Monday, May 18, 2009

The Effectiveness of Pepper Spray

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Recently an article ran in Black Belt Magazine entitled "The Spice of Life" where the author discussed the uses of pepper spray and made the assertion that pepper spray was the "end-all-be-all" self-defense weapon. After that article ran people wrote letters to the editor disputing the author, and then the author wrote back disputing the letters. The basic area of contention was the effectiveness of pepper spray against an attacker and so I'm writing this article to address that matter.

The author stated that when sprayed with pepper spray every single human, or animal, would suffer its effects and stop in their tracks, unable to continue their assault. Those who wrote in stated personal experience where pepper spray was not effective. Many stated that they were either soldiers or police officers who had to be sprayed with pepper spray during their training, or had used pepper spray in a real violent encounter, and that they'd seen many people not be affected by it or even laugh at being sprayed. The statistic put forth is that one in every ten people is not affected by pepper spray.

Personally I think the "1 in 10" statistic is a bunch of crap. For years I've worked with pepper spray and I've never met anyone that was either not effected by it or could fight through its effects. Now, I have seen people who where not 100% incapacitated after being sprayed but they could not negate the effects of the pepper spray through force of will or being "tough". After being sprayed these particular people were still on their feet but they were in a lot of pain, couldn't open their eyes, and were having trouble breathing. They were blind, grunting, coughing, using one hand to rub the pepper spray off their faces, and using the other hand to search for their opponent that they'd never find unless they walked up to them and allowed themselves to be grabbed.

I believe that the reason some people were unable to get the desired effects with pepper spray is mainly due to human error. So here I will discuss the four human error based reasons that I believe have caused the "1 in 10" statistic to come about.

Reason #1: Not actually using pepper spray. "Pepper spray" is a specific term for a specific product but it has come to be used generally to refer to all types of defense sprays. In reality there are chemical sprays (mace and tear gas) and pepper sprays. Chemical sprays are made using either a chemical called "orthoclorobenzalmalonitrile" (called "CS" for short) or a chemical called "alphachloroacetaphenone" (called "CN" for short). "CS" and "CN" are both chemicals that irritate the moist porous linings of the eyes, nose, and throat and cause the body to respond by trying to flush them out by the involuntary watering of the eyes, running of the nose, coughing, and in some cases vomiting. This is very unpleasant and painful and in most individuals it is quite debilitating.

There are several problems with using "CS" and "CN" to stop a violent attacker; in most cases the effects aren't that severe and their stopping power comes down to the attacker's pain tolerance and willingness to endure the discomfort caused by the chemical. Some people actually can fight through the effects of various chemical sprays which is why more and more police departments have stop using them in favor of actual pepper spray. Also, some people's biology renders them partially or even fully immune to the effects of both "CS" and "CN". In most cases where people spray someone with "pepper spray" and the person is unaffected, or only effected in a minor way, it is because they're actually using a chemical spray (mace) with the active ingredient being "CS" or "CN" and not real pepper spray.

Another factor is that many studies have shown that it can take up to 30 seconds for someone to feel the effects of "CS" or "CN". So you can come at me and I can give you a face full of mace and you're still going to have time to stab me to death before you succumb to its effects.

The active ingredient in actual pepper spray is "Oleoresin Capsicum" (called "OC" for short) and instead of being a chemical compound it is concentration of pepper extracts. Instead of irritating the moist porous tissues of the eyes, nose, and throat it inflames them in a way that is quite severe. It's like getting hot sauce in your eyes, only about a thousand times worse. It does not matter how big, strong, determined, or skilled someone is, or if they are under the influence of drugs, if they get "OC" in their face it will become inflamed. Their eyes will water and be forced shut so they cannot see, their nose will run uncontrollably, their throat will become inflamed and their breathing will be affected so they will cough uncontrollably, and throughout their face and throat they will experience a severe and extremely painful burning sensation. Not being able to see and having problems breathing they will want to sit or lay down and wipe the "OC" out of their eyes, however, they'll end up rubbing the "OC" deeper into their eyes and spreading around their face, helping it enter their nose and mouth. The more they try to wipe it away the more they spread it.

Imagine taking a habanero pepper (one of the hottest peppers), cutting it in half, and then rubbing it all over your face and in your eyes. The result would be excruciatingly painful and you wouldn't be able to fight anyone right afterwards, not effectively anyway. The strength/heat of pepper spray is measured in "Scoville Heat Units" (SHU) and the rating of that hadanero pepper is between 200,000 to 300,000 SHU. Most pepper sprays (with "OC" being the active ingredient) rate at about 2,000,000 SHU, so the pepper spray would be about 9 to 10 times hotter and the effects 9 or 10 times more severe.

On several occasions when I've been training with pepper spray I've had the wind blow a small amount back in my face and with only a very small amount coming into contact with my skin I can say that I'd never want to be sprayed with a full dose. Only an extremely small amount came back at me and it felt like my face was on fire; I had a very hard time keeping my eyes open and was coughing uncontrollably. Many people have talked about dogs not being effected by pepper spray but again they used "CS" or "CN" . One day while I was out for a walk a rottweiler charged me and I turned my head and sprayed in its direction and as soon as it entered the cloud of spray it stopped in its tracks and then started rubbing its face in the dirt and wheezing.

The effects of "OC" occur rapidly so there is no waiting 15-30 seconds for your attacker to stop and given a sufficient dose of pepper spray someone can have their vision and breathing be disrupted for 45 minutes or longer. There was a case in Cheyenne, Wyoming a few years ago where a woman sprayed a mugger with "OC" and when the police arrived on the scene 35 minutes later the attacker was still laying on the ground.

Simply put, using "OC" has been proven to be effective while "pepper sprays" that are actually just chemical sprays consisting of "CS" or "CN" have a level of effectiveness that I wouldn't bet my life on.

It should also be noted that some pepper sprays are actually "pepper sprays". There are many pepper sprays on the market that do contain a small amount of "OC" but their active ingredient is really "CS" or "CN". Years back I was talking to a potential client on the phone and when I mentioned pepper spray she became somewhat hostile. She told me a story about how she had used pepper spray on a date rapist and it hadn't worked. She mentioned that she still had the pepper spray and I asked her to bring it in with her when she came in for training and sure enough it was "pepper spray". It was a cheap product she purchased for $10 in the sporting goods department at a grocery store and under "active ingredient" it said:

Alphachloroacetaphenone, Red Pepper. It was primarily "CN" and only a small amount of "OC" and that is why it didn't work.

If you buy pepper spray you want Oleoresin Capsicum (sometimes listed as "OC" or just "Red Pepper") to be the one and only ingredient. I've tested a lot of brands on the market and the only one I carry and provide to my clients is "Sabre Red: Maximum Strength Pepper Spray". I firmly believe that Sabre Red provides the best pepper spray on the market and having spent nearly 23 years in the self-defense industry I wouldn't carry anything else.

I live in Michigan and we have a law that states that you cannot carry pepper spray that has more than a 2% concentration and luckily Sabre Red has a special "Michigan Formulation". So my experiences are with a 2% formulation and I find it to be extremely effective; in other states you can carry sprays of much higher concentration of "OC" and I can't even imagine what it would feel like to sprayed with an 8% or 9% concentration.

Reason #2: Using expired sprays. Pepper spray ("OC") only retains its maximum potency for four years. There are a lot of people out there walking around with expired canisters of pepper spray and they don't know it.

When you buy pepper spray you should only buy it from a reputable dealer, make sure that it has the expiration date printed on it before you buy it, and then check the date as soon as you get it. I know quite a few people who try to save money by buying pepper spray online for around $6 a canister and when they get it they find out that it is either already expired or very close to expiring. If they used those fancy novelty sprays on an attacker I don't believe it would do anything other than make them angry.

Reason #3: Used too small of dose. I saw a video on youtube awhile back that showed army personnel doing a drill where they got sprayed with pepper spray and then had to run an obstacle course. My first problem with that is that I doubt they used "OC" because if they did I don't think the soldier could have seen to negotiate the course. I also know that most law enforcement agencies, military included, use chemical sprays instead of "OC" so chances are that is was just mace.

My second problem is that the soldier was only given about a half second dose. In a dose that small you can't guarantee that it will even get in the eyes, nose, or mouth. In a self-defense situation you spray the person until they grab their face and make strange noises. In my experience, as soon as you spray someone in the face with "OC" they stop their attack, but from the time you spray someone until the time they turn away and start coughing it can be around 3 seconds. 3 seconds worth of "OC" in your face is a lot and the effects will be extreme. I got maybe a quarter of a second worth of blow back in my face and that was enough for me, a direct 3 second spray in the face is enough to disable anyone.

Reason #4: They missed their target. When you spray someone you want to aim for the center of their face so the spray will get into their eyes, nose, and mouth. However, a lot of the times people miss. I've seen a lot of videos on the internet as well as clips from COPS and other TV shows where a police officer sprays in the general direction of the suspects face, and then acts surprised when they don't drop. Often they start shaking the can to make sure it's mixed up before they spray again, as if that makes a difference.

It's just like everything else: you have to hit your target. It doesn't matter if you're using a fist, a knife, a gun, or a defense spray, if you don't hit your target you're not going to put the person down. Most people I know have pepper spray but don't train with it. I always recommend that people buy four canisters: one for your house, one for your car, one to carry, and the other to train with. You have to spray it and you have to practice with it if you expect to be able to use it under duress. You have to be able to look at someone and then spray it right into the center of their face. I always tell people to look at the tip of their attacker's nose because if they can get it on their nose they it will splash both up into the eyes and down to the mouth.

If someone tells me that they sprayed someone in the face with pepper spray and it didn't stop them within a second or two I ask them if "OC" was the active ingredient, and the I ask them how their targeting was. Often people completely miss the face and instead get it in their hair, where it takes 10 or 20 seconds to drip down to their eyes, or maybe they just get it on their clothes and they don't get it into their face until they use their sleeve to rub their face awhile later.

Most people don't think about targeting, they just point and shoot. Point and shoot doesn't work effectively fist or a foot, it sure doesn't work with a firearm, and it doesn't work with pepper spray either.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Color Codes of Mental Awareness

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Most of us go through life unaware and unprepared for criminal violence, and the result of this is that it makes us both desirable and easy for the criminal element. By using such tools as the "Color Conditions of Mental Awareness" we can put ourselves in a mode to both recognize and deal with criminals and violent crime when they do enter our lives.

What follows is a description of the four conditions, or states of mind, that you can use to prepare yourself for crime and violent encounters. The reason that they are so effective is because it gives you an objective scale of determining your threat level and then gives you clear steps to follow. The effectiveness of this method is the reason why most every military unit and self-defense expert uses some variation of it.

Condition White: Unaware and Unprepared
Condition White is the condition that most people are in most of the time. In this condition you are moving through life unaware of your surroundings and totally unprepared for the event that something, violent or not, could happen. Being in this condition you’re not only an easy victim for any criminal but you're also a criminal's ideal target. Criminals leave their homes in the morning and spend their time scouring their surroundings for people in Condition White because they are the easiest victims.

If you're caught in Condition White then you're an easy victim regardless of who you are or how much training you have. Even if you're a police officer, a Navy SEAL, or a 7th Degree Black Belt a criminal will have little problem taking you by surprise and overwhelm you before you realize what is going on.

Examples of a person in Condition White: Someone walking down the street with their head in the clouds, completely oblivious to everything going on around him.
A person sitting on a park bench on a beautiful spring day engrossed in a good novel or immersed in the newspaper, completely oblivious to everything going on around him.
A person driving to work- mentally already at work- completely oblivious to everything going on around him.

Condition Yellow: Relaxed and alert.

Condition Yellow is where you want to be in everyday life. In this condition you're not paranoid or stressed out but rather you're just relaxed and aware of your surroundings. You know that something could possibly happen but it also could not.

Just by being in Condition Yellow you're less likely to be picked on by a criminal because they don't want to pick someone who may spot them in advance and run away or resist when they're assaulted. The two things that a criminal doesn't want is to draw attention to themselves and to find themselves going up against someone who will fight back and could hurt them. By being aware of your surroundings they see that they would have a difficult time taking you by surprise and most criminals will just move on to someone else.

Condition Yellow, is where you want to be. It's not difficult. It's not a state of paranoia. You don't think everyone is out to get you. You know that there is a 98% chance that absolutely nothing will happen but you also know that maybe there's a 2% chance that something will, so you're just going to be more alert so you can see it coming if it does.

Condition Orange: You Notice A Potential Threat

Having been in Condition Yellow you've noticed something that could be a potential threat. Maybe it is someone watching you or just loitering around in an area where they don't need to be. Now you move from Condition Yellow, being relaxed and alert, to being in Condition Orange. You've noticed something and you don't know whether it is a real threat, imagined one, or just a harmless situation.

In Condition Orange you need to continue to be aware and alert but you need to do two additional things:

1.) Make some type of an evasive maneuver that forces your opponent to show his hand. Example: I’m walking down the street in Condition Yellow and I see a man loitering around by a building about half a block ahead. I notice that he looks nervous (a possible indicator of a criminal looking for a target) and when I make eye contact with him he quickly looks away. Someone quickly diverting their eyes when you make eye contact (in security often called the “look away”) is a possible sign that you caught him doing something he should be doing, like sizing you up for an assault. If you were in Condition White you would have never notice him and his behavior and continued to walk right up to him, but because you were in Condition Yellow you did notice him and now you can do something about it.

You stop and look 360 degrees around you to look for possible accomplices and you see none, so you look at him and then cross the street to put distance between the two of you. If he's not a criminal then there is no threat and he'll say where he is as you cross the street and walk way, but if he is a criminal then now he has to make a decision. Either he has to let you go and target someone else, or he was to follow you and give himself away.

The basic evasive maneuver is to simply put distance between you and the potiential threat and see if the potential threat closes that distance. Another one is do something unexpected, like suddenly turn around and walk back the other way or duck into a nearby store, and see if the potential threat makes an effort to do it too.

There are other ways to make evasive maneuvers that force possible criminals to show their hands. For example, let's say that you are playing with your child at a public playground and you notice a man sitting on a park bench watching the kids. He isn't dressed like most parents and doesn't seem to be watching any one child in particular and just something about him seems out of place. You think that maybe he could be a threat to the children there. What could you do to make him show his hand? How about going over and talking to him. You could walk over and introduce yourself, using a fake name if you wanted to, and ask which child is his. Either he has a child there or another good reason for being there and his is not a threat, or he was to lie or leave. If he says he has a child there then ask him to point him out and then ask his name. If he says his name is "Timmy" turn to the kid and yell, "HI TIMMY" and see if the kid responds. If he says that he has a child there but right now he is not visible for some reason ask him why and how old the kid is. The point here is just to ask him questions and make him feel uncomfortable and in almost every case he'll leave if he really doesn't have a good reason for being there.

2.) Formulate a plan in the event that the threat is real. In the first example I gave above my plan could be that if the loitering man crossed the street after me I’m going to start running. I would also make sure that I had my pepper spray in my hand and if he gets too close I’d spray him and then run away. If none of that works I’m going to step in and either hit the eyes, throat, or groin depending on what I see first. Or maybe there is a police station nearby that I can get to or a populated area that I can enter because criminals usually won’t strike in places with witnesses.

So, first I’m going to take some type of evasive maneuver that creates a situation where the potential threat has to follow me thus revealing himself to be a threat, or not follow me and reveal that he does not attend to do me harm. You want to do something out of the ordinary that will make it obvious that he’s following you and not just a coincidence. If I’m in a car I can make four right turns in a row to end up right where I began and see if he makes them with me. Maybe I’ll suddenly turn into a parking lot, zig-zag through it, and then drive out and see if he’s still with me. If I’m on foot I can make abrupt starts and stops, then make abrupt turns and walk in different directions and see if he does to. You can also change speeds and see if they try to keep up.

As far as the plan goes, 9 times out of 10 the best plan is just to get out of there and put as much distance as possible between you and the threat. Don’t go home or to another location you frequent because maybe you’ll lead them there, so go to a police station or other crowed area. Try to get away from them. One of the reasons pepper spray is so effective is that you can spray them from a distance and then run away while they are left there with watery eyes trying to stop coughing.

Condition Red: Identified a Real Threat

This condition exists when you have identified a real threat. You started out in Condition Yellow and you spotted the nervous man loitering around so you went into Condition Orange and crossed the street while formulating a plan. Now you see that he is following you. He’s looking straight at you, walking towards you in a hurried manner, and putting his hands in his pockets so there is no doubt that he is a threat.

You already have your plan of action from being in Condition Orange so in Condition Red you have to decide on your "trigger".
A "trigger" is an action that he has to take before you'll respond with what you've planned. It is "line in the sand" so to speak that you will not tolerate being crossed. You might say, "Right now he's crossing the street and it looks like he could be coming after me. plan was to start running and get to a crowed area, so when he gets to this side of the street I'm going to cross back to the other side and if he crosses after me that will be my trigger and I'll run like hell." Or, "He's crossing the street and looking right at me, he's definitely coming after me. My plan is to spray him in the face with pepper spray until he grabs his face and starts screaming, and then run away and get someplace safe. I have my pepper spray in my hand and I'm ready to use it...let's see...when he gets to his side of the street and comes towards me I'm going to tell him to 'stop'. After that if he takes another step I'll let him have it." In this instance taking another step after being told to "stop" is the trigger.

Ideally you want to develop a plan of action before you even leave the house that day and you want to decide on basic "triggers", or things that you will not let people get away with. However, during a specific situation you need to come up with situation specific triggers and be ready to back them up.

If you’re in your car and you’ve identified that someone is following you then maybe your plan is to drive to the closest police station. Your “trigger” might be if they bump you with their car, or they get out of their car, or they try to box you in. If they try to do any of these things you might say, “Ok, if they do those then I’m going to step on the gas, drive over a curb if I have to, drive on the sidewalk if I have to, hit the guy in front of me if I have to, I going to do what ever I need to, to get to the police station. If I can’t and they walk up to my car I’m going to use my concealed firearm to shoot them”. You could also have decided to jump out of your car and run away as fast as you can, but the point is that you have a plan and you’ve decided what line they’re going to have to cross in order for you to execute it.

If you don’t go to condition Red, if you stay in condition White, Yellow, or Orange, then you simply won’t be mentally or physically prepared for an actual attack. You may have identified the threat and made a plan but if you don’t go to condition Red and decided on your trigger and response you’ll most likely stand there frozen.

So in Condition Red you are going to get ready to enact your plan and decide on what "trigger", what "line in the sand", will be your cue to do it.

Condition Black: Attack In Progress

In this condition your attacker(s) has tripped your “trigger” and you are taking action. This is the point where you need to be following through on your plan and taking action, whether it is turning and running away, using a personal defense weapon like a firearm or pepper spray, or using your body to cause injuries.

The only way to effectively be able to survive a "black condition" is to train and to practice scenarios. You need to get the education and training to be order to deal with violence and you need to practice with realistic scenarios.

An important point I want to make is that these conditions are laid out in a gradually increasing manner. We started in Condition Yellow, then went to Orange, then to Red, and finally to Black. However, it is very possible, even likely, that in a real violent encounter it will not happen that way. Chances are that your attacker will make every effort to attack you by surprise and they just might pull it off. Being in Condition Yellow will greatly increase your chances of seeing an assault coming even then you might miss a cue or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What I'm trying to get at is that you might have to from Condition Yellow straight to Condition Black. You might turn a corner and there he is. You might be getting into your car and suddenly you’re hit from behind. You might be sitting on the couch watching a movie with an acquaintance that has had too much to drink and suddenly they're on top of you tear your clothes.

An ideal situation would have us smoothly go from Yellow to Orange, to Red, and to Black but we have to realize a situation might force us to jump a Condition or too. That is another reason why we have to develop our plan and a few basic "triggers" before we even leave the house in the morning.

The last thing I'll discuss here is one final Condition, we'll call it Condition Bright Red.

Condition Bright Red: Tense and Paranoid

This is Condition you'll see people in every now and then and it really is unfortunate. Some people just live in survival mode and spend all their time tensed up and suspiciously looking at everyone. The problem with this is that you can only spend so long in this kind of condition before you burn yourself out and suffer health problems. Normally people put themselves in this condition and make it there normal state and after awhile they get so tired they end up in Condition White without even noticing it.

If you find yourself in this Condition you need to recognize it and realize that it will do you no good. There is a very short line from being in Condition Bright Red and being in Condition White. If you find yourself here you need to make yourself stop what you’re doing, take a slow deep breath, and consciously put yourself into Condition Yellow. A great way to do this is to force yourself to do something fun. Tensed and paranoid is no way to live, and if you decide to live there you'll probably be living there alone.