Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend information around you to survive in an emergency situation. It requires significant practice and is hard to maintain. This vital skill is fundamental to the training of military personnel and law enforcement officers but is an important ability for civilians to master as well.
Knowing what is going on around you at all times is difficult, especially in high stress, dangerous situations. Therefore, it is important to practice the following 7 keys to situational awareness in your everyday life so as to be better prepared if SHTF.
1. Don’t present yourself as a victim. Pay attention to your surroundings. Look up from your phone, stop zoning out, and open your eyes and ears to remain constantly attentive to your environment. The easiest victims are those who are unaware of the activities occurring around them. Consider the precautions you take when traveling in a foreign city – holding onto your wallet, constantly checking your surroundings for potential threats, and keeping tabs on everyone in your group – these actions should be taken in familiar environments as well, to avoid presenting yourself as a potential victim.
2. Stay in “condition yellow.” “Condition yellow” is a state of relaxed alert. There is no current threat, but you are re-evaluating the situation frequently. It is important to retain a calm demeanor, so as not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You want to blend in. Staying relaxed can also help you take in a broader scope of information about the environment. Be prepared to notice and evaluate changes as you continuously assess the situation.
3. Avoid Complacency. In the absence of a threat, when tasks are slow or routine, it is easy to slip into a complacent mindset. Continue to challenge yourself to be prepared for a threat to arise. Do not allow yourself to get overly comfortable or your focus will lapse.
4. Establish a baseline. Every environment has a baseline – what is considered “normal.” For example, the baseline at a coffee shop is customers reading books and newspapers, working on laptops, and talking in low voices while workers behind the counter hand out drinks and food. It likely smells like coffee grounds and there may be noises of a coffee grinder or cappuccino maker in the background. Establishing a baseline allows you to identify anomalies that do not seem to “fit in” and study them to determine if they present a threat.
5. Observe body language. The three clusters of body language that are the most important to identify are dominant/submissive behavior, comfortable/uncomfortable behavior, and interested/uninterested behavior. Most people try to get along with others, and therefore act submissive with strangers and in public settings. A person acting dominant is usually an anomaly and may constitute a threat. Most people are also going to appear relatively comfortable in most situations. Someone who appears visibly agitated or is constantly checking their six is often a potential threat. Finally, most people do not pay attention to their environment (besides those practicing situational awareness of course!). Thus, an individual paying close attention to a specific person or object that most people would not find interesting warrants further observation.
It is also important to note that just because someone exhibits these qualities does not mean they are a threat. They may be a naturally boisterous or aggressive person, have just received troubling news, or have a valid reason to be unusually observant. As always, context is key, and it is up to you to determine whether someone’s presence poses a potential threat.
6. Position yourself for optimal observation. To be effectively aware of the situation, you must be able to observe as much of your surroundings as possible. When you enter an environment, position yourself so that you can see as much as you can, especially the entrance/exit points. Having your back to the wall is the optimal position, so that you do not have to worry about what is going on behind you.
7. Establish a plan. You’re at a restaurant and because of your situational awareness training, you are the first to identify the threat of a would-be shooter. But what do you do? Seconds matter. Because of the stress and commotion, you are unable to come up with the best possible plan.
It is important to have a plan before you need it. Ask yourself questions such as: If a man walked in the front door with a gun, what would I do? Where would I go? Run potential emergency scenarios through in your head so that if anything happens, you know exactly what to do. The more specific you make your practice scenarios, the better your outcome will be in an emergency.
Situational awareness can save your life if practiced consistently and with discipline. It is a valuable skill to teach to your spouse and children as well. One easy way to instill these values in your family members is to play the “awareness game.” When you go into a business, note several things about the environment. Then, while driving home, ask questions like: How many workers were standing behind the counter? What was the woman sitting next to us wearing? How many exits were there? Questions like these, while also being part of a fun game, help instill the value of paying close attention to your surroundings – the fundamental component of situational awareness.
What activities do you practice to hone and maintain your situational awareness skills? What have you found that works the best? Let us know on our Facebook page!