Situational awareness isn't fear, lack of self-confidence or neurosis. It's simply that of being on the alert but also being relaxed about it rather than on edge, knowing what's around you at all times, knowing where the escape routes are, being on standby with all of your senses tuned into the ambience.
And being relaxed doesn't mean lax; it means being in control so that your mind can operate optimally.
To maximize efficiency of situational awareness:
- Assume an optimal vantage point. If you're in a crowd where a fight or riot could break out, for example, as odd as it might sound, climb up into a tree and observe from there.
- When possible place yourself within eyeshot of entrances to places like restaurants, courthouses, etc.
- Think of people with bladder control problems; they always know where the nearest restroom is in public; make sure you know where all the exits are from inside a building when possible.
- When standing in slow-moving lines, take time to observe people in the other checkout lines.
- When using public transportation, look at everyone (though discreetly).
- Whenever you enter a new environment (coffee house, bank, school), take note of the baseline environment for possible anomalies. For example, it's not normal or routine for a person to be talking really loud at a quiet-type coffee house, but at a noisy bar and grill it is.
Let's go further with situational awareness with the following guidelines for getting clues about people.
- Realize that a person who stands out in a group isn't necessarily potentially harmful, such as an angry customer at a fast-food diner who got cheese on their burger when they ordered it without cheese. But do keep your eye on such individuals.
- If such a person, however, keeps looking around nervously, behind them, etc., that's cause to raise your bar of awareness.
- A possible sign of threat is when someone is acting at ease when everyone else is panicking. For example, in video footage, the Boston Marathon bombers stood out like sore thumbs.
Plan of Action
- Great observation skills are great, but once you spot the threat, then what? Your plan (like knowing all the exits) should already be in place.
- You can even have fun with this: Every time you're out in public, imagine a dangerous situation and how you'd respond. What if a fire broke out? An errant car was headed for the window you're standing near? Gunshots rang out? Or you felt something press against your waistline and heard a voice, "Come with me or I'll shoot you"? Imagining how you'd respond will help you in a real-life situation.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
- Don't look like prey. I know a woman who, as she stands at her car late at night in a parking lot to unlock it, her feet are shoulder width apart, one fist on hip, and she looks all around first, shoulders square and chest puffed out-an "I dare you to mess with me" message.
You've been told to carry pepper spray. That's good, but if you carry around a flashlight that's ON, a predator might think you're in law enforcement and stay clear of you. At a minimum, they won't want to tangle with a bright light in their eyes.