By Sandy K. Johnson
As former Marines, Robert Petit and Chase Ford have a keen understanding of what is known as “situational awareness.” Journalists, not so much. But in an era when journalists are under assault, figuratively and literally, they need to be hyper-aware of their surroundings.
Petit and Ford work for Orbis Operations, a security company that typically provides services for law enforcement, the military and Fortune 100 companies. At an event hosted by the National Press Foundation and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, they provided “advanced situational awareness training” to help reporters and newsrooms recognize the warning signs of danger – and to figure out what to do in an active threat situation.
Petit and Ford use neuroscience as the basis for their security training. Essentially, that means training the brain to absorb information and act on it, sometimes in a way contrary to what the eyes think they are seeing. Petit called the process a decision-making framework.
Ford went through a litany of biometrics that are signals of potentially dangerous behavior: veins pulsing in a person’s neck, a deeply furrowed brow, not making eye contact, rapid breathing, defensive body language like foot tapping or crossed arms, or the thousand-yard stare. “We have to assess those cues,” he said.
Journalists must learn to read the signs of an event or an individual and act accordingly. Ford and Petit described the rule of three: If there are three anomalies in a situation, that’s a signal to put some distance between you and an individual or event.
If a situation turns violent, Petit had this advice: “Run, hide, fight. It’s simple.”
Their presentation on journalist safety came on the one-year anniversary of the shootings at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.