When I got into journalism, I expected to do many things. None of them involved standing on a colleague's groin.
But recently I learned that I might be called upon to do exactly that. I learned this in Fright School, which is known formally as Hostile Environment Training. This is a course, taught by corporate security consultants, that teaches you what to do if you find yourself in a situation involving dangerous elements such as terrorists, kidnappers, robbers, rioters or fans of the Oakland Raiders.
I didn't think I needed this training, because I've lived for the past 20 years in a hostile environment, namely Miami, where virtually everybody, including nuns, is packing heat. But along with many other journalists, I was ordered by my company to attend Fright School this summer before going to the Olympics and both political conventions. I'm writing this column before leaving for those events, and I sincerely hope that, by the time summer's over, we'll all be heaving large sighs of relief from knowing that nothing bad happened and that nobody had to actually stand on anybody's groin.
But just in case you ever find yourself in a hostile situation or, God forbid, a Raiders home game, today I'm going to pass along the lessons I learned in Fright School, as recorded in my notes.
My first note says "cargo pants," because that's what the instructor was wearing. He was a muscular, military-looking British guy who was quite cheerful, considering that he ended roughly every fourth sentence with: "And if that happens, you're going to die."
The instructor began by reviewing the various kinds of hostile situations we, as journalists, might encounter. The three main points I got from that were:
1. A lot of things can happen.
2. All of these things can kill you.
3. So, don't panic.
Among the specific threats we discussed were "dirty bombs," germ warfare, mines and booby traps. Because we took only the truncated one-day version of the course, the instructor couldn't go deeply into these threats, other than to note that they are all fatal. (He also pointed out that his company had the world's foremost authority on booby traps and that he "does a presentation that's quite entertaining.") The most sensible way to avoid these threats, according to the instructor, is to remain alert, use common sense, be inconspicuous and avoid dangerous areas, such as the planet Earth. He also recommended that we carry the following items at all times: water, food, protective eyewear, protective headgear, an "escape hood" for gas attacks, a whistle, a personal alarm and a first-aid kit. He didn't say how you could look inconspicuous while carrying all these items: Maybe you could put them in your cargo pants and just pretend to have enormous thighs.
Here are a couple of other survival tips from the instructor that I wrote down:
1. "If you're going to use an escape rope, try to get some knots in it."
2. "Try to anticipate any strikes or blows."
Also, if you're going to get shot, the farther you are from the shooter, the better. I learned that valuable tip during the first-aid section of our training. The instructor began this section by noting that some people are reluctant to attempt first aid. "But," he said, "if your colleague is dying, and you don't do anything, he's going to die, isn't he? And he's not going to thank you, is he?"
To which sports columnist Tom Powers replied: "He's not going to complain, either."
In first-aid training, we learned about Trimodal Death Distribution, with the three modes of death being: instant, late and delayed. The instructor said: "We're interested in the delayed diers."
I missed a lot of what he said next, because he was showing graphic color slides of injuries, and one of them, entitled "Impaled Object," required me to put my head between my knees for several minutes. But I definitely recall hearing the instructor say, several times, that if your colleague is bleeding profusely from the femoral artery, you should stop it by standing on his groin. This may be solid advice, but before I follow it, I intend to confer with the colleague.
Me: Do you mind if I stand on your groin?
Colleague: Thanks, but I'd rather bleed to death.
Me (relieved): Okay, then!
But we're talking worst-case scenarios, here. As I said, I'm hoping that nobody needs any of this training and that we all have a peaceful, hostility-free and fun summer. Maybe I'll even see you at the next convention or the Olympics! Assuming there are eyeholes in my escape hood.