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lost in the woods

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Editor’s Note: Lost

"Fear of being lost is as visceral as our response to snakes and appears to be hardwired in the human brain; millions of years of evolution have taught us that the experience tends not to end well. People who are truly lost are often convinced they are going to die,” writes Michael Bond in The New Scientist. “Understandably, they are terrified.”

In his article, “People who get lost in the wild follow strangely predictable paths,” Bond writes that fear can cause skilled hikers to ignore landmarks, lose track of time and distance, and experience claustrophobia even in open areas.

Bond notes that research on military personnel found that fear negatively affects working memory, visual perception, and understanding of spatial relationships, all of which degraded so significantly that the test subjects “were performing at a level commonly seen in children under 10,” he writes.

Researchers Dave Perkins and Pete Roberts of the Northumberland National Park MRT and The Centre for Search Research discovered further commonalities. In their report, The U.K. Missing Person Behaviour Study, they found that when lost, most people tend to keep moving, making them more difficult to find. In addition, “We are all drawn to boundaries, such as the edge of a field, a forest margin, a drainage ditch, a line of pylons, or the shore of a lake,” writes Bond. “Overall, most lost people who are found alive end up in a building or on what rescuers call a travel aid: a road, track, or path, say, or an animal trail. Rescuers now know to always scout out such features first.”

Bond notes that, in some categories, people act irrationally in the same way. “Children are less likely than adults to keep moving, for instance, which explains why 96 percent of them are found alive compared with 73 percent of adults. People with dementia tend to head in a straight line through whatever lies in their way. And solo male hikers, once lost, travel much further than any other category of missing person. They just keep on walking until someone finds them,” writes Bond.

In the current environment, every­one—even seasoned security professionals—is a little lost. Life threat­ening situations are erupting around the globe. Previously simple interactions are now weighted with fear of potentially contracting or spreading a deadly virus. Widespread demonstrations are sparking change and uncertainty. The unpredictability can cause us to go the wrong way, move when we should stay put, lose track of time, and, sometimes, panic.

However, security professionals have skills that put them at an advantage in such trying times. This issue of Security Management addresses some of these competencies—anticipating liability, planning special events during COVID-19, preparing for disasters, and conducting training. Other ASIS resources, including certification materials, and virtual events such as webinars and eLearning can all help prepare security professionals and reveal a path out of the wilderness.