Fight, Flee or Hide?

Fight, flee or hide?

When confronted with a life-endangering threat, the three words above provide possible options for action and response.

If you work in a profession in which you have training for response, you typically respond as you train. Law-enforcement, military, EMT, self-defense and fire service are prime examples. So what about those of us who do not confront threats or emergency situations on a daily basis? How do we decide in what way, or if, to respond?

Logic can tell us that assessing and maintaining situational awareness (SA) can provide guidance on what to do. A police captain in March Don't get caught in the wrong situation by being unaware. Understanding tthe threat levels help grow your awareness when trouble strikes. 2020 wrote:

“Situational awareness is an important part of training for members of the military and law enforcement, but can be just as important for anyone who wants to ensure they are one step ahead of dangerous situations before they unfold. Situational awareness is the ability to identify and process prospective dangers in your environment; put simply, it is your ability to comprehend what is going on around you in a defensive mind set. Increasing your situational awareness can give you an opportunity to escape or mitigate the danger presented by people or scenarios that could cause harm to you or those around you. Having increased situational awareness does not mean looking for trouble; in fact it means quite the opposite. The most effective way to win a fight is to avoid it all together.” The site also has 14 SA point to consider.

One source of SA assessment guidance is the color code chart that starts with white and moves to red, based on how the physical threat escalates, and describes how you perceive the threat and how you respond.

Condition White: Relaxed and completely unaware

Condition Yellow: Relaxed but aware. Minimum acceptable level when in public or carrying a firearm.

Condition Orange: Potential threat identified. Attempt to verify, evade if necessary

Condition Red: Threat verified. Execute necessary response. 

As noted my Gun Talk article name and date, carrying a defensive weapon, particularly a firearm, dictates operating in condition yellow. If you typically function in a higher mode of awareness, you either work in a dangerous profession or you face paranoia, neither of which may be mentally rewarding over the long term. 

Let’s consider an example. You carry a firearm and have practiced draw, target selection, fire and hopefully have rehearsed your possible threat responses. If an aggressor verbally or actually threatens you with physical violence, or a situation may harm you, how do you decide whether to fight, flee or hide?

Some of the recent officer-involved policing actions have created intense interest nationally in use of force. Not often, other than in law-enforcement or court situations, does one hear about “the totality of the circumstances.” Law enforcement considers this on each call, but this term has received no mention in the current news.

Wikipedia at says: In the law, the totality of the circumstances test refers to a method of analysis where decisions are based on all available information rather than bright-line rules.[1] Under the totality of the circumstances test, courts focus "on all the circumstances of a particular case, rather than any one factor".[2] In the United States, totality tests are used as a method of analysis in several different areas of the law.[3] For example, in United States criminal law, a determination about reasonable suspicion or probable cause is based on a consideration of the totality of the circumstances.[4] 

Another term used is “exigent circumstances” The International Association of Chiefs of  Police notes “Exigent Circumstances: Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that a particular action is necessary to prevent physical harm to an individual, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.”

While both terms typically apply to law enforcement, can we as civilians and “a reasonable person” not consider portions of those definitions to help us use “all information” we sense to decide how to respond with appropriate actions? Certainly we are most concerned with “physical harm to an individual” and who or what might cause that harm. This again is where SA comes into play as we attempt to validate dangers.

When confronted with a single or multiple threats (several assailants or situations), how do we decide whether to fight, flee or hide? We need to evaluate how imminent is the threat, what weapons may the aggressor(s) use, can I be injured or killed by the threat, can I retreat without injury, are other people (possible victims) involved, can I deescalate the threat, do I feel confident in trying to stop the threat and what are other pieces of SA? Another vital consideration is what does current law allow me for defense of self and/or property?

For the totality of the circumstances, we must process a lot of split-second information and decide how to respond. If you do respond with force, remember and record as much of the circumstances as possible because you will have to defend your decisions to law enforcement and perhaps in court.

Being current on your jurisdiction’s firearms laws is a must. Those laws can change, and there most likely will be more pressure on states to dilute our ability for defense. We are seeing that in multiple state legislatures already this year.

This article certainly does not provide legal advice, but hopefully offers some ideas to consider as you stay safe, be prepared.

Mike Sampson
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006, specializing in risk management, emergency management, and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety, and healthcare marketing.

He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master's degree emphasizing adult education and communications, with minors in mourning dove, chukar partridge, pheasant, and mountain quail on the breaks of the Snake River.

While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One-Shot Antelope Hunt for three years and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts. 

In addition, Mike is a Federal Emergency Management Agency certified instructor and has worked and taught for state and federal agencies. He has responded to seven presidentially declared disasters, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria when they struck Puerto Rico in 2017. He also has worked and taught in Africa and Southeast Asia. Check his website at www.sampsonrisk.com.