How to Protect Yourself (and your staff and family)
This article lists specific security measures that abortion providers, clinic staff, and activists are encouraged to implement at their offices, clinics, homes, and on the road.
Violent and harassing anti-choice activity is often directed towards individual abortion providers, clinic staff, activists, and even their families. To protect ourselves, various personal security measures can be implemented.
It's unfortunate to have to divert time and resources to prevent unjustified attacks, but putting at least some personal security measures into place will decrease the risk of becoming a target. It may also help ease the stress of living and working in what some call a "war zone".
Personal security specialists are available to provide threat assessments to abortion providers and activists.
- collecting information on the history and nature of any threats or violence to date
- evaluating your activities, habits, and lifestyle to discover any risk factors
- examining your home, office, and vehicle to evaluate the degree of protection offered
- talking to family members, colleagues, and any other people who have information or insight into the nature of real or potential threats
You may be at risk regardless of your relative importance or profile in service provision.
The anti-choice don't always target specific, or high-profile individuals. They may shop around for the easiest mark. And if you do have a high profile, you risk attracting attention not only to yourself, but to others around you.
Therefore, doctors who perform abortions have a serious responsibility to protect their family and staff, as well as themselves.
Security measures should be "layered." No single thing on its own will stop an intruder, and no amount of security may stop a truly determined attacker. But each security measure you implement represents one more obstacle that the attacker must solve, one more delay that consumes his valuable time. Professional, well-prepared assailants can gain access to you in a matter of moments. The longer it takes for them to reach you, and the more difficult it is, the greater risk they run of exposing themselves or leaving evidence.There are four critical steps to a planned attack. Your would-be attacker must:
- Select and locate you.
- Identify you by sight to make sure he's got the right person.
- Surveil you and plan his attack.
- Carry out the attack.
If you make yourself a difficult target at each of these four steps, your would-be attacker is more likely to give up and look for an easier mark.
There are two main ways to protect yourself: make yourself hard to find, or turn your home and office into a fortress. The ideal solution is probably a blend of both.
Most people who are targeted by the anti-choice are surveilled or stalked prior to any attack.
- Be alert and become surveillance conscious. Make a habit of looking out for suspicious activity or persons around you. Always pay attention when you’re out in public to what's happening around you. You're particularly vulnerable in open spaces, so keep moving and limit your exposure. Consider carrying a pocket panic alarm.
- Vary your habits—Avoid actions that might make it easy to monitor and target you. For example, choose a different restaurant for lunch every day and work on a more flexible schedule, so you’re not leaving your house at the same time each day.
- Get an unlisted phone number, a call display device, and a post office box. Never give your home address to anyone, other than to people you're inviting over.
- Get your address out of databases, including car and health insurance agencies, telephone services, libraries, voters' lists, your bank, cable company, credit card companies, and any others you can think of.
- If possible, take your name off of any legal and financial documents, such as a mortgage. If you live with a low-risk person, put everything in their name.
- Form the habit of using your first initial to identify yourself, especially when signing anything.
- Search the Internet for your name. If you discover unnecessary personal information about yourself on the Internet, ask that it be taken off or revised.
- Keep a cell phone with you at all times - even when you're asleep, or out working in the yard or garage. Help will be only a phone call away, plus a cell phone allows you to move about while talking.
- Don't discuss highly secure information over any phone, especially cell phones. Don't give out personal data to callers unless you know who they are.
There are three main locations where you should implement personal security measures:
In the medical business, your security measures must strike a balance between easy public access and restrictive physical security measures.
- If you're in a clinic, consider installing a "mantrap" - a separate, locked entry cubicle with a buzzer.
- Make sure all staff are fully aware of potential dangers and are always on the lookout for suspicious persons or activity.
- If you're a tenant in a building, talk to the building manager and your neighbors and ask them to pay attention, too.
- If you're in a stand-alone clinic or office, glance out your windows frequently for suspicious persons or activity.
- If possible, hire a guard or use security volunteers at street level.
- Maintain an open view of your entranceway and install outside cameras if necessary. Even dummy cameras can deter intruders.
- Get a post office box for your business mail, and open all your mail at the post office. Don't open mail with no return address - just throw it out.
- Hand over unopened any suspicious mail - for example, lumpy envelopes - to a post office employee.
- Conduct drills at least four times a year so you know what to do in case of bomb threats, clinic invasions, and fire.
- Screen patients' support persons in advance. Don't allow anti-choice partners inside the clinic.
If you're the first staff person to arrive in the morning:
- Look around for any suspicious persons or activity.
- Ensure the windows and doors of your workplace have not been tampered with.
- Scan the perimeter and entrance area of the building for anything that doesn't belong, such as a potted plant or a package.
- If you do see anything unusual or suspicious, don't touch it, and don't go inside. Just call the police.
Upon entering your clinic or office:
- Do a walkthrough to ensure nothing has been disturbed.
- Check inside waste receptacles, plants, closets, furniture, and other hidden areas for anything that doesn't belong.
- Be alert for unusual or unpleasant smells (which could indicate butyric acid, for example).
During the day:
- Train staff to be observant and alert - for example, someone should quickly notice an unfamiliar object left lying around.
- Don't accept packages at the clinic that you can't identify as legitimate.
- Be suspicious of gifts, such as flowers or boxed candy.
- Use a single trustworthy delivery company for all your shipments and ask your suppliers to use it as well. Ask unfamiliar delivery persons for identification.
- Keep a daily security log of any incidents that occur.
- Identify and photograph anti-choice protesters, especially regulars. Keep the photos and any other relevant information on anti-choice activity in a scrapbook.
Your car is the weakest link. 80% of terrorist attacks occur in and around vehicles.
- Consider installing a car alarm, which, besides its obvious benefits, can also be set off in transit if you need to attract attention to yourself.
- Use the same reliable service person and join AAA. Your vehicle must be dependable.
- If you have a garage at home, park in it and close the door - that way, attackers can't tell if you're home.
- Always park as close as possible to your destination, and whenever possible, park in secure garages or parkades. This makes it harder for someone to tamper with your car.
- Keep your windows closed and doors locked at all times. Power locks and power windows are ideal, because you can control all the doors and windows from the driver's seat.
- Vary your travel routes - study a map and mark as many routes as possible, then use them.
- Know where safe havens are on all routes. These can include any place with people around, such as 7-11's, service stations, hospitals, police or fire stations, hotels, and so on.
- Stay on well-lit, well-travelled routes that you are familiar with.
- If something happens, you can still drive with a shattered window or a flat tire. Don't stop moving till you're safe.
- Don't stop for strangers or in isolated areas. If you're forced to stop for any reason, it's usually safer to stay in your car with your doors locked.
- Install air conditioning in your vehicle, so you can keep your windows closed during the summer.
- Drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission, because there is less chance of stalling.
- To make it harder to track you, don't use personalized licence plates.
When returning to your car:
- Try to stay surrounded by other people. Have someone walk you to your car if you're going to be exposed.
- Quickly inspect your vehicle as you approach it and when you reach it.
- Make sure no one is hiding inside and that the interior looks untouched.
- Never enter your car if it looks like it's been tampered with, and don't hang around trying to fix it. Your attacker may be nearby, waiting for an opportunity to approach you.
- If there's a problem, walk immediately to a safe place, call police, and don't return to your car without help.
- Check your mirrors frequently and be alert for suspicious activity on the part of pedestrians or other drivers.
- Be wary of minor accidents that aren't your fault - assailants may rear-end you so you will stop and get out of your car.
- To lose someone, make right-hand turns, not left turns where you risk becoming boxed into traffic.
- When stopped in traffic, always leave enough distance between your car and the vehicle in front to allow you to turn out in an emergency.
- Once you've reached your destination, have all your belongings in hand and exit your vehicle quickly and efficiently.
When implementing security measures at your home, get insurance to cover theft of the contents.
Never play the hero to protect your possessions. Your goal is to defend your personal safety and that of your family, not risk it.
Get a Dog:
A dog is a superior security measure. A dog can serve as your first line of defence and become a major stumbling block to attackers. Dogs have instinctive protective behaviour - whenever your dog is around you, it is automatically at work protecting you, even while you're relaxing or sleeping.
- Get a dog that fits in with your lifestyle and that of your family. You don't need a large, mean dog - a small or medium-sized one will do. Any dog has far better hearing and a better sense of smell than you do. And virtually all dogs bark.
- Keep your dog in the house and travel with it. A dog locked in a room or chained in a backyard can't offer as much protection, so keep it with you as much as possible.
- Install exterior lighting and always turn it on at night. Good exterior lighting is one of the most overlooked security measures.
- If possible, install motion detector lights as well.
- Keep light fixtures out of easy reach. Intruders may drop by during the day to unscrew bulbs, then return at night to take advantage of the darkness.
- Fence your yard. Fenced yards are a good security measure, and the fence doesn't have to be high - it acts as a psychological obstacle.
- Keep shrubbery and trees well-trimmed to discourage their use as covers.
- Ask your neighbors to watch out for suspicious strangers or activity - they don't need to know the details of your lifestyle to make excellent lookouts.
- Be familiar with your neighbor's vehicles, so you'll more easily notice ones that don't belong.
- Be wary of vans, trucks, and vehicles with heavily tinted windows. Attackers may be surveilling your house.
- Consider installing interior motion detectors or an alarm system, which need not be expensive.
- Replace your exterior doors with solid core doors, made of either wood or steel. An intruder can kick in a hollow door in 30 seconds.
- Install deadbolt locks, and keep doors locked at all times, even when you're out in the yard.
- Close curtains and blinds at night and position your room lights close to windows so you're not backlit.
- Blinds and curtains should be fire-retardant and heavy so they will help stop projectiles and reduce shadows of people inside.
- Windows next to doors should be made of shatterproof glass.
- Sliding windows and doors should have track locks. Basement windows should be screwed shut from inside.
- Identify a "safe room" in your house that all family members will go to in an emergency. Ensure the room is structurally secure and has a phone.
- Devise an emergency plan, including an evacuation plan, and stage a drill now and then when everyone's home.
- Keep emergency equipment available in your home, such as a first aid kit, and food and water rations.
After installing alarms, security lighting, and other measures, don't circumvent them, use them!
This article was prepared by the:
Pro-Choice Action Network
512 - 1755 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6G 3B7
Tel: 604-736-2800; Fax: 604-736-2869
(copyright © 1999)
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