The Five Levels of situational awareness
I believe every adult that is paying any attention to current trends in society can agree on at least one thing: crime is getting worse, and on a daily basis.
The following recently appeared on the online news site The Daily Beast:
23-year-old Megan Boken was shot to death as she sat in her car in St. Louis by a robber intent on taking her iPhone, his second such theft that day. She was talking to her mother at the time. She had just bought the phone a month before, after turning in her BlackBerry.
“Because someone wanted to steal her brand new iPhone, Megan lost her life,” said her sister, Annie Palazzolo.
Unimaginable. Murdered for a phone? People are assaulted, robbed, raped, and killed today for much less. You can no longer afford to be unaware of your surroundings; you must learn to be proactive about your own security. No one can help you as quickly as you can help yourself.
Yes, there are police in our cities to protect us, but they cannot be everywhere all of the time. You must take your own security seriously and learn to fill the gaps between yourself and the police. Many hazardous situations can be recognized as they’re developing — and thus avoided.
Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings, such as a parking lot or lonely hotel hallway. It’s a mindset that gathers tidbits, like entering a movie theater and committing to memory where the fire escapes are located. Observing people, animals, or machinery surrounding you and assessing what, if any, kind of threat they are to your security. A recent article I read used driving as a great example; let’s say I am driving my car behind someone and realize they are just a crummy driver. I back off and give them plenty of room to make a mistake. If you realize something is going wrong, take action to keep yourself from being involved.
Now, let’s take all of this and apply it to your personal security.
We are going to investigate five levels of situational awareness. There are other theories on this subject as far as how many levels exist, but we will stick to five for simplicity’s sake.
Vegging in front of the television. This is one of the places you can afford to be tuned out. This is a totally unaware state of slothful bliss. You are just unaware of anything — a fun state to be in while enjoying the security of your home.
This level of situational awareness is the easiest to maintain. It is not paranoia, just casual awareness of your surroundings, scanning for signs of something amiss.
As you exit your home, you should shift into relaxed awareness. This can also apply to driving. This is a state where you are paying attention to your surroundings, observing people, assessing all the activity going on around you. You are casually looking for anything out of the ordinary. This state cannot be achieved with your head down texting as you are driving or walking. It is hard, if not impossible, to be situationally aware of your surroundings if you are distracted. What makes cell phone users susceptible to robbery is that they are simply not paying attention. With your head down, you make an easy target for thieves, a situation which can easily escalate into something worse. If you are not paying attention, criminals consider you a “soft target,” that is, a target which is no threat to them. A thief or assailant would rather not strike a harder target than necessary and take the chance of being subdued or injured if they don’t have to. Basic risk assessment on the bad guy’s part.
I personally make this level of awareness a little game. I observe and assess everything around me, sometimes making fun of the silly things people say and do.
Here is the inflammatory part of my article but it is a sad truth. You need to be a profiler. Ouch, I actually said that. We see people coming our way and the little voice in your head starts saying, something doesn’t look right here. Now you shift into focused awareness. You start looking for overt signals. Does this person have their head down but seem to be heading directly towards me? Are their hands in their pockets? Do they look up sporadically but don’t really make eye contact? These are possibly signs of a coming attack or aggression. When we see any of these signs, or a number of other signs, we shift up to high alert. If none of these signs are present we can revert to a state of merely relaxed awareness, a shifting of gears, so to speak.
Okay, we just transitioned into high alert. We perceive an imminent attack and we take what we feel is an appropriate counteraction. Flight is sometimes a good reaction to a situation like this. Possibly you have training in some other form of self defense, now would be the time to employ the appropriate level of countermeasure.
This is the level we never want to sink to. Comatose is no response at all. It is when we are overcome with fear and do nothing. We give up and don’t try to improve our situation. In many cases escaping the situation can improve your security. Learning and practicing situational awareness and learning self defense skills can keep you from sinking to this level.
In Part II of this article I am going to give an example of how to avoid an encounter drawn from my own personal experience. I used all of what we have learned above to avoid a possible armed encounter.