Urban Safety Tips, Part 1 – Buildings and Sidewalks

Pedestrians on Market Street in San Francisco Pedestrians on Market Street in San Francisco

Self-defense does not begin when the fists start flying. Self-defense is a permanent mindset. That doesn’t mean that we should be paranoid and fearful, not at all. Rather we should build good safety habits that eventually become a part of us, without thought.

Urban Safety – Know the Terrain

This is the first principle of self-defense. Be aware of your environment. Be intimately familiar with the layout of any places you visit frequently.

A. Staying Safe in Buildings

1. Know the Exits – In any building where you spend a sizeable amount of time, know all the exits. And if you really want to be careful, do this for every building you enter. Scan the building so that you know where the entrances and exits are. It only takes a moment and could save your life in the event of a robbery, hostage situation or other attack.

2. Don’t Let Strangers In – Never let anyone into your home that you don’t know. Period. Have two front doors:  your regular wooden door, and a metal safety door that you can see through. Open the wooden door but do not open the metal door to strangers. There’s never any need to open the door to door-to-door salesmen or missionaries. For service people, don’t let them in unless you were aware of an appointment in advance; ask to show the service person’s ID before you let them in. For someone claiming to be in trouble or needing to use the phone, be aware that this is a common ploy used by criminals to gain entry. Rather than letting them in, call the police on their behalf.

3. Keys Ready – When approaching your own front door, have your key out before you get there. Scan in all directions for threats before you open the door.

4. Don’t Invite Push-Ins – If someone approaches as you are about to open the door, don’t try to open the door in a hurry and get inside before they reach you. If you get the door open but don’t get inside in time, they could push you in and enter with you. Instead, do not unlock the door. If you are in an apartment building corridor, go to a neighbor’s door and knock. If you live in a suburban home, walk toward a neighbor’s home, even if this means walking toward the threat, and be ready to defend yourself, or scream for help. If you have a cell phone, dial 911 immediately.

B. Street Safety

1. Don’t go to bad neighborhoods – If it’s unavoidable, go during the daytime and take someone with you if possible. Carry a legal weapon, such as pepper spray.

2. Scan – Constantly scan 360 degrees for threats. Look behind you once in a while.

Market Street Cinema, San Francisco

San Francisco’s Market Street. When walking down the street, be aware of possible threats from recessed doorways, especially when passing abandoned buildings.

3. No iPod and phones – Do NOT listen to your iPod, wear headphones or earbuds, or talk on your phone as you walk down the street. You cannot be fully aware of your environment when you’re distracted that way. If you need to make a call or answer your phone, step into a store or restaurant for a minute.

4. Trust your intuition – If something tells you that a situation is not safe, or that someone is not right, then act accordingly. Don’t suppress your inner voice.

5. Avoid recessed spaces – When walking down the sidewalk, don’t hug the side of the building. Threats come from recessed doorways, alcoves, and alleys, especially when passing abandoned buildings, or after hours when shops are closed. But don’t walk right next to the parked cars either. Walk in the center of the sidewalk if possible.

6. Use “the fence” – Never let a stranger get closer than arm’s length. If a panhandler, survey-taker or someone passing out flyers approaches you, shake your head politely and keep on walking. In any case do not let them get closer than arm’s length. If someone continues to approach you, just put out your hands – arms extended – and say, “I’m not interested.” In martial arts, extending the arms in this way is called “The Fence”. It’s not a challenging move or a fighting stance. It’s just a barrier to protect your space.

7. Be rude if necessary – Women in particular often do not want to seem rude, and so will let someone get much closer than is safe. We need to change our attitudes. The one who is being rude is the person who is encroaching on our personal space. We are being assertive and self-protective and there’s nothing wrong with that.

8. Don’t stand around – Don’t linger on the sidewalk for any reason. If it’s a busy sidewalk, you stand a chance of having your pocket picked or your purse snatched. If it’s a quiet street or at night, you could get robbed. Once, many years ago, I was walking down a busy urban street on my way home from a movie. It was about 11pm and I stopped to chat with a panhandler I knew. He always panhandled by my building and I would sometimes just ask him how he was doing, etc. As I was chatting with him, someone approached behind me and stuck something hard in my back (like a gun barrel) and demanded my wallet. I gave him my wallet and he ran off. (There’s kind of a funny ending to this story. After the guy ran off, the panhandler said, “That wasn’t a gun, that was a hairbrush.” I took off running after the mugger, who was half a block away. I shouted to him to take the cash – about $50 – and drop the wallet and I would let him go. I didn’t want to lose all my cards and ID. The mugger stopped and shouted back, “You promise?” I said yes, so he dropped the wallet and ran off). Anyway, if you need to stop for something, step into a store or restaurant. If none is handy, at least stand with your back to a building wall.

9. No tight corners – When you turn a corner, give it a wide berth, so you can see what’s around the corner. This also prevents you from running into people.

10. Walk away from trouble – Don’t run to trouble. When there’s something going on, like a fight or a shooting, walk away. Don’t let your curiosity put you in danger.

Part 2, Walking With Your Lady

Leave a Reply