Avoidance, Mitigation, Defense: a Personal Threat Matrix

Whether in the “Average Joe” world or that of protective services, a well-trained professional will tell you to stay ahead of the curve by remaining a step ahead of the threat. Practicing threat awareness as part of your everyday defensive measures is a crucial part of this process. To that end, the use of a personal threat matrix will help understand the nuances of proactiveactive, and reactive measures. Bad things happen to good people but don’t manifest out of the clear blue sky.

Much like the laws of physics, a real-world threat converts from a potential threat to an active threat directly from cause and effect. If you go looking for trouble, then trouble will find you. 

Regardless of your motivation or intentions, putting yourself in a situation that might put you in a bad situation is a terrible idea.
Regardless of your motivation or intentions, putting yourself in a situation that might put you in a bad situation is a bad, bad idea.

The age-old adage “Don’t put yourself in a situation that puts yourself in a situation” accurately applies here.

Give criminals or opportunists (bad guys) a reason to select you as a target, then they will choose you as a target.

Look at it from the bad guys’ perspective. Lowering your guard, burying your nose in your cell phone, and appearing lost or incompetent or weak or unaware, make you a prospective victim. Any one of (or combination of) those things is a soft target indicator and may result in unwanted attention.

Situational awareness fail: too focused on phone in an exposed place.

The Spectrum: Avoidance, Mitigation, Defense

[Proactive, Active, Reactive]

The recommended hierarchy for managing any threat, whether potential or active, is to first avoid it. Failing avoidance, the next best option is to mitigate the threat or lessen its impact. Your only remaining option, failing avoidance and mitigation, is defense. 

When grading your response, the A answer is to avoid the threat altogether. 

Let’s look at avoidance, mitigation, and defense as a spectrum ranging from best (avoidance) to worst (defense). Avoidance is considered best because it allows you to resolve a situation before it becomes a full-blown problem. 

Avoidance is a matter of employing proactive measures. 

Mitigation is when you employ active measures.

Defense is when you employ reactive measures.

Situational awareness fail: walking while distracted or appearing lost.

An interpersonal threat doesn’t care what you’re worried about, only that you’re distracted and an easy victim. 

Avoid – Mitigate – Defend

The avoid-mitigate-defend threat matrix (specifically, threat control matrix) represents an integral relationship between avoidance and proactive measures. This keeps you ahead of the Action-Reaction Power Curve (ARPC) and lowers your risk of physical injury. 

Proactive Measures

Proactive measures (avoidance) include such things as: 

  • remaining outwardly observant
  • applying situational measure
  • use of discretion in information sharing

Each of these soft skills requires no physical engagement. Their use will put you ahead of the ARPC. It is where you use your mind and its connection to your environment as an effective preventative measure to avoid a potential or active threat.

Active Measures

Active measures (mitigation) include such things as: 

  • conversation
  • verbal judo
  • body language (observable nonverbal cues)
  • other de-escalation techniques

These are also soft skills that require no physical engagement. Their use will put you ahead of the ARPC. In this response, you will use your mind, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, wile, and other non-physical-engagement resources to mitigate a potential or actual threat. 

Reactive Measures

Reactive measures (defensive) are where things get physical. If both proactive and active measures have failed (or you failed to employ them), you are relegated to reactive measures. Reactive measures (physical response options) – force you to confront all the integral components of controlling a violent physical altercation: distance, position, movement, and injury. They become necessary when you no longer control the situation, i.e., the situation now controls you. Other factors that militate a physical outcome might include the number of adversaries involved and the introduction of ballistic or non-ballistic weapons to the scenario. The situation has developed into an active threat warranting a physical contact response only.

Such a response may include: 

  • defensive tactics
  • martial arts
  • an improvised weapon or weapon of opportunity
  • a firearm

Gone now is the opportunity for preventative measures. You have passed the point of no return. Soft skills are no longer applicable. You now have no choice but to rely upon physical measures to solve what has deteriorated from a sketchy situation to a full-blown tactical problem. 

Avoid ⇔ Mitigate ⇔ Defend. 

Where you find – or place – yourself on this spectrum will determine your deployment options. 

Proactive vs. Reactive

The closer you are to avoid, the lower your potential for injury and the greater your opportunity to resolve the situation with preventative measures. This places you ahead of the ARPC.

The closer you are to defend, the greater your potential of incurring severe bodily injury or death. This puts you at the very back of the ARPC. 

Knowing how to use this matrix to your advantage, why would you not ever want to apply preventative measures? Why would you not want to stay ahead of the ARPC and avoid potential physical harm? 

Adherence to the proactive side of the fence pushes you toward the front of the ARPC. Failure to do so (i.e., moving toward the bottom of the spectrum) pushes you toward the back of the ARPC, exponentially increasing the probability of physical injury or worse. 

Only after you have exhausted every layered problem-solving opportunity on the matrix would you need to rely fully on your hard skills. At that point, you’re consigned to maximum physical commitment for survival.

Situational awareness and mindset are important. The best self-defense fight is the one you can avoid.
Situational awareness and mindset are important. The best self-defense fight is the one you can avoid.

Reactive Legalities

A consideration for the application of hard skills is that of legal justification. Are you legally justified in applying an appropriate use of force? Is your level of force appropriate and objectively reasonable? Are you willing to accept the legal and civil ramifications of going hands-on or to weapons? 

A situation calling for hard skills is already stressful enough. You will be held accountable under exigent circumstances within a compressed timeline. This adds layers of complexity to an already difficult, potentially life-or-death, decision-making process. 

Insight into this cause-and-effect threat control matrix affords you a matter of choice. You can make the determination ahead of time to use your soft skillsor to rely upon your hard skills to try and manage a real-world situation. Your well-being and personal safety are directly related to your position within the threat control matrix. Therefore, when appropriately applied, preventive measures keep you closer to the avoidance end of the avoid – mitigate – defend spectrum.

Stay ahead of the action-reaction power curve and out of a hospital.

Steve Tarani is a former fulltime CIA protective programs employee, small arms and defensive tactics subject matter expert who served on POTUS 45 pre-election executive protection detail. He is the lead instructor for NRA’s non-ballistic weapons training program offered nationally. Tarani is also a DoD and FLETC-certified federal firearms instructor who has been on staff at Gunsite Academy (AZ) as a Rangemaster for over twenty years. Formerly sworn, he is also a former federal contractor and service provider for the US Defense Intelligence Community, US Naval Special Operations Command and other government agencies. Tarani additionally serves on the National Sheriffs’ Association Committee for School Safety and Security.

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