The holidays are about good times with good people. You look forward to time off from work, spending quality time with your family and friends, time to reflect on your accomplishments and to set new goals for the new year.

Holiday time is also cherished by the predator (criminal, terrorist, opportunist), who chooses to spend his time doing bad things to good people. However, armed with five ways to stay safe during the holidays, you can easily avoid the predator and shop, visit and share the best of times with total peace of mind.

What are five ways to stay safe during the holidays?

1.      Read the Need

You must accept the current fact of life that bad things happen to good people and more importantly, that they can happen to you, if you’re not prepared for it. Situational Awareness, that is being aware of your surroundings and those moving around you, is your number one defense. Situational Awareness includes not placing yourself in a vulnerable spot, whether parking your car, walking from store to store, talking in public with friends or stopped at an intersection.

Yes, you need to check messages and answer your phone but don’t put yourself in a bubble sealed off from the rest of the world with your face down in your cell phone and your undivided attention applied to frivolous text or emails that can be answered later, as opposed to keeping an eye out for the predator who, make no mistake, is looking for his next target. They are truly predators, like a pack of wolves and they view you as prey with your head stuck in a burrow, completely oblivious to their malevolent intentions. Periodically popping your head out of the rabbit hole, looking around you and maintaining good Situational Awareness will keep the wolves at bay.

2.      Him Again

What should you be looking for? Predators, like any other feral animal, follow a plan of action that will lead them to easy prey. Step one of that plan is to look for their next target. As they scan for possible candidates, they will choose the ones that have little or no Situational Awareness. To be sure, they need to get a closer look and to observe you so they can verify “Yup, that’s the one!” To do this, they must get close, or at least have you in their line of sight to carry out their nefarious plan.

If you happen to notice the same guy twice – either following you while driving or on foot, yes, it could be a total coincidence, but it takes only a quick second to click your radar up one more notch and pay attention. When the predator, who expects you to be an easy target, observes that you have noticed him, he knows he’s burned. He was caught in the act and doesn’t want to be identified or have his picture taken. Once he has realized that you are using your Situational Awareness to observe the observer, then he has lost his tactical advantage and is forced to ask himself “Are there softer targets?” The answer is an emphatic “YES!”

3.      Watch the Hands

Given that the holidays traditionally bring about an increase in terrorist activity and violent crime, you are exposed to a higher likelihood of being confronted with an Active Threat, that is one or more dedicated extremists armed with guns or knives.

If you ever watch those documentaries of people who were caught in such incidents and survived, the two most common phrases are “I couldn’t believe how fast it happened!” and “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me!” Using your Situational Awareness,you already have a leg up over the person next to you with their head stuck in the sand. If you observe one or more males, of military age, between 18 and 32, with shifty eyes and hands in their pockets, keep your eyes on their hands.

Ask any cop and they will tell you “It’s the hands that kill.” The quicker you can get a read on the situation the quicker you can respond. Most likely they will pull out a cell phone or a hand full of keys, so no worries there, but if it does happen to be a firearm or an edged weapon, then distance is your friend.

Place as much distance and or obstructions (trash cans, chairs, boxes, etc.,), between you and those hands and you will leave behind a trail of soft targets in your wake. When attacked by a bear in the woods, you don’t have to be the fastest runner in a crowd, just not the last one!

4.      Too Much Cheer

You’re out at a party, making the rounds to see friends, a cocktail here and a sip of spiked nog there, and it all adds up. Sure, you want to cut loose and get into the holiday spirit, but to stay safe you must also stay in between the yellow lines of awareness.

Aside from the obvious DUI threat which, should go without saying, you have a responsibility to yourself and those with you, to maintain good Situational Awareness. An excess of holiday cheer on board impacts your awareness without question. Your powers of observation, and your ability to make quick decisions, especially if they may be life-or-death decisions, are significantly attenuated. It’s all about keeping the balance. You can have as much fun as you want, but at what point might that rob you of your own personal security?

5.      Free Gear

Throughout the holiday season, predators may not be specifically looking for you, but they may be looking for your gear, which could include packages, your cell phone, car keys, produce, your purse or wallet. If you leave these and other items unattended or completely exposed, then you have engraved a formal invitation for the predator to help themselves to free gear.

Nothing is more enticing to an opportunist then an easy score. Leaving your car in an overcrowded holiday parking lot and your back seat packed tight with wrapped gifts, liquor, electronics, etc., is a big fat soft target indicator to the watchful predator. He will see these and within seconds break the glass, fill up his empty backpack and vanish into the holiday shadows – your gear never to be recovered. If you must store valuables in your car, put them in the trunk or at least cover them up with a blanket or a couple of jackets. Keep your valuables close to you and remember that during the holidays, watchful eyes and sticky fingers are not just reserved for Santa’s elves!

Summing it all up, it’s time to enjoy the holidays, and if you can keep safe then all the better, right?  If you take away only one thing from these five tips, it should be Situational Awareness. The faster you can hear it, see it, smell coming, the easier it is to avoid any bad things that might happen. Armed with these stocking stuffers in your tool kit, please accept my most sincere wishes for a fun and safe holiday!