The Table One restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, before the April 21, 2019, bombing. (Shangri-La Hotels official photo/Facebook)

What a Security Professional Taught His Son to Survive Sri Lanka and Beyond

Is it safe to say that domestic and international terrorism is no longer a threat and on the decline?

Some would say yes and others, like the families of those who lost loved ones during the recent terrorist attacks and bombings in Sri Lanka, would disagree, some emphatically.

There is a disconnect in the minds of many people who would say that terrorism is all but disintegrated and disbanded because they have never had the misfortune of experiencing such an event as those of April 21 in Sri Lanka.

To many, the threat of terrorism is still a clear and present danger

When exposed to an attack and/or the fallout from it, things can change, attitudes become clearer and we become fully cognizant to the truth and reality that the world in which we live, and the peace we hope to obtain between one another, other countries and cultures, is threatened because of radical ideologies driven by hatred, racist agendas and/or misunderstanding.

The intent and purpose of this article is to challenge every reader to re-evaluate their personal security, be it in the business-corporate sector, from a homeland security viewpoint, places of worship or as we move about daily in our living and working environment.

No matter where our theatre of influence, or “zone of Influence,” as I call it, may be, begin to understand how important situational awareness is in our life today.

I am thankful that we have boots on the ground, computer technology surveillance and allies working with us to combat and thwart potential attacks from adversaries seeking to cause harm to American assets at home and abroad.

However, for the average American including those who live in other countries, we sometimes forget or neglect to consider the importance of using our sight to really S.E.E. – scan, evaluate, execute a plan – that which is lurking in the shadows.

I am writing this article from the viewpoint of a father and security professional whose child could have been among the fatalities at one of the locations attacked by terrorist bombers on Easter Sunday in Colombo, where my son and his family live. The attacks would not only change his life but will impact an entire country for weeks, months and maybe years to come.

Before my son left to go overseas and work in the capital city of Sri Lanka, I spent time teaching and training him a very simple concept of situational awareness and personal safety I developed, built upon an acronym for the word SEE:

S – scan your theatre of influence, scan your travel zone, know the usual and be prepared to respond to the unusual

E – evaluate what you see in your surroundings, that is suspicious or out of the ordinary

E – execute a plan of action in the event the elements of your zone, influence or travel change that pose a threat

Little did I know that the training my son received would be instrumental in saving his life, the lives of my daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

On Monday, Mar 11, at 5:34 a.m. EST, I texted my son the following:

I awoke at 4:55 a.m. praying for your safety. Anywhere you go always scan your surroundings. Remember what I taught you son; S.E.E…. scan, evaluate, and execute your plan of action and make sure that you know your 360 zone, or 1 full rotation of your working, walking and traveling space. Remember what I taught you son, it could one day save your life and your family. Love you…dad

His reply on Wednesday, March 13, at  5:34 a.m.:

Thanks for praying dad we really need it.

Saturday, March 30, 11:42 a.m.

Good morning son just a reminder…..make sure that you S.E.E. everything today and be aware of your surroundings. How are the kiddos? I’ve been thinking about you for a couple days and wanted to touch base with you to see how you’re doing. Not sure what I feel this way, but I sense an urgency for you to heighten your awareness, stay focused on the mission, and make sure as your dad always says, know your zone of influence S.E.E where you are going and never forget that the unexpected could occur at any moment. Love you bunches, dad

Tuesday, April 9, 7:02 p.m.

I know you been busy, however I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you and tell you that I love you….dad

Sunday, April 21, 4:22 a.m.

Hey dad we are safe.  Please pray for our country and those who lost their lives

Sunday, April 21, 7:08 a.m.

What happened

Sunday, April 21, 7:08 a.m.   

Check the news

Sunday, April 21, 7:09 a.m.

Ok

Sunday, April 21, 7:10 a.m.

Terrorist attacks!! Mostly churches and motels hundreds are dead hundreds wounded chaos and panic all around the capital

Sunday, April 21, 7:12 a.m.

Are you guys feeling like you need to go to the American Embassy or are you going to stay in position where you are

Sunday, April 21, 7:12 a.m.

We can’t do anything now …..we are under curfew and no one is allowed on the streets

Sunday, April 21, 7:13 a.m.

They are targeting certain people and tourist areas

Sunday, April 21, 7:15 a.m.

Dad I just wanted to let you know we are ok and I understand why you wanted me to learn to S.E.E…..I have to go now tell you more later….I love you dad

Sunday, April 21, 7:16am

I understand son just stay safe give the kiddos a hug for me and and tell them Papaw loves them……I love you son

Other texts followed; however, for the sake of reading time, I will focus on the following: Later in the afternoon on April 21, I learned that earlier in the day Sri Lankan time my son and his family were headed to the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo for their regular Sunday breakfast/brunch. However, for some reason, they did not go.

Was it mere chance, training, or divine intervention? I would bet a combination of all three.

Then it happened – the bombs began exploding and chaos erupted with a vengeance that would forever change the attitude of my son.

In a conversation with him on the 22nd, he explained to me that what happened became an extreme wakeup call for him after learning that one of his daughters’ classmates was killed in the first explosion at the Shangri-La hotel.

Here is the text he sent that I will not forget:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dad, it is unreal, every van, or motorcycle that passes by, I fear it will explode. Today that cremated K’s 10-year-old class mate who was killed at the Shangri-La Hotel, the very place we were headed.

He made a very profound statement to me later that day in a phone call: “Things will never be the same in this country and my community for a long time; I’ve been blinded but now see.”

Since that conversation, my son has decided to deploy a stringent methodology of situational awareness incorporated into his daily routine that consists of scanning, evaluating and executing a plan of personal security and safety in the event such is needed.

A few days after the 21st, my son was allowed to go out during the day for a few hours, and when he set foot back into his zone of travel everything had changed.

There was an eerie quietness he had not felt before; people that he would speak to during his daily routine no longer shared a wave or greeting in Sri Lankan – they seemed afraid, in shock – and friendships were strained almost immediately because no one seemed to trust anyone.

Later that day, after he returned home, he began to experience emotions and feelings he had never felt before. In one text message my son wrote, “I am beginning to feel as though I don’t want to sleep anymore, because I don’t know when the next bomb will go off, or if I walk out on the street will my friends attack me out of fear of thinking that I am the enemy.”

What my son did not know at the time was his emotions and thoughts were early signs of PTSD. He would not be able to sleep for three days, food and water were running out, stores were closed and there he was a young man in his very early 30s trying to keep it together for himself, his wife, three children and two friends.

Terrorism and terroristic attacks are not only designed to kill, wound, create chaos, divide and destroy, but also instill fear into the hearts and minds of those affected by the attacks – even to the point of disabling one’s ability to communicate with others and function normally, becoming a recluse.

Tragic events such as the attacks upon the people in Sri Lanka are stark reminders that all people everywhere must consider incorporating into their daily mindset an attitude of personal security and safety awareness, being united, not divided, working together – not against one another – and becoming vigilant in the fight against the tyranny that terrorism seeks to deploy.

S.E.E. what is around you, understand and know your zone/theatre of Influence and purpose to remove compliancy from your life, which is the ally of terrorism. We do not have to be the victims; we can become the victors.

I would like to end this article with the words written in a letter to my son on April 27, one day after he safety left the country of Sri Lanka. He would later be met by counselors with his organization to assist him and his family in assessing their emotions and developing an action plan of renewal.

“Son, I can’t imagine what you are feeling right now. However, I also know that out of tragedy blooms hope, no matter how discouraging or disheartening it may seem, there is nowhere to go but up and unite if you/we so choose. I am so glad you made it out safely. I prayed almost all night last night, asking for protection and safe passage to another country. My prayers were answered. 

Son, as I type this letter to you, I am reminded that when terrorism raises its ugly head, we can walk in a defeated spirit/mindset feeling despondent and suppressed, or we can purpose to become more vigilant, more determined to work together and fight against it.

You have been reminded that evil still exists in its most violent forms but know this…… the best weapon of defense is deciding to prepare, be aware and foster meaningful relationships with others as one; working together, building together and becoming one together.

Determine within yourself to become an agent of change and purpose. This is how we win; this is how we overcome tyranny and the fallout associated with it, including the oppressive attacks from the enemies within and those without. 

No enemy seeks to fight a person or people with purpose and a determined mindset; it seeks out those they can easily conquer who have no plan or course of action in mind.

Proactive counterterrorism methodologies, daily situational awareness and the ability to S.E.E. will be instrumental in fighting the battle against those forces that seek to harm you. Son, this can be a step up on the ladder to that place of learning and preparation or a step backwards into the darkness of uncertainty; you choose which path to take.

By making the decision to remain on the road you have been called to travel, you are making a Declaration of Independence from the fears and threats that have taken so many captives.

Choose to be victorious in this fight against those who seek to destroy freedom, goodwill towards all people and peace amongst the nations. Choose to be victorious by overcoming the stress and challenges associated with the events of April 21st and the days that followed and those to come.

Son, I believe in you, I believe in the strength of our love for one another as father and son, and I believe in the freedom afforded to all peoples for it builds a stronghold that no enemy can overthrow.

We will win, we will see this tragedy through together and remember always S.E.E. what is around you.

‘A 3-strand cord cannot be easily be broken.’  

I love you dearly,

Your dad”

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Phil is the President and Founder of AMI Strategic Solutions, Inc and 461Church Defense Solutions. Phil has 30 years’ experience in corporate security, safety, and risk management consulting. Phil has worked as a program and policy writer, a corporate communications and conflict management consultant, including work as an independent national security analyst, and a director of safety / health in various theaters of business. Phil has also served as a Police chaplain and holds a CHPP (Certified Homeland Protection Professional) certification. He is a member of the Global Society of Homeland and National Security Professionals, in association with the National Sheriffs Association and the Homeland Security National Preparedness Consortium Phil’s work has extended into foreign theatres assisting individuals in protecting their personal, and viable assets on the ground, by providing training and consulting in situational – counter terrorism awareness, establishing security teams and personal security / safety awareness training. Phil specializes in security and risk management assessment, policy and program development and educational training. Two of his programs have been reviewed by DHS. Phil is also an Ordained minister with a major US denomination and has experienced firsthand, the emotions associated with an active shooter event and deployed the necessary response during such an event that occurred at a place of worship, where he was the senior pastor. Phil is also the founder of 461 CDS (Church Defense Solutions), a security and safety consulting firm, dedicated to assisting churches and places of worship with their security, safety, risk management needs and churchplace violence prevention.

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