I haven’t heard the term situational awareness in quite some time. During my concealed carry course, this was brought up and it got me thinking. It is something that everyone should learn about, but especially preppers. I use it quite often and it has been taught to the police and military as well. To pay attention to that.
I can always tell when mine is bad because small things startle me, or I don’t notice something I should have. How do we increase our situational awareness? I’ll tell you, along with some exercises that will get you thinking and help with that too.
Have you ever had that feeling that something simply isn’t quite right? That gut instinct that tells you to get out of somewhere or away from someone? What if you could train your mind to recognize those kind of situations and analyze them to respond? I honestly get excited about saying this, the answer is that you can! It isn’t complicated, it isn’t scary, it’s just a good thing to do for all of us.
The way situational awareness was taught to me was through a color coded chart. There are levels to our situational awareness. Some levels are good, some are bad, and some we need to avoid entirely.
This would be the lowest level, and quite honestly where the majority of people spend their time. They are completely unaware of any potential danger as they go about their day. I call it being tuned out of the world. What causes us to tune out? Distractions. What is the number one distraction we all carry around daily? Our phones.
Look up from the text message or from playing Pokemon and notice what is around you. Have you ever been driving through a grocery store parking lot and someone just walks out into traffic as they’re leaving the store and doesn’t even notice that you almost ran them over because they are busy staring at their phones? Yeah, they are in the white zone. Don’t be that person.
This is the relaxed awareness. You are aware of your surroundings, but you are still going about life and enjoying it, while paying attention at the same time. Alert, but not paranoid. It is fairly difficult for someone to surprise you in this state. You notice the things that could be an issue, like everyone suddenly braking ahead of you in traffic, even with a green traffic light. Or the strange person wandering through the grocery store parking lot, or the car that has driven down your street three times in 5 minutes. It can be the way someone is dressed and if they don’t fit in. Like long sleeves or a jacket in August. This is where you want to be.
There are probably legitimate explanations for all of these things, and require no real response from you. But, you still want to notice them. Not noticing them puts you in the white zone. That’s the bad zone. Noticing them puts you in the yellow zone, and that is perfect. Notice things that could be a problem.
This would be the focused awareness state. Where we become aware that something isn’t right. It is time to observe and form a plan of action if needed. Why isn’t something right? Or, why do you feel there is a potential problem, and what kind of problem could it be? This would be where the person wandering around the store parking lot is walking right next to a car and looking in the windows. Seems like they are planning to break in. Or, maybe they are following you into the store, and following too close for comfort.
This is where you should be thinking about how you want to respond. Do you want to turn around and walk a different way? Find security or a store manager and see if they’ll help you? Or do you want to fight if necessary?
High alert. We all know red means danger and that means some sort of action is required on our part to keep us safe. Does that mean run? Fight? Or hide? All that depends on the situation, but that should be decided in the orange stage so that when the red stage is reached, we can act immediately and put that plan into action.
Let’s say the person following too closely tries to grab your purse. You’ve already decided in the orange stage that you’ll resist. Maybe pepper spray them if you can’t scare them away with simply yelling or gathering attention from others in the store. You plan to fight if necessary. That would be the choice you made in the orange stage, and now the red stage is acting.
The creepy person following you chose their path, and now it is your turn. This is where the adrenaline kicks in and things happen very quickly. If you are unable to stop the threat in a matter of moments, either you will need to disengage or step up the level of force you are using to stop it. That is something you will want to plan out as well. Our bodies are not equipped to be in the red state for a prolonged period of time.
This is where we become comatose because our body goes into shock and is unable to function. This is basically where we panic. Think the creepy person grabs your purse and you simply freeze. Normally we hit the black zone because we were in the white zone and not paying attention. Someone scared us to death and because we didn’t notice it or have a plan, we freeze and are unable to do anything. This is the worst possible place to be. This is where really bad things happen to us, and we can’t stop it because we were unable to be proactive.
Think of it in black and white terms. We go from not a care in the world to being terrified in a matter of seconds. All because we didn’t see something that should be fairly easy to notice, if we had been paying attention. I’ve done it myself, and it isn’t fun. Which is why I said earlier, I can always tell when my situational awareness is not on point.
I will give you a good example of a moment when mine was heightened. Walking into a store one night and I was on a mission because I was already panicked. My cat had an abscess that exploded and I needed bandages for him. I was on the phone and likely I looked very distracted and probably like an easy target. I noticed a creepy guy lurking around in the parking lot, but he wasn’t close enough to me to require a response, but I knew he was there.
That was a yellow zone time for me, although it appeared I was in the white to anyone else. Walking in and suddenly he is walking almost beside me, but still behind me, if that makes sense. Now, I was walking fast. I was on a mission kind of walking fast. This guy was keeping up with me and it looked like that was taking some effort on his part. That stood out to me. He was very relaxed and chill in the parking lot.
Why is he suddenly almost running through the store with me? This put me in the orange zone. I knew something wasn’t right, and it was going to push me into the red zone very quickly. I stopped. Like, dead stopped and turned to look at him. He then realized I was not going to be an easy target for him. Because I made it very clear that I saw him and knew he wasn’t up to anything good. I also made it a point to reach into my jacket like I was going to pull out a weapon.
This was my red zone moment. The response to make him go away and discontinue the threat. He turned around and walked away, putting a stop to the threat. My gut tells me that he saw me on the phone with my wallet in my hand, he was going to try grabbing it. Woman on the phone looks distracted, should be pretty easy, right? If I was in the white zone and didn’t notice him, that assessment would be correct. However I did notice him and made that clear, and he discontinued it by turning around and walking away.
My red zone moment took less than 30 seconds. I simply stopped and made it clear I saw him and didn’t like him. My facial expressions can scare people, and this was certainly no exception. Plus, making it appear that I had a weapon (I do carry weapons, but did not actually display it in this case) and I had no issues pulling it out. That stopped the escalation of a threat right there. Boom, over with and I went back to being in the yellow zone. I then went back into the orange zone when I exited the store, because I was looking for him specifically to be lurking around again, or to figure out if he was going to become a threat once again.
How do you increase your own situational awareness? Here are some great tips to start practicing.
Hold Your Head Up
You’ve heard the phrase “walk with confidence.” That is exactly what you want to do. Head up, eyes forward, and your shoulders back. This is not only good for posture, but it will help exude that confidence that you will not be a victim. Predators want easy targets. The ones not paying attention, that look like they won’t put up any real fight. Start by giving off the impression that you will not be an easy target. The other part of this is, walking with confidence and paying attention doesn’t just relate to seeing a predator.
It relates to your own safety in the sense that if you’re paying attention, you’re not walking out in front of a car or stepping off a curb you didn’t see, or anything else where you can injure yourself.
Watch for Signals
We all have a general idea of what is normal behavior and what is not. Pay attention to that. You go into a restaurant with your family and you’re enjoying a nice meal. Awesome. It is summer, 85 degrees out and sunny. Someone walks into the restaurant wearing a trench coat. Does that fit into “normal” behavior? Nope. Does it mean they are an automatic threat? No, but it does mean you should pay more attention to them.
The guy at the store I talked about, who went from just kind of hanging out in the parking lot to almost running through the store beside me. That isn’t normal. Maybe it is someone walking up and down your street that you’ve never seen before. My neighbors are hispanic. That’s great, nothing wrong with that. They run their own business, and typically in the afternoons their employees will meet at the house to bring vehicles back or tools, and even just relax with a beer. I see people over there all the time.
What I’ve never seen is a caucasian person at their house besides myself or my husband when we go to chat with them. If I happen to see a car pull up and a white person goes to their house, I’m going to be paying attention because that is out of the ordinary. Doesn’t mean they are a threat, it simply means it isn’t normal and out of the ordinary and that is worth paying attention to.
Know Your Exits
When we go to a movie theater, in the pre-show credits they warn to silence our cell phone and then talk about emergency exits and knowing where the nearest one is. We should be doing that wherever we are. Pay attention to exits. I make it a habit of finding out where the bathroom and emergency exit is wherever I go. I don’t like getting lost anywhere. If I’m in a panic, it’s pretty much guaranteed to happen.
Save yourself the hassle by knowing where the exits are. Simply think about those things, and plan a strategy of how to get out. Fire alarm goes off, where do you go? If I’m sitting beside my husband in a theater, which way do we want to go out? Is he going first and I follow him, or am I going and he follows me? Your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, but save yourself some time by having an idea and thinking about these things.
Most preppers already have plans and backup plans, and even secondary backup plans, which is a good thing. Everybody else kind of exists in the white zone where panic happens.
Use All Your Senses
We have five of them. Taste may be useless in many occurrences related to this specific topic, the rest can come in very handy. Such as hearing sirens when you’re driving. The result is that you start looking around to see where the flashing lights are and get out of the way of the fire truck or police car. Or smell a burning building and call the firefighters. Or, someone yells something. Typically golfers yell “fore” when a ball doesn’t go according to planned and it may hit someone. If you have earbuds in, zoned out to your favorite music, you’re not going to hear things or see them right away either.
A great way to practice your situational awareness is turn it into a game. Yes, situational awareness is serious and it can save your life. By turning it into a game, it becomes a great way to practice. This is especially true with kids when you want to increase their observational skills without scaring them.
When you visit a store, make notes of things such as what the cashier was wearing, placement of doors, where the bathroom and emergency exits are. This results in teaching them to pay attention, but it also about where they are. How many times do your kids go somewhere with you and have no idea how they got there past you driving them? If they got lost, would they know how to get home? Same kind of idea. The result is it trains their minds as well as your own to be thinking about t.
Remember earlier I said I always make note of bathrooms and emergency exits? Start there. Mine started for a very different reason. It came in handy. The result was I just expanded on it from there. Pay attention to someone walking down the street. Go through in your head what street they’re on, direction they’re walking in, race, body type, height, hair, do they have tattoos or anything that makes them stand out?
Think about those things in your head and just start rattling off that info to yourself. I’m on Main Street, headed south, the person I’m looking at is a white male, 6 feet tall, medium body build, short brown hair, with a tattoo on his left arm. Quiz yourself a bit later about it. If you’re driving and you need to call 911, how much useful information can you provide quickly and accurately? Go through that in your head too. Know your directions. Look at vehicles, know makes and models as well.
Improving your situational awareness does not make you paranoid. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it does. There is a big difference between being aware and being paranoid. Situational awareness is critical to preppers because it falls into that need to have plans for dangerous situations and keeping ourselves safe. Though it really applies to everyone. If you aren’t prepared by going through difference scenarios in your head, you aren’t ready. Being unprepared can cost you time, and sometimes even seconds count.
There are a few key things you can gain from having a better situational awareness. You can keep yourself and your family safer with an increased situational awareness. You’re able to anticipate needs and actions of those around you. You can adapt to situations as they evolve quickly because you’re ready and you’ve prepared.
This is really just a great way to improve your memory too. Our brains are the biggest muscle in our bodies. Think of your brain like a giant calculator, ready to process a ton of information very quickly. But, in order for the calculator to work, you have to put in the correct equation, right? By training your mind in these kind of scenarios, you are providing your brain the proper equation. Therefore when it comes time to solve the equation, it is easy. Always be ready, and situational awareness is the very first step to being ready.