Situational awareness is a skill that can help in all aspects of your life, not just in the lawless society after a major TEOTWAWKI event. Being attentive will help you manage any emergency you find yourself in, as you can react faster, keep a level head and be the hero in a crisis. In short, it's really just about paying attention. The trouble comes because being attentive is dynamic and it takes a consistent effort to maintain. Get sidetracked even just a little and you've lost it. The key is constant practice and it truly does pay off. You might notice the signs of the fight about to break out and you can move your partner somewhere safe, or even step in to de-escalate the situation yourself. Deciding to become aware of your surroundings is like taking your blinders off. Too many people wander the world with their eyes glued to their phone or music pounding in their ears and they fail to actually see what's around them. You need to make a conscious effort to pay attention, but this is also hard. How do you always stay aware? By choosing to. Today we're going to cover a simple model to help you develop situational awareness and stay more cognizant of everything that happening around you. The best model I've come across for situational awareness was developed by John Boyd. Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist, he developed the OODA loop for this explicit purpose. It's got four key parts.
- Observe what's going on around you and develop a feel of what's ‘normal.’
- Orient yourself to make note of the important information.
- Decide what you would do should an emergency present.
- Act on your decision with reflex-like speed.
As you start telling yourself you need to pay attention to what's going on around you, the part of your brain that's responsible for monitoring these senses will kick into gear. You don't need to be in a dangerous situation, the key is to just have your head up and notice what's going on. This allows you to develop a feel for what ‘normal’ is, and allows you to notice when things change. Think about the behaviors you would normally expect, and ask yourself what would cause something to stand out. Perhaps everyone seems relaxed except for a certain person, there's a group being excessively loud and dominant, or an individual has way too much focus on another person. These outliers are what you need to pay attention to, as they're usually the spark that causes a situation to change.
Once you've got a good feel about your surroundings, you need to orient yourself and turn the data your senses are collecting into information you can act on. If you can, position yourself in a way that gives you optimum visibility when you enter a new location, although this isn't always possible you should strive to do your best. You might look a little strange in the coffee shop with your back to a wall and always facing the exit/entry points, but perhaps there's a mirror or a reflection you can catch so you can see what's happening behind you. Now the atmosphere in the coffee shop is probably a little subdued and there's a relaxed vibe. You would orient yourself by making a quick mental note of the amount of people in the store, where each of the groups are positioned, the exit points, and anywhere you could take cover or grab an improvised weapon.
The next step is to decide what you will do should a certain situation play out. What's your plan if assailants walk in the front door, or if your primary exit is cut off? What if they've got a weapon, or they've got their hands concealed? Creating a plan in advance speeds up your reaction times, and while it may seem a tad silly now, those few seconds may make all the difference when it comes to escaping with your life. Plus your friends are going to think you're part psychic.
When it all goes down you won't have time to put a plan together, your survival depends on your ability to take quick and decisive action. Trust your instincts, and if something doesn't feel right, do your best to get out of there as fast as you can. Staying aware of your surroundings is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe in every situation. Criminals and the bad guys usually opt for easy targets, picking marks that look vulnerable or they're able to catch off guard because they're distracted. Just by staying alert, you'll be able to ward off many of these opportunistic thugs, as they'll not be able to use surprise to gain an advantage. It does sound a little paranoid at first, but it's simple changes that have the most impact. If you're walking to your car at night, keep your eyes off your phone and walk with a purpose towards your car, glancing around with your keys at the ready. The less vulnerable you look the lower the chance someone tries to make a move on you. Of course, as you learn situational awareness it's going to feel unnatural at first and a little awkward. I found having a friend test me on key facts after we met up for a coffee was a great way to push me to become more aware, till the point where it's become almost a reflex every time I enter a new situation. Now, forming a quick baseline of normal, sighting the exit points and determining what I'll do in a handful of emergencies comes naturally, and means I'm that much more ready to deal with whatever comes. Are you ready?