A Knuckledragger's Guide to Situational Awareness
Situational Awareness is a skill that is often overlooked. It is the ability to take in unfiltered information, assign it a value in regards how it can and may affect you, and then act on that information accordingly. This skill is especially important in today's "climate". You could call it controlled paranoia, or a vibe as the kids today say, either way, it is important that we all hone this skill and utilize for our daily safety.
Most of the examples I'll use throughout this article will be in a public space, but situational awareness at the home is just as important. From how we interact with neighbors, our schedules and tendencies when leaving the home, to conversations with our immediate family. As a girl dad, I listen carefully, even when the conversation isn't directed to me, to what my daughters are saying about their day. I know that they look at the world completely different than I do. They don't yet understand how dark some minds can be and it's up to me, to ensure they never have to see it first hand. It is easier than ever to be a predator; there are countless ways to ensnare victims and as a parent in 2022, we have to be vigilant in order to protect our cubs.
See why controlled paranoia is a good name? Situational awareness is needed literally everywhere, so how do you perfect it, without becoming a hermit or mental case because you are now hyper focused on everything? In our social media post yesterday, August 17, 2022, we listed 5 tips and I'll elaborate on them here and knowing me, list more.
KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS
How many times do you go into a public space and immediately look for ways out? From open area events like an outdoor concert, to sitting down for supper at Chili's, do you look for exits? If not, you should be. Humans are a funny group and as much as we like to say we are more developed than other species on our planet, in times of crisis, we revert quickly to our primitive brain. You have all heard of "Fight or Flight" and that basic, instinctual behavior has kept us alive for thousands of years. However, as society has evolved, so have our surroundings. No longer are the days when a threat was a saber-tooth tiger roaming the plain, or a potential nearby tribe of other hunter-gatherers. There's billions of people in the world, many of which are intent on violence. While that saber-tooth tiger was capable of death and destruction, our advantage was always our mind. Now, our adversary has a mind like ours.
Where is this going? The primitive brain taking over is very reactive. If someone walks into that restaurant you're at and starts committing violence, most folks don't carry weapons from day to day and can't deal with threats, so escape is the natural response. However, with poor situational awareness, the outcome can be much worse. The natural reaction is to run out the door you came in and that entrance may now be clogged, potentially makes yourself an easier target.
Most restaurants have a separate door for to-go orders now, and all of them have a door going to the kitchen. Even though there's rules about patrons being in the kitchen, I have a rule that trumps that, stay alive. But it's not just exits in our surroundings we should look for. We should analyze as much as we can. If you're carrying a weapon, is your current location a good spot to have a gunfight? Do I have cover? Is my family with me or maybe a group of people who will look to me to be the protector? Do THEY have cover? Can I deal with this threat and keep them safe or do I need to egress defensively from the location? Am I seated in a position where I can see a majority of the patrons? Am I looking at new patrons as they enter? What's their demeanor? Is their clothing appropriate for the weather conditions?
The goal is to filter all this information and be ahead of the curve. If you're caught in a situation, then at least you've thought about your actions and how you can respond accordingly. When you get good at reading people, you may even be able to avoid these situations completely. To do any of this, you have to know your surroundings, who is in it and how it all can affect you. Also, let's note how YOU affect your surroundings, your dress and demeanor are potentially being accounted for as well. Blending in is key and learning to how to watch people without being noticed definitely needs to be achieved.
DO NOT APPEAR WEAK
The last sentence you read and this tip may seem contradictory, but they are not. I can blend in with a crowd and not look like an easy target at the same time. Your posture alone sends messages to the world about how you see yourself. A bowed head, sees only what is directly in front of it and the name of this game is being aware. Your gait can let a predator know that you either mean business and are cautious or you're meandering through, not attentive to what is happening around you. Lots of times, victims have been stalked or watched long in advance of an attack. If your vibe says "I'll be a hard to kill" most predators will steer clear. Just like animals, it's usually the easy target that is attacked.
Our fitness levels definitely can give off a hard target vibe. Earlier this year we wrote a blog on why officers should be fit, but that sentiment goes for everyone. You only get one body, let's try and make it the best we can. Taking some form of self-defense or combative class is not only good for your fitness level, but can help you in the event an attacker gets close in on you. Women walking to their vehicle in a parking lot are often attacked at their car door. It would be nice if you could see the attack coming from a distance, but if your guard is down and it happens, a few well placed strikes could give you just enough time to get in a vehicle and escape. Combative courses also will help boost confidence, which in turn will help you not appear as an easy target.
PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY
So far we've talked about surroundings and appearance, both of which will be affected by these damn smart phones if we're constantly on them. Look, I love the convenience of my iPhone, it has my schedule, all my friends and family, banking, social media and pretty much anything else I may need on a daily basis. However, if it takes my constant attention, I am not putting in the effort to be aware of my environment. Depending on where you are, your phone can make you a target. Most of these devices are expensive and can be quickly stolen from you. Stay off the phone in public, it makes you task saturated. Paying attention where you're going and thumbing through Facebook at the same time is hard. Believe me, I see people fail at it all the time in the airport, as they bump into others, stumble about and even miss flights.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO ACT
While you filter in all this information, you should be preparing your plan of action. In the tactical world we use the OODA Loop as process guide. We first OBSERVE our environment, using all our senses and feed data to our brains. Then, we ORIENT those observations, using past experiences and knowledge to help formulate the best DECISION for that moment. Lastly, we ACT on that decision, hopefully with perfect timing. Whether it be taking the fight to an attacker, or moving your family to safe area, away from danger.
As you sit here and read this, if you're not the "stop a threat" type, that's ok. You don't have to be. As long as you understand, escaping and evading are actions too and these take preparation as well. If you're going to carry a weapon, great, have you trained lately? Can you hit a moving target? Can you move and shoot? Real life isn't like the range. It's not a paper or steel target, it's a human and they get some sort of say of how this fight is going to go too. Having the will to act is awesome, make sure you also have the ability.
TRUST YOUR GUT
You might be surprised at how well tuned your intuition is. Your gut has likely kept you from danger before and some of you can even remember specific times this has occurred. Do not ever discount or dismiss anything that you cannot prove without a reasonable doubt is not a threat. There have been countless times after an event, where folks have come forward stating they "saw signs" but did not act. Now, I'm not saying alert authorities at any small sign, because frankly they may not meet the standard of law for some sort of action, but it should alert you to be wary of that individual. Don't allow complacency because "I've known them for so long..." or "It was only a small, one time inappropriate *insert touch, comment etc etc*". People will tell you who they are, not through words, but through actions. Your gut is really good at seeing these things, even when your mind is not.
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION
Look, I talked about it earlier, you only get one life. When the going gets tough, giving up isn't an option. The world we inhabit is crazy, but it is beautiful and full of wonder. Get out and experience all you can, but keep an ever watchful eye on your environment. Learn how to breathe in stressful times. I use meditation to center myself daily. I wake in the morning and take 5-10 minutes to clear my head by using a simple breathing exercise. I inhale for two seconds, hold it for two seconds, exhale for two seconds and hold that for two seconds. I do this repeatedly over the course of a few minutes and the chaos of the day ahead retreats and I am able to start formulating a plan, or implementing the plan of attack I made the night before. The same technique can be used in a crisis and can allow you to fight back the "fight or flight" reflex and make sound, rational decisions. Where is your closest exit, are you ready if needed?