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Encina Inn & Suites Review - The Best of Santa Barbara, CA

Stand Your Ground on Your Safety & Security

Whether Traveling Alone or in Groups
Know Where ALL Exits Are Before the Party Begins

by Courtney Caldwell

We are living in a time of severe climate change with massive fires, ferocious flooding, horrific hurricanes, rapid sea rise worldwide due to accelerating melting of the glaciers, and heat waves like never seen before. Heat waves kill more people worldwide than any other natural disaster. To add fuel to the fire, no pun intended, we are also living in an age of mass gun shootings in which thousands of Americans are dying on American soil every year, more than in any current military operation around the world. That's not OK!

As difficult as that is to wrap our heads around, it is our current reality. We are all susceptible to these dangers by any one of these events at anytime, anywhere. Don't think for a moment that it will never happen to you because the odds are that it can and at some point, it likely will. Be prepared, not scared.

RTM’s mission this year is to place emphasis on personal safety and security whether you're traveling alone, with a friend, with a group or your family. Whether it's on a cross-country road trip or a week at a hotel on your dream vacation. Or, just a night out with friends.

Let's start with hotel safety. When staying at a hotel in an unfamiliar town, always check out the exits upon arrival in case of an emergency. Make it your priority. Don't wait until the chaos begins. It's too late then.

Most hotel rooms have only one way in and out. Some hotel rooms don't even have windows. But don't let that stop you from making a plan of escape. Every hotel has an exit 'plan of action' map on the back of the room door. Be sure you read that or take a photo with your phone. Or, you might even ask at the front desk when you check in, what is the hotel's safety and security protocol during a fire, an earthquake, or shooting? Hiding under the sheets or under the bed is not going to make the disaster go away. What you need more than anything during a disaster is focus, not panic, if you want to get out alive. Panic kills.

When staying at a new hotel, know the exit routes, all of them including your room, the lobby, hotel restaurant, ballroom, bar, laundry room, pool area if one, or any other area in which many people gather. There is usually more than one way to escape a hotel. Clustering at the same exit could make your situation worse. Prepare, be aware, and don't let the fear control you. The more you know going in, the better the chances of coming out in one piece.

Each hotel may have a different protocol depending on how many stories it has. For an earthquake, it may be to hide under a table to protect your head from falling debris at least until the shaking stops. For a fire, it could be a specific set of stairs and not the elevator. All hotels have service entrances and exits for employees so that may be an option as well. For a shooting, depending on where you are, it could be to shelter in place, or tuck and roll yourself out of sight.

We'd all like to think we know what we'd do in the event of a fire or a shooting but the reality is that when adrenaline takes over, without a plan of action and without focus, our fight or flight instincts kick in and take over all clarity of thought. That's when we make the worst mistakes because we are wired to react to fear with survival which means running or hiding from danger. Unless one is professionally trained like a police officer or a soldier, the average person will either freeze or flee. Not too many will stay to fight especially if they're up against a gun.

We're all on pins and needles... the slightest vehicle backfire, the thud of someone throwing a heavy bag of trash into a dumpster, two cars backing into each other in a parking lot, it all sends us running into a state of panic with most clustering into large groups in an open environment. If it were a sniper or a shooter intent on killing the masses, that large group just made themselves perfect targets. Running with the herd is not always the best exit strategy. Quite often, herds will follow the rest of the herd right off the cliff. That said, think ahead before you go out, is there an alley to duck into, a parked car to roll under, a dumpster to throw yourself into, anywhere to take cover instead of running in the open air with the herd? The first thing people say after a disaster is that they never thought it would happen to them. We are well beyond that state of mind. In today's environment, we can all assume that something will happen to any of us or someone we know at any time. So plan ahead as much as possible.

You may even consider calling your local police or fire department to take a free CPR class or emergency training course. More and more PD's and FD's are now offering free disaster classes. At least this way, you'll feel useful by helping others instead of feeling hopeless in the aftermath.

Here are some tips to keep your anxiety in check and to know what to do in the event of a fire, an earthquake, a flood or a shooting. First and foremost, know where every door and window is not only in your hotel room, but in every location you visit. Ask yourself these questions, memorize them for every location you enter. Is there a back door? Is there a side door? Where are the exit signs? Is there a closet in which you can lock yourself? Is there a laundry chute you can slide down? Is there something you can hide under? If there are no other doors than the one you entered, what in the room can you pick up and throw through a window to escape? You'd be surprised how strong you become when adrenaline kicks in. Don't underestimate yourself or your strength especially when it comes to protecting your family.

If you're higher up, say on a second or third floor, are there stairs, more than one set of stairs, an emergency railing and stairs outside the building? Is there a large pipe to slide down?

During the shocking Station nightclub fire in RI in 2003, 100 souls perished. The cause of the fire was illegal pyrotechnics used on the stage in a small club that wasn't conducive to fireworks. The owners were eventually charged and sent to jail. When the crowd realized the club was on fire and it wasn't part of show anymore, everyone panicked and all made a beeline to the same entrance in which they came, even though there were rear exits and windows. Only a few people threw chairs through the multiple windows and escaped that way but the majority were found dead piled on top of each other at the entrance all trying to escape the same way.

In times of panic, humans have a pattern of clustering at the same exit in which they entered where quite often it ends up a stampede or a pig pile, making them sitting ducks for a fire or a shooting. Instinct takes over, fight or flight. Knowing ahead of time where ALL exits are could save your life. Practice your tuck, duck, dive and rolls at home or in your backyard. You never know when you'll need those skills.

In these trying times we live in, it’s critical to make yourself aware of escape routes before the party begins. Do yourself a favor and become familiar with the lay of the land of each location you visit as your first course of action, not when the danger begins, then it's too late. You won't have time nor the state of mind to think clearly. Instead, you'll be running for your life, possibly getting caught up in a stampede. Become pro-active instead of reactive in the event of a fire, an earthquake or a shooting.

Another hint, always know your parking lot exits. Get there early so you can find a spot near the lot's entrance/exit. Most lots have more than one. Back your car into a parking spot at all times for a quick getaway no matter where you go so you don't get caught in a bottleneck. In the event of a fire, flood or shooting, again you become a sitting duck, and then find yourself trying to escape not only the disaster but your car as well.

Yes, it sucks that we live in these dangerous times, but the fact of the matter is that it is what it is at least until we change our gun laws. We can't outlaw mother nature but we can help reduce climate change by doing our fair share by not polluting the atmosphere and environment. This will help reduce the severity of the weather events. With billions of people on the planet, every person's contributions make a difference.

However, unlike weather forecasts, mass shootings have no predictability as to when, where or who so never assume it won't happen to you or in your nightclub, movie theatre, mall, school, hotel, church or synagogue, or kindergarten. As long as this country continues to allow these excessively lenient gun laws to remain in effect, not only will these mass shooting continue, they will increase significantly, as we've already witnessed. Four in the last five weeks alone at the time of this writing.

Keep yourself and loved ones safe by being aware of your surroundings at all times, make a mental note of all your exit signs wherever you go, make a plan with your family on what to do whether together or separated, put an app on your phone from the Red Cross or another disaster app that allows you to instantly contact each other with an 'I'm OK' text. The uncertainty of not knowing can be terrifying.

I can tell you from experience, both of my grandsons had mass shootings at the two separate colleges they attended in California in recent years. Many students lost their lives. The first thing I did when I heard it on the news was send a text to warn them there was a shooter on campus so they would be aware and take cover. Getting them out of harms way was my first priority. Though both on campus at the time of each shooting, neither of them were in the line of fire, thank goodness. However, waiting those few hours to learn if they were or were not was gut wrenching.

Their family and friends were physically sickened by the terror of the unknown and the possibility of how it could end. Too many families have already suffered this pain and loss and know of what I speak. And that pain and loss is forever. It may go away on your local news station but the pain and loss never goes away for the families who've lost a loved on, or for those who survived but are left with life-long trauma both physically and mentally.

So, don't just show up at your hotel or a party or at school or at your company's holiday party, and worry about exits later. Don't allow yourself to live under the elusion that it could never happen to you. That's what every single person who's been shot and lived to tell the tale has said after the fact. "I never thought it would happen to me!" Always assume it will and train yourself and your family in every way you can, now!