The U.S. Coast Guard defines situational awareness as follows: “the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission.” More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you. As a dog, I am usually exceedingly aware of whatever is happening around me…especially if it involves food.
The concept of situational awareness is helpful not just for members of the Coast Guard but for anyone who values personal safety. In fact, many life-threatening emergencies, such as muggings, kidnappings, assaults, and car-jacking’s, can be averted if the intended victim takes steps to be prepared and pays careful attention to his or her environment. Seems like a good reason to me!
The ability to scan the environment and sense danger, challenges and opportunities, while conducting normal activities is easier said than done. But the trait can be acquired. The trick is to pay attention to surroundings without succumbing to distraction. I will admit that bacon can distract me from most things.
Three Obstacles to Situational Awareness
- Failing to monitor the baseline. On an everyday basis, remember to pay attention to normal patterns and behaviors. If you fail to do this, you won’t recognize when something happens outside the norm.
- Normalcy Bias. If you grew up in a relatively safe area, you may have to repeatedly remind yourself to pay attention to people around you. Most people tend to have a bias towards the status quo. They erroneously assume that since nothing of note has ever happened during their regular routines, nothing major is likely to happen. To overcome this bias, make a conscious decision to be on alert whenever you leave the home or office. The guys and I are always on alert at the firehouse. You never know when the siren will sound.
- Focus Lock. This is a form of distraction that causes us to focus all of our awareness on one thing to the detriment of everything else in our environment. For example, this is what happens when someone digs for keys in her purse and is surprised when thieves attack. It is also the reason some people walk into water fountains while texting.
Here are some tips to help improve your situational awareness:
- Open your eyes. This might seem like a no-brainer. But the first step towards personal safety is to pay attention to your surroundings at all times. No matter where you are, be on your guard. Or why not bring your trusty canine with you? We love to keep our masters safe.
A good rule of thumb is to be mindful of the Color Code of Awareness, as coined by the late USMC Commander Jeff Cooper. This code differs from the color code which corresponds to the amount of danger our nation faces at any given time. Cooper’s Colors refers to a person’s current state of mind and willingness to take action regardless of real or imagined threats:
Condition White: Lack of Threat
Condition Yellow: Relaxed Alertness
Condition Orange: Focused Alertness
Condition Red: Ready to Act
Condition Black: Blind Panic/Psychological Shutdown
Although most people operate in “white mode,” yellow should be the rule of thumb. Criminals are more likely to attack someone who is blissfully unaware and distracted than someone who is alert and prepared for action.
- Avoid unsafe situations. For example, when parking at night, choose a spot that is well lit. Don’t jog at night by yourself. Never park with your car door directly next to a large van. Don’t hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers. Don’t pet a stray dog.
- Be prepared. As far as situational awareness goes, we are not suggesting you draft a formal evacuation plan every time you leave the house. However, it pays to take steps to be safe. For example, take a few minutes to find your keys before standing next to your locked car. Carry a flashlight with you at night.
Be sure to think about ways to use situational awareness to #BeSafe all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.