Have your ever been in an accident or precarious situation? If you have then you know that 100% of the time the ramifications could have been avoided. Why? Because regardless of where you are or what you are doing, you should have been aware and vigilant of the various form’s danger can take.

In a very real way, taking preventive measures to avoid dangers or dangerous situations can be your first defense against an attack, whether you’re walking down the street, shopping at the mall, marching in a protest, performing over-watch, with a spotter while performing precision engagement, simply at the movies or restaurant, or watching global events that shape your future.

My martial-arts instructors pounded this into me over many years. You must accept that danger can and will happen to you during your life thus, in doing so there are eight preparatory considerations we must contemplate, however, in this article I will cover only situational (also called environmental) awareness. It seems simple enough, but failure to carefully consider your environmental conditions can mean the difference between life and death.

What is your environment? All too often, people think of just the immediate situation, especially in combat where things can go sideways quickly. But it is more than that. Your environment or situation includes, but is not limited to how and where you live, where you work, how you get to work, where you go to school, every person you meet, the vehicle you drive, your home’s floor plan, any surrounding condition you may find yourself in, and more. For example, a personal vehicle is safer than riding a crowded bus, yet each requires knowledge of the surrounding environment to avoid potential dangers. Years ago I was in Washington DC and paid the driver while sitting in the back seat of his taxi before I exited the vehicle – a habit due to this very issue. Another cab in front of me held a passenger who exited the vehicle and then, bent over to pay the driver, wallet in hand. Suddenly, a seemingly innocent passerby, grabbed the man’s wallet as he knocked him to the ground and was off running like a rabbit. The man received a nasty gash on the forehead, blood streaming down his face. This is a simple danger because it could have been at night and the assailant could have been armed with a knife or pistol. And, as you can observe, the simple act of taking a taxi can be fraught with danger in the right circumstances, which you cannot control – potential danger is ever present. A moment as simple as someone asking you what time it is on the street can be an impending danger because it is often a trick to distract you from the real intent of the person. Thus, many situations can occur that include danger, but using preventive measures beforehand can ensure that danger is thwarted.

To be good at situational awareness requires you to understand three methods of preventive planning:

  1. Ability to identify types of danger.
  2. Understand elements related to the danger types.
  3. A Periodic examination of the types of dangers and the elements involved.

All of these apply equally to being out on the town, in a street fight, or in a gun fight. They are all gone over much more in depth in our Academy courses so, this is but a small primer.

How to Identify Danger Types

You must first develop an awareness of all situations that can place you in danger. But there are so many possibilities you say. Yes, there are, but you cannot afford to overlook any. Let us use an example. You are on a crowded city street and an individual asks you the time. Being polite, you glance at your watch to affirm what the time is and as you do so, because of that slight distraction, a second assailant hits you with a right cross knocking you to the ground as the first assailant who asked the time, grabs your wallet and they run off. A simple request turned into a brief, yet dangerous encounter. Had you looked the assailant in the eyes and told him it was about 10:25 (whatever the time may be), they would not have gotten the upper hand because you would have been able (hopefully due to proper training) read their body language and avoided the blow to your head and the confrontation.

To become good at identifying dangers means that you must develop a suspicious (not paranoid) trait of people and places and attempt to visualize what could occur from worse-case to best-case scenarios. Why? Because any situational danger can, like falling domino’s, can produce multiple dangerous conditions and outcomes. If you have fought multiple opponents or engaged in armed combat, you understand this more fully. You are only limited by your imagination so, stretch it to envision every possibility you can.

Mob attack on car (Source: NBC News)

Understand the Elements Related to Danger Type

You must clearly understand the danger type and envision the element(s) related to it. This means that one must not look on the surface only but look for deeper meanings guiding the situation. As in the situation above, was the smiling assailant simply asking the time or did he have an ulterior motive? Of course, now we know it was the latter, but it could have just been a benign, innocent situation. Mentally ask yourself in any situation, what are the facts? Does the situation involve potential unarmed or armed assailants or both? If you understand danger types well, potential danger can be averted. Thus, you will be better prepared and be able to act appropriately to the situation.

To ensure awareness, one must also be cognizant of weather such as snow, rain, mud, etc., the floor plan of the room you are in, and other physical surroundings – on the street or in a building. All of these can hamper your response or enhance it dependent on the situation. Likewise, geographical surroundings such as terrain of varying heights, vegetation etc. should also be considered. If you understand this, you can potentially convert any situation to your favor. It may seem complex, but this is geared to your maturity and experience, as well as creativity. It is truly a learning process. Practice this scenario: you are walking down a street late at night. The lighting is not bad; suddenly you become aware of several individuals approaching your position from the front. They do not look overly savory. What do you do? Do you keep walking or perhaps pretend you are looking for something and slowly stroll to the other side of the street like you have found it? What if these individuals cross to the same side of the street, what do you do now? Imagine such scenarios and how you would react and practice them constantly. What if you were in a car or at the mall; how would the scenario differ?

Periodic Reexamination of Danger Types and Elements

Just as you would do for a 5-second pistol drill or 5-target, 15-second precision rifle drill, it is important to practice your situational awareness skills constantly and conduct a periodic re-evaluation. Listening to other’s experiences can help your understanding of known facts and deeper strategic issues. How did he or she respond to a particular situation. What would you do if you were in the same situation? The opportunity for re-examination is everywhere. News reports of violence occur daily. Imagine yourself in the reported situations and ask yourself three questions:

  1. What was the element of danger and how did the person attacked handle it?
  2. Did the environment enhance or endanger the attacked individual – how?
  3. How would situational awareness have kept one out of the reported danger?

Repeat such scenarios until you are sure you could have prevailed in the outcome and be aware that new dangers can always arise. Flexibility of thought and action, as well as training yourself not to panic in a crisis situation are very essential. But remember, it does not matter who you are, potential danger is ever present therefore, you must be able to blend with any situation, which can only be developed through practice.

Following is a help to get you started. When I took driver’s education the instructor made us work on situational awareness immediately by making us examine each oncoming car. He would then ask, what gender was the driver, were there other passengers in the car, what color was it, what make was it, was there anything on the dash and if so, describe it and, what color was the drivers hair and shirt or blouse? He would ask other questions too, but all of this was taken in at-a-glance, which will be the focus of another article. I would admonish you to do this as you drive. Also, keenly scrutinize people on sidewalks, at movie theaters, shopping malls, and restaurants. In short, become a people watcher so that you can specifically identify various individual traits of those you observe.

Most people and instructors focus on tactical situational awareness, which is important as described herein, but that is not enough in a world filled with never-ending crises. Our awareness must also span the globe for those events or potential events that can affect us longer term than simply walking down a dark alley. It is also this long-term situational awareness that can save you and your friends and family because you will have a better idea about how to deal with it. This involves commodity supply chains, droughts, critical infrastructure such as the power grid(s), and so much more. Read this article to begin your expansion beyond the tactical. All of this will help you develop a keen situational awareness. Happy practicing.

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