women might say afterwards that they ‘don’t know where they found the strength’. We know that the adrenalin provided it.
These are all good things. They can help us do our job, but some effects can be detrimental. For instance, while we might be able to see better, we might also develop ‘tunnel vision’ and only see the main danger while missing others. We might also suffer auditory exclusion, reducing our hearing capacity, and, worst of all, we could lose fine motor co-ordination and manual dexterity. Some might even ‘freeze’ under its effects, suffering a complete sensory overload, known affectionately in skydiving circles as ‘brain fade’. These effects are not so helpful in an emergency situation.
Adrenalin is an exceedingly quick-acting hormone. Our body produces it from two glands sitting just above each kidney. When we are faced with an emergency, the subsequent dump of adrenalin will cause our heart to start pumping at two or three times its normal resting rate. This increase in pumping frequency and power is required so that our major muscles, such as the legs, the arms and even the heart itself, which is also a muscle, get all of the oxygen and other nutrients they need to enable them to function at a heightened ‘life-saving’ level. The tiny blood capillaries under the skin will tighten so as to restrict the flow of blood to its surface. This not only puts the blood to work on the vital organs, it allows us to sustain small surface wounds without bleeding to death. This loss of blood to the skin’s surface explains why some people might be described as ‘white as a sheet’ when they are scared.
Each bodily function that the body decides is not needed for the fight or flight process will be shut down. This will include sexual function, which will stop immediately, and digestion. Even our immune system may be turned off. Some of the blood that normally feeds our brain is no longer sent to support its cognition (thinking), so what is left is referred to by some people as the ‘frog brain’, This is a primitive and totally reactive brain that does not have much access to our training, such as our action-on drills and pre-learned techniques. We get what is called sensory overload; so much is going on in such a short time that we cannot take it all in. Total ‘brain fade’ ensues.
In addition, adrenalin will often cause someone to instantly urinate, defecate, or both. The body knows that it can run faster or fight more effectively with an empty bladder and bowel. Accompanying all of these physical reactions, we have a very real compression of time, during which our perception of events leads us to feel that things are happening in slow motion. After an adrenal ‘dump’ it can be very difficult to remember all the details of an event. Which is why police get so many different stories from adrenalin-charged witnesses after an incident.
Putting Adrenalin to work
As far as the Close Protection Officer is concerned, most of the effects of adrenalin are positive but only if they understand them. When the body is suddenly startled by all those feelings and chemicals it can have very negative results. We can avoid these things by never moving from Code White to Code Red in one moment. Yellow through orange and then red is the ideal but yellow to red is infinitely better than white to red.
The effects of adrenalin on the body are normal; they are a normal bodily function designed to help us to survive life-threatening situations. But when the effects occur in people who do not understand what is happening to their bodies, they mistake these preparations for fight or flight as unbridled fear or ‘a panic attack’. In quieter moments they will convince themselves that they can’t handle pressure situations and that they are cowards. They will see FEAR as a mnemonic of “Forget Everything And Run”. Once a person has convinced him/herself that he/she is spineless, any subsequent release of adrenalin to the system is associated with fear and then continues to reinforce that misconception. What must be understood is that everyone gets adrenalin; we cannot stop our body from producing it. We are ‘hard wired’ to release it when we are faced with danger.
In some hazardous sports, such as caving, climbing, skydiving and motor sport, we can see and study the effects of adrenalin in a controlled environment. The effects of adrenalin on the body generated by an extreme sport are the same, or very similar, to those you might get as a Close Protection Officer when an incident occurs. Examining how adrenalin can affect sportsmen and women can give us a good idea about how it will affect us.
The Effects of adrenalin are for immediate use. We cannot store it
We know that once the body gets used to a dangerous situation it doesn’t react so violently to it. Jumping out of an aeroplane at 14,000 feet would quite rightly be considered by many to be dangerous. They would be right; it is dangerous. Nevertheless, once the hypothalamus gets used to the unnatural act of leaping from an aircraft, it doesn’t send the same signals it did the first time it saw that the ground was three miles below.
An experienced skydiver will often be laid back enough to catch up on some sleep on the slow aircraft ride to altitude; others might carry a book to pass away the 15 or 20 ‘boring’ minutes. A first time-skydiver – or even someone who has done a hundred jumps – would not be able to relax enough to sleep on the climb to altitude, but somewhere between three and five hundred jumps, the hypothalamus relaxes us a little, and it would become possible. I have seen people fall into a deep sleep on the climb to altitude. Often, they are woken only by the movement of other jumpers moving to check pins and handles. Sometimes, the sleeper doesn’t even realise he is on a plane. He wakes up a little startled and as consciousness grips him with the memory that he is skydiving, a little panic attack ensues, during which he realises that in a few seconds he is going to jump, and watching him start to check his kit can be quite amusing.
The experienced skydiver still has adrenalin, enough to mobilise his muscle groups and aid his concentration, but doesn’t have the massive adrenal dump that can be so debilitating. If we were working as an armed escort in Iraq, our initial duties would feel a little like the first-time skydiver, but with continued exposure the body receives just enough adrenalin to remain alert and ready for anything. In Iraq in 2006/7 you could be shot at or blown up at any moment. You didn’t have to imagine what might happen as it was happening all the time. You just wondered when or if it was going to happen to you and did everything in your power to ensure it didn’t.
The effects of an adrenalin dump are for immediate use; we cannot store them. Fight or flight is happening NOW, not in a minute or two’s time. The massive adrenal dump that someone receives when leaving an aircraft for the first time may make them kick and thrash wildly. This is exactly what shouldn’t be done if a successful parachute deployment is to be achieved, but the effect only lasts for a few seconds. The mind quickly grabs back some consciousness, blood flow starts returning to the thinking part of the brain and he or she starts to carry out what they know to be the best thing to do, which is to arch hard, belly to earth. This gives them stability and gives the parachute space to deploy.
Many first time skydivers are strapped to the front of an experienced jumper. When they exit the aircraft a camera jumper is right there with them with the camera strapped to their head and recording everything. As the first-timer moves toward the open door, the initial adrenalin dump occurs. There is a terrorised expression and sensory overload, with the eyes clamped shut. However, this reaction quickly passes. The skydiver can soon feel the airspeed building up and then, as they fully recover their senses, they realise the noise of the plane has given way to a new noise – that of the freefall wind. They feel the wind on their face as they speed up to around 120 miles an hour, the cognitive part of the brain is quickly restored and they start thinking clearly: “I’m alive, everything is going to plan.” A pre-arranged tap on their shoulders to spread their arms, and they do it just as they were taught. They may even chance opening their eyes. If so, they will see the ground a long way down, and someone with a camera on his head flies right to within a foot from their face. The cameraman smiles, suddenly there is a big smile for the camera. The cameraman give a thumbs up sign and the first timer smiles even more as a he points his thumbs skyward.
The first-timer is relaxed and thinking, the emotional mind has retreated and his rational mind is now working. Suddenly, there is another tap on the arm. The freefall is going to end just as the first-timer had become accustomed to it. It’s time to deploy the parachute. The emotional mind is back. Is it going to work? Is it going to hurt? I’ve never been here before. Bang! More adrenalin as they are jerked upward by the deploying canopy. The cameraman seems to be falling quickly and somehow crazily away from them. In just two seconds he is the size of a hamster. Quietly, the canopy is open, they are floating, turning, just hanging there 4,500 feet up. The adrenalin is almost gone and the jumpmaster talks to them. The thinking, rational brain is back. They enjoy the view; they can see the plane just landing, far below them. They wonder how it has beaten them down and may search out their car in the car park, looking for familiar things on the ground below. But suddenly, they are not floating, they are falling. The ground seems to be rushing up to meet them at a speed that will break every bone in their body. More adrenalin is released making it difficult for them to concentrate – sensory overload. The jumpmaster flares the canopy and the ground suddenly slows its rush, as they land gently. The first-timer is unaware that the jumpmaster had to shout at him three times to bend his knees; the adrenalin had stolen his hearing again. A soft landing! He is still alive! There is the cameraman again, right in his face. Most of the adrenalin is immediately gone. There is a smile for the camera, though it’s impossible to undo the chest strap because the fingers and arms are still shaking quite violently. Usually, the first words muttered are, ‘Let’s do it again!’ and another adrenalin junkie is born. But before this person can jump alone, to enjoy the adrenalin adventures, they need to be able to handle the effects of the adrenalin. This is done by plenty more jumping starting with relatively undemanding jumps. Then, as the student progresses, things become a little harder, getting the body used to the experience so that not quite so much adrenalin is released and what is released is used to good effect.
The WOW Factor
On Close Protection courses in the 1980s we started to measure student’s reaction times, both with and without adrenalin. Typically, the reaction time might be measured in response to a particular incident, such as a gun firing or an attack of some kind. We called this time the ‘wow factor’, the state of frozen confusion that occurs at the moment of shock. The measurements were really only made for fun, but did go some way to explaining the effects of adrenalin to our students.
The faster you reacted, the lower your wow factor. We would have great fun with a video and a stopwatch timing the students’, and quite often, the instructors’ reactions. I remember that some students’ Wow Factor would have been better measured not with a stopwatch but with a calendar! Apart from the odd student almost everyone could improve their Wow Factor with practice at applying the techniques that are outlined here.
In a Close Protection role the wow factor can be made worse (longer reaction time) by the very nature of our work. Close Protection is not a daily routine loaded with exciting, dangerous and stimulating events. Rather, it is a day in, day out routine, often unexciting and familiar work, where the greatest battle is that against mind-numbing boredom. This is a dangerous situation, because when we are bored we are most likely to switch off and move to Code White, and it is then that our wow factor will be measured in long seconds rather that bits of a second.
We have stated that we cannot really control the release of adrenalin but we can deal with it a little better. However, we do know that if we repeat actions enough times and commit them to ‘muscle memory’, we will do those things ‘on autopilot’, even when we are suffering from the initial shock of a large adrenal dump. A good example of this is when we are driving. For example, let’s say that we are driving a car, performing an overtaking manoeuvre on a large truck. Suddenly, an oncoming car appears ‘from nowhere’ and it looks like a head-on crash is imminent. We instantly get adrenalin – lots of it – but we have to make a decision. In this situation we have to very quickly choose between three courses of action: brake and pull back in behind the truck; accelerate past and squeeze in front of the truck; or see if we can pull off somewhere on the wrong side of the road out of harm’s way. Many people who drive in Code White don’t get past the first option, they brake and hope.
If we were driving in Code Yellow, the adrenalin helps rather than hinders: time slows down for us and we choose the best option, based upon the razor-sharp thinking, that the adrenalin has given us. We assess our speed and both that of the oncoming car and the truck, we take into account the road conditions and width before instantly choosing our best option. Let’s say that in this situation the decision was to accelerate hard and complete the overtake. Muscle memory now takes over, we dip the clutch and go down a gear. Then, releasing the clutch while feeding back in the power, we accelerate to safety. We didn’t fumble the gear change and everything was smooth – the adrenalin saw to that. You might say that if the driver was in Code Yellow, he wouldn’t be in that position, and you would of course be right. But, as the saying goes, ‘Shit happens’, so let’s be in Code Yellow when it does.
It is a physiological fact that if we repeat an action enough times in a certain set of circumstances it will become habit forming. Indeed, the resultant muscle memory will ensure that when we don’t have time to think, the muscles will carry out what they have practised automatically. An example of this is the one just given, when we used the clutch, throttle and gear lever smoothly, positively and in the correct sequence. So on those rare occasions, when, in real life, an event occurs, the correct habitual response should occur instantly. If it does not, then the physical things have not been practised enough. It may take thousands of times to commit something to muscle memory, but the result is obviously worth it. When we are in Code Red the time for decision-making has passed. There is no time for weighing the pros and cons of various alternative courses of action. It is a time for action/reaction, but reaction based on appropriate and correct responses. A reaction which is based on panic and confusion is simply an illustration of an incorrect attitude and understanding of what training is designed to achieve. Practise for when things go wrong and you’ll be rewarded when they do.
Things committed to muscle memory become as instinctive as blinking and ducking; we do them quickly and without thinking. Take someone who is looking out of a closed window, if you surprise them by throwing a bucket of water at the window from outside, they will instinctively blink and duck out of its path. Then, moments later, they will realise how silly they look because they were in no danger at all of getting wet. Throw another bucketful at the window and, even though they are ready for it, they will still probably blink and have to consciously work at resisting the urge to duck again. The brain knows that you are not going to get wet behind the glass, but blinking and ducking are instinctive and when something has become instinctive it becomes hard not to do it.
Practise a physical action/reaction enough and muscle memory will make it instinctive. Instinctive things are those we do without thinking. This ability is very important to the Bodyguard; it is essential that he carry out some of the immediate-action drills enough times to commit them to muscle memory and make them instinctive. When we find ourselves in Code Red with a massive release of adrenalin, in the time it takes our mind to grasp and take control of the situation our unconscious mind is already carrying out some things instinctively. Muscle memory is strong enough to override your thinking; the following examples will explain this.
Driving in a car with a colleague, I notice that he turns his radio off as soon as his mobile phone rings so the noise of the radio doesn’t interfere with the call. His phone rings many times a day. Sometimes the radio is not on when the phone rings, but his left hand still reaches to turn the radio off. The radio isn’t on, so the brain hasn’t asked for the radio to be turned off. Why does he try to turn it off? Muscle memory has taken over and the hand moves instinctively.
When training takes over
When adrenalin is involved, which we know can have some initial debilitating effects, it is good that we have committed things to memory so that they might become instinctive. One personal experience of when muscle memory has been used while under the extreme effects of a lot of adrenalin occurred during a sky dive over Florida when a main parachute malfunctioned. You can imagine that at the point of realising that you have a malfunction a massive adrenal dump occurs. Many years of practising the emergency reserve parachute drills had involved peeling a Velcro pad off the chest harness on the right side of the harness and then pulling this pad to ‘cut away’ the bad parachute and then one second or so later, pulling a metal handle on the left of the harness to activate the reserve. Because the malfunction was at high speed, the parachute was out but was in a condition technically known as a ‘bag of washing’; it was just a tangled mess. This mess still catches some air and I found myself being spun violently around.
My emotional brain, which had taken over when I first noticed that something was wrong (“Shit, that doesn’t look good!”), quickly gave way to my rational brain and I could think clearly. I knew I had plenty of height to allow a longer than normal one-second delay between cutting the bad parachute away and deploying the reserve. This extra height/delay would absolutely ensure that my deploying reserve would not get tangled with the bad canopy, which was pretty unlikely but I wanted to be sure. I pulled the pad and released the bad canopy; I counted (at the top of my voice) three full seconds before pulling the other handle to activate the reserve. But by the time I had counted to three I discovered that I had pulled the reserve handle already. By the time I got to three I was already safely under an open reserve. Muscle memory had taken over, just one second after I had cut away. I deployed the reserve, just as I had practised countless thousands of times. Muscle memory ignored my brain’s request to wait for three seconds. I had practised this emergency procedure as one movement for years, and, when I was full of adrenalin, the muscle memory just took over. My reserve drills had become just as instinctive as blinking and ducking.
Armed with this knowledge we can practise, practise and practise. This will commit our responses to particular situations, to muscle memory. A Close Protection officer, who continually practises his responses to attacks on his client when walking or driving will, after a short time, start to commit things to muscle memory. Drills like parrying a knife thrust, J-turning a car, punching to buy time, drawing a pistol, or taking hold and control of the Principal. These must be committed to muscle memory if we have any hope of doing them under pressure and the effects of adrenalin.
For example, we might be when walking with the client when an adrenalin-inducing event occurs; our left hand takes hold and control of the client before the Bodyguard is even aware of what is happening.
Adrenalin and Stress
We learned in the chapter on personal security that to stay constantly alert we must inject a healthy dose of paranoia into our daily routine. Always expecting the worst to happen at any moment, and then working out what we might do about it. All of this “anticipation” introduces adrenalin into our bodies. Once the adrenalin is produced the body expects and needs to use it. The only way that it can be used effectively is to use it as it was intended that is to fight your way out of the situation or run away, you should note that both of these actions are physical rather than mental.
You may get “adrenalised” lots of times in a single day. You might see a suspicious face in a crowd near your Principal, or hear a shout or loud noise. You might also get more into your system if your Principal is in a demanding mood, putting you on the spot or asking difficult or even potentially dangerous things of you. Adrenalin was meant to save us in life-threatening situations, but in today’s society some people can get the adrenalin just by watching something on television, or asking their boss for a raise. Continual exposure of this cocktail of drugs is not good for our bodies in the long term.
A Stressful Environment
- Close Protection can be a very stressful environment to work in, this stress can be compounded by other things such as:
- Working long hours, and a lack of sleep.
- Being away from home for long periods, especially if you have family problems
- Fear of letting the team or Principal down.
- Not getting on with the team leader or team member
- Not being in the best physical shape
Stress is a very serious issue and one that must be addressed as soon as you consider you may be suffering from it some symptoms of stress are shown below:
- Loss of appetite
- Unable to sleep properly.
- An increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption
- Poor concentration and irritability with team-mates
- The loss of sex drive
- Feeling fatigued all of the time.
All of these symptoms are very general and any or all of them could point to conditions that are not stress-related. If you suffer from any of the symptoms above you may well be suffering from stress and should seek professional help. In my experience there are two things that keep Close Protection Officers stress free whilst at work, these are regular exercise and diet.
Exercise is a fantastic way to relieve you of the stress after an eventful day. Put on some gloves and very aggressively attack a punch-bag. Not worrying too much about technique but just hitting that bag for all your worth. Go all out for at least 90 seconds, (it will hurt) having one minutes rest followed by another minute of continual hard-hitting. Get on a bike, run on the road or swim for at least 30 minutes every day. You may have noticed that we are fighting and running. This way we are using that adrenalin just as nature intended.
We know that adrenalin and the cocktail of drugs that are deployed into our bloodstream when we are stressed, are there to assist us in our fight or flight. Whoever designed our bodily functions did not expect us to feel hungry whilst we were fighting an enemy or running away from one. In the presence of adrenalin things like appetite are suppressed. You must eat even when you do not feel hungry. Force yourself to eat at mealtimes. If you let your appetite dictate whether you eat or not you will soon succumb to the stress. You will not have the energy to do your job properly or to exercise and get rid of the adrenalin at the end of the day.
Whenever you find yourself in Code White, put yourself back into yellow. Remember that we drift unconsciously into Code White, but it’s a conscious thought that switches us back on.
You must understand that colour codes are not used like the military levels of alertness. They do represent the level of danger of some threat or other happening. Do not get confused; the colours represent the level of your awareness and not the amount of danger you might be in.
To maintain our awareness, we have to be continually assessing situations for threats and then planning our responses to them. When something untoward happens, which requires an immediate response, then is not the ideal time to begin planning what to do about it. If you aren’t expecting it then you’re probably going to be surprised by it. When you’re surprised, your reactions will be poor. Don’t be surprised, think yellow.
Taken by surprise, the massive adrenal dump can put us in a state of shock, which will not only make our reaction time slower; we are more likely to make a wrong reaction or decision.
We cannot stop our bodies producing the adrenalin (nor would we want to); we are hard-wired to produce it. However, we can condition our body and mind to get used to the effects of adrenalin by creating opportunities in training that expose us to adrenalin.
By constantly anticipating the worst to happen and questioning what our response would be, we give ourselves a little adrenal drip which can assist us to control our thinking and reactions when we do get an adrenal dump.
During the initial shock phase of an adrenalin dump, we will carry out drills that we have committed to muscle memory and made instinctive.
If we are working in dangerous places or on assignments where the threats we face are considerable, it is all too easy to deteriorate because of stress. A proper diet coupled with a vigorous exercise goes a long way to avoiding stress. Look out for signs of stress in yourself and your colleagues and seek professional help immediately that you think you may be suffering from the debilitating condition.