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At Level Yellow

Stay Alert

Stay Alert

Unarmed Self-Defense Training

In the Bible

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers… (Philippians 3:2).

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel" (Ezekiel 3:17).

In the News

It Really Did Happen …

Early one mid-week evening in a Southern city, a young white man enters a large African-American church through a side door. Finding a Bible study in progress, he walks into the room and sits down, listening to the discussion on a scriptural passage. After a while, he begins arguing with some of those present. When they begin to pray, he pulls out a handgun and begins shooting. Nine people are killed, including the pastor.

Before he pulled out his weapon, did anyone in the Bible study have any suspicions about the stranger in their midst?

Situational Awareness

The first step in defense is awareness of threats. It is actually the first step in any kind of defense against any kind of threat. Basically, it is knowing what is going on. For instance, we protect the flock from severe weather by paying attention to weather forecasts and receiving alerts. Vigilance in keeping the records straight and knowing who accesses the safe and the church's bank accounts defends the church against fraud and embezzlement. Knowing about threats to the community and the church, we prepare accordingly.

For self-defense, situational awareness is closer to us in time and place. This means being aware of your surroundings, who is there, what is happening, and any changes in the situations.

All-Around Awareness

Figure 1: Think 540°

Safety, security, survival, and self-defense sites stress all-around awareness. Out in the open, threats can come from any direction, not just from in front, behind, and to either side, but also from above and below. In church security, we should be aware of what is all the way around on our level and what is above us (if we are on an upper level, add what is below us). The Sheepdog Church Security training course "Church Safety/Security Volunteer Team Academy" says, "Think 540°" when considering "An awareness of your immediate vicinity and of the people and objects within your environment." [1]

Alertness Levels

Situational awareness requires a minimum level of alertness. The title of this article comes from Cooper's Color Code of Awareness. In this awareness color chart by Jeffrey Cooper (USMC Ret.), Yellow is the minimum level for effective situational awareness.:

If you are alert and paying attention (Level Yellow), there will be times you go to Level Orange, then sometimes on to Level Red.

Ten Steps in Situational Awareness

Several websites explain situational awareness. On one of them, Be Survival, the author (who goes by "Sergeant Survival") lists "10 Ways To Improve Your Situational Awareness" -

  1. Learn to Predict Events
  2. Identify Elements Around You
  3. Trust Your Feelings
  4. Limit Situational Overload
  5. Avoid Complacency
  6. Be Aware of Time
  7. Begin to Evaluate and Understand Situations
  8. Actively Prevent Fatigue
  9. Continually Assess the Situation
  10. Monitor Performance of Others [10]

This is not written from a church safety/security perspective, but it is applicable. Among the details is advice such as, don't narrow your focus (such as with mobile phones and TV monitors), note changes over time, and get enough rest to keep yourself alert.

What to Look for

First, look around and keep looking. Notice everything in your range of view. As we look around, we should know what to be especially aware of. About 40 years ago, a security supervisor told the guards, "Do more than count ceiling tiles," which translates to, "Pay attention to what really matters."

In the church foyer, this means noticing every person. Take special notice of those you don't know and stay aware of them even if you are talking with someone else.

Identify potential threats and keep a constant awareness of any you identify. Could a suspicious bulge be a weapon? What is in that a box left by the door? Has something been moved? Is anything out-of-place?

Notice persons' facial expressions, their actions, and how they interact with others. Does anyone seem to be irrational? Irritated? Snoopy? Secretive or furtive?

As we learned in the series on Verbal De-escalation[5], be alert for potentially disruptive situations, such as hostile encounters, conversations becoming increasingly argumentative, angry outbursts, etc.

Constantly evaluate what you see and hear using the OODA Loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act [3].

In Defense of Self

If threatened, act defensively. The safest defense is evasion - get out of the way. However, as protectors of the flock, there are circumstances when we must step in to defend others. In those cases, we must exercise active self-defense. There are several stages and options available to us. Some of these are covered in other articles in this series.

Defuse the Situation

We try to approach each situation which is not yet disruptive in a calm manner. However, sometimes a person may become agitated, no matter how calm we are. On the other hand, this may be an encounter between two persons which is becoming disruptive. Calming the situation with verbal de-escalation is a proactive defense, which may help us avoid using physical defense.

Be on Your Guard

In a potentially disruptive incident, be ready to defend yourself physically if it becomes necessary. This begins with the interview stance and maintaining a reasonable distance.

Be Prepared

Be trained in self-defense skills and practice the techniques regularly. Practice observation to improve your situational awareness skills. This can be ongoing. Work with another team member, taking turns with questions such as, "Did you see that?" or, "What is that she has?"

What if …

In the news story above, did the young man raise anyone's suspicions before pulling out his gun? If they did, what could they have done (depending on where they were in the room)? The young man sat down next to the pastor. When he began to argue, the pastor or the person on the other side (or behind him) could have kept watch, ready for anything. If this person kept an eye open during prayer, he would have seen the subject reach for his weapon and may have been able to knock it out of his hand.

As it was, one man saw the gun and tried to talk the assailant out of shooting. The man dived in front of his aunt, giving his life in an attempt to shield her. She was killed anyway.

There Is More

Other articles in this series are:

"Stand Off - Maintain a Safe Distance"

"Hold Off, Hold On - Block Thrusts, Execute Holds"

"Hold Down - Tackle, Take Down, Knock Down, Throw"


  1. Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingCourses, "Church Safety/Security Volunteer Team Academy" - Individual Training [], Training materials [].
  2. "Jeff Cooper", Wikipedia [].
  3. "OODA Loop", Wikipedia [].
  4. Sergeant Survival, "10 Ways To Improve Your Situational Awareness" Be Survival, no date [].
  5. Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingCourses, "Dealing with Disruptive Persons using Verbal Deescalation" - Individual Training [], Training materials [].