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Saturday, October 24 2015

What is Situational Awareness

Situational awareness can be described as a personal comprehension of the people, places and things around us and how we interact with these, directly or indirectly, under present circumstances. How your perception reflects the realities of the environment you’re in and the part you play, the effect or lack of effect, you have on the potential events within that environment define the level of your situational awareness.

Situational awareness is a mindset more than a hard skill, because of this it can be exercised by anyone willing and disciplined enough to cultivate good situational awareness. On an everyday citizen level, it serves to identify criminal behavior and possible personal threats as well as other hazardous situations.

The starting point in development of good situational awareness is to recognize that threats exist; we walk a fine line everyday of being victimized or not. Not coming to grips with this realization, ignoring or denying we are potentially at risk at any given point in time makes us very unlikely to be able to recognize and avoid a threat or deal with a situation when we are face to face with it. In many instances, this can lead to injury or death.

Understand that WE, the individual, are ultimately responsible for our own personal security.

We need to realize that unless a police officer happens to be witness to a hazardous situation we become involved with, the police officer’s involvement is really only to deal with the aftermath and write the incident report. We MUST take ownership of our, as well as our family, friends and neighbours personal security.

A good first step is to pay attention to our intuition; those “gut feelings” we get when a voice tells us, “Something isn’t right.” In Gavin De Becker’s book The Gift of Fear, most, if not all actual documented cases, victims of violent encounters stated that they felt that something wasn’t right or something about a person or situation seemed off prior to the incident occurring and in hindsight, that they wish they would have listened to that “gut feeling”.

Our subconscious mind can notice subtle signs of danger that our conscious mind has a hard time recognizing, quantifying and articulating. Good situational awareness is the concerted, conscious effort we need to engage in to give credence to those “gut feelings” as well as who and what is going on around us, all in the midst of ongoing distraction. With everything going on in our lives both internally and externally, even obvious threats can go unnoticed and catch us off guard so we need to condition ourselves to be observant while engaging in our day to day activities.

 When we are oblivious to what is going on around us we are vulnerable to victimization. In the words of world renowned security expert Kelly McCann, an attack happens when conditions are most advantageous to the attacker and least advantageous to the intended victim.


Situational Awareness Levels

At any given point we act within different levels of situational awareness which are described in many different ways.

Scott Stewart V.P. of Tactical Analysis for Stratfor Global Intelligence categorizes these into five levels and illustrates them analogous to vehicle driving; they are termed “tuned out”, “relaxed awareness”, “focused awareness”, “high alert”, and “comatose”.


Tuned Out- If you have ever been driving a route that you have driven many, many time, for example a daily commute, and you have arrived at your destination or any given point on the commute and thought to yourself, “How did I get here without even realizing it?” , you have experienced being in the tuned out state.

Relaxed awareness- Can be described as defensive driving, you’re relaxed but you’re also on the lookout for other drivers or other hazards on the road. Driving defensively doesn’t tire you out and you can drive in this state indefinitely. If you have ever approached an intersection and felt like another approaching driver may not stop and you are prepared to take evasive action due to the fact you have seen him coming, you have experienced being in a state of relaxed awareness.

Focused Awareness- Is like driving in inclement weather or hazardous road conditions. These are times we have both hands on the steering wheel, don’t take our eyes off the road and constantly, intently watch other drivers; “white knuckle driving”. This may take place at rush hour, driving through a snow storm or driving in another country where driving habits, etiquette or road rules are not what you are used to.

High Alert- This can be described as the moment you are driving in a snow storm and you hit an ice patch and your vehicle starts to go out of control; an “oh shit” moment when we are hit with an adrenaline rush. Even though your vehicle has gone out of full control for the moment, because you were already in a “focused awareness” level of awareness, you are able to act quickly and effectively to regain control and keep going. Even though we encountered that “oh shit” moment and experienced an adrenaline dump, we could deal with the situation because we are not caught completely off guard.

Comatose- This is another “oh shit” moment but in this case, the circumstances of a given situation catch us completely off guard. When we are in a comatose state of awareness we are so off guard that we are unable to act or even react so we literally mentally freeze. This can manifest with panic-induced paralysis or even unconsciousness in the form of fainting. This is obviously a very dangerous level of situational awareness because it leaves us the most vulnerable to be victimized. This can be described as that moment you are driving down the road oblivious to what is going on around you, a vehicle runs a stop sign and you become the “deer in the headlights” and are unable to do anything more than stare at the vehicle about to collide with you. This mental freezing prevents us from acting or reacting as we are unable to process the visual information we are presented with. In these types of situations we can go into a state of denial; a “this can’t be happening” moment. Victims of violent crime often report that it was like they were watching it happen to someone else, like an “out of body experience”.


All of these levels of situational awareness require a different amount of mental energy which directly results in physical energy expenditure.

We simply can’t operate at a high alert level for an extended period of time due to the physical manifestations of the mental stress involved. The same can be said for focused awareness; therefore, relaxed awareness is the optimal level of situational awareness to operate at consistently because we are mentally able to operate at this level indefinitely without stress and physical fatigue.

Considering the different levels of situational awareness, we need to be able to recognize when we need to shift from one to another in order to avoid a situation before we are in one.

Armed with this information, we can categorize various situations we face according to potential hazard level involved. For example, using an ATM at night in a rough neighbourhood is potentially more hazardous than using an ATM at 10 a.m. in a more upscale neighbourhood.

In an ever changing world where situations can happen and escalate very quickly, good situational awareness can help us avoid hazardous situations were possible. The next step in personal security is being able to de-escalate a situation or if need be, physically address it.


Posted by: Chris AT 04:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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