This article was first published in Dawn Magazine on 20th March 2016
Most common personal safety devices are pepper spray, mace, tasers, stun guns, personal alarms, ultrasonic dog repellant, tracking devices.
Firstly understand what is permissible by law. Stun guns are not likely to be permitted for use by anyone other than law enforcement or security professionals. Tasers are less likely to be prohibited and found with ease.
Thereafter it’s important to understand in what situation you can use them and how. Mace, pepper spray, stun guns and Tasers are devices that are only effective within a small distance. Therefore, the risk to yourself is not eliminated and you could fall victim to it yourself if not properly used.
Many personal safety devices are available these days, what should one choose to use and what are the guidelines?
Any spray (mace, pepper) when deployed needs to be aimed at the face. However, to do so with limited risk to yourself means to deploy it with the wind direction taking it away from you and towards the assailant. Windy conditions would also limit the effect of the spray.
Do not expect the assailant to be immediately disabled by the spray as each situation is unique. Spraying someone wearing glasses may cause just breathing problems but someone without glasses would have visual impairment too.
The use of the spray should be followed up with a plan to escape from the situation or further disable the attacker. Hold them down, tie them, barricade them, etc. Again the actions wholly depend on the situation you are in.
Also, there is a strong probability that the assailant could grab your device and use it against you, given the close proximity required for an effective use of the spray.
Tasers: A taser is used when you feel a grave and imminent threat and it is important to disable the target immediately and allow you to escape. It is also a gadget that can only be used within a small range, at a maximum of 10 to 15 feet.
What to watch out for: Do not repeatedly jolt a person with a taser or continue to jolt the person for extended periods. This action can cause permanent, and even fatal damage. The taser can be aimed at any part of the body and will incapacitate the individual.
It is important to store them carefully and away from children, handling it with care.
The most likely user would be private security or law-enforcement personnel with proper training. Ordinary persons must avoid it even if it is available for use. The device is similar in shape to a gun and could be mistaken for one at first sight, leading to potential difficulties with law-enforcement personnel.
Stun guns: Stun guns are similar in functionality to tasers wherein they produce an electric jolt. The similarities, however, end there as the taser is more powerful and immediately disables the target while a stun gun will causes discomfort but not enough to disable the target.
What to watch out for: They are hand-held devices and the target has to be within an arms distance of the device. The stun gun momentarily jolts someone but doesn’t necessarily incapacitate; therefore, just like when using a spray, there should be a plan to escape or capture the target.
Unlike the taser that causes impact irrespective of where it strikes the target, the stun gun should strike between the neck and the waist for maximum impact. If you can’t aim for the body, the arms, shoulders and legs can be targeted but their impact will be lesser.
Always keep batteries charged; a stun gun that doesn’t function when used is often the cause of increased aggravation shown by the target towards the victim. The element of surprise that was to work in your favour is now used against you.
Personal alarms: There are two common types of alarms: the first that sounds a shrill alarm locally and the second a remote alarm trigger (alerting someone who isn’t in the vicinity). The alarm devices come disguised in many forms: key chains, lipstick cases, watches, pens, etc.
Both have their benefits and limitations too. The benefit of a localised alarm is that it draws the attention of people in the immediate vicinity to your situation. The remote alarm works best to alert someone who could put in motion a response.
What to watch out for: Ensure that you have the devices properly charged at all times. In case of the localised shrill alarm, the sounds are disabling but you also experience it and not just the possible attacker. The only benefit is that you are prepared for it and your response to escape is quicker. However, it is also used to attract support of others who may be nearby and ultimately if they provide support or not is something you can never know.
The remote alarm must be linked to a response that is practical; if not, it is just an indication that you were in trouble.
Tracking devices: These devices are similar to panic alarms and are at times packaged together. They are helpful in situations where you need to have someone know where you are at all times.
There are of course limitations; they require mobile phone connectivity primarily for location search: GPS devices aren’t as common and readily available.
They have the added benefit of providing voice calling or even one-way voice connectivity that the receiving end can know what is being said. As with personal alarm devices, they come disguised as everyday items or can be hidden on the person, in objects, in the vehicle etc.
In general when selecting a device you must consider what your risk is and what kind of support you can be sure of. Using a device but having no immediate escape route could jeopardise your safety far more.
Gadgets are tools and they can fail you at a critical moment. Therefore, if you are a person at risk, talk to a professional who can guide you on the best service available and to clearly make you aware of the pros and cons of any device. Over-the-counter devices or online purchases don’t prepare you for actual use.