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Crisis at the Mall: Eight Steps to Keep Your Family Safe

You’re shopping with the kids and chaos breaks out at the mall. What strategies will you use to stay safe and escape with your family intact?

In light of recent episodes – from disruptions at shopping centers to the tragic shooting at a Safeway Food store in Tucson, Ariz., police trainer Dave Young said such events help people face reality: “It’s no longer a question of if something will happen, but when,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready when something happens.”

Young offers the following tips:

  • If you hear gunshots or shouting, don’t move toward it. Obviously, this is the best way to stay out of the line of fire. And while it seems apparent, “you’d be surprised how many people run into a problem,” Young said. “It’s like a fire: When you see people moving in the opposite direction, join them!”
  • Ignore the impulse to video: Posting a video to YouTube or gathering evidence isn’t nearly as essential as ensuring the safety of you and your family. “Do not waste your time on anything that puts you in danger,” he said. Pull out the phone only under secure cover.
  • If you need to hide, public bathrooms are relatively easy to secure, and can be locked from the inside.
  • If you get separated from your children, tell them to stay where they are. If they wander from the last point where you saw them, it will become more difficult to find them.
  • Focus on your safety, not your stuff – Stash your purse in a planter and drop your shopping bags. Bring along only your cell phone, which can be used to call for help, and your car keys, which you’ll need to leave the premises. (And, if need be, the keys can also be used as a weapon.) “Your personal survival is more important than your belongings,” said Young.
  • Learn how to carry your kids – if you do this incorrectly, pulling them through a crowd by the arm, you would dislocate their shoulder or wrist. Grab them and put them into a fireman’s carry instead.
  • Move with caution – Always stay together and move as a family unit. When you’re on the stairs, use the guard rail, as others will be running blindly. And if you’re wearing heels, take them off; you’ll be on more secure footing without them. Move only as fast as you are able to safely.
  • When you are moving safely, pull the emergency alarms along the way. “Emergency alarms will also create another audible distraction to help you escape,” Young said. “”Never assume someone else has called the police or sounded the emergency alarm.”

While it’s important to know how to respond at the point of crisis, the real work is done preparing well in advance.

Regardless of age, children should know their parents’ first names, type of work they do, type of car they drive and cell phone number. (A parent’s cellular number, he said, should be the first one memorized because a parent carries it everywhere.)

If your kids are old enough to shop on their own when you’re at the mall, have pre-arranged meeting place, and discuss how you’d meet up in case of an emergency. Likewise, always have an escape plan no matter where you are, at a restaurant or the grocery store.

Young suggests that families play a safety game. At the park, a sporting event, movie theater or mall, be on the lookout for these three things:

1. A practical escape route (one that is physically realistic for your family)
2. A place to go for cover
3. Weapons of opportunity

Although Young spends much of his professional time as a police, corrections and as military trainer, he draws upon his personal experiences in his approach to personal safety situations.

“People take safety too much for granted,” Young said. “But there’s always something going on around you.”

Dave Young, founder of Arma Training, is an expert in equipment testing and establishing protocols. He specializes in crowd management, non-lethal weaponry, chemical and specialty impact munitions, ground and water-based defensive tactics and personal safety awareness.

Sign up for his free safety tips here.

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