Situational Awareness: How to Protect Yourself by Developing your Situational Awareness

I’ve read hundreds of articles on Situational awareness, and I’m usually left scratching my head, wondering how many of these authors can even pretend to write about a subject they know nothing about.

Most of the stuff out there seems like a bad technical manual, written by some egghead professor that did a couple of studies in a laboratory so he can claim to be an expert. While many of these people can probably scientifically describe what the term means, admittedly better than I can do, none of that means shit in the real-world! These people haven’t lived a life where they had to use these skills to stay alive; what do they know about real-world applications?

I’m not going to spend all day giving you some scientific definition of the words, or quoting a bunch of stupid studies that will do nothing for you when things go bad. I mean do you really want to know the technical color codes or a bunch of mumbo jumbo that means absolutely nothing when the not so theoretical shit hits the fan?

These things are all for analysts, or people who need to justify their jobs by creating complex flow charts, theoretical models, and technical terms to suck one more dollar from the tax paying public.

So what is Situational Awareness?

A bunch of people walking on a street unaware of what's going on around them

If you really want to know what it is, forget all the technical garbage. Situational Awareness is simply the ability to assess your environment for threats so that you can either avoid those threats or control the situation and start stacking things in your favor.

That’s it! No flow charts, no color codes, just awareness!

So what’s all the hype?

Well, from a preparedness perspective, I hope it’s obvious. There simply isn’t a more important survival skill that you can possess. If you can identify a threat before it becomes a threat, you put yourself ahead of 99% of the public, and you go a long way to ensuring your safety and security.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, this is a skill, or better yet a mindset that most people simply don’t have.

We live in a world where people live in a contact state of distraction. From walking around with their heads buried in some electronic device to stressing out about their day or trying to recall yet another thing that slipped their mind, most people are blissfully ignorant to the world around them.

So what should you do then, live in a constant state of paranoia?

This is an argument that you will often hear from people who are not prepared. Rather than do the work, they just claim that it’s paranoia.  I mean why worry about what could happen, right?

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

All joking aside, when it comes down to it, it’s the people that do prepare who are the ones that are least likely to live in fear, or succumb to fear when things go bad. It is the preparedness minded individual, who is confident in his ability to assess threats on a subconscious level, who can walk through life without having to even consciously think about what problems they may face.

They don’t have to live in fear because they are confident in their ability to detect threats when they arise.

Why is Situational Awareness Important?

inside a theater

Well, let’s look at a couple of different scenarios.

You are at a theater watching a movie with your family, and the fire alarm goes off.  A number of things could be happening right now. It could be a false alarm, it could be an actual fire, or even worse there could be an active shooter picking people off in the theater right next door. That’s the world we now live in.

In this situation, most people are going to panic.

You’re in a dark theater, children are probably crying, and adults are probably stampeding the aisles not knowing exactly what to do. But you, if you’re a situationally aware individual, already left ahead of danger. You smelled the smoke, heard the gunshots, or recognized the threat before the alarm was ever even pulled.

And if it was a false alarm, you weren’t injured by the panicked crowd because you calmly headed to the exit point that you instantly identified as you walked into the theater. While everyone else was running for the main entrance, you quietly and calmly helped your family slip out that little noticed side exit.

Criminals are experts when it comes to situational awareness!

We live in a world where it cannot be ignored; criminals and violent criminal attacks.

Unfortunately, when it comes to situational awareness many criminals are damn good at it; but even worse for you, is they are good at spotting people who are not! These people come into a situation with the upper hand; in most cases, they have diligently planned for what they are about to do, and they took the time to select the target that they felt was most vulnerable to an attack – usually the guy who is walking around totally oblivious to the world around him!

Listen, self-defense training is great; knowing how to use a firearm is a skill everyone should have, and I highly advise you go out and find a good self-defense school.  That being said, none of it means anything without being aware of your environment. Any self-defense school that doesn’t stress that fact is a school you don’t need to waste your money on.

Your only real chance of not being targeted by these people is to be able to perceive the threat before it becomes a threat: Situational Awareness.

What can you do to Develop Your Situational Awareness?

Situational Awareness isn’t the supernatural ability that some Hollywood movies make it out to be; in fact, I believe it can be learned.

Jason Bourne in a Crowd being aware of his surroundings

Remember, in real-life Jason Bourne is an Anti-Gun Jackass who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag, let alone recognize a threat!

Listen, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is something that is going to be easy. It’s not. But if you take the time to start looking at the world around you and running through some of these drills, you will start to develop the background skills you need to protect yourself.

Did you notice the word background in that last paragraph? Again, this is not living in a constant state of fear and paranoia. I know I said this wasn’t a supernatural skill, but it is a subconscious mindset that allows you to know when something isn’t right.

It’s that gut feeling that most people have been conditioned to ignore.

Step one: Mastering Mindfulness

Ok, I’m not going to go all hippie new age guru on you, but there is a concept that can help tie things together. Buddhists, and those who are into meditation practices, call it Mindfulness. But don’t worry, in the context of this article, it’s not a religious thing. What we are looking at here is the concept of releasing your stress, and fully becoming one with your environment. Simply put, you are present in the moment.

A lot of stress release and anti-anxiety therapies are built around this concept because it allows the person to stop thinking about their fears and anxieties and instead just live in the moment, really taking in the world around them – the sights, the sounds, and the baseline world. That is what’s important here.

It’s about recognizing that baseline. That state of how things are in the world when things are normal. By understanding your environment and being able to recognize the baseline realities of what’s going on around you, your subconscious mind will instantly be able to pick out what doesn’t fit and what things signal danger ahead.

Mindfulness, from a therapeutic standpoint, is simply the mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily feelings. Simply taking the time to release your anxieties, to relax, and just take in the world around you can do wonders for your overall situational awareness.

Step Two: Honest Analysis and Identifying Threats

Some of this information isn’t going to be politically correct, but if you’ve followed this site for a while you know that I excel in offending people! I don’t do it to be provocative; I just don’t live my life pussyfooting around other people’s P.C. bull crap or emotional insecurities.

I’m a realist. And I realize that we live in a world that has made people weak; a bunch of precious snowflakes who are so offended by everything in the world that they have become unable to recognize the real dangers in life and in our society.

Profiling people is an acceptable reality!

It’s not racist, sexist, islamophobia, hate speech or any other label that you want to attach to it; it’s reality.

The fact is criminals do fit certain profiles. Profiling has nothing to do with race, but it does have everything to do with appearance. Think about it; who is more likely to rob you, the 80-year-old black grandmother in the wheelchair or the white teenager sagging his pants below his ass, sporting gang colors and gang tattoos? Was the skin color important, or was the person’s overall appearance important?

That being said, there is no denying that a significant portion of urban (black) culture is deeply engrained into a society that glorifies street gangs, violence, and an attitude that they are owed something and are justified in taking it by force. You can pretend that this doesn’t exist, you can bow down and be fearful of being called a racist, or you can protect yourself and be mindful of the reality of the world we live in. The media won’t say it, but we have a cultural problem where certain groups of people in this country have no respect for life.

Some of this stuff is just common sense, and some of it requires ignoring what the media tells you is wrong and right.

As I’ve pointed out in my bookThe Ultimate Situational Survival Guide: Self-Reliance Strategies for a Dangerous World, and as we constantly warn our readers on OFFGRID Survival, the Ghettoization of our culture and our country is one of the biggest threats we face!

Step Three: Situational Awareness Drills, Games, and Tactics

So now to the meat of the article; the real-world things you can do to help develop a situational awareness mindset.

Before it can become part of your background thought process, or your subconscious mindset, you are going to have to be purposeful and do things to hone your skills.

  • Play games with yourself; if you have kids include them in the process. When you enter a store, see how many exit points you can immediately identify. Look for obstacles, threats, or anything that could hinder your escape should something go
  • Start watching people. Try to notice how people normally behave; what’s normal, what’s not? One of the best ways to spot trouble is to be able to read people’s behavioral quirks. I’ve never been in a fight that I didn’t see coming, and I’ve avoided quite a few because I picked up on things like body language, emotions, and changes in a person’s voice that told me something was about to happen.
  • Limit outside distractions. When you are out in public you need to put down the phone, leave the electronic distractions at home, and really spend time being one with your environment.
  • Start trusting your gut! At first you may be wrong, but in the end, you need to beware of those primal instincts that are built into your very being. The fight or flight response is a very real thing, something that can be used to your advantage if you can learn to control it and not give into the fear aspect which so many people in today’s society seem to be overwhelmed with.
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  1. I disagree with your statement that race and sex has no bearing. That’s politically correct nonsense.

    Every year approximately thirty thousand white women and girls are molested, sexually assaulted, and raped by black men. Conversely, the number of black women so effected by white men is statistically zero. This is the official FBI statistics. Check it out for yourself.

    The number of violent crimes committed by blacks is outrageously high as compared to other groups. I am not suggesting that a grandmother is as dangerous as a gangbanger. Most crimes are committed by males in their mid to late teens and early twenties. But occasionally someone who doesn’t fit the norm commits a crime. When this happens the media is all over it which distorts public perception.

    A few years ago a white female killed several men. The story was made into a movie. She was executed. The fact that since her death information has surfaced that some of the “victims” were indeed violent and her claim of self defense may indeed have been valid, at least in some of the situations. Women rarely murder or assault but there are exceptions. My guess is that a twenty something woman with a baby hanging off her chest is a fairly safe bet. And almost anyone over sixty in a wheelchair can be excluded as a potential threat.

    Otherwise, your ideas seem valid.


    • You do have valid points there, but I think what the author was also implying to note everything around you, including granny in a wheelchair. It’s just that it is more likely to expect some behaviors from a certain subset of people. The problem is that having this kind of mindset could potentially leading to hyper-focus which can distract you from a more pressing and unexpected threat.

      This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be complacent at all; we could have a very angry raging granny who is ready to roll down the hall with a shotgun pulled out of her basket!

    • (Every year approximately thirty thousand white women and girls are molested, sexually assaulted, and raped by black men. This is the official FBI statistics Check it out for yourself) This is fake news fake news! fake news! I read the chart your facts are wrong!!!!! stop Misleading people idiot.

  2. All around a great article. However I would have to disagree on a few things.

    Color codes & terminology:
    I agree that the fancy terminology (a.k.a. “mumbo jumbo”) that most of the books and manuals use are pretty useless. None of them are consistent with each other. I prefer the use of plain/common terminology.

    The color codes on the other hand can be useful (if only they could all agree on one). I constantly use the color codes used in the Marine Corps to describe the varying states of awareness to newer people who are learning and it comes in handy. Humanity as a whole has a knee-jerk reaction to want to label and categorize things. For those who are not “intuitives” when it comes to situational awareness, the color code comes in handy.

    I was with you at the beginning until you got to the age/gender comparison. From real world experience, I would highly suggest not paying attention to age, gender, ethnicity or religion (or whether the person is in a wheelchair or not). To me that is just all another distraction or hurdle in identifying a real threat.

    I live and work in a large metro area. One of the most diverse in the U.S.. I can tell you from experience that a threat can and will come from anywhere. Identifying that baseline and looking for anomalies. Pay attention to body language, bio-metric queues and behavior queues are the keys. More specifically a cluster of those queues that point to the same thing

    Either way, great article.

  3. Good article and valid points all around…comments of others not withstanding, you got it right. I speak from nearly 40 years experience on this. You hit valid points.

  4. criminals are not going to fight fair They will work in gangs and you will be outnumbered. They will set you up so that you react to them and then what they do is self defense. Example, I and a friend were out at a park. A hispanic shoved a blonde girl down We stood up and then noticed a circle of hispanics walking towards us. My friend growled fierce and stuck his hand in his coat like he had a gun. The hispanics turned around and walked away it was a trap. In SF my wife and I were close pressed by some young men at a traffic light. One tried to cut her purse strap failed and ran the others got in my way They were all working together My 380 got big smiles. In Dalles walking on the sidewalk with a friend two young blacks were walking towards us and I put my hand under my coat like I was holding a gun and smiled as we passed. One said to the other Naw they look like poor folk. In California, on the sidewalk, I saw a woman walking towards me with a large revolver in her hand. I stepped to the other side of a parked car and again stuck my hand under my coat. We glared at each other as she walked by but she did nothing either. A good bluff works wonders

  5. yeah.. found out matt damon is an anti gun hypocrite, especially with his “bourne” movie series, that in and of the movie itself, effectively decimates his whole stance and argument. cause without any guns, the character Jason Bourne, would be Jason Aborted.

    won’t be watching another one of his movies.. EVER.

  6. Great point about mindfulness. Most people wouldn’t consider that as a way to become more aware of your surroundings, but mindfulness is exactly that. It’s not zoning out in your own world, but taking everything in. Especially things that most wouldn’t pick up on. Thanks

  7. The vast majority of people have no situational awareness at all. They have their faces buried in their “smart” phones, whether walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant. Moreover, most people have no idea where the back exit is at a store in a major shopping mall.

    Good article overall. I must agree with other commenters, however, that profiling is an essential aspect of awareness. If you doubt that, ask next police officer that you meet.

  8. Walk into a room. Look around. Anyone that you can take is your prey. Anyone that you know that you can not take, you are the prey.

  9. I work with an elderly psychiatric population. They can be just as dangerous as the next guy. Male or female. Just as strong. Just as quick. Maybe they have just one good burst of energy, but that’s all it takes with the element of surprise. And because of their age…may have a lot less to lose.

  10. I like the way you write, no nonsense bs and straight to the point.

    I’m no expert but I look at alot of awareness as common sense. Sad thing is in our society these days common sense isnt so common.

    You are 100% right on trusting you’re gut. If you’re gut tells you something is not right good chances it’s right. At worst you exited the scene and your gut was wrong, but your still alive.

    1 poster mentioned bluffs. In some cases bluffs can work, in others it can get you killed in a situation where you might have been walked by or at worse beaten up and mugged. It’s my beleif tucking your hand under you’re hand under your shirt, going up behind your back or in a jacket like your armed is same as skinning an unloaded gun or showing it off. To me personally, if you either skin a weapon or just show it’s presence you better be prepaired to use it.
    I will use 1 of his experiences. You are walking down a street in a large city. Coming towards you is 2 guys that you are thinking could be a threat to you’re safety. In a city chances are people looking to harm others are packing a weapon of some sort, be it a knife or gun. Unarmed you tuck you’re hand under you’re shirt to give the impression you are armed. True this could give impression of armed and prepaired, but can also show the impression you have alot of money or something valuable. You have went from the possibilty of just being punched, kicked and robbed to they think your armed so they need to rush you or get the jump on you after they pass you and use the weapons they most likely have.
    Reason I say this is not everyone is afraid of a confrontation with someone that has a weapon, especially if they have a weapon of their own, they out number you and or if they are flying high. They live on the streets and looking at your body language and most importantly you’re eyes. I’m glad you have had luck with you’re bluffs, but a much different result is extreamly possible.

  11. We have owned a bar for 21 years. The most difficult training for our Bartenders is what we call ‘bar vision’, aka situational awareness. We teach them to be aware of how customers drive into the parking lot, open the door, walk into the building and the energy that comes with them. We never take it for granted and we always verbally address customers immediately. Those first moments tell us everything we need to know. Their ‘feelings’ are always correct and taken seriously. Anything that interrupts the atmosphere of our place is considered trouble and is immediately addressed.

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