​Back to School Safety: Simple Adjustments to Help You Stay Safe

​Back to School Safety: Simple Adjustments to Help You Stay Safe

Posted by Dr. Karen Bartuch, Adjunct Professor, former Chicago Police Officer, and Mom on 10 17 2022

College campuses are places for learning, making new friends, and creating memories. College also means living on your own, managing your own schedule, and caring for yourself - and is this often the first time many students have this responsibility. It is surely an exciting time for students and their families.

Being on your own and in new and different environments means that extra precautions must be taken when it comes to personal safety. While colleges and universities have teams focused on safety, it is also the responsibility of the individual. This doesn’t mean that students need to be constantly looking over their shoulders for the boogie man or radically changing the way they operate, but there are a few simple adjustments that can be made.

My personal safety became a focus long before I was a police officer. While riding the train (aka the “El”) in Chicago as a high school student, I encountered a man with his pants down who was looking at me and my friends and yelling at us. We were stunned and terrified. I knew I had to take the train the next day and didn’t want to feel afraid. My brother was a police officer, and after I told him what had happened, he armed me with his pepper spray. The next day I rode the train again, but this time I was ready to act if there was a threat. Most importantly, I was able to ride without fear which is still something that I focus on today as a mom, city dweller, and professor. No matter where I go, I want to be able to enjoy myself, and I want the same for all women and students headed back to campus.

Cooper’s Color Codes of Situational Awareness

When I was a police officer, we often adopted tactics from the military. One of my favorites is “Cooper’s Color Codes of Situational Awareness,” developed by United States Marine, Jeff Cooper. The color code concept is simple and uses colors to describe each condition of situational awareness and/or your readiness to take action.

The conditions are as follows:

  • Condition White - You are unprepared and unready to take action.
  • Condition Yellow - You are prepared, alert, and relaxed. You have good situational awareness.
  • Condition Orange - You are alert to probable danger and ready to act.
  • Condition Red - You are focused on an emergency and in action mode.
  • Condition Black - You are in complete panic and unable to act and experiencing a complete mental and physical breakdown.

The ideal state for navigating everyday campus life is Condition Yellow. This means you are prepared, alert, and relaxed. This was the condition I was in most while on patrol as a police officer. Oftentimes, situations quickly escalated and went from Condition Yellow to Condition Red. But that is the point, to be able to move about freely and relaxed but be ready should danger present itself.

Are You Prepared?

One of the best ways to feel prepared in Condition Yellow is to train (both physically and mentally) and carry personal protection items. Pepper spray is one of the most effective personal protection items. While in the police academy, all of the recruits - including myself - were sprayed in the face with pepper spray and had to fight off would-be attackers. I assure you that was a very bad day for me and my fellow recruits.

Being prepared and utilizing personal protection items is a smart way to feel confident while navigating your school campus - this could be an early morning jog, a late-night party, or just going from class to class. Knowing that you are prepared and protected also brings peace of mind to your family.

A few of my favorite personal protection items from SABRE are the following:

  • Jeweled Pepper Spray with Snap Clip: Who says you can’t be fashionable and safe at the same time? Don’t let this cute canister fool you. It’s covered in sparkles on the outside, but the inside is filled with powerful pepper spray. I love the twist lock at the top, which is easy to deploy but also prevents accidentally spraying.
  • Pepper Gel with Keyring Release Whistle: I love the size and strength of this one. I carry it while running because I like that it is a gel (which prevents blowback) and has a whistle that can be heard up to 750 feet away.
  • Personal Alarm with LED Light and Snap Hook: This small and easy-to-carry alarm can help deter would-be attackers and draws attention to a potentially threatening scenario; it can be heard up to 1200 feet away (that’s the length of four football fields!) The alarm is easy to activate, and the light helps you navigate in the dark.

About the Author

Dr. Karen Bartuch is an adjunct professor, mom, and former Chicago Police Officer. While she was a police officer, she founded the Women’s Tactical Association - its mission was to enhance the skills and safety of female police officers and civilians. Having grown up and worked in Chicago, personal safety and readiness are a priority and passion of hers. You can follow her at  @drkarenbartuch on Instagram.