You’ll see references to and discussions of situational awareness over and over again on this site, and with good reason: it’s a foundational concept in self-defense and personal safety. Properly utilized, this powerful tool allows you to avoid areas where problems are likely to occur, identify potential trouble before it starts, and give yourself maximum time to react should it prove unavoidable.
What is Situational Awareness?
The analysts over at Stratfor said it best:
Situational awareness is being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situation.
They also note that this is a mindset and worldview more than it is a skill, and like all mindsets, it must be carefully and consciously cultivated. By building the right habits, you’ll start down the path to expert-level situational awareness and its many benefits.
Mindset: Mastering the Color Code
The best cognitive tool I know of for adopting a situational awareness mindset is the “color code” system, which organizes mental states of alertness and awareness:
- White: unalert and unprepared, totally relaxed. This state should only be reached when secured in the privacy of one’s own home, if then.
- Yellow: relaxed but alert and well aware of one’s surroundings. This is the mindset which we should try to cultivate most of the time. You keep your eyes moving, gauge the mood/feel of your environment, and stay aware of any changes or developments.
- Orange: focused alert. Something specific has your attention, and you are evaluating it as a potential threat. You’ll likely keep your weapon holstered, but you’ll be ready to respond if needed.
- Red: go time. This is your mental action trigger: “If the threat does X, I will respond with Y.”
The color code system is active rather than descriptive—i.e., you move consciously through the stages of alertness. Combined with some tactical positioning—stay aware of where the exits/fire alarms are, keep the room in your field of vision, etc.—and you’ve got a powerful system for developing an alert worldview.
Situational Awareness is Keeping an Eye on Things
Alertness is only part of the equation—you have to be able to monitor what’s going on. This is perhaps best achieved by developing another habit: positioning yourself so that you can see what’s going on. Keeping the room in view, especially the entrances and exits. Make it a habit to note where they are, even if you aren’t in a position to see them. In an emergency, knowing how to get out quickly can make all the difference.
There are other things to keep an eye out for, too. Unusual behavior—here defined as actions that don’t fit the setting—are flags for your attention. Someone acting nervous, tense, aggressive, or just plain shady should be an item of note; don’t be overly concerned with it but rather aware and log it into your color code system until you need to take further action.
The goal of situational awareness isn’t paranoia or a constant state of wound-up nerves. Ideally, you’ll be relaxed, alert, and in tune with your surroundings. Deployed correctly, situational awareness is a tool for peace of mind—allowing you to relax while still being prepared to respond to any circumstances that may arise.