Five Steps to Staying Safe at the New Year’s Ball Drop

It’s the end of another year, and masses of people will be gathering in large crowds all across the nation to ring in the new year.

Few events match up to the thrill of the countdown, the energy of the crowd, and the expectation that accompanies ringing in a new year. The champagne toast and the kiss of a loved one are unparalleled joys of that midnight hour on New Year’s Eve.

As I sit here on December 31st writing this post, I reflect on events from the past year or two and recall the fact that there are those people out there whose life purpose it is to make the rest of us suffer at their hands.

Be it the lone-wolf ISIS terrorist or the radical ideologue with delusions of grandeur, you can be fairly confident that someone somewhere is thinking about the body count that can be amassed during our late-night celebrations.

Thus it is that I bring to you these five steps to keeping yourself safe on New Year’s Eve while still enjoying the festivities that attend the evening.

Step One – Know Your Surroundings

This is a simple practice of situational awareness. Wherever you choose to celebrate – be it the biggest ball drop in the nation in Times Square or the Possum Drop in Podunk, USA – make sure you know your surroundings. Are there tall buildings from which an assailant can initiate a Las Vegas-style attack from above? Are there unprotected intersections through which vehicles could drive to plow into the crowd?

Situating yourself in such a way that you can minimize the potential of being in the middle of an attack can give you the edge you need to let the thought of safety fall into the background as you enjoy the frivolity of the event.

Step Two – Observe the People Around You

Paying attention to people in your immediate area can provide much-needed intel on the possible motives of those individuals who are attending the event. New Year’s Eve events aren’t something people do alone.

That guy in the long coat who has shifty eyes and is holding an unseen object under his coat while just moving through the crowd by himself should be a cue to you to make space between you and him while looking for a police officer to alert. Given that the weather will be cold, bulges in the clothing are going to be hard to detect, so it’s behavior that you must observe.

Gavin DeBecker wrote about that feeling you get about others in his book, The Gift of Fear. Act on those feelings if you have them.

Further, people don’t generally attend New Year’s Eve events carrying large bags or backpacks. Recalling that the Boston Marathon bombers carried backpacks laden with pressure cooker bombs, it makes sense to be wary of anyone carrying a large bag of any sort.

Step Three – Keep to the Periphery

Being in the middle of a crowd slows your exodus should the need to run for cover arise. Being near the edges of a crowd makes you less of a likely target, since attackers naturally want to go for the bulk of the crowd in their attempts to create the largest casualty count possible. Your being at the edges of a crowd means you are out of the target zone while simultaneously giving yourself the best and quickest opportunity to get out of harm’s way.

If you can be near a safe location – a store, coffee shop, or restaurant – into which you can run quickly, make that a part of your plan. Bombs, bullets, and bumpers will have a much harder time finding you inside a building than outside on the street.

Step Four – Know Your Baseline for Noise

One of the exacerbating factors in the Las Vegas mass casualty event was that the concertgoers didn’t recognize the shooting as an attack. Many people reported that the noise sounded like fireworks or some form of concert pyrotechnics. Too many realized far too late (and with deadly consequences) that they were under fire.

Know beforehand if the event will have pyrotechnics of any sort. Fireworks are not uncommon on New Year’s Eve, but they are not always a part of every celebration. You should know for your own event what will be happening. If you hear a series of popping noises at 11:40 PM, you know that it’s worth paying attention to.

Further, there is a distinct difference between screams of excitement or joy and screams of terror. If you hear screaming, particularly at a time at which such a ruckus doesn’t make sense, move to your exit or place of cover. Delays in doing so could have unfortunate consequences.

Step Five – Have a Plan, Even If You Won’t Need It

Plan your night with meticulous detail. When will you arrive? With whom will you be attending? Where will you establish yourself during the event? Where will you go if there is shooting or other threat? What do you do if you see a suspicious person? Where is your safe area if there is a rogue vehicle in the crowd? If you are separated from those with whom you arrived, what is your reunification plan? Where will you meet?

Since the body cannot go where the mind hasn’t already been, it’s in your best interest to consider the answers to these questions before venturing out into the crowds and the cold. Have a plan so your evening can happen with the least amount of distraction possible. Once the plan is mentally developed, your brain is free to enjoy the celebration without the distraction of ‘what to do if…’

From all of us here at DefCon, have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve and the most prosperous of New Years.

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