Thursday, May 31, 2012

From A Walker's Journal -- Five and a half hours.

For about five and a half hours yesterday, our neighborhood was on lockdown, while police searched for an armed shooter who had killed three people at an expresso bar just blocks from where I live. There are many iterations to the story.  The same shooter actually killed a total of four people and then took his own life.  Accounts indicate that the event cannot be characterized as gang-related violence, but rather as the mental instability of a single individual, of whom a member of his family said, "We could see this coming."

For those five and a half hours, as I sent out communications to our neighborhood disaster preparedness coordinators, I was in the same position as other members of our community who live in constant fear of a stray bullet or an unintended consequence affecting their life.  That two very well off neighborhoods -- Ravenna and West Seattle -- had armed police officers going door to door is a phenomena that others who live in different parts of the city are very familiar with.  They have been asking for action to quell the violence for many years.

For most in Ravenna, life is back to normal this morning and life is good.  For others in parts of the city where random violence occurs on a daily basis, life is as usual too -- but the reality is much more painful.  Perhaps while horrific events are still in our minds, we can figure out a way to reduce the risk of this type of violence -- that includes enforcing current laws on the books, re-examining gun control registration issues, and re-staffing the gang units to prior levels at the Seattle Police Department.

My heart goes out to all the families who have lost loved ones or friends from such senseless violence.  Colin Powell says that optimism is a force multiplier.  I am optimistic that, without guns and using our best minds, we can make some progress on this issue.  It's larger than Seattle, but I would be satisfied to start right here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Locked down

[Update to this earlier post:  the shooter in both incidents described below was the same person.  A third victim from the neighborhood shooting died later that day.  The shooter put a bullet in his own head when apprehended around 4:30pm and died last night.  He killed a total of five people, with a sixth still in critical condition.  The entire event lasted around 5.5 hours, an eternity.]

My neighborhood is locked down as I write this, as are the neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools, two nearby parks and a ravine that runs several blocks away from my home.  A man shot five people this morning at a neighborhood expresso place.  Two of the victims are dead, and the others are at our trauma one center, called Harborview Medical Center.  The shooter is loose.

About the same time this happened this morning, a carjacker shot a woman in the head near a downtown civic treasure called Town Hall, another place people generally consider safe.  Police are searching for that shooter also.

These events happened the day after the Seattle Police Department described their strategy for handling the violence the city saw over the long holiday weekend.

Guns are clearly not under control in this city.  And there is a question -- though not necessarily on this morning's events -- about whether or not we need to ramp back up the police gangs units.  Right now, police armed with assault weapons are going door to door in my neighborhood. 

One thing is for sure:  the situational awareness tips I provided yesterday may not be enough to keep you safe, at least in Seattle right now.  I'm locked in my house, unable to drive into the university district to keep meetings scheduled with my students this afternoon.  It's not just the inconvenience to them -- they also most likely live in the ten block radius and we want to be sure they are safe, too  -- but it's the notion that none of us is safe that is bothering me.  For my entire life, I have gone where I wanted, on my own, to satisfy my own interests or curiosity, by simply taking reasonable precautions.

What's next?  I struggle for the words, but my friend and former colleague Paul Mullin says it all:
"If you can spare some light, send it to the victims of violence today.

Please. We can do better than this. Please. We have to. Don't lock down on your beliefs. 
Open your heart and help change all this for the better."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Walk smart

Kate and Annie, "Inspiring Hope" walk, 2011
Seattle has seen an unusually high number of shootings in the past month, most of them in public places.  The issue has now become front-and-center-first-pageworthy since a white man died in crossfire when driving his children and father to pick up some groceries.  Still another bystander was shot at the Seattle Folklife Festival this weekend.  The photo of police officers chasing the suspect across Seattle Center grounds was unnerving.

Certainly the city is going to try to address the issue, which appears to be gang-related.  But what kinds of decisions can the rest of us make about how we conduct our lives, especially with well-loved choices?

I walk early in the morning when there are only a few runners and walkers out because I like the quiet.  Is that still safe to do?   I cut through an alley to get to Cafe Allegro in the University District, where sometimes there are pockets of people arguing.  Should I change my route?  These examples serve to make my point -- should I change my behavior in anticipation of a bad thing happening?

I think it makes sense to remain as alert as possible, whenever you are on the street, per the suggestions I've given in the last chapter of Advice From A Risk Detective.   Changing your patterns is another matter.   If there's data to support your decision, by all means do so.  But if it's simply your own anxiety that something bad might happen, then use that anxiety to make you more aware and to manage the personal risk where you can.  The six pieces of advice below apply especially to walkers and runners.

Stay away from areas where data indicates a high incidence of violence.
Move confidently and with purpose, indicating you know where you are and where you are going.
Carry a mobile phone.
Make sure you have identification on you.
If you're wearing headphones, be sure that you can still hear external sounds.
Ask for help if you need it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Think before you click!

Arlington National Cemetery
We're past Mother's Day -- and I won't ask how many of you might have responded to what looked like great deals online and later found them to be problematic -- but Memorial Day is coming up quickly.  As Trend Micro points out, that holiday, with online pitches suggesting ways to remember deceased military family members, is fraught with online fraud and scams.  

It pays to think before you click through on special offers.  Remember, Father's Day is not far behind.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Neighborhood block watch programs

After a reporter read my Nosey Parkers  post, she interviewed me for a story on block watches.

I learned a lot from her when we talked, including the fact that nearly 50% of the block watches in this country are not connected to police departments or neighborhood organizational programs where a city actually trains those who belong.  To me, that is a scary statistic and sounds more like vigilante behavior, similar to that attributed to George Zimmerman.

Take a look at the story yourself, and see what you think.  For myself, I'd rather focus on the neighborhood disaster preparedness program we have in our 300+ home program than be patrolling our streets.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Home Security 101

Identifying risk around the home is the topic of the first chapter of my book, where  I discuss the pro's and con's of a home security system -- just as does this this home alarm system article.

Having to remember to turn on and off a security system in a timely manner is not everyone's cup of tea.  And, as the article points out, many security system owners leave them turned off much of the time so as not to set off alarms.  But learning to keep the doors and first floor windows locked can become second nature, with a few behavioral tweaks.

Remember the article I posted a week or so ago about locks and keys?  Take the advice on locks and keys then pair it with smart strategies to keep your home safe. That strategy may or may not include the purchase and maintenance costs around an electronic alarm system.

Either way, lock the doors and windows, and don't stash your key where it's easy to find.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Classroom and the Real World

Johnson Hall, University of Washington, site of my class
This month's ASA newsletter was published early this morning.  Andrew Hansen's research note discusses the types of early warning or alert systems that have been developed of late to help us deal with natural disasters.  My column reflects on the honor and challenge of teaching about risk at the graduate school level, which in turn enriches the consulting practice and the Institute for Research and Innovation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Locks and keys

I was interested to read a report from Seattle Police Department Crime Prevention Coordinator Terrie Johnston, who shared some information on recent burglaries in the area.

The police have caught several of the burglars, including one woman who turned to burglary rather than become a prostitute, to support her drug habit.  She took police around and pointed out homes she had broken into -- and "she told detectives that she was surprised how many people leave their house keys out in mailboxes; or on the front porch (she found keys in a pair of shoes on the front porch)."

I know of perfectly intelligent people who also leave their keys under flower pots or paving stones -- but it's worth pointing out that burglars probably watch the same TV shows and read the same books as we do.  So those spots aren't so secret after all.

The woman also told the police that she often looked in windows and could see purses, cash, and electronics left out in plain sight, offering an extra incentive to break in.

The final story was about how a resident left his back door unlocked while he gardened in the front yard.  None of the neighbors or the homeowner saw a thief enter and take cash and prescription medications from a back bedroom.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wash your hands

I have chronic bronchial asthma, so twice a year I end up on prednisone and antibiotics from a form of acute bronchitis I can't otherwise kick.  I usually end up in this condition after I travel somewhere on an airplane.  The most recent episode was in late February when, in a hurry to pack, I did not include wipes to use on my airplane armrests or tray table or on the food menu I pulled from the seat pocket.

A story today in the New York Times on sickness and travel helps explain why some of us get sick, and refers us to the website for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for additional information on international travel, and on what to do if you need medical attention while traveling abroad.

Take a look and see if the statistics in the story will help you remember to reduce your risk and wash your hands more often.