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September 2, 2014

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Personal security:

With business booming, NLV-based counterterrorism expert getting last laugh

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Christopher DeVargas

Doron Benbenisty, owner and founder of Crisis Response International, demonstrates an escape technique at his training facility, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.

Crisis Response International

Doron Benbenisty, owner and founder of Crisis Response International, explains some of the methods behind his training techniques, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Janet Allen was alone in 2008 at her home in the northwest valley when a strange man started pounding on the front door. Then, another man appeared at the back door.

Allen grabbed a phone and hid in a closet while she called Metro Police, who arrived just in time to capture the intruders inside the house before they were able to discover Allen cowering in the closet.

She was safe, but the incident unsettled her. Soon after, Allen and her husband, Matt, signed up for a home-defense course with Doron Benbenisty, a former member of the Israeli Special Forces who now runs Crisis Response International.

“Anybody that’s interested in protecting their family should take a course like that,” said Matt Allen, who also has taken martial arts training with Benbenisty. “Most people don’t think about it until something happens, then they may go out and look for a course. There’s no time to think in these situations and that’s why training is important. Doron has a ton of knowledge; he is the real-life Rambo.”

Benbenisty does not sport the long brown locks, headband or penchant for going shirtless that the fictional John Rambo did, but Benbenisty is confident, solidly built and a student of crisis situations. He rattles off details of cases of chemical and terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Tokyo and other distant places as easily as he discusses domestic incidents such as the shooting spree last week at the Navy Shipyard in Washington, D.C.

CRI operates out of a nondescript warehouse in North Las Vegas, where a small office with pictures of men hogtied and in choke holds opens out into a big space lined with shooting targets and a storage area stocked with rubber knives, duct tape, pellet guns, dummies and other training paraphernalia.

Benbenisty offers courses and does public speaking engagements on a wide array of crisis and terrorist situations. Some of the engagements are only for law enforcement and security personnel, while others are structured for the general public. Courses range from professional bodyguard training to tactical driving and shooting to counter kidnapping, counter suicide bombing and counter skyjacking. He tries to anticipate new tactics that criminals and terrorists will use. He also formulates new courses based on actual events.

After the mass shooting in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Benbenisty developed a new, multipart active-shooter course to specifically address what to do if a shooter enters a classroom.

“I just saw that these types of attacks seemed to be happening more frequently and I felt I needed to develop a specific approach to these situations,” Benbenisty said of the course, which is also available as a dozen video lessons. “These things can start and end in the blink of an eye.”

For Benbenisty, preparation and training are the keys to survival. An active shooter in a classroom may take 30 seconds to kill everyone in the room, leaving no time for careful thought, he said. “Like the quote … ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’”

Benbenisty says he can show people how to escape handcuffs, rope, zip ties and duct tape, among other binding techniques. Responding to a request for a demonstration, Benbenisty wraps my wrists together tightly with duct tape. With a simple technique, Benbenisty explains how I can maneuver my arms to generate enough force to tear the tape in two. With one attempt I am free.

Benbenisty pays attention to every detail of a crisis situation. He studies the psychology and behavior of criminals and terrorists, and he makes sure his methods are based on testing, not assumptions. For example, he has tested everyday materials to determine their bullet-stopping power — reams of paper performed surprisingly well, car doors not so much.

“We had a cop here from Tennessee who was taking a class,” Benbenisty recalled. “We taught them not to stand behind their car doors. We have a Crown Victoria that we tested, and the bullets went right through the door. He said his department’s standing operating procedure is to get behind the cruiser car door for protection. When he went back, they changed their procedures.”

Benbenisty, 44, was born just outside Tel Aviv and became an anti-terrorism expert while serving in the Israeli armed forces. He formulated the Israeli defense forces’ first protocol for combating suicide bombers.

In 1997, he traveled to Louisiana for an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals conference, where he met his future wife, Christine. After returning to Israel for some time, in 2000 he moved to Baton Rouge with Christine and started his counterterrorism and crime-prevention training center.

“This was before 9/11, and when I handed people my business card that said ‘counterterrorism training’ on it, they just laughed at me,” he said. “After 9/11, business took off.”

Friends in law enforcement advised Benbenisty that, if he wanted his business to grow, he needed to move to a bigger city. They chose Las Vegas for its favorable tax structure, international airport, weather and proximity to other large cities like Los Angeles.

After more than a decade in the private sector, he says he has trained thousands of people, from stadium security forces to special counterterrorism units. Benbenisty is constantly evolving his business. He recently started offering “tactical adventures,” six-hour programs designed to emulate situations from “The Transporter,” “Bourne Identity” and other action flicks that provide a thrill — say for guys in town for a bachelor party — while also offering practical training and knowledge.

He plans to move into a bigger facility next year and expand his offerings, which include certification courses for instructors of Krav Haganah, a martial art he developed based on kung fu, counterterrorism and surveillance. His courses for the general public include training for business owners and managers, pistol fundamentals and “force on force” or gun-battle training.

Courses at CTI range from one to 10 days long, and Benbenisty also offers one-day seminars in active-shooter scenarios and other situations for less detailed approaches to popular courses. The price for each course varies depending on length and training, from $499 for tactical combat medicine to $5,499 for the 10-day professional bodyguard course. The three-day tactical response to the active shooter course costs $1,600. Some discounts are available for the professional training courses and for those who receive Veterans Affairs benefits.

Both Matt and Janet Allen say they feel more confident and prepared for a crisis situation after taking classes, including gun training and anti-home invasion and kidnapping courses, with Benbenisty.

“My wife, who as a woman feels more vulnerable, is a lot more aware of her surroundings than she used to be,” Matt Allen said. “If she thinks someone is following her in her car at night, she won’t head straight home. I think we are both more aware of our surroundings. If those guys came back in our house again, my wife has handgun training now, so it might not go so good for them. Now, she knows how to respond, and before she was at their mercy.”

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