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Over the past several months, I’ve been approached by several patients with concerns about their personal safety and the safety of their family members. Why, might you ask, would your doctor weigh in on this issue?  Throughout history, many doctors have been martial artists.  As some of you know, I have more than a passing interest in self-defense. I’ve spent thousands of hours studying this discipline.  I hold a 3rd degree black belt in Kenpo Karate, I’ve studied knife fighting with Master Tom Sotis and I continue to train in tactical defense at Gunsite, the country’s premier private firearms training facility in Prescott, Arizona.

My interest in self-defense was triggered at age 20, when 4 men with knives attempted to mug me in New York City, one block from my apartment.  Shortly thereafter, a friend and surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital was shot dead in his scrubs.  Years later, while working at a VA Hospital in Los Angeles during my residency, a drug abusing Vietnam veteran came to the hospital with a gun one night to kill me and a nurse.  And most recently, I used my training to abort an attempted mugging in Tucson while meeting some friends for dinner; again, I was confronted by 4 gentlemen, which is typical of these predators who travel in packs.  I will tell you that being suddenly faced with these threats in real time tends to focus your thoughts and energy on real solutions.  Theoreticals go out the window.  Put simply, it’s not like the movies.

The Problem of Home Invasions in Tucson:  A recent Arizona Daily Star article focused on the rash of home invasions in upscale foothills neighborhoods. Following Sutton’s Law, this should not surprise. Crooks rob people and homes where there is a high likelihood of a payoff.  Chances are that you live in one of these neighborhoods.  In addition, there have been some brutal attacks during home invasions – crimes that have crossed the line from thievery to sociopathic behavior.  In one recent attack, a 91-year-old man who was repeatedly stabbed in his own home when he refused to open his safe.

Intelligent Planning:  As the saying goes, “People don’t plan to fail; they fail to have a plan.”  In no area is this more evident than in the area of self-defense. What I’ve learned as a self-defense instructor is that in the moment of a personal attack, or a home invasion, people do what they are trained to do. For those with no training, chaos, confusion and emotion rule the day.

Raising Awareness:  The primary reason for writing this article is to get you to think about creating a plan to protect yourself and your family. Your plan will and should be different than your neighbor’s plan.  People have different levels of understanding of threats, different personalities and differing abilities to protect themselves.  I would never give the same advice to any two people.  For some, a “safe room” and an alarm system are good plans.  For others, firearm training add another degree of protection.  There is no such thing as a “best approach” to developing a protection plan.  You have to know yourself, you need some expert help and you need to think about what you are willing to do in the event that you were faced with a threat to your life.

Layers of Security:  If you have an alarm system and you think this is all you need, think again.  An alarm system is an integral part of any home protection system, but it is not sufficient.  In my neighborhood, several invasions have involved the cutting of phone lines, which disables the call to the alarm monitor.  In general, you want to have several layers of protections of your home.  You want to force home invaders to decide, at multiple points in their plan, to abort their plan – before they get into your home.

What do I mean by layers?  Front gates or driveway gates are a good place to start. Thieves like to back up a truck to your home. If there is a physical impediment that could slow them down or draw attention to their activities, this is a good first deterrent.  Strategically placed floodlights with motion detectors are excellent. Walking up to a home at night and being hit in the face with a flood light gets an invader’s attention.  I am a strong believer in security cameras, provided that you have a screen that allows you to localize the point of home invasion in real time. This tool can give you a leg up, knowing precisely where in your home a bad guy or guys are lurking.

Doggies add a nice layer of security, because a bark can awaken a home owner, or lead to a nasty bite. If you decide to arm yourself, that’s great; just make sure you get some expert training.  Make sure that your weapons are safely secured and yet close enough to your bedside that you will able to get to them in a matter of seconds.  Most of us have children or grandchildren who come to our homes. Eternal vigilance is the primary rule in owning a firearm. Finally, you and your family should rehearse a plan regarding precisely what you would do if the alarm goes off at 3 am. You should conduct periodic drills.  If you don’t plan in this way, you will not likely be able to respond in an effective manner.

Personalization of your Plan:  If you have questions about securing your person or your home, and you are comfortable discussing this with me, feel free to do so during your next visit.  There are different ways to solve every problem and I don’t assume to have all the answers. However, I will be happy to provide you with some food for thought and point you in the right direction to help you become more secure in your home.