Preventing Conflict and Violence by Way of Awareness, Collaborative Efforts and Resilient Networks by Fred Leland | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“Uncertainty has been called the greatest challenge to security.”~ Geerat J. Vermeij

None of us escapes conflict; it is part of our daily lives. So how do we become more effective at recognizing potential threatening situations and come up with a more positive outcome driven strategy and methods to preventing and resolving conflicts and violence?

Maj. Don Vandergriff describes conflict as a clash between complex adaptive systems. For the purpose of this article, adaptive systems are human beings, individuals and groups. Violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in any setting (environment). In his book “Leading through Conflict” Marc Gerzon states: “None of us escapes conflict. It is everywhere: there is the organization that is divided over its strategy and role. There is the community that is divided by race, economics, religion, or politics. There is the home torn apart by chronic feuds between parents and children, siblings, or in-laws. There is the country broken apart by civil strife. There are the “hot” conflicts (strong emotions, loud voices, visible tension) – all too obvious. And then there are the “cold” conflicts (suppressed emotions, tense silence, and invisible stress). All toll conflict comes to us in many forms.” When thinking about how to prevent violence, many consider self-defense or martial arts training. This physical dimension of conflict is important to know and be able to apply, but it’s the last resort effort when all of our natural abilities such as observation and intuitive decision-making have failed or been ignored due to complacency or habituation.

Our primary goal relating to conflict and violence is its prevention; prevention through creating and nurturing awareness. Developing observation skills allows better orientation through analysis and synthesis of human behavior, pattern recognition, anomalies, and the signs and signals of crime and danger. The ability to recognize the signs and signals, combined with initiative-driven information gathering through the senses, and the development of interpersonal communications skills allows us to collaborate within established resilient networks to thwart conflict and violence. By employing collaborative efforts within the network to individually and collectively recognize the signs and signals, the pre-incident indicators adapt to changes they observe and better able to assess anxiety, stress, vulnerabilities and threatening behavior. Resiliency allows us to develop better strategies and tactical concepts that lead to early intervention, prevention and/or resolution to conflict and violence in progressively and spontaneously unfolding circumstances.

Real life example: A call comes in for a robbery in progress at a nearby bank. Within seconds, police officers arrived. The first police officer on the scene was on a paid detail across the street; he entered the bank and observed the suspect at the teller window. “I knew the subject did not see me as he was focused on the tellers. I went in quietly and whispered to each customer “get out”. I approached the robber from behind, carefully grabbed his jacket, then pulled him tight against my body and pressed my muzzle hard against his ribs. Then, in a soft and reassuring voice said, “Don’t move or I’ll shoot you”. He didn’t move, and he complied with my assertive command until I was able to handcuff and arrest him. Not knowing if he was armed (hands in jacket pockets) and with a couple of civilians still in the bank and no bullet -resistant glass within the bank, this was the best tactic. The results—no injuries, a robbery attempt resolved without harm or loss, and the suspect in custody–demonstrate that…”

This example highlights a combined collaborative effort involving the police and the teller in the bank who was able to call 911 and leave the phone line open. The dispatcher was savvy enough to listen and communicate what was going on to responding officers. This combined effort allowed the officer to gather critical information not from just his individual observations, but from the observations of others involved, and allowed him to get a better orientation of what was going on inside. He took the information he observed, heard and felt intuitively and was able to adapt and quickly plan actions that led to a safe resolution: a safely prevented robbery and apprehension of the subject.

This example was ongoing and in progress, which is typically more difficult to prevent. These types of incidents usually result in a successful robbery, and require investigative resources (federal and local) in the search for the suspect or a hostage type scenario. Yet, because of the collaborative efforts and decisive decision-making, the worst was prevented.

The same method could be used in any environment: a school, university or college, hospital, hotel, workplace, shopping mall or the streets. You could be law enforcement officer, safety and security officer or citizen facing this scenario. Awareness of your surroundings and working together in a collaborative way helps to build a resilient network of people in the community that allow circumstances like this to be prevented.

How can we become more aware? Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sensory data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. In biological psychology, awareness is defined as a human’s or an animal’s perception and cognitive reaction to a condition or event. Awareness is not just our eyes open and seeing what’s going on; it is observing and absorbing what we see to the point where we are able to understand and make a decision. Col John Boyd described conflict as time competitive Observation, Orientation, and Decision and Action cycles. The time competitive OODA Cycle means, one must accelerate their orientation and decision making in order to be successful in the world of conflict and violence. In the book, “The John Boyd Roundtable Debating Science, Strategy, and War,” one of the authors, Daniel H. Abbott, describes John Boyd’s OODA Loop as follows: “The OODA Loop divides cognition into four processes, Observation (perception), Orientation (unconscious or implicit thought), conscious of explicit thought (Decision) and Action (behavior).”

The Boyd Cycle is a decision making model focuses on how we process information through our 6 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch and intuition). A “turned on and tuned in” Boyd Cycle running smoothly and fluidly allows us to recognize patterns of behavior in conflict, orient quickly and effectively to the situation we are in, allowing us the ability to make rapid decisions and take appropriate actions to exploit any advantage that presents itself.

Dynamics of Networks and Collaborative Efforts

We live in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world. We have to study the whole in order to better understand the parts, and vice versa. This is the essence of holistic thinking and basis for understanding conflict and violence, and developing positive outcomes based on strategy and tactics. Our networked knowledge may provide a robust background for defense against violence and other security related issues if we collaboratively apply what we know. This collaboration increases resiliency to violent acts! Simply put a group of people (network) working together know more about what’s going on through collective knowledge. This network of people spreads risk over greater numbers. Individual orientation communicating to the others and analyzed becomes group orientation (not group think) which decreases uncertainties and complexity inherent in predicting conflict and violence, so we better understand, predict and manage a positive outcome with actionable objective knowledge. Individuals part of a network are also more apt through collective behavior to develop the strength of character to make decisions early enough to have a more positive effect in detecting, defusing , preventing or resolving violent and conflict.

Conflict and violence are everywhere, and the odds are that you or someone you know will be affected by it at some point. The key to preventing and resolving conflict and the violence that often results from it is based on our ability to better understand what we see, make timely decisions that lead to actions in the early stages where the signs and signals of conflict and violence can be dealt with accordingly, help one another by collaborative efforts, “interaction, conversation, advice and recommendations followed up by verification”. The community that truly understands resilience will know greater security.


Boyd, J. C. (December 1986). Patterns of Conflict. Unpublished.

Mark Safranski, D. H. (2008). The John Boyd Roundtable Debating Science, Strategy, and War . Ann Arbor Michigan: Nimble Books LLC .

Raphael D. Sagarin, T. T. (2008). Natural Security A Darwinian Approach to a dangerous World. Berkley and Los Angeles California, London England: University of California Press.

Vandergriff, D. (2006). Raising the Bar Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War. Washington D.C.: Center for Defense Information.

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