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Unleashing Your Situational Awareness

By Michelle Cummings

December 13, 2023

Situational Awareness applies to EVERYONE EVERYWHERE in ALL situations.  We need to be aware of what is going on around us so we can decide what our next move will be.  There are three basic levels to Situational Awareness.  The first is Perception of the Situation.  This is simply paying attention to what is going on around you.  A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts showed that when we walk and text at the same time, we miss over 48% of the visual cues that come our way.  The second is Assessing the Situation.  We have to assess the information we take in and make sense of it.  If we are in our workplace, school, or church, we know what the baseline normal behavior is.  If something occurs that is outside of that baseline behavior, we have to pay attention to that.  Lastly, we have to Make a Decision.  Because situational awareness is focused on the future, we perceive and assess what is going on around us in order to anticipate what may happen and then decide how to respond.  Let’s explore some everyday examples.

When you enter a restaurant or other location that people congregate, make sure that you can see the entrance/exit or are aware of where it is located.  Next, you should place yourself where you can see people coming and going.  It is helpful to seat yourself where you are facing the front entrance.  You should then identify if there are any danger areas that you should familiarize yourself with, such as potential hiding places or ambush points.  After you are settled in your seat, you want to establish a baseline for the environment.  This will be looking at how people are dressed, the general noise level, the activities that are taking place, and/or the mood of the people.  If you establish what SHOULD be deemed normal for the environment, you can better determine what would be unusual behavior for that environment.  When looking for unusual behavior you want to look for someone who looks out of place or uncomfortable.  Next, do they have unusual attire such as wearing a trench coat in the middle of summer?  Are they exhibiting aggressive behavior or are they making odd sudden movements?  Can you see this person’s hands or does this person have bulges under his/her clothing?  Is this individual exhibiting heavy breathing, sweating, or dilated pupils?  We have to remember that criminals are human too and have reactions to stress just like we can.  Stress can cause us to act uncomfortable, to begin sweating when it is not hot, and pupils can dilate if we are scared or nervous.  Finally, watch for individuals whom you do not know making random small talk simply to get near you.  It is ok to be friendly, but when combined with other unusual behavior can be dangerous.

Here are some final thoughts to remember: 1. Always position yourself to maintain a good vantage point; 2. Identify behaviors that do not fit; 3. If you detect danger, warn others without drawing attention from the stranger; 4. Move yourself and others to a safe location.

You should not live your life in fear. Being hypervigilant can be worse than having little to no awareness. Just take appropriate precautions when you are not in a known, safe location and pay attention to what is going on around you. This will increase your safety and security in any location. Increasing your level of situational awareness is always your best defense.