Even after putting down their heads, taking off their watches and pulling out their wallets, all under orders from the hooded guy carrying a pistol, it's a big mistake raising one's hand when intruders ask who is an American.

Experts say that during the crucial opening minutes of a hostage crisis, the worst thing to do is draw attention to oneself.

"We recommend you don't lie, but don't volunteer to highlight yourself in a stressful moment," said Randy Spivey, director of the National Hostage Survival Training Center, a private business that teaches people in government and the private sector to avoid or survive kidnappings.

The proper action would have been to keep the hands down. If challenged later by the abductors, the hostage could say he or she was too confused or scared to respond to their question, Spivey said.

Thus can a hostage buy time during the chaotic early minutes of a kidnapping, the most dangerous time for a captive because the captors are also under stress, Spivey said.

The training center is located in Spokane, where nearby Fairchild Air Force Base is the home of the Air Force Survival School (search), which trains downed pilots to elude captors.

"Spokane is the national leader in captivity training," said Spivey, a longtime Department of Defense hostage expert who created the center in 2004. It is one of many privately run training programs around the country.

Working from a downtown office, Spivey and his partners run daylong seminars for clients who pay $650 to learn how to avoid being captured -- and if captured, to have the mental tools to survive.

Spivey's clients have included members of Congress, the Justice Department, State Department, other government agencies and numerous businesses.

This day, the eight clients include a travel agent from Seattle, a safety manager for Gonzaga University, an accountant, a woman who provides security for entertainers, and four business executives.

In the middle of an early discussion, three men in black masks burst into the conference room and began yelling orders. The minute-long disruption provided Spivey with a wealth of teaching material.

Kidnappers in the business for money would look at a person's wallet, watch and jewelry to determine if they were wealthy enough to pay a big ransom, Spivey said. Many people also carry company identification in their wallets, another source of ransom, Spivey said.

Leave expensive jewelry at home when traveling in a foreign country, and empty your wallet of unneeded information that might help a kidnapper, he said.

On an airliner, the best place to sit is a window seat in the back, where one is most removed from hijackers, he said.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have popularized the notion that airline passengers should aggressively fight hijackers, but Spivey said passengers should carefully weigh the situation before taking any action. If the pilots remain at the controls, or the plane is flying over the ocean, it's not likely the plane will be crashed into a building soon, he said.

But "if the bad guys are flying over a city, it's probably best to attack," Spivey said.

When walking, face oncoming traffic, stay to the inside of the sidewalk and try to notice if a person or vehicle is shadowing. Taking these steps makes a traveler a "hard" target rather than a "soft" one, and might scare off criminals looking for someone to mug, he said.

That is easier said than done.

In a second exercise, a group walked five blocks to a Starbucks and back, trying to spot Spivey employees who were shadowing them. Was it the guy in the black trenchcoat? The guy in the brightly patterned golf shirt and khaki cap? The dude lounging at the bus stop?

It turned out the group of three would be a "soft" target. The trenchcoat guy was easy to spot, but the fellow up in the skywalks taking pictures was easy to miss, so was the woman sitting alone in Starbucks, and the two men in casual clothes.

"Nobody gets them all," Spivey said.