Ah, the conscious and subconscious mindset of knowing precisely what is going on around you, situational awareness. Sound important? Well, that is because it is important. Unfortunately, due to the defunct ways of Hollywood, the term situational awareness was slightly tainted by their “advertisement” of the skill-set in a well-renowned movie titled “The Bourne Identity” (though it was a novel first, and a damned good one at that).
It seems that when the populace comes across a term such as this, portrayed in such ways as in that “The Bourne Identity”, they believe it to be about as far-fetched as the acting itself! Some supernatural power that only heroes in sagas can possess.
However, quite to the contrary, it is very real and also entirely comprehensible. Not only is it that, but it is also a dire skill needed in nearly all survival type scenarios.
What Exactly is Situation Awareness?
Often, people consider beings who practice situational awareness to be excessively concerned, paranoid, uncertain or just plain scared; none of which are the least bit true. Being subjective to your surroundings and having a provisional plan to respond to peculiar scenarios is the absolute key to survival and gives you a major upper hand when things go awry.
That seemingly preternatural ability to notice and regard your surroundings and to make elaborate assessments about your environment is one of many skillsets that will help keep you alive and thriving. It is not simply some trait of top secret agents. YOU can possess it too!
As it’s name implies, situational awareness is simply knowing what’s going on around you. However, as easy as it may seem in principle, it actually requires much discretion and practice. It is as equally an important skill to learn and practice for civilians as it is for soldiers, law enforcement, and government officials. Simply being aware of a possible threat, even seconds before everyone else, can and will keep you and those around you safe.
While situational awareness is a skill that can be used for personal defense and security, it is also simply another term for mindfulness. Developing your mindfulness will make you more cognizant of literally everything that is going on around you in your daily activities. This, in turn, will help you to become a better critical thinker and to make better decisions in nearly all aspects of your life.
Ask yourself this, how many people, at any given time, do you observe who are entirely “tuned out” as they make their way?
Perhaps they are staring down into their pocket-dummy-device, scrolling while aimlessly (or so it seems) walking down the sidewalk. More than likely, their head is down towards their feet or directly into their mobile screen. Absolutely no clue as to what is going on around them, the construction on the building by the sidewalk, where a sign may state “Be wary of falling debris”. Don’t be one of them!
Situational awareness is a mindset, a frame of mind. The mindself itself is learned and will eventually become habitual behavior of observing your surroundings, this includes your own backside! No, we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads (okay, maybe some tough grandmas may), but we do have very good peripheral vision. This part of our vision occurs outside the center of gaze and is extremely useful for detecting motion, ranging at about 120-degrees.
The only strenuous part of learning this skill is the fact that it involves mental conditioning that may, at first, appear as “forced paranoia”; but after some practice, it will become natural, a near subconscious act.
There are two primary aspects of situational awareness:
1. To ascertain the environ around you
2. Whether you are solitary or with others
These are weighty concepts when seeing your actions. In any particular case, your reaction to an irregular situation will be entirely different. When you are by yourself, your responses have no need to be conducted with anyone else. This gives you more options and fewer boundaries when choosing your action.
In the case that you may be with a group or with other people, you may need to inform the others of the possible actions you have come up with. Tacts in this vicinity may include how quickly they can move, how they can protect themselves, and whether or not they comprehend the directions being given. Due to the complexity of this the multi-person set of actionable plans is the exact reason why prepping is so important.
Expanding Your Situational Awareness:
In the prepping world, we like to make the “disaster” itself the focal point. However, that will not be the only threat to your security. One of your biggest “look out for’s” will be other people. There are, in layman’s wordage, two types of people you must be wary of:
- Those who are without food or supplies; eventually they will become brazen enough to loot and burglarize homes and businesses.
- The criminals who will no doubt be taking advantage of the deficiency of law enforcement.
This means that during rough times, not being fully aware of your surroundings can become extremely risky. The case may be that we have become far to secure in our surroundings during “normal times”; which makes it easier for us to walk around like zombies, staring into the screens of hell…(but that’s an entirely different conversation, isn’t it?).
So, How do We Train Ourselves?
Is it possible to prepare yourself to have a superior response time when the seconds matter?
The answer is a big fat yes; as this is a skill that can be enlarged upon. We’ll now go over the skills that can be learned and practiced now and how you can, with ease, embody those into your daily routines.
Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act
This concept, tagged OODA, was theorized by Col John Boyd of the U.S. Air Force. This suposition refers to the decision orbit of observe, orient, decide, and act. Understanding this will supremely help you in training your mind not only respond to a potential threat, but quickly react as well. These steps are not the only way to go about this process, but they are proven to be of great assistance.
This may very well be the most maximum focal point in this lesson. So much of situational awareness has to do with simply being aware of your environment. It is about observing what is happening all around you. This day in age, this skill is being lost to the eroding caves and crevices of time left behind. With smartphones and the internet, we are constantly being surrounded by distractions and diversions. Mobile technology has not helped this repercussion of humanities evolvement.
Learning to look up and take notice of your surroundings at all times is dire to your existence. It is important that you learn to train your mind to be in an active state of observing what is happening around you at all times. Unlike paranoia, this is simply being alert, cognitive of the moment and the experience that is occurring around you.
Equally as important as to learning to look up and take in the moment happening around you is the point of training your mind to memorize what is going on around you when you come into a new environment.
Try something new, when you are out on a stroll. Memorize what you see and experience, and later try to recall what you saw; begin to take note of what is around you and see what you can quickly memorize. This is a learned skill and takes some time to come even near mastery in. The goal is to be in a state of alert, paying close attention to the details around you. It is not a worry or anxiety that something bad is lurking around every corner, but rather we are learning how to take notice and observe what is happening around us at all times.
Related reading: Know Your Region Before Disaster Strikes
We will now find ourselves in an active mental state, rather than merely existing in a passive state.
Put yourself in a position for optimal observation. To achieve effective situational awareness, you need to be able to observe as much of your surroundings as possible. Positioning yourself in obstructed spots will inhibit the flow of information coming in. For example, something might be in your way that prevents you from seeing something going down in the front of an establishment.
So whenever you enter an environment, put yourself in a position that will allow you to see as much as you can. Find a place where you can view all or most of the exit points; one that allows you to put your back to the wall. This position will keep you alert and help you make a quick getaway, and abolishes the possibility of failing to see a threat materialize behind you.
An example of a behavioral threat indicator:
Military and law enforcement officers typically check the hands first on any person with which they’re engaging. This is for two reasons. First, “checking the hands of a person ensures that the person is not holding a weapon and is not preparing to strike,” writes Van Horne. Second, hands often telegraph hidden nefarious intentions. People who are concealing something they don’t want to be discovered, like guns, a knife, or stolen object, “will often touch or pat that area on the body where that object is concealed as if to ensure the object has not been lost or is still hidden from view.”
When things are not lining up in your observations, and you sense a latent threat, it is time to move to the next steps of the OODA Loop.
Being more observant isn’t quite enough to master situational awareness. You have to know what you’re looking for, and then put that information into context, so it has meaning and becomes actionable. That’s where the Orient phase comes into play.
The orienting step provides three things to help us achieve situational awareness:
- Baselines for the particular environment
- Models of human behavior you should be aware of
- Plans of action that will be decided off your observations
You must remember to act quickly, compiling and synthesizing your observations in order to decide what to do next. ***It must be remembered, that while practicing these techniques, speed and accuracy are the best traits to carry along. The ability to orient and move through the next couple steps are critical and require you to force yourself to engage in the moment.
This is actually the most important phase of the OODA Loop, diving into the nitty-gritty; most cannot even get themselves past the observing phase (or, due to mobile devices, off their screens long enough to notice!).
You may also want to read this: Intuition in Survival – The Importance of Your Gut Instinct
How will you begin to orient yourself to face the coming threat? We must now come up with a plan to decide on how we will behave. If you haven’t made the decision to engage your mind instinctively, you will naturally default to the “freeze or flight” behavior. This is when most people lose their higher cognitive thought process and allow the hormones to take over.
In order to calm your body enough to give you time to react:
- Control your breathing. It is the bodies nature to increase your breathing when a threat is present. This is your body preparing you to run.
- In order to get to that higher cognitive process going, begin to ask yourself questions; this will delay the physiological responses (the best technique is to develop positive and inquisitive self-talk in your head). Prepare yourself and talk yourself through what you are going to do. Purposefully engage your mind, rather than focusing on the threat and locking yourself up.
At the precise time that you come to a decision, using your higher cognitive processing, it is dire that you must move and you must act.
A Preventive Tactic:
Here’s what you need to do. Train yourself, practically force yourself to be fully aware of your 360-degree surroundings. The next time you go out in public, do it.
Use the local grocery store you shop in. From the time that you walk out the door of your home, simply glance around to be aware of what’s going on. Same thing in the grocery store parking lot. What’s going on around you as you’re walking to the store? It’s simple really, but most people don’t do this. Practice the memory technique mentioned above.
At first, it may seem odd to be purposely observing what others are doing around you. After a while, it should become natural as your subconscious begins to take over the task.
Give yourself a specific drill. Try looking at people’s hands. Look at their eyes. Read their body language. It should take a millisecond to categorize most people as potential “friend or foe”.
Practicing situational awareness goes a long way in keeping you from appearing like an easy target. When you’re out and about, look alert. Get your nose out of your smartphone. When you’re walking back to your car at night, have your keys at the ready and constantly scan your surroundings. The less vulnerable you look, the less likely someone is going to mess with you.
Next time you’re out in public, observe how few people actually look like they even know what’s going on in front of them – let alone around them!
Observe how many people walk with their head tilted downward towards the walkway in front of them as they walk with their thoughts – tuned out of their surroundings and environment. Observe how many have their heads tilted down in their electronic gadget as they walk. It is quite incredulous, mind-boggling even.
Practicing this mindfulness can help with any situation, from wild animal encounters to bank robbery/hostage situation.
Make the conscious decision to pull your focus away from your mobile device or the ground directly in front of you, train your mind to look for an exit, observe what is happening around you and what is standing out. Focus on the now, focus on the people that surround you; see how much you can memorize and continue to sharpen your mind.
This article has been written by Jonathan Blaylock for Prepper’s Will.