Staying Alive

Staying Alive

Staying Alive—How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters, is the latest personal safety book to roll off the presses, courtesy of the crew at Safe Havens International, and it’s a good one. A team effort by Michael Dorn, Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, Stephen Satterly and Chris Dorn, the book offers something for everyone, including students new to the field as well as old hands.

For those just getting rolling, the book does an excellent job of laying a solid foundation, from prevention to intervention, in an easy-to-read format – concise, to the point, with key points clarified and illustrative stories generously sprinkled about.

For safety instructors and their students, the overall design lends itself to classroom use, breaking the topic down into easily digested portions. Notably, it provides a good, quick overview of topics worth consideration, with a particular emphasis on brain power – training and conditioning to think well and respond wisely at all stages of conflict in order to survive.

But above and beyond all of the above, one of the most significant contributions this book makes is a thoughtful reconsideration of what programs work, what programs don’t, and how we can do better.

There is a tendency in the crime prevention field to treat programs as sacred cows–valiant efforts for the general good that deserve our blessings. Any criticisms are shoved aside as blasphemous or mean spirited, and persistent challenges can be equated with professional suicide. This attitude has undermined progress in the field for at least half a century, most notoriously with the Scared Straight program at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey, which basically declared itself effective based on nothing more than self-congratulations by convicted felons, or the Stranger Danger program, which misled kids into distrusting bushy-haired strangers, while the real threat lay primarily with acquaintances, including relatives. I’d offer up more examples, but no doubt would risk excommunication myself.

But my point is that Staying Alive bells the cat, launching this critical conversation—what works, what doesn’t, and how can we do better? Are the training approaches currently being implemented really the best way to go?

A number of programs that have recently generated enthusiasm, including ALICE, Run, Hide, Fight, and others, have a lot to offer, but there’s serious room for improvement, (although, to be fair, the programs themselves are only partly to blame.) A media-inflamed national obsession with active shooters has inspired too many schools, along with other institutions, to bring in very narrowly defined training programs that can skew student expectations and staff responses to all kinds of crises. Unless we take great care to balance these trainings with appropriate guidance on responding to more common problems, we risk developing warped responses to everything from killer bees and tornadoes to suicidal kids and angry parents, exacerbating more problems than we resolve.


Along with raising important questions, the book offers some very specific improvements. Dorn’s “Window of Life” flow chart for responding to crises does a great job of balancing simplicity with wide applicability, fine tuning earlier approaches that were problematic, often because they left us paralyzed with indecision – what do we do first? Run? Hide? Call for help? Drawing lessons from Safe Havens extensive experience running drills in schools, Mike and his team were able to clarify the order in which steps should be taken: Protect yourself, then others, then the place and finally call for help. Equally important, the authors make a strong case for empowering staff and students to take independent action, recognizing the need for quick responses, and they wisely promote training that responds to highly varied scenarios – not just school shootings – so that staff and students are prepared for a wide variety of challenges.

In typical Safe Havens fashion, the team wasn’t satisfied with merely putting the book together — they’ve also posted a series of videos that supplement each chapter, and which are available at no cost via the web, as introduced in the clip below:

In short, Staying Alive is an eminently practical, highly readable guide to survival, especially applicable to schools, and worthy of a spot on the shelf next to DeBecker’s The Gift of Fear and Grossman’s On Killing. Highly recommended reading!

Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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