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Situational Awareness

& Mental Preparedness

Assess Surroundings, Define Threats & Determine Your Plan of Action!

What is Situational Awareness?

Situational awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status. Observing your environment and the people in it to assess the potential threats.

Your level of situational awareness should be in a heightened state when doing such thinks as walking down a dark alley, hiking in the wilderness where you know predatory animals live or simply crossing a busy intersection.


Conscious VS. Unconscious Situational Awareness


Everyday we consciously and unconsciously evaluate every situation we encounter.

A conscious decision is abstaining from walking across a rickety, old bridge.  Avoiding the bee hive while hiking through the woods.  Giving wide berth to a group sketchy looking individuals.

A subconscious decision goes on in the backs of our minds.  It is usually an auto response, gut reaction or a reflex type of action.  Cognitive thought is usually not given when you need to step over trash on the sidewalk.  A reflex action is when you may hear a loud bang and automatically throw your hands up as a defensive reply.

Years of evolution has instilled many of the subconscious reactions built into our DNA.

Situational Awareness is a MINDSET Not a Skill

Situational Awareness isn't a skill like painting or being a great athlete; everyone can train their mind to be more aware of your surroundings.

In normal day-to-day life we are function in "cruise control"; relaxed, but aware of our surroundings.  We are avoiding danger when crossing the street, driving a car or swimming in the ocean.


A great exercise to fortify your situational awareness is by people watching and taking in your environment.  The next time you are at the park, beach or even a parking lot, take 5 minutes to observe your surroundings.  What or who could be the potential threat?  Is it the homeless man pan-handling in the parking lot.  Is it the tree limb about to come down due to the high winds that day?  Spending a few extra moments to take in your surrounds will train your mind to become more aware of who and what is in every environment you enter. 


Example 1:  You and your friends are at the bar.  All of the other customers look happy and are engaging with friends and the other patrons.  You spot a man drinking alone.  He looks angry.  His body language tells you something is "off".  He is not acting "normal" in a social situation.

Example 2:  You are at the beach with your family.  It's July and the temperature is in the mid eighties.  Everyone is wearing swimming suits, flip flops and playing games.  You spot a group of individuals approaching wearing baggy jeans with hooded sweatshirts.


The bottom line is to train your brain to establish the baseline for "normal" in every situation.  Sizing up your environment, assessing the people in the environment and asking the question of what is acceptable of how do dress, act and conduct ones-self should be your baseline.  The person outside of this baseline should be the person you pay extra attention to.

Situational Awareness Chart

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Situational Awareness while driving a car.

WHITE:  You will Crash!

YELLOW:  Normal driving, no eminent threats.

ORANGE:  Bad weather.  Use extra precautions.


RED:   A car is coming at you!  Take immediate actions.

Black:  You panic.  Freeze-Up!

Role-Playing and War-Gaming

Part of prepping is thinking about the worst-case-scenario or SHTF.  The same can be said in training your mind as it relates to Situational Awareness.  Thinking "what if" can be the best practice in formulating a plan when things go south.

Role-Playing or War-Gaming is a step by step process you develop in your mind about any scenario.  Role play these 3 examples in your head.

Example 1:  Your are driving on the freeway going 70mph in the fast lane.  Suddenly your tire blows out.  You need to get across several lanes of traffic before you can safely park or exit.

Example 2:  A person has just collapsed on the hiking trail.  She is having a medical episode.  you are the only person that is near who can help her.

Example 3:  You and your family are out for dinner at a restaurant.  Suddenly a man comes in the front door, armed with a firearm.  He is demanding everyone's wallets and jewelry.

Now that you've roll played these scenarios, do you feel better equipped to mitigate the stress when they occur?  Do you feel that you can better handle the flat tire, the woman that needs your help and the armed robber?  Did you role play it out to a successful outcome?  How did each of the scenarios end for you?  Are you now going to take precautions to ensure a better outcome if and when they occur?

Transitional Spaces

A Transitional Space are uncontrolled spaces we must pass through when going from one place to another.  A transitional space could be a parking lot, shopping mall, gas station or a bad part of town.  Transitional Spaces cannot be avoided and usually present an increased level of risk.

Five Steps to Take When Entering and Leaving a Transitional Space.

1.  Plan Prior to Entering:  The best way to lessen the danger of a transitional Space is to plan ahead of time.  When you park in the parking lot, find the closes spot near a light source.   It may be dark when its time for you to leave.  Do not blindly enter a parking garage or the ATM.  Do you have a flashlight on you?  Do you have a weapon?  Are you carrying bags from expensive stores that could make you  a target? 

2.  Safety in Numbers:  Leave work with others.  Coordinate and park near each other when meeting for dinner.  This allows you to enter and leave the restaurant together.  Walk people to their cars or front doors when dropping them off.

3.  Avoid Focus Locks:  Put the cell phone away!  Take off the headphones when leaving the gym.  Criminals will look for easy targets who may not be paying attentions.

4.  Boundaries:  The threat of a transitional space doesn't end until you are in your car with the doors locked or in your home garage with the door down.  Furthermore, boundaries can include how close you allow strangers to get in your personal area before taking action.

5.  Have a Contingency Plan:  What do you do if your safety is in jeopardy?  You should be constantly scanning your environment for threats and an exit strategy.  Do you have a weapon or less lethal tools at your disposal?  What is your plan if you need to fight or engage your attacker?

Think Like  a Criminal

I've read that the best criminals could be bad cops!  Law enforcement is constantly studying, investigating and initiating new ways to stop criminals.  If you think like a criminal, you will have a better understanding of their thought patterns, intentions and tactics they use to exploit their victims.

Put this practice to use by asking yourself "where would I hide if I wanted to rob someone in this parking garage or at this ATM"?

Start taking notice of how other people act and how easily it could be to victimize them.  Does a woman have a purse loosely hanging off her shoulder?  Is that man leaving the pub after too many drinks.  People who have their guard down will attract predators to victimize them. 

Fortunately, criminals are sometimes very simple minded and look for the easy target.  A criminal may pull hundreds of door handles in a parking lot to find the one that is unlocked rather than smashing a window.  Like water, criminals usually find the path of least resistance.


In most confrontations, despite the threat level, you  usually have the option of either Running, Hiding or Fighting your attacker.

Each situation requires only a moment's thought on your action, but it can also be fluid.  Running from a situation may not work if your attacker follows you.  Hiding from your attacker may not work if your attacker finds you. 

You must assess each situation based off the initial and pursuant threats.


Running may be the single best way to get out of most situations.  It should also be your first option.  Simply removing yourself from the situation will either end the threat or deescalate the threat.  By getting out of the liquor store while it is being held up will immediately get you out of danger.  Getting out of the way of an oncoming flash flood will also end the threat.  You may need to asses a fluid situation and wait for the best time to run and escape.  It may not be optimal to run to the exit if the criminal is between you and that exit.  You may need to wait for the best time to make your escape.


Finding cover or blockading yourself from a threat is another option.  Avoiding confrontation may be your best option if removing yourself from the area or threat isn't possible.  In an active shooter situation, barricading yourself in a closet or room may make the shooter move on.  Active shooters usually want to cause as much carnage in a short amount of time.  They may not spend the time trying to get into a lock room or playing hide-and-go-seek with their victims.


If running and hiding are off the table, now is the time to fight.  Fighting your attacker can have a varying degree of effectiveness so you must properly weigh the decision to engage.  I've seen videos of gunman run and cower because a little old lady resisted a robbery by swinging her purse and yelling.  However, I've seen armed defenders afraid to use their firearm, get taken down by their attacker because of their hesitancy.

Carrying a firearm is the best defense against lethal force but it also comes with great responsibility.  If you think brandishing or shooting a warning shot is enough, think again.  Brandishing a firearm can cause and unreasonable response in people.  Rather than the bad guy running away, they may advance on you while daring you to shoot them.  If you are not prepared to pull that trigger, your gun may become his gun.

Tough Guy Syndrome:

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!  If you carry a firearm your first immediate options will be to try to run and/or hide.  Getting out of the situation without having to use lethal force is always your best option.  Using your firearm or other lethal force should be your absolute last option when all other possibilities have been exhausted.  Furthermore, you may encounter a situation where protecting others lives can arise.  Are you willing to put yourself at risk to protect other innocents?  Decisions like this will come at your fast.  In nearly all catastrophic incidents we are on the defense; we usually don't have the option to know when bad stuff is coming our way.  Role-Playing and War-Gaming active shooter and other emergency situations will put you on the path towards mental preparedness.

The Normalcy Bias

The Normalcy Bias is a cognitive bias which leads people to disbelieve or minimize threats and warnings.  Its the assumption that crime, natural disaster and calamities can "never happen to me".  While some people are unintentionally ignorant, others are willfully ignorant.  They will hear gunshots in the mall and tell themselves that its kids playing with firecrackers.  They will see on the news that a major blizzard is coming and ignore and downplay the seriousness.

People like this think crime and disaster only happens in other parts of the city, country or world.  They live in the mindset that everything up to this point in their life has been normal. Anything that upsets that balance will never happen to them personally.

"On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero" - Tyler Durden, Fight Club

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