There are very few times when I get to sit down with an individual whose professional resume is as diverse and impressive as Tim Kennedy. Many have heard of Tim Kennedy through a plethora of forums. Many know of Tim’s career as an Army Green Beret Master Sergeant and Special Forces sniper. Others know of his time in the ring as a mixed-martial arts fighter in the UFC, Strikeforce, IFL, and WEC arenas. Most, however, know of Tim’s role in the hit HISTORY CHANNEL television show, “Hunting Hitler” as well as many other television shows and appearances.   

I recently had some time to sit down with Tim Kennedy through a phone interview and get his take on disaster preparedness. 

DISASTER INITIATIVES: What is your overall view of survival in the 21st century?

TIM KENNEDY: Tragically. I think it has changed a lot. You know, if you look at my parents' generation, we're talking nuclear bunkers, the Cuban missile crisis… times when the cold war was the big news. Now we have active shooters in our schools, radical extremism and riots… I think the general occurrence of mass casualty events is just being more frequent. And even though things are different for our generation, my current definition of survival hasn’t changed, which is to always be ready for anything. 

DISASTER INITIATIVES: Has your philosophy of disaster preparedness changed over time, especially in light of the changes in today's world?

TIM KENNEDY: I think what's changed is the way that it has kind of marinated into every aspect of life. Before things started to go more south for us, I didn’t think about what I was doing as much as I have to today. Today is different. We have to be ready for any kind of contingency and I have to evaluate where I’m going, how I’m getting there, and what I’m doing when I’m there…especially if it’s considered higher risk. If we're going to a music concert in Las Vegas, then I have five tourniquets with me. If I'm going to be picking my kids up from school, I have to have everything. I need to take care of a bunch of kids if an active shooter incident breaks out. It’s this ever-changing landscape of being prepared for a bunch of different types of situations. 

DISASTER INITIATIVES: As an MMA fighter and fitness expert, what lessons can you translate from the ring to the field of disaster preparedness?

TIM KENNEDY: When you start looking at special operations, such as Delta force, SEAL Team Six special forces, and Army Green Beret’s and Rangers, what's the commonality across all of them? It's fitness. You see a level of preparedness physically that is very adaptive to a lot of different environments. 

While it feels great and looks great to be in shape, the truth of the matter is that fitness is the foundation, the cornerstone, for everything we do. What we do in the special operations community is going to be built off that fact that we're going to be great at the fundamentals. We're going to be good at shooting. We're going to be good at tactical medicine. We're going to be good at survival. We're going to be generally prepared to adapt to a lot of different situations, but the reasons that we can do that is because we have a chassis. We have a body that is mentally and physically trained to do all of these different things and it makes you think that more Americans can act on this as well and rethink their own levels of mental and physical fitness. Disaster readiness, on a physical level, is going to be important to either your survival or those around you. The level of obesity is the highest that we've ever had in recorded history and the United States is the least healthy country in the world. When you look at 2018 statistics, 71% of youth in America are not physically eligible to serve in the military so now we're talking about a national level problem that affects our Nation’s security. On a fundamental level, it really becomes an impediment to preparedness and readiness.  It is a cornerstone of being truthfully capable of responding or being ready for something to happen.

"The way that you get mentally prepared is to go through struggle and to see what it feels like to experience what you might experience in a worst-case scenario."

DISASTER INITIATIVES: Which segues nicely into my next question Tim. What is the importance of disaster psychology during times of crisis and survival for individuals, communities, and government? 

TIM KENNEDY: I'll start with the individual level first and not to pound and hound the fitness elements of it, but somebody who is more mentally prepared, then the more physically prepared they are.  The way that you get mentally prepared is to go through struggle and to see what it feels like to experience what you might experience in a worst-case scenario. We'll use self-defense as an example. If the first time that you're going to be drawing your gun and try to shoot a target with your heart racing…you have tunnel vision…you’re spatial and general situational awareness is diminished…and you must draw your weapon to protect yourself, you have failed. You will not be able to effectively protect yourself. So then how do you create a situation that all of those things are in? Let's go into the range. That's running up and down the hill, that's doing burpees and then drawing your gun and giving it a whirl.  You train like this so when you do have to draw the gun and your heart is racing and you're breathing hard and your hands are shaking, it will feel normal because you've been doing that. So that mental preparedness is actually brought to you through the process of training. And I think a lot of people skip this step because the easy answer sounds something like “I'm going to read some books” or “I'm going to sit down and contemplate” this decision-making making process or make a flow chart of the possibilities. They're not, however, putting the work or the sweat and blood that goes along with getting mentally prepared. One of my favorite things about fighting in the UFC in an era when everybody was using steroids, except me, was I knew that they were mentally weak because they were using steroids.

They might be physically fit. They might hit harder. They might have more endurance than me because they're using steroids, but they don't know what struggle is because they've been cutting corners their whole entire life. But because I haven’t done that stuff and have gone through the process of real training,  I bring them into deep waters and beat them in the ring because I know what it feels like to be mentally prepared for that moment. That’s what it’s like in mental preparedness too. It's hard work. It's sweat, it's struggle. And it's training that is invested in heavily by the governments as well. If you look at the military, police, and fire departments, these are the guys that are the most prepared and the guys that do the best because they invest the time into training.

DISASTER INITIATIVES: What role does situational awareness play in everyday life to prepare for unthinkable disaster scenarios? 

TIM KENNEDY: Situational awareness is one of the most vital components to survival. It’s something that is built into our DNA so that we’re ingrained with this innate ability to protect ourselves. Over time, we’ve lost the ability because of all of life’s distractions around us. It’s almost like if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. A lot of us, especially younger people, have lost it. It takes practice to either develop situational awareness or re-develop it. Whenever I go into a venue, like a school concert, it automatically enters my mind to find where all of the exits are so I know where to stand if there's a herd of people coming my way if there’s an active shooter, fire, you name it. I have two teenage sons and I ask myself what role does situational awareness play for all of us in today's age? It’s been lost. If you’re asking yourself about the exits at a concert when you first arrive, you are so far behind the curve.  We need to familiarize ourselves by figuring out where you’re going to be, where are you exits, where are you moving you family to, what are your assets and liabilities? It’s difficult to fathom this stuff prior to going to an event, but the more you do it, the more it becomes ingrained in you. Remember, this is your life and the life of your loved ones that we’re talking about.

And though it gets a bad rap, profiling is not only normal when it comes to situational awareness, but it’s highly suggested by professionals. You have to think of profiling as using information to categorize things and people.

The second part is external awareness. What does the situation look like?  Then address the biometrics: how are the people in that situation? What kind of people are they? Are they rough? Are they business executives? So again, depending on where you are, this type of profiling and categorizing gets a lot more important.

And then this brings us to the next one, which is taking something from awareness and looking at your threats. That's the assessment. When I perform a threat assessment, I’ve already gone through the process of being aware of myself and my surroundings. Now I look at my concerns.  In the military, we focus on the most likely of circumstances as well as the most dangerous. If I'm at a concert, the most likely is like a pickpocket, people arguing, drunk people fighting, or maybe a security guard is trying to take out an unruly person. Those are very likely things that can happen.

Categorizing people by working through your bias, look at the place you’re at and get as much information as you can. For example: What does normal look like? What does a normal fan look like? What is the normal flow of traffic? Where are the cars normally parked? You have to establish a baseline of what is “normal” so you can attempt to understand what is “abnormal.” That’s part of profiling.

DISASTER INITIATIVES: You offer training in active shooter tactics and awareness. What can you tell the average citizen to be aware of as they travel? How about the student who walks the hallways of their schools every day?

TIM KENNEDY: The first one is awareness and that's broken into two different sections. I do a little self-reflection whenever I get into a training situation and ask myself a series of questions. Maybe I’ll ask how much sleep did I get? Am I getting along with the partner that I'm working with? Am I getting along with my wife? What’s my current level of mental and physical fitness? What weapons do I have? How many tourniquets do I have? So that's self-awareness of the assets and liabilities that I'm bringing to the fight and that applies to both the tactical and my personal world. Clearly, I have to live in both of those worlds, but in that self-awareness portion of categorizing my assets and liabilities, I can make clear decisions moving forward if I take the time for internal assessment.

The most dangerous events at a concert, however, could be the guy who walks into the concert with pipe bombs and sets them off at the exits. This is a huge disparity between these two things, but you must consider the most dangerous and the most likely. In terms transition, moving from situational awareness to threat assessment is where I think where people should be spending the vast majority of their effort.

After that that transition comes action when you ask yourself “what am I going to do?” You’ll start to question “If this happens, what is my response going to be?”  So I have awareness… I have assessments… and then I have options to take as action. I think a lot of people spend most of their time on trying to train for action, but no matter how much you train on shooting or fighting, or putting on a tourniquet, all of the stuff is going to be dictated by your level of awareness and assessments before the action takes place. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be very proficient at taking action, but you’ll be the most effective and efficient when you've already prepared, given all the information from awareness and assessments you’ve obtained.

And then lastly, you’ll perform an analysis when you ask, “if I had to do something, is that going to be the right thing?” For example, if the guy that is being carried out by the bouncers breaks loose and starts running at my teenage daughters, what is my action?  Do I crack them in his head, or do I talk to him?  Maybe I just get my girls out of the way. So that's my action. Is that the right thing? And in analysis, that's going to bring me right back to awareness. That's going to take me in a constant state of evaluation.  I’ll go back to the threat assessment, back to action, back to analysis, back to awareness, back to assessment, back to action, back to analysis, and on and on.  It's this ever-going cycle of what am I going to do? 

"No matter how much you train on shooting or fighting, or putting on a tourniquet, all of the stuff is going to be dictated by your level of awareness and assessments before the action takes place."

DISASTER INITIATIVES: So can you give me a real-life example of how readers might apply this in their own lives?

TIM KENNEDY: We obviously live in an American society where active shooters are becoming more prevalent in local schools. Our teenagers and their parents can apply some of those same principles in everyday life.  We don't want to raise our kids to be soldiers in our schools, but we do need to raise them to be a little bit more socially aware of their surroundings.

I think an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   Having that open dialogue between a parent and a kid can directly affect what you learn is happening in their lives (awareness). Then you can examine the situation by looking at how are the kids in their classes (assessment)?  Maybe you know that the kid who got kicked off the soccer team is angry and has a temper. What happened to him? What about that kid that got in trouble for bringing a knife into school?  That’s a parent being involved in their kid’s life. They become both aware and develop the ability to assess. That’s where you're going to get all the information about what they're going to be doing, and what the environment is going to be around them. Then the conversation becomes an opportunity to train them or take action.  As an example, when me and my kids drive down the road, I can ask my daughter questions like “who do you think is driving this car in front of us?” They look at the car, they look at the shape and color of the car. They look at the bumper stickers on it. So essentially, you're teaching them how to profile. 

We're just playing a game of “who do you think is driving this car?” Then you pull up next to it and get a confirmation of what our profiling was and see if we were right or wrong. If we were wrong, we make our adjustments. That's just a game to get good at it, but you’re also teaching them situational awareness and going through the regime of awareness, assessment, action, and analysis.

DISASTER INITIATIVES: From “Hunting Hitler” to your current television programs, what disaster preparedness lessons can you translate from the screen to home for the American society? How should we bridge any gap between what we see on television to our daily lives?

TIM KENNEDY: I'm not smart enough to have a bunch of different skill sets or personalities. What you see me do is what I really do. If we're talking about how I'm going to try and break into a place, that's how I break into a place so I’m not seen by the local Nazis in Argentina. The trade craft of counter surveillance is pretty open source and you have subject matter experts that are really doing these unscripted roles, and the success of the show is how well they can do those things. The network let the audience see the things that we saw and the things that we did, but the things the network wouldn't let us air would blow your mind. We have a narrative of the show, but absolutely nothing is scripted yet we kind of knew what we wanted and where we were going because of the research performed prior to our field investigation. If I'm going to be walking in and asking a guy about whether his grandpa was an SS Colonel in Argentina, that's the information that I need to uncover to drive the story. But when he starts telling me about his uncle who is a second-generation Nazi in Argentina and was actually running a radio tower instead of being a Colonel, and that radio tower was pushing out Nazi propaganda in South America for the Third Reich, that stuff isn't part of the show because it's not part of the narrative of the story. I had dudes chasing me down with machetes on mopeds and people trying to poison us in Chile. But that's not part of the show narrative, so it's deleted out.

DISASTER INITIATIVES: Last question: Is there any kind of disaster or potential disaster that keeps you up at night more than another?

TIM KENNEDY: The things that keep me up at night are the things that I can't plan for, or the things that I can't control. So my daughter's going to school. I can’t control everything that goes on there. The school has an emergency action plan that's dictated by the county. That county dictates to the school board and the school board puts that plan into place. I have a security consulting firm that advises people on how to do this. I ask the School Board “Do you want me to take a look at it?” And their response was that they weren’t allowed! That eats at my soul, you know? I don't have control of them. 

My daughters travel all over the world. Even though I'm aware of everything, I'm not going to mandate or dictate that they lived a sheltered life. Europe is infamous for their human trafficking network. I worry if they travel because I cannot control the world. I wish I could. Those are the things that keep me up at night. I can prepare for it, but ultimately, I can't control the wind. The what…the where… the why …the who…all I can do is prepare for the possibilities.

However, with that, don't let worrying about these things affect your happiness and your ability to live life. I live the fullest, most fulfilling life.  When I see people with anxiety over these things, it makes me sad sometimes to see people go so far down this rabbit hole that they forget to smell the flowers. They're planting flowers on top of their apocalypse bunker, but they need to smell the flowers that they plant on top of that bunker.

The 4-11

Few individuals are as diverse and knowledgeable about disaster preparedness from the perspective of the Special Forces mindset as Tim Kennedy. His role in the military and experiences from his mixed-martial arts career place him at the peak of survival knowledge that can be applied to everyday life. Regardless of his celebrity status, Tim has continued to make a name for himself as an author, entrepreneur, and most important of all…husband, father, and patriot. This makes his knowledge and ability to teach others all the more relevant and empathetic in a world rife with challenges, but promise.

About Tim Kennedy

Tim Kennedy is an active duty Master Sergeant and Green Beret with the US Army and has served with the 7th and 19th Special Forces groups and has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal. He is an active mixed-martial arts fighter, television personality, and an active entrepreneur and author.

About the Author

Mark Linderman is the owner of Disaster Initiatives, an online company that provides communication leaders with the tools needed to address their communities and the media throughout a crisis, and teaches the communicator to approach crisis communication from the listener’s perspective. He is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and nineteen-year veteran of Public Health. He instructs Crisis & Risk Communication within the field of disaster preparedness for seven universities, including Indiana University’s Fairbanks School of Public Health. Mark is considered a Subject Matter Expert in the field of disaster-based communication and is a widely received public speaker and advocate for disaster preparedness. 

Mark Linderman,

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