Note= As I began writing this, the Muslim terrorist attack in California began. It is time to wake up and stay awake in more ways than one people. There are no more civilians in this religious war that has been fostered on us. There never really were. The world is an increasingly dangerous place. Violent crime, expanding terrorist attacks, and the increasing possibility of economic collapse are all wake up calls to anyone with two brain cells working in tandem. There are no magic bullets to keep you safe at all times. But there are techniques you can develop to give you the best chance. And that’s what it is all about.
Situational awareness is a topic that has been studied and written about for years. As a military and security professional, I have seen countless times where people have been killed or seriously injured because they walked right into a situation that they should have seen coming, and didn’t. The practice of situational awareness would have prevented much of this.
So exactly what is situational awareness? It is paying attention to what is going on around you. But it much more than that. It is also the ability to recognize when things are not normal, draw the proper conclusion about the anomaly, and make the correct decision as to how to respond, and then acting on that decision. Situational awareness can be developed by understanding one concept and employing one basic technique. The technique is staying in Condition Yellow in the Color Codes of Awareness and the concept is Boyd’s OODA Loop.
I wrote a more in depth article on this subject titled Defensive Mindset. The Color Codes. But for our purposes here, it is important to learn to stay in Condition Yellow. This is a state of mind best describes as relaxed alertness. It is not paranoia. It is the state of mind that a good driver is in. Head up and moving, checking the mirrors for what is behind and to the sides as well as what is at a distance up ahead. You are aware of what is going on around you 360 degrees and you are prepared to react to any immediate situation. This is the mental mindset you need to cultivate and stay in. It takes practice, and later we will go over some techniques. If you really don’t understand the various mindsets as labeled by color, I urge you to read the article I linked to above. O.K., so you learn to pay attention to what is going on around you. So what more is required?
Boyd’s OODA Loop
For an in-depth discussion of this, I refer you to my article Boyd’s OODA Loop. No It’s Not A Cereal. Col. John Boyd was a fighter pilot who did a serious study of why fighter pilots won or lost a dog fight. The results of his study gave him a logical system that is applicable in any endeavor in life whether a one on one gunfight, a serious financial negotiation, or avoiding being done in by Achmed trying to get his 72 virgins. Lets analyse OODA.
Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
OBSERVE= What is going on around you. Especially if it is something happening that concerns you,
ORIENT= Yourself to the situation. This may be a physical orientation, or a quick mental change based on factors such as long-term memory, training, past experiences, and your genetic heritage.
DECIDE= On a course of action based on your understanding of the situation.
ACT= On that decision.
You then start over as the situation developes. This mental process is a continuum of beginning at Observe and working your way through the situation, and the idea is to get inside an adversaries (or situations) loop. So how does this work in real life? A quick example= Terrorist points a gun at you (he has Observed you, Oriented on you, Decided to shoot you, and is now Acting on that decision). He is committed to an action and you need to disrupt and get inside his loop. You do something unexpected like throw your keys at his face while attempting to escape or fight. You just got inside his loop because now he has to process what you are doing that he didn’t expect and go through the OODA process again because the situation has changed for him.. You are now ahead of him. This is a simplistic explanation but it serves to show how the process works.
Developing a Habit of Situational Awareness
Learning to live in Condition Yellow . Keep your head up when walking around. Develop the habit of scanning what is going on around you. Learn to pay attention to all of your senses, including hearing and smell. When using your cell phone in public, stop and place your back against a wall and use your peripheral vision while glancing up and around frequently if texting. Look around you constantly if speaking. When approaching your car in a parking lot, is anybody near it and how do they look? Anyone in the back seat or under it? When in a public eatery, try to sit where you can observe the entrance and know where the exits are. Use windows as mirrors to keep track of whats behind you. At the ATM do you look around to see if anyone is coming up on you? Always try to keep yourself in a position of optimum observation. Once you get into the habit of doing things like this, many other techniques will come to mind.
O.K. so you are alert. What are you looking for?
Do your due diligence. Have you ever walked into a place and felt that something just was not right but you were not sure what? Well, something wasn’t right. It may not have been dangerous. it may have been something as simple as the flowers arranged wrong. But your subconscious was telling you that something was out-of-place. Trust your instincts, but you have to develop them first.
Before you can identify that something is wrong, you need to know what “right” is. Start with your home. You should be so familiar with where you live that you can navigate your house in total darkness. How about your route to and from work? Do you really pay attention to what goes on with the houses and business along the way or do you just focus on following the car in front of you? At your workplace, how well do you know your co-workers? Do you know them well enough to detect if they are acting strange? The places where you shop. What is the normal situation there? Start paying attention to the small details. Really look at things around you as you go about your daily business. Make a game of it. What color eyes did the waitress at lunch have? Can you tell me right now what color the houses on either side of yours are? Can you count the number of windows in your own house from memory? Once you have programmed your subconscious to understand how things should look right, it will be easier to suddenly spot when they look wrong. And once you have Observed that something is wrong, you can quickly Orient yourself for possible action, Decide on what that course of action should be, and then Act on it.
Situational awareness is a combination of staying alert in condition yellow, being able to identify when something is out of order, being trained well enough to draw a proper conclusion, and quickly acting on the decision you made. Stay alert and watch six.