Planning your exit!  – Part One

NEWSBREAK: “Baltimore police are searching for suspects after five by-standers were wounded following gunfire during homecoming week celebrations on the campus of Morgan State University.”

I had that newsbreak in mind while enroute to a local football game. For those who know me (or wish they didn’t) know that I’m as fanatical a sports nut as you’ll ever find, and that there are few things more enjoyable for me than a high school football game. And on top of that, there are no words to describe my pride – and, yes, jitters – when watching my grandson play linebacker on his high school JV football team.  

But where once I took attending games for granted, today’s realities have caused me to modify my approach. You see, before now it never crossed my mind that one day I’d have to plan my exit in the event of an outbreak in violence. Thus, I decided to share my recent exit planning experience as a public service announcement. Hopefully you’ll leave this piece with more than a few pearls of wisdom for you and maybe for others. (You may want to have your yellow highlighter nearby to do what highlighters are designed to do.)

When I entered the stadium parking lot, I located a space near the exit in case I had to leave quickly. Once inside, after being scanned for the existence of contraband, I made my way to the stands and found a seat two rows up to avoid having to quickly ascend down steps from a higher row and, for the same reason, took a seat at the end of the row. 

As the game unfolded, I listened for potential verbal outbreaks – screaming at players, referees or other fans – and other red flags. Since the game was decided by the third quarter, I left to avoid trash talking crowds and gridlock in the parking lot.

Now if you pause and think about it, planning one’s exit is nothing new. For example, although I understand the rationale but dislike the practice, some couples sign pre-nuptial agreements to protect themselves financially should the marriage end. And is crafting a will another example of planning one’s exit?

And some terminally ill people document end of life “advance directives” or take other actions. For example, “Walt” who was terminally ill at the time, went so far as to accompany his wife to pick out his casket. 

Much has been written lately about planning exits when visiting malls given outbreaks of violence and increases in gang activity. And as discomforting as it is, given recent spikes in shootings at churches, synagogues and mosques (and stabbings at an airport), exit planning makes perfect sense. 

So, in planning this piece, I consulted with my friends “Bernard” and “Leslie” for their advice on the issue. (“Leslie’s” advice on exiting toxic organizations will be in Part Two).

“Great subject Terry,” said Bernard. “Now that you brought it up, these days I exercise care in picking gas stations. When I hear of a robbery at a station, I won’t go there. So, in addition to exiting some places, avoiding them in the first place should be part of the discussion.”

Bernard observes the behaviors of others when at the pump, especially anyone in the shadows who seem to be sizing him up. “When your instincts tell you that something doesn’t feel right, leave.” He further advises that while filling up, avoid late-night fill ups, never leave keys in the ignition or pocketbooks or other valuables in plain view. And if you must go inside before or after filling up, always lock your car doors. 

Now at the risk of being accused of sexism – bring on the handcuffs – I say that men shouldn’t allow women in their lives to go to stations alone unless it’s absolutely necessary. There, I said it and don’t regret having done so.

Let’s face it, odds are that at some point you’ll find yourself in a boisterous crowd at a large event. So remember that with numbers come the potential for safety risks. With those risks in mind, here’s a list of tips from experts:

  • Keep an eye on your belongings—put your wallet in a front pocket (preferably one with a zipper). If you use a purse, hold it close to your body where you can always see it.
  • Don’t put your belongings on the ground or next to you in the bleachers to keep them from being stolen or forgotten.
  • Respond quickly to an alarm or sign of emergency and leave immediately. 
  • Upon arrival at any event, identify emergency exits that you can use to escape from a potentially dangerous situation.
  • If seated at a sporting event or concert, try not to sit in the middle of the aisle, as this could prevent you from making a quick exit.
  • Avoid using ATMs in crowded areas. Close proximity to crowds heightens your risk for unexpected muggings or identity theft.
  • When you arrive at your destination, take note of the security officers protecting the area, their posts, and uniforms. 

Here are a my additional tips consider:

  • When you pull into a parking lot at an event, back into a parking space which allows an easy exit.
  • Avoid excess consumption of liquids which may minimize the urge to go to the restroom during the event. 
  • Avoid expensive looking necklaces, rings, watches, handbags, etc., that could attract unwanted attention.

In Part Two, we’ll explore strategies for planning exits from toxic organizations and interactions with energy draining people. During the interim, here’s my last piece of advice; share and discuss this narrative with family, friends and others who may have a need to be aware.

See you next week.

Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel,, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


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