PreFense® The 90% Advantage: Preventing bad things from happening to good people!

287 pages, paperback, illustrated
Tarani Press; 2nd edition (2014)
ISBN 978-0615962368 price $19.95

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

Why do we invest so much into learning how to defend against aggression but so little on prevention? This is the challenge with which author Steve Tarani starts his book PreFense®. “Instead of spending so much time and effort planning a response to an incident why not expend the same preparatory resources to avoid those situations in the first place?” he asks.

Tarani’s viewpoint, encompassing security issues he addressed during 25 years with United States defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, is much wider than most. Struck by how little people know about threat avoidance, while a government contractor Tarani volunteered to develop programs he called “proactive protection” for people in high-threat situations. In his book’s introductory pages, he writes that he was so drawn to this mission that he eventually abandoned the security of federal employment and set to work distilling forty years of training and experience into a system he called Preventative Defense, or PreFense®.

Tarani posits that because Americans generally go about their day-to-day pursuits without falling prey to violence, we are conditioned to expect to live free of threats. That, however, is not true for 32.4% of the population, he cites, asking, “Instead of being blindsided and forced to react to these incidents, what if you could see them coming and prevent them from happening?”

Top security professionals habitually maintain an “assessment and response” thought pattern, Tarani explains, suggesting that a private citizen can adopt the same habits to avoid predators. He extensively cites Col. John Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide and Act cycle, adding, “the more you know, the better decisions you can make in a shorter period of time.”

Despite a common theme in victim statements, violent crime doesn’t happen “out of the blue,” Tarani continues. Human predation follows specific steps. He explains, “All bad guys ranging from schoolyard bully to purse snatcher to international terrorist follow this same cycle in planning for a successful attack.” During the first three steps in which the predator looks for the right victim, your options are unlimited, he asserts, but after the assailant chooses you, closes the distance and attacks, you are limited to run, fight or submit. “You can do many things that will cause an adversary or predator who may be considering attacking you, your family, home or property to lose interest and go target someone else,” he encourages.

It is important to make realistic threat assessments to put resources to best use and the first step is to anticipate and avoid the hazard through good planning, Tarani urges. Predators are vulnerable to detection while seeking and selecting victims. If something just doesn’t “feel right,” he illustrates, and the person moves when you move, avoids eye contact with you or “otherwise starts acting funny around you it is possible that they may be evaluating you,” he teaches.

Victims often agonize about why they were attacked. Tarani turns that instinctive query toward identifying and stopping victim behavior that attracts predators. Bad guys go for the soft targets, he explains, citing the famous prisoner study on victim selection that identified appearances that indicated overall unawareness as the primary attraction, although weakness, exposure or easy accessibility are factors, too, he adds. Still, simply removing soft target indicators doesn’t eliminate danger from a more sophisticated offender who creates opportunities to attack. Tarani gives illustrations of stopping the cycle early, despite having caught the predator’s attention. Even during the stalking stage, the victim is able to stop the cycle, he teaches.

In a chapter entitled Defensive Principles, Tarani explains the reactionary gap, and the idea that at conversational distances, any defensive tactic requiring more than two seconds to execute is unlikely to succeed. Additionally, complex plans need to be broken into manageable steps like get to the door, get down the stairs, get to the car, he illustrates. If nothing else, simply move off the line of attack to mitigate the fact that action beats reaction. Don’t just stand on the “X,” Tarani writes over and over.

PreFense® is nearly to its halfway point before discussing weapons for self defense and in the chapter entitled Physical Protection Tools, weapons are prioritized below communications, illumination, navigation, tools carried to support your mobility (knives, multi-tools and a go-bag to hold it all) and warning devices (alarms). This is not a “guns for self defense” book–its scope is much broader. Tarani emphasizes that the true weapon is the mind and anything else is a tool.

“You have a wide range of hand-held weapons available to support your existing knowledge and skill in stopping a physical attack,” Tarani writes. These fall into purpose-built and improvised. Mental preparation, legality, accessibility, carry and deployment are discussed for tools ranging from guns to TASER®s to knives to pepper spray and improvised items. Some are devised to gain the assailant’s compliance through pain, while others work through mechanical compliance. He warns, “From a protective viewpoint, to stake the outcome of a physical altercation on someone else’s level of pain tolerance is unsatisfactory.” Although PreFense® is not a gun book, he writes, “In a life-or-death defensive situation, a firearm operated by a qualified user is the most effective hand-held physical protection tool available to immediately stop a physical attack–bar none.”

PreFense® is broken into three segments: threat management, protection, and application of Tarani’s protective planning to real world situations. For example, he breaks active shooter incidents down to bare components: an occupied facility, a bad guy and his attack cycle. He discusses hardening soft targets (facilities and occupants), and interrupting the attack cycle in its early stages by recognizing patterns common to previous incidents. This is a complex and well-footnoted chapter.

Post-incident analyses of active shooter attacks allow identification and reporting before another attack starts. Tarani cites several school killings averted by applying this knowledge. He also relates incidents in which killers locked doors and set up barriers, noting that law enforcement responding to the Virginia Tech shooting lost time breaking through chained and locked doors, learning later that people had noticed the chains several days earlier, along with further warning signs but none were reported.

Solutions to active shooters need to be kept simple, “In fact the more complex the plan the less likely it would be followed under duress,” Tarani explains. Create distance as safely as you can, he urges, and communicate with others in the area and with authorities. Taking cover inside the facility or getting outside is analyzed, as are ways and times to counterattack.

In reading Tarani’s discussion of when and how to counterattack, I wondered how different shootings in the past few years would have been if victims had flung books, beverage cans and bottles, desks and chairs at the killers as distractions while the able-bodied rushed to subdue him. Instead of cowering, what if everyone present screamed, “Get him!” and acted accordingly? He later suggests that once an attack is underway–be that against a single victim or a group–it’s better to take even the wrong actions than to do nothing at all. “Making the wrong decision, you at least have taken action, and thus force your adversary to react, allowing you the opportunity to make a new plan at the very next moment,” he explains.

In subsequent chapters, Tarani applies PreFense® principles to preventing home invasions and to personal defense in public, starting with deterring, detecting and delaying the intruder. Interestingly, he debunks a strategy long taught in self-defense seminars to “turn the fear into rage.” I think this is one of the best examples of how Tarani’s book approaches the topic from such a different viewpoint than other armed self-defense training.

From the legal stand point we recognize the hazards of claiming rage or anger at the assailant you had to shoot, and Tarani makes another good point, writing, “The professional protection community recommends removing emotion from the process entirely. Simply detach yourself from any emotion. It is widely known that emotion takes up energy. Rather than waste one ounce of energy on how you ‘feel’ about something, which will in no way contribute to a desired outcome, simply unplug. Take that same amount of energy and instead of changing it to another emotion convert it to work effort. You have a very important job–a lifesaving mission.”

PreFense® was not easy reading, but Tarani’s insights underscore for me the value of studying a thoroughly-discussed problem–in this case, personal safety–from a different viewpoint. By analyzing safety challenges from the viewpoint of a protection specialist, Tarani has added many valuable insights to our ongoing self-defense instruction.

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