Imagine that you’re returning to the parking lot from the grocery store only to have a gun pointed at you and told to get into a waiting car immediately. Or that an intruder enters your house in the middle of the night and you’re scared stiff. Would you know what to do?

I can’t overstate the fact that just because some of us may be in our 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves if attacked — as long as we know what to do.

For this reason, I invited Redlands Police Officer Stan McCauley, a street-smart self-defense expert with the distinction of being named Police Officer of the Year, to appear as a guest on my cable television show a few years ago. And although Stan has since retired and moved out of state following a 29-year career in law enforcement, his helpful tips on self-defense remain every bit as empowering today as they did then. For this reason, I’ve decided to share my valuable interview with Stan. Question: Stan, what is it that makes seniors such prime targets? Answer: Just like in the animal kingdom, predators seek easy prey as targets. Thus, the young and the old are the victims. Predators often perceive seniors as weak, so will take advantage of them. Seniors are very trusting and want to help others.

Question: So what’s important for us to know about self-defense?

Answer: We have more power and control over our safety than we realize just by being aware of our surroundings — it’s what we call “situational awareness”, which helps us take better control of our situation. The primary crime scene is where the attack takes place. The secondary crime scene is where they take you after forcing you into a car. Don’t get in that car — kick up a fuss, attract attention, make a lot of noise because people lose their lives in secondary crime scenes.

Question: What are crooks on the lookout for? Who makes good targets?

Answer: People who appear preoccupied are on ATMs or are looking down at their cell phones make easy targets because they’re easily caught off guard. So look alert and don’t appear distracted.

Question: What should we do if we’re ever car-jacked?

Answer: If someone jumps in, you jump out! Take your keys out of the ignition and toss them out the window or on the floor. Give the crook the car and avoid going to the secondary crime scene. If a gun is pointed at you, create a scene or commotion, even if it means hitting the car in front of you. Settle with insurance later — your life is more important.

Question: What if we’re robbed at night after coming out of the grocery store, underground garage, apartment building, or returning to our car on the street?

Answer: Appear confident and always have your keys in hand before approaching your car. If threatened by a crook, immediately create as much attention as you can — set your car alarm off. Run, yell, scream. Give the thief your money. It’s not worth your life.

Question: What if we return home, then suspect an intruder is in the house?

Answer: Run out the door, get away, or hit a panic alarm should you happen to notice a broken window.

Question: What about intruders or burglars in the middle of the night?

Answer: If you can call 911 and leave the phone off the hook, you may not need to even say a word because police can overhear what’s happening, then track you. If it’s a sexual assault fight, press an alarm, blow a whistle kept on a nightstand, or fight, fight, fight. Hit your palm up to your attacker’s nose, gouge his eyes, kick his groin or stomp on his foot. Great advice from Stan, wouldn’t you say? Knowing that criminals look for easy victims, it’s up to us to maintain “situational awareness” and avoid being caught off guard by such distractions as talking, texting, or listening to an Ipod when returning to our car.

And if we happen to sense danger while in a shopping center, ask any on-site security officer to escort us to our car. Stay safe, everybody!

Jan Fowler is an award-winning columnist and author who may be contacted via her website, www.janfowler.com.