Personal situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you, where you are in relation to other people or things, and what potential threats there might be to your personal safety. Everyone’s situational awareness is individual and potentially different. How we read a situation can be influenced by the type of information we’ve been given, our own experience and whatever distractions are present. Every environment provides unique conditions that will challenge your adaptability. Developing a practice of educating yourself on environmental surroundings is the best way to circumvent preventable threats to you or others.
Knowledge is power, and it’s absolutely true where situational awareness is concerned.
But if this is all new to you, where does one begin?
View each new setting as an opportunity to practice situational awareness.
Only use your phone, e-reader or iPod after you’ve determined you’re in an area where it’s safe to do so. Look up occasionally to re-scan your surroundings and make note of any changes. If you’re using headphones, consider using only one, or keeping the volume as low as possible in order to still be able to hear what is going on around you. Going shopping? Make note of where the exits are, and keep track of where the closest one to you is at all times. You might be thinking of a flight attendant at the front of the plane pointing out the exits, and you’d be right. There’s a reason they cover this before the plane leaves the ground. Just in case passengers need to know. “Just in case” happens more often than you might realize. Think of how many shootings have taken place in malls, clubs, schools and movie theaters in recent years.
Many people have a sense of “personal space” that is usually about five feet. With COVID being an ongoing presence in our lives, personal space has expanded to six feet. Extend your awareness to a range of twenty-five feet if possible. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Marines have a saying, “Keep your head on a swivel”. I tell this to my sons all the time. Basically, it means, move your head along with your eyes. Out here in the woods, that applies as much to watching for holes on the trail as it applies to watching for bears.
When dealing with other people, someone’s hands and face are good indicators of their intent. This includes hands being hidden from view, the downward cast or shifting of eyes, or inappropriate hand gestures or staring. It is during these times that listening to your body’s “gut” feeling can prove beneficial. It might just save your life.
Good awareness habits should be built into daily activity. Some examples include describing people and places to yourself as you explore locations, identifying and familiarizing yourself with any and all exits, and keeping yourself on alert. Memorize license plates while in traffic or in a parking lot in order to bolster your sense of attentiveness and recollection. If self-defence courses are not an option, consider carrying personal protection such as pepper spray. Robberies and assaults are crimes of opportunity; don’t make yourself an obvious target!
Practice devising alternate methods of escape if your primary exit becomes unusable. Not just in buildings, but in public transportation, elevators, and even in outdoor environments. This principle can also be applied to travel routes, and being conscious of obstacles, choke points, alternate routes, and so on.
Utilize walls and other barriers to protect your back and sides and maximize your field of vision, taking care not to back yourself into a corner. Practice this in public places, such as restaurants, waiting rooms, or shopping malls. When your range of vision is limited, get creative about ways to expand it and give yourself an advantage – practice utilizing store windows and car windows to detect threats you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
Learn to trust your instincts; if something doesn’t “feel right,” there is likely something wrong. Even at work, knowing that an office door locks from the inside or that a desk can be moved to barricade an entrance might be critical in case of a workplace crisis, such as an active shooter. Sudden and unexpected workplace violence has happened more often than you might realize. It happens even up here in “polite Canada”.
Whatever you do, trust your gut. If you get the sense that something is wrong or doesn’t add up, don’t ignore it. Your instincts exist to protect you – it is always better to be overcautious than to ignore warning signs that turned out to be legitimate. Your gut might keep you from becoming a statistic, or worse, a victim.
Have you ever experienced a time when your gut kept you safe? Alternatively, have you ever been a victim of crime?