The concept of situational awareness has been discussed in the self-defense space to the point that it has become cliche. Everyone should realize that being skilled and armed does you no good if taken by complete surprise. However, there are specific concepts within the scope of situational awareness that deserve more attention than they get. Much is said about being aware of who is around you, what they are doing, and where the exits to any given environment are. This is all very important. But, one element of awareness that I rarely see discussed is this: what is the point of criminal focus in any given environment? Knowing this, and knowing where that point is in relation to your position, are important safety factors.
What is the point of criminal focus in any environment?
What is the likely target of criminal predation? It is, quite simply, the most likely opportunity for robbery in that environment. In a gas station, it is probably the cashier’s register. In a bank, it is the desk or the vault. In a restaurant, it is the cash registers, etc.
Understanding the most likely point of a criminal’s focus in the environment is an important aspect of situational awareness, as this dictates the most predictable avenue of criminal assault. When entering any establishment to commit robbery, a criminal will most likely go directly to this point of focus so as to gain compliance and financial reward for their efforts. Thus, when in any given public space or private business, be cognizant of what this likely target is.
Just as the location of exits should influence your positioning in a public location, so should the point of criminal focus. Just as the cliché dictates that we should not sit with our back to the door, it is just as important to not sit with your back to the cash registers, or whatever the point of criminal focus is. In fact, this author would argue that sitting with a visual on the cash registers in any given establishment is more important than sitting with a visual on the entrance. The reason for this assertion is simple; most armed robbers enter with concealed weaponry so that they can go unnoticed until at the point of focus. While a suspicious-looking individual, or several individuals, may enter the vicinity through the door, they may not openly manifest danger until standing in front of cash registers and drawing guns to force a robbery.
When selecting a seat in a restaurant or other establishment, be cognizant of what the likely point of focus would be, and choose seating that puts you in a position of advantage. Having clear sight of this targeted area is a good idea as it allows you to watch what may transpire inconspicuously. Also, be mindful of structures in the environment that are of advantage should something happen. A half-wall or a counter between you and the point of interest is good as it can provide cover or concealment. Preferably, having a seat that faces the point of a criminal’s focus, but is also near an exit, is ideal.
If you are in an establishment during a situation that you think might turn dangerous, it makes good sense to distance yourself from the point of focus. The most obvious example of this that springs to mind is being in a gas station; if you are in such a place, perhaps buying snacks or beverages for your road trip, be alert as to who and what is around you. If suspicious-looking entities enter the environment, move away from the clerk’s counter. If possible, simply leave. However, especially in small gas stations, the only exit might require you to pass the threat. If you can’t leave, then retreat to a far side, deeper in the room, preferably looking for something hard to get behind for cover.
If nothing significant is available to use as cover, then certainly use concealment. The rows and isles that are usually present in gas stations can conceal your movement, and if a threatening entity turns deadly by drawing a weapon and commencing with a robbery, being unseen and behind an isle is better. Such concealment can serve well to facilitate getting your hand on your gun to prepare, should you need to take action, or the concealment can even facilitate a surreptitious draw so that you can get your gun out and ready. This would be precarious, if not impossible if you were standing right next to the cash register counter when the threat takes action with eyes on you.
Situational awareness is the foundation of safety when in public, and an important part of this awareness should be an understanding of the most likely point of attraction and focus for the criminal element. While watching the entries is always important, watching the actions taking place at the cash register is equally so, if not more, in any public place that presents an opportunity for robbery.