You are successful financial broker from a large wealth management firm. Or perhaps you’re a banker overseas negotiating a deal. A good part of your success comes from your ability to form relationships not only domestically, but also worldwide.
And that routine is about to be disrupted, in a major way…
One of your routines is to drive to your favorite restaurant for a quick breakfast before you head off to your firm’s local office. It’s apparent to everyone around you that you are a successful American because of how well and differently you dress, and you are aware of it. It doesn’t bother you because you feel that you earned your way, through very hard work over the years.
After breakfast, you walk over to your rental car in the parking lot. Today a van has parked close to your car, but not so close that you cannot unlock and open the driver’s door. So you squeeze through between your car and the van. It’s not that tight, but tight enough that you have to hold your bag either in front or behind you as you walk through.
As you place your key in your driver’s-side door ... bam!
The van’s sliding door slams open. You are grabbed from behind and dragged into the van.
You can see the restaurant in the distance, but it fades away as you fall into the van and the door slams shut. Inside the van, you are held face down on the van floor as your hands are taped behind your back.
The entire scenario took place so quickly that nobody outside noticed what occurred.
Your day is going to be much different from what you planned.
This kidnapping might have been avoided had you noticed the simplest red flags that were around you and the dangers that you unknowingly inflicted on yourself. To build these types of skills, and minimize the risks, author Clint Emerson developed “The Total Awareness System.”
Escape the Wolf is an exceptional handbook that every international banker should have with them to prepare for their next business or family trip. Even if you are not an international traveler, the book provides specifics about many countries and the cultural differences that I found interesting and enlightening.
The Total Awareness System is based on being aware of your surroundings. It helps provide travelers with the skills and insight to avoid and escape criminals, health hazards, natural disasters, and other unfortunate events. The steps to awareness include Observation and Naturalistic Decision-Making, Personal Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Third-Party Awareness, T.H.R.E.A.T.S., and Travel Preparation and Traveling. Emerson fleshes out these points at length.
The system was developed from Emerson’s real life experience as well as other scientifically proven techniques. For example, one of the approaches incorporated into Total Awareness is the OODA loop, which was developed for U.S. fighter pilots to make tactical decisions under extreme stresses. The OODA loop is an acronym for Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action.
Emerson spent many years of his childhood in Saudi Arabia. After returning to the U.S., he served in the military for nearly 20 years. For the Department of Defense, his service included combat experience and sensitive operations worldwide, and he also worked as a travel security trainer.
Today, Emerson is chief executive officer and president of Escape the Wolf, a Virginia Beach-based travel security firm. Emerson’s book, updated with Lynn Waters, might even provide guidance that will increase your safety on your own home ground.
This book is split into several major sections. In Emerson’s introduction, the reader is told of the three types of people out in the world: the sheep, the sheepdog, and the wolf. It’s short but sets up the mindset for the rest of the book. (Most folks are sheep, by the way, and Emerson wants to turn you into a sheepdog--a prepared good guy who can protect himself and others from the wolves.)
I’ll summarize the training section, Part 1, below.
Emerson’s focus is on the skill of observation, making your environment safer by assessing potential risks and having an escape plan. The chapter also reviews a type of thought process called “Naturalistic Decision Making.” This is a mode in decision making when you have high stress and minimal time to come to a conclusion and act. This skill is to know when to transition from one mode to another.
The ability to understand how your demeanor and image are projected to the people around you is critical and it can consist of very small stuff.
The book provides a very good example. During World War II, the U.S. and British secretly attempted to sabotage Nazi targets in France. But in this project the American contingent was caught and murdered.
Why? It hinged on their use of ordinary eating utensils. The Americans ate using the fork in the right hand, and only picking up the knife when it was required for cutting and switched the fork to the left hand to cut with their right. Europeans, by contrast, use their knife and fork the entire meal and never switch positions. It is important to blend in.
You also need to take steps to blend into the local culture. The book provides a section dealing with the importance of blending in, complete with examples, plus a special section that I’ll cover below.
An important example: Our “OK” gesture doesn’t mean the same thing in other countries: Japan-means money; France/Belgium/Tunisia-worthless or zero; Brazil/ Russia/Germany/Turkey/ Greece/Malta–an orifice message; throughout Europe-an obscenity.
Clearly not a gesture to pack when going to most of those countries.
Be aware of how the people around you perceive you. To minimize third-party awareness, you must use your personal awareness skills to blend in. This chapter discusses multiple types of surveillance and how you may be able to notice if you are being followed and where to look to determine surveillance.
The THREAT approach is to organize your research, devote some prep time, and be ready for safe traveling. T.H.R.E.A.T. stands for: Technological threats, Health threats, Raids/Robbery, Environmental threats, Agencies, and Terrorism. The book reviews each threat and provides tools to maximize your preparedness.
This section of the book provides an overview of the items which you should bring. It also advises on best practices in handling your luggage, making reservations, handling yourself on arrival at the hotel, and more.
Part 2 consists of two sections. One is a reprint of the Al Qaeda Manual, which Emerson provides in the spirit of “knowing the enemy.” The bulk of Part 2 consists of country guides. Partnering with Communicaid, Emerson presents concise traveler files on nearly 60 countries, each with an overall view, and specific cultural and business practices to be aware of. Each country section also includes a quiz, that is in itself a teaching device. (For the section on the United Kingdom, reproduced with permission, click here.)
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