Spencer Coursen’s new book The Safety Trap: A Security Expert’s Secrets for Staying Safe in a Dangerous World (St. Martin’s Press, 2021) is a must-read if personal safety and appropriate reactionary skills to an emergency are anywhere on your radar.

Spencer Coursen has spent the bulk of his adult life protecting people. He is an honorably discharged Army Airborne Ranger, a nationally recognized threat management expert, and the founder of the Coursen Security Group. He has developed and led security plans for numerous major celebrities, sports stars, and corporate executives. The most important lesson that he wants everyone to retain from his book is that you are never more in danger than in those moments when you feel you are safest. And that concept is the premise behind The Safety Trap.

The Safety Trap’s byline is “Protective Strategies To Eliminate the Threats in Everyday Life” and that’s exactly what this book does. As someone who is in this same field on a daily basis, much of what Coursen says in this book is relevant to topics I personally think about and teach in my daily life. If you aren’t in the professional business of safety, though, this book prompts you to at least consider being in the business of personal safety for you, your friends, and your family. Both training and knowledge are key if and when you find yourself in a situation that requires quick and effective use of your skills. And the book provides the reader with both.

Spencer Coursen Photo Collage. (Courtesy of Spencer Coursen)

It has been said that people fall back on their highest level of training during a critical incident; they don’t typically “rise to the occasion.” Every once in a while you may hear a news report about a soccer mom lifting a minivan off of her child who was trapped. That type of feat is awesome, but it’s also awesomely rare. What is far more common is for people to fall back on the training they are most comfortable or familiar with. Coursen’s book walks the everyday person through various scenarios and traps and provides guidance on how to better live prepared and not fall into The Safety Trap.

What is the safety trap? It is simply, “A false sense of security that occurs when fear has abated but [sic] risk remains. The world we live in has never been more dangerous and our well-being more precarious.”

Coursen’s desire in this book is to prompt readers to make proactive response plans to various incidents so that when confronted with a situation, they’ll react with an appropriate response that is based on a well-considered procedure.

At 18 I enlisted into the Marine Corps. Short of some jiu-jitsu training in high school, Marine Boot Camp (and MCMAP) was my first intensive practice into the art of physically controlling another human being. After getting out of the Marine Corps, I joined a police department in my hometown. In the Police Academy, we worked on physical controlling skills and practiced handcuffing techniques for violent offenders, body control, and both offensive and defensive skills and tactics.

However, everything we learned in the Police Academy was taught in a less intense, perhaps less effective way, than how we learned similar systems in the Marine Corps. Because of that, in moments of chaos on the job as a police officer, both my body and brain wanted to use the Marine Corps techniques far more frequently than the police control tactics. Why? Because in chaos I fell back to my most comfortable level of training. Coursen’s book helps get the reader thinking in ways that provide both psychological response, practical response, and muscle memory to incidents one could encounter in life.

Sandy Hook

In The Safety Trap, Coursen highlights and speaks to a number of topics, including The Safety Traps, putting threat Management into practice, and personal threat assessment checklists.

Coursen continued:

“In 2012, the tragedy at Sandy Hook was a turning point for me. My own childhood was wrought with fear. I longed for safety and comfort. I craved the confidence of a strong presence to tell me it would all be over soon. I’d wished there were someone – or something – I could turn to, to help me to better protect myself. And all of those emotions came flooding back to me as I watched those children be rushed from their school. You could see the fear and uncertainty on their faces. Each of them with their hands up in innocent surrender. My heart cried out for them. I felt for the parents, the educators too.”

A Connecticut State Police Officer helps escort Sandy Hook students to safety following the mass shooting there on December 14, 2012. (Photo by Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee)

As people from all walks of life have done for centuries, Coursen took a personal need he’d experienced as a child, used the skills and knowledge that he’d accumulated throughout his life, and decided to fill the need he had (and saw present in society) by writing this book. Personally, I much prefer reading or studying the work of someone who is passionate about the topic about which they’re writing rather than reading something someone has put out just as a money grab. Clearly, Coursen is both passionate and knowledgeable about safety. Because of that, when the violence at Sandy Hook happened, people reached out to him for help. As he says in Part I of the book,

“Both of my parents were teachers. I have friends and family who still teach. Some have risen through the ranks to become administrators, principals, and superintendents. All of them are phenomenal educators but none of them were professional protectors. I was. And now they were calling me. All of them afraid. All of them worrying if their school was next. And with so many others living in fear, I wanted to do everything I could to help.

That was when I made the decision to go into business for myself. I founded Coursen Security Group because I wanted to help others to protect themselves.”

The Safety Traps

In Part II of his book, Coursen discusses topics such as avoidance, expectation, oversharing, overprotecting children, complacency, overconfidence, effective response, and many others.

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One of the topics I found most interesting and pertinent in Part II of “The Safety Trap” is the section on avoidance. As Coursen says in this chapter:

“Avoidance is employed by all of us. How many of us have seen the blinking light flash on our dashboard warning us that we need an oil change or that our tire pressure is low? How many of us then simply mute the warning and hope it either never comes back or – at the very least – comes back at a ‘more convenient’ time?”

One piece of advice Coursen gives to readers on how to respond to a problem instead of avoiding it is this: “We have a choice! We can cling to the problem-solving strategies that helped to make us feel safe as children, or we can choose to confront the concerns as they come to us.”

He goes on to say:

“If used correctly, avoidance is nothing more than a temporary safeguard that helps us to get past the point of an unwelcome discomfort, shock or insight, which – if given the choice – we would much rather not be forced to endure. It is only when we use avoidance to deflect dealing with the impact of the real-world influences that we do the most damage to not only ourselves but to those around us as well.”

Another of the 15 topics discussed in Part II that resonated with me was the chapter about effective response. Coursen makes some excellent points in this chapter, but the takeaway for me is summed up in his final statement, “Never let your competence in reacting to a crisis lead to your incompetence in preventing that very same concern.”

He’s right. Far too often do we only consider our individual, our family’s, or our company’s response to an incident rather than focusing on how to prevent the incident itself from ever occurring.

An example he provides is that the presence of an armed guard makes people feel safer at times, but in reality, all that guard can do is react to a violent situation. He/she won’t likely be the prevention of the violent situation at the hands of a committed offender. What is more likely to happen is that the offender will start the attack far away from where the armed guard is known to be.

How to Use What You’ve Learned

In Part III, Coursen shows readers how to put the threat management techniques he discusses into practice. He talks about what it means to redefine safety in the home. Further, he discusses safety options for school and workplaces and overall safety throughout one’s life, whether it is safety from fraud, natural disasters, or armed assailants. They’re all covered in this book.

By writing The Safery Trap Coursen wants readers to be safe rather than just feel safe. I can’t say enough about the helpful tips this book provides readers for increasing their overall level of safety. I highly recommend this book to anyone desiring to keep themselves, and those they work with and love, safe.

You can purchase the book here or at your favorite bookstore.