Everyday Safety: Improve Your Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness. You’ve probably heard the term. Maybe you’re even familiar with the concept. Unfortunately, however, most people aren’t familiar with this key survival principle, and even those who do, rarely use the tactic.

So, what is situational awareness? Brett & Kate McKay describe it this way:

That superhuman ability to observe his surroundings and make detailed assessments about his environment? It’s not just a trait of top secret operatives; it’s a skill known as situational awareness, and you can possess it too.

As the names implies, situational awareness is simply knowing what’s going on around you. It sounds easy in principle, but in reality requires much practice.

You may ask, “Why would I need this?” Very simply, because, if society falls apart, you will need to be aware of what everyone around you is doing to ensure that no one surprises you with their attempt to take you out or to take your valuables.

So, the question is, how do you develop your situational awareness? Well, there are a few simple (but not necessarily easy) things that you can do to improve your situational awareness. First of all, take out your earbuds. So many people walk, jog, or simply exist in every moment of their day with earbuds blasting music or podcasts or telephone calls directly into their ears. Convenient, yes, but dangerous. Predators look for people who cannot hear them approach precisely for that reason. Surprise is to their benefit, so don’t let them surprise you. Keep your ears open.

Secondly, stop walking around glued to your phone. Email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all of the other social media sites will still be there when you are safely sitting your car or safely sitting in your home or office. For the same reason that you should not walk around with your sense of hearing unavailable, you should walk around with your visual input not captured by your phone. Instead, look around you. Get a lay of the land, so to speak. See who is around you.

Tom McHale advises that you “position yourself wisely.” It’s that old idea (that I first remember reading about in the novel, Dune) that you want your back to a wall and to be sitting where you can see anyone. You don’t want to be the person who someone else can sneak up on. You don’t want to be the person who can be easily surprised.

McHale also advises that you “discard people.” In other words, try to figure out who fits into the current situation and who is giving off “tells” (in poker lingo) that gives them away as someone who is in that situation for another reason (maybe for a hostile reason). McHale writes,

Every environment has its rhythms. You know, normal behavior, people, activities, attire, and mannerisms. I like to focus on people that fit the current environment and then “discard” them as potential threats. That’s my objective, to notice, evaluate, and discard people. While you could set a goal of cataloging everyone you meet with the intention of remembering all the details about them, it’s an unrealistic goal. There’s no way you can process that much information. Besides, it’s almost entirely irrelevant because 99.99% of the people you encounter won’t present a threat. The key is spotting that small percentage that might.

The last principle is to constantly pay attention. Get in the habit of being in “up time” when you are out and about. Don’t walk around lost in thought. Catch yourself when you aren’t aware of what is going on around you. Keep doing this so that you can train your mind to be aware whenever you are outside of your home. You want to be in the habit of being difficult to surprise.

So, there you have it: tips for you to work on to improve your situational awareness. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use that skill to protect yourself or your family, but, if the situation comes up, you’ll be glad that you were aware of it before it became a problem so that you could escape or deal with the threat beforehand.