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Establishing a baseline, for the first time

This post is very similar to one of PVH’s post entitled Establishing a Baseline? Step One.

You enter a new area. A new village. A new marketplace. And you need to establish a baseline fast, and you need to figure out if anyone wants to or is going to try to do you harm. Your first thoughts, “oh crap, what’s going on? Who is who? Who wants to hurt me? What is that person doing?” Recently I took some instructors out to do some instructor development. We went to an area that I’m only partially familiar with. As soon as we got there, and stepped out of the car, my first thoughts were, “What is going on? Do I even know what I’m doing?” So, what do you do when you’re in a new area and you need to begin establishing a baseline?

Establishing a baseline for the first time in a new area is not self-evident. An untrained individual may be able to do a decent job identifying certain things–the obvious things–but is going to miss important behaviors and patterns, and will focus on the wrong things. Let’s imagine standing in the downtown area of a city. What’s important? What do you look for? There are a million things that you could focus on, but only a few things that are important. While establishing a baseline isn’t necessarily easy, it’s simple. The biggest question we have, “what are the patterns?” How do you find the patterns? Use the domains.

For instance, using the downtown example, where are you at? What type of area? These questions focus on geographics? Are you in a habitual area? Then you expect certain behaviors.

How does the place feel? Is it busy, or laid back? Is it hostile, or calm? Are people moving with a purpose, or simply taking their time and strolling along? How are people’s emotions? Angry, calm, sad? These questions focus on atmospherics.

How are people moving? Where are they coming from and where are they going? What paths are they taking? Do I see any proxemic pushes and pulls? From or toward what? These questions focus on proxemics.

Once you begin asking these simple questions, you can begin establishing patterns. Once you identify patterns, any deviation from the pattern is a potential anomaly.

Let’s give an example: What’s the behavior at the pier area of a beach? Well, most people are either going to or coming from the pier/beach. People generally have two speeds: walking with a purpose (e.g., those going surfing) or those just enjoying a walk. The difference between these types of people is immediately evident. Few people just simply congregate and stand around. Once you make these basic observations, you can immediately identify people who don’t fit it. Some people do stand around. Based on their behavior, you can tell if they are waiting for someone, how impatient they are, or if they are conducting surveillance. Some people’s speed of movement doesn’t fit the baseline. Based on their body language (kinesics), you can tell if they are familiar or unfamiliar with the area, or if they have ulterior motives. The people’s whose behavior is an anomaly are the people we want to continue to watch, or at least contact.

Once you’ve established a pattern, you can always refer to that pattern to identify anomalies. And you can do it quickly. The technique of quickly reading a situation and predicting behavior is called Thin-slicing (More to come on this later). Cops who work are area for a long time, learn to establish a baseline intuitively. Once they do it, they can identify anomalies and potential threats almost instantaneously. But getting to this point can take a long time. By using the domains to guide your observations, you can establish a baseline within minutes.

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