Self Defense

A Layman’s Approach to Threat Assessments

Figured I'd share my layman's approach to conducting threat assessments since I recently reassessed threats given all the 2020 craziness. Glad I did this exercise as it seems threat exposure has definitely shifted.

I bring up some preparedness topics from time to time. I don’t usually dive too deep into them on this blog for various reasons. The primary reason is that preparedness isn’t the primary topic of this blog. Being the average guy that I am, without a law enforcement, military, or even a first responder background, my experience with preparedness is limited to my personal life experiences which, I assume, are shared with most of the adult population. As such, calling myself a survivalist would be ridiculous.

During normal times, the average person worries about unexpected financial expenses, medical emergencies, natural disasters, and job loss. I suspect most readers have a similar list of concerns. The likelihood and impact magnitude of these common threats may vary a bit depending on where one lives and current profession, but for the most part I, perhaps incorrectly, consider these to be the run-of-the-mill standard set of concerns. Some folks, like me, also consider the threat of violence worth being prepared for and opt for an armed citizen lifestyle.

However, 2020 has proven to be anything but normal. Throughout the United States we have faced COVID, economic shutdowns, supply chain disruptions, rioting, and looting. Many folks have personally experienced some form of income disruption. Tensions are high and seem to be escalating as we approach the presidential election. For all of these reasons, I’ve decided to revisit these threats using some of the risk analysis and management skills I’ve picked up as part of my engineering career while working with project managers.

The first step in risk analysis and management is to identify the threats. What’s on the list will vary depending on how specific and rigorous we want to be with this exercise. As an example, here is a list of threats that I’ve identified.

  • Natural disasters
    • Drought
    • Epidemic
    • Heat wave
    • Hurricane
    • Tornado
    • Wildfire
  • Man-Made disasters
    • Blackout
    • Chemical spill
    • Economic downturn
    • Riots
    • Terrorism
    • War
  • Government issues
    • Excessive rule of law
    • Without rule of law
  • Personal threats
    • Car accident
    • House fire
    • Identity theft
    • Job loss
    • Unexpected health complication
    • Violence

The next step in the process involves assigning each threat a probability and an estimated impact. One can spend a lot of time trying to gather data to support the assigned probability and estimated impact, but rather than getting into analysis paralysis I find a quick gut check is a good place to start. There are a dozen ways to skin this cat, but we can use a simple scale. Feel free to develop your own probability and impact scales for this, or use the ones I am going to suggest next.

For probability, I’m going to use a four score scale as follows:

  1. Low (up to 30% likelihood)
  2. Possible (30% to 60% likely)
  3. Probable (60% to 80% likely)
  4. Imminent (80% to 100% likely)

Next I am going to use a simple three score scale as follows:

  1. Marginal impact (life goes on after some temporary adjustments)
  2. Critical impact (life will be difficult for an extended period but recovery is possible)
  3. Catastrophic impact (life altering, an undesired new normal will be developed)

Once each threat has an assigned probability and estimated impact, we can multiply the score to determine our risk exposure. For example, given current events, the industry I work in, and region I live in, I view losing my current job possible (score of 2). Given current level of emergency savings and the likelihood of finding another job that will yield a similar level of income, I estimate the impact to be critical (score of 2). This gives me a risk exposure score of 4.

This is a good time to highlight the importance of revisiting one’s threat assessment with some regularity as conditions change and levels of preparedness change. For example, the last time I did this exercise, the threat of job loss had a low probability (score of 1) and the estimated impact was marginal (score of 1) which meant the overall exposure was 1 out of 12. Basically, that translates into nothing to worry about and doesn’t require much action. A score of 12 means we have a serious problem and need to do something about it.

Another important point is to double check the assigned scores and make sure they are realistic. It’s not uncommon to score items too low due normalcy bias or high due to exaggerated optics (mainstream and social media influence). The scoring process using a gut check is more of an art than a science. I’m not suggesting we should always be double guessing ourselves, but we should at least ask ourselves if we are being influenced or biased with the score. If you have data available, then use it to increase the confidence of exposure. Otherwise, make a note to come back to it after you’ve had a chance to do some research.

With the risk exposure calculated for each threat, we can now prioritize which threats to something about. Starting with the threats that have the most exposure. Each threat should have a response plan. The Tactical Wisdom blog has a really good post that describes a structured approach to developing a response plan which I’m going to try out for myself soon. However in my average Joe experience, a threat response plan has at least two parts to it. The first is a mitigation plan which puts forth the actions that can be taken to reduce the risk exposure. The second part is a contingency plan which outlines the actions that will be taken should the risk become reality. I’m going to attempt to illustrate this.

As an example, let’s consider the risk of a violent attack (this seems like a good choice given how much time I spend writing about self defense). Given current events, where I live, where I work, I currently see the threat of violence as probably (score of 2) and the estimated impact to be catastrophic (score of 3). This gives me a total exposure risk score of 6.

The two part response plan of for the threat of violence consists of the following mitigation steps:

  1. Developing and maintaining a high level of skill with a pistol.
  2. Obtaining the licenses required to carry a pistol.
  3. Keeping defensive tools on my person as much as possible.
  4. Developing and maintaining first aid skills.
  5. Keeping personal first aid tools on my person and supplemental supplies nearby.
  6. Avoid violating the rules of stupid: avoid going to stupid places, with stupid people, at stupid times, and doing stupid things.
  7. Developing, maintaining, and using home and auto security systems.
  8. Maintaining situational awareness.
  9. Being aware of self defense laws and maintaining a membership for legal services.

All of those things reduce the risk exposure by minimizing the probability of finding myself facing a violent thread and minimize the financial and legal impacts associated with a self defense event. While a lot of those mitigation steps also increase the likelihood of surviving a violent attack, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the impact of losing my life (or that of a loved one) and potential psychological impacts. As such, I maintain the estimated impact to still be catastrophic.

The contingency plan consists of:

  1. Deploying self defense and first aid skills.
  2. Deploying the plan for interaction with authorities.

Writing this out, I realize my contingency plan is very basic and vague and could seriously benefit from some more thought. But this wasn’t the point of this post (just a side effect).

The main point is simply that it’s important to assess potential threats and figure out what one is going to do about them. It’s also important to reassess the threats from time to time and realize that changing conditions and preparedness can result in a shift of priorities to a threat that has a greater risk exposure. How often the assessment depends a lot on current events and our own individual life situations. If a personal threat assessment isn’t something that has taken place recently, then I suggest taking a few moments and starting one. It can’t hurt to include other responsible family members in the process. The goal isn’t to be paranoid or scared, but rather to know where one stands and take steps to be ready to respond to the curveballs life likes to throw.


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