It seems like just yesterday that Rift Recon ran its first Art of Escape training in San Francisco, and yet last weekend marked the fourth Bay Area urban escape and evasion course. An entirely new group of enthusiastic, determined students embarked on three days of growth and development, with a healthy dose of apprehension mixed in! Executive Assistant Arianna Travaglini sat down with Art of Escape trainers Eric Michaud and Brian O’Shea to talk about the latest installment of Rift Recon’s most popular class.
A: Eric, this is your sixth Art of Escape training, and Brian’s fourth. You both have seen a lot of faces come and go. What stood out about this round?
E: The students’ backgrounds, for one. We had engineers in this class, a lawyer, someone in sales for a major corporation, and many more. Usually we’ve been seeing a majority of tech and security industry folks with a sprinkling of outliers. This group was more diverse.
B: It was also the most gender-balanced class we’ve taught thus far, and I feel like that worked to everyone’s advantage. The skills that we teach are applicable to anybody regardless of gender, but unfortunately there’s a unique vulnerability to being a woman in our world. We were thrilled to be able to address the needs and bolster the overall competency of more than a few female students.
A. Did either of you have any concerns when the class began, or throughout the weekend? Anything you saw this particular group struggling with?
E: This class was definitely the most initially truculent group we’ve had thus far. They were wary, and they didn’t make it easy to win them over. Usually you have one or two individuals like that, not the class as an entity. Brian and I figured that we would need to get more hands-on with them to earn their trust, so we cut back on the rote lecturing and increased the demonstrative exercises. It opened them right up.
B: I noticed that the few engineers we had in class had some difficulty wrapping their heads around the concept of “social engineering”. It’s a non-quantifiable skill, being more in the nebulous realm of manipulation, so there are no easily-identifiable “steps” to it. For people who think in a very linear, categorical way, this can prove challenging. In mastering it, you have to apply your own personality, which then becomes the lens you look at it through.
A. What do you feel this class excelled at?
E: Because they were all from such diverse backgrounds, once they acted as a cohesive group they were able to leverage each other to pick up the lessons we were teaching with ease. One person’s strength fed another’s weakness.
B: I feel that they excelled at overall situational awareness. In past classes, people really jumped on mastering the individual skillsets: the lockpicking, escaping restraints, etc. But this class was constantly looking for danger and people manipulating them around every corner, thinking strategy first and tactical later instead of the other way around. This disposition definitely helped them excel during Saturday’s Field Training Exercise.
A. Speaking of which, let’s talk about Saturday’s Field Training Exercise – that’s the best part! What surprised and/or delighted you about that day?
E: I was really impressed with the students’ intuition. For example, we lied to them at the onset: we told them we’d be conducting entry interviews and de-briefing them at a hotel, and that the abduction would take place afterwards on the street. In reality, we had interrogators ready to subdue them at the hotel. A few students were genuinely taken aback, but many were prepared for such a trick, even citing ahead of time that they “felt something was off”. These instincts were especially encouraging, and many students evaded capture by pursuers throughout the day while relying on said intuition.
B: Earlier Eric mentioned how the students were already leveraging each others’ strengths and weaknesses in the classroom; well, one of our teams was able to do that in the field in an extraordinary way. They assessed each others’ abilities up front – the woman was the faster runner, and the man was better at hiding – and they made a plan for how they would respond under duress. If pursued by a chaser, they decided to split up – he would draw pursuers away from her so that she could succeed, effectively sacrificing himself. This kind of difficult decision making directly mirrored real-life hostage responses. To them, the exercise was unequivocally authentic.
– Arianna Travaglini
Executive Assistant at Rift Recon
Photo Credit: Eddie Codel