Today’s discussion topic is situational awareness. Any of you Military and LE folks out there have had these two words drilled into your head since day one of training. Those of you in the civilian world that have had no experience in the professional LE/Military world may not be aware of the utmost importance of this. Situational awareness can be translated simply as being aware of your surroundings and adapting to the observations you make. If you are an armed sheepdog or not, being aware of your surroundings is just so incredibly crucial. “I never saw the car that hit me.” “No Officer, I don’t remember what the mugger was wearing.” Would somebody who is constantly aware of their surroundings have to say these things?
Don’t get me wrong here, being aware isn’t a simple mindless task. It’s actually quite the opposite. Being situationally aware is a deliberate and actually somewhat tiring task that requires development and constant honing much like any other skill. How many times have you been out and about and you’ve been approached by someone that you would have rather not dealt with? Did they make you feel uncomfortable? Did the hair on the back of your neck stand up? What was the outcome of that encounter? If it was something that didn’t result in you becoming a victim, I’m willing to bet that at the very least it left you feeling uncomfortable and possibly somewhat shaken.
A few weeks ago my wife, infant son and I were returning from having dinner with her parents. We stopped at a busy local and very well lit gas station to fuel up at about 8:30pm. Upon driving into the gas station I made sure to survey the area for any potential threats both inside the main building and by the pumps. I pulled up to a pump which is clearly visible from the main street, took another look around and exited the vehicle. As I began to gas up the car, I observed a 30ish long haired and bearded white male in blue jeans and an unbuttoned green flannel shirt walk up to a middle aged female patron who was seated in her vehicle and knock on the window(remember that whole hair on the back of the neck thing?). She was visibly startled and stayed where she was and refused to engage the subject. He was telling the woman something but at this point the interaction was too far away from me to hear. She kept her eyes to the front after initially viewing him at her window and didn’t respond to him. Since he wasn’t getting what he wanted at that vehicle, the male subject then walked towards another vehicle with a female inside. He appeared to be visibly nervous and twitchy. He attempted the same thing with the next female patron who was closer to my location. I was able to overhear his pitch this time. “My buddy ran out of gas, can you help us out?” At this point my spider senses were tingling. What kind of person is intentionally seeking out the female patrons versus the other male patrons that were around? This individual then appeared to notice my wife seated in the front seat of our vehicle and began walking towards her. I stepped from around the vehicle and positioned myself between him and my family. I then instructed him that he was close enough and to stop where he was. He complied with my instructions and began his pitch to me, although with me he added the statement “well I bet you won’t help me anyway but..” I informed him that I was unwilling to help and suggested that he move on from the area. He quickly walked back towards the main building of the gas station and kept walking passed the entrance to a black coupe idling in a parking spot and got in the passenger seat. I completed refueling our car and we departed the area before I could observe if they left.
Why did I tell you that story? Well there are tons of hypothetical situations that go through my mind when I get approached out in public. What is this person’s intent? Capability? Mental state? Weapons? Can I see their hands? Like I said before it’s tiring work. I told you this story to illustrate the “right way” to do it. I made the decision to go to a well lit and busy gas station. I made a visual check of the area prior to parking and getting out of the vehicle. I was being observant enough to see this guy walking up to people and making a note of his appearance and demeanor. I kept an eye on the guy to see what he was up to but this didn’t completely distract me from my task at hand, although I would have had no problem leaving the area and moving on to another gas station should it have been necessary. I also made a note that this guy was only approaching females. That last part alone is more than enough to justify my suspicion of this character and his decision to attempt to approach my wife while seated in our car was the last straw. My actions were non-violent but I did made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t welcome in the area anymore. Was he trying to rob a woman who would have been gullible enough to believe his story? I can’t say with certainty, but if I had to wager a bet I’d put my money on yes.
Being aware of your surroundings is more than passive observation. It’s the act of taking that passive observation and translating it into whatever necessary actions you need to take. It’s what dictates whether or not you need to pull your firearm or other chosen defensive tool. It’s what dictates whether or not you run away or just simply dismiss the observation as a non-threat and carry on. Too many times I see people nearly walking into things because they’re too wrapped up in whatever piece of technology they have in their hands. They wouldn’t see a threat until it was literally too late to do anything about it. The same goes for people walking around with headphones on all the time.
Here are some steps to take to kick your situational awareness up a few notches.
1. Put the phone down. There is no reason to walk around texting constantly or be on a Bluetooth headset all the time. If you need to make a quick text to get a question answered, get out of the way of others and do it quickly, the same applies for phone calls. These are distractions that aren’t necessary and can be detrimental to your situational awareness. Pay attention!
2. Keep your head on a swivel. Don’t get yourself sucked into “oooh shiny” mode. Constantly look around and take in what’s going on around you. If you are holding a conversation with someone, they may see this as disrespectful. If you feel the need, just let your conversation partner know that you just like to be aware of whats going on around you and leave it at that. No need to go into detail. Continue with the conversation.
3. Make meaningful decisions. Make these decisions based upon the information that you take in. It may be something as simple as changing lanes on the highway because you see a car pulled over by the police up ahead, but by making that choice you may well have saved yourself a ticket or prevented a fatal accident. If you’re making the effort to expand your awareness, then use the information you’re taking in.
4. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. Move on to your next task and come back to that one later. If that isn’t an option then deal with the issue as necessary.
5. Be the master of your surroundings. While you may not be able to control everything in your environment, you can control what the environment is. Make sound choices in where you go, avoid places where less than desirable things tend to occur. Avoid any potential threats, this will help to force a threat to extend themselves into your world versus you stumbling into theirs.
Situational awareness is a skill that constantly needs work. I don’t expect to be able to show you a picture and have you recite every single detail from a short look. What I do expect is that this will help you to be more aware of what’s going on around you. The actions of others have an impact on you and you need to be thoughtful enough to know what to do when those actions force you to react to them and be a step or two ahead. I came across a post the other day from ITS Tactical that ties into this topic very well. Please take a moment to take a look at that as well. As for now stay safe, train and have a good ‘un.