Be Aware and Survive

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Whenever a shooting is reported on the news, I think that will never happen to me. I live in a rural area. I avoid crowds. I’m rarely in a school or a movie theater or a fast food restaurant. Like most, I am lulled into a false sense of security.
 
Then, last weekend, there I was… right smack in the middle of downtown Phoenix, attending Phoenix Comic Fest, surrounded by thousands of costumed and grease-painted people.
 
Like every one of those thousands of people, I had to go through TSA-level security. Security staff inspected our bags and props, put us through metal detectors, and ran metal detecting wands over us as we stood with arms out.
 
The process was a reminder of the security fiasco at last year’s event. Some whackadoodle entered with an armory. He was intent on killing one the actors who was appearing. He looked like he was in costume, but he was geared up for a real battle. Someone finally noticed there was something not quite right about this guy, reported him to security, and he was taken into custody.
 
Event security reacted immediately and severely, banning all props, increasing security measures at the entrance, resulting in long lines of frustrated geeks.
 
This year, event organizers worked hard to ensure adequate security, keep lines at a minimum, and allow for most props to be brought in by cosplayers. No guns allowed, regardless of how fake they looked.
 
On Saturday, my friends and I had just gone through security, and one of my friends noticed someone had a rifle in their pack. It was clearly plastic, but it violated this year’s prop rules. My friend asked him how he got through security with that, and he just shrugged his shoulders. So, yeah, not a perfect system.
 
Saturday evening, my friends were attending a panel that didn’t interest me, so I went to another by myself. Two minutes into the panel, the alarm system went off with flashing lights and annoying sounds. No one moved. A second later, to confirm what was going on, an automated announcement blared that an emergency had been reported and everyone was to exit the building using the stairs.
 
We all grabbed our things and stood to comply with the orders. While my mind was immediately occupied with thoughts of fire and mass shootings, everyone else was just talking with each other and moving out of the room and down the stairs like a vast herd of geek sheep.
 
I, on the other hand, entered a state of hyper-awareness. Before leaving the room we were in, I paused and looked both ways, noting how the crowd was moving, where everyone was going, and especially looking for anyone who was acting unusual.
 
Before heading down the stairs, I paused and noted where my escape routes were. I listened carefully for any strange sounds. Any ‘pops’ of gunfire? Any screams?
 
I continued to look all around me, looking and listening. I also smelled the air for smoke or any other unusual smells. Though I have a poor sense of smell, I’ll use what I have. I used my senses to be aware of my surroundings, and just as important, I stayed calm.
 
I was able to reconnect with my friends as we did throughout the event – with Facebook Messenger – and we called it a day, not knowing how long it would take to reopen the convention center and get everyone back in through security. We were relieved to learn there was no emergency, only a faulty alarm system that was fixed by the next morning.
 
Later, I was telling my husband about what happened and how I handled it. He said, “Good girl!” and that he was proud of me for the way I stayed aware. I have to say, no one is prouder of me than myself!
 

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