Did you know that every day when you leave your home, you pose the risk of falling victim to crime?
What if I told you today that there is information out there that help you detect danger even before it has revealed its ugly head.
What I am referring to is a principle called situational awareness. This information will better prepare you of a danger than 99% of the general population.
That is not all.
You will learn how to observe the area around you looking for information and how to process that information to make more sense out of it. In this article, I am going to reveal to you the basic understanding of situational awareness and why it is so important.
I will also reveal the Endsley’s Model and OODA Loop which are a systemic approach to executing this life-saving skill.
Situational Awareness 101
a) What Is Situational Awareness?
It is important to realize that situational awareness can be applied to almost any occupation or situation. It can be used while driving, entering a bar, walking down a street, visiting the grocery store and also at your work.
It will allow you to observe your surroundings to look for a potential threat continuously. This ability will make it possible for you to avoid any danger and also to better prepare yourself.
You will look at all of the elements that your environment can throw at you, assess them for what they mean and predicting the effect it will have on you.
Situational awareness is also not limited to threats but can be expanded to how you will handle traffic, manage your job and trying to minimize accidents by eliminating human error. It can be used in occupations such as healthcare, aviation, and jobs where you are responsible for other people’s lives.
There are many systems available to develop and asses your situational awareness in such a way to incorporate critical thinking. If you can develop this ability, then you will be better prepared than the majority of the public. You will be able to spot danger from a mile away.
b) Why is it so important?
For the average Joe, this might not be as important as for a police officer. If you have a regular job which has little to no risk of any threats that might pose to harm you or if you live in a very safe environment, then it might not be something on your to-do list that you need to learn as you may never use it.
If you are a guy like me that live in a dangerous environment which involves a lot of car hijackings, armed robberies, and farm murders, then you need to develop this skill.
Let me show you an example.
If I am in the vicinity of an cash-in-transit vehicle, then my situational awareness goes into “Super Saiyan” mode. I will never drive behind or next to one of these vehicles as they pose a massive risk for danger. I will go so far as turning away and taking a different route. I am trying to avoid these vehicles because they are a target for armed robbers as I do not want to be in the middle of a shooting incident.
If I am driving and I see a beggar standing next to a traffic light, then I will always gather as much information on him as possible as they can pose a risk as to pulling out a firearm and hijacking your vehicle. If I see a vehicle that is parked next to my house, then I will stop behind it and make sure to memorize its number plate.
It can just as well be a suspect that is waiting for you to open your gate and drive through your driveway to attack you.
This is the level of situational awareness that I am practicing in my own life. The same can be said for law enforcement officers that risk their lives on a daily basis.
Let me share with you another scenario.
Did you know that muggers or attackers on the streets are continually surveying an area for potential victims? I do not know precisely how they do it, but they can spot people that lack situational awareness.
If you are walking with your head facing the floor or busy on your iPhone watching cat videos out in the open, then how will you know what is going on around you?
Criminals know this, and this is why you will be an easy target. Situational awareness is important because it can help you to avoid any form of attack or injury just by being more observant.
c) How It Is Being Used Today
Let’s start with it being used at a professional level. Most people will relate situational awareness to intelligence officers that work for the CIA. You can also refer to movies such as Taken, the Bourne series, Skyfall, etc.
It is also very much used in the military for gathering intelligence on an enemy. Did you also know that situational awareness is not limited to law enforcement, military, and intelligence?
It can also be used in some occupations or daily tasks such as those described below:
If you are a pilot or working in the radar tower, you will have to learn how to use this skill. You will need to be aware of your environment, the instruments that you are using, weather reports and other planes.
As a pilot, you are responsible for other people’s lives because the plane can crash if you mess up.
On the road
If you are not aware of your surroundings, then you are more prone to be involved in a car crash. I have also experienced you also need to think for other people as well while you drive. You need to scan for your speed, object on the road, other cars and you also need to navigate your way to the destination.
It is every parent’s nightmare for their children to get missing. You always need to build a report with your children if you are on the streets or in a large shopping center. You also face the risk of kidnappings and predation. If you have a newborn baby, then you need to take your mindfulness to a new level.
Paramedics and medical staff
My sister in law worked in a cardiac care unit for years. For this job, you need to continually look at the heart rate monitors to make sure that the patient’s heart is still beating. You also need to plan what you should do if the heart stops. Doctors that perform surgeries and paramedics also need to think on their feet and needs to have an extra level of awareness.
Search and rescue
If you are part of a team that searches for missing persons, then you will need to learn how to carefully observe your surroundings and looking for signs of activity which can point to the direction of a missing person.
Have you ever seen some of the welders that are high up in the sky on the framework of a skyscraper? If they make a mistake, then they pose the risk of falling to death.
They need to constantly be aware of the beams they are walking on and test to see if it is strong enough.
d) Brief History
Even though the term is relatively recent, the concept has been with us for a very long time. It can be traced back to the first world war where troops used it in aircraft.
It has a solid history during 1983 when it comes to the development of the human element in aircraft design. It mainly played a role in the human-computer interface of that of military aircraft. It was implemented to lessen the workload on the pilots while also giving them crucial information.
United States Air Force (USAF) also used this term a lot in the 1990s when participating in dogfights where they had to observe their opponent to determine its next move. With this information, the pilot could easily predict the movements of its opponent and use this to their advantage.
This model is a theoretical model on situational awareness that was developed by Dr. Mica Endsley which are widely used in aviation. She is also an engineer and scientist in the US airforce.Her model represents three steps that need to be taken to develop situational awareness, and it includes perception, comprehension, and projection.
This is the first step or can also refer to level 1 in achieving situational awareness. In this step, you will need to be aware of all the elements around you and their current state or condition.
Let’s use a bar as an example. If you walk into a bar, the first thing that you will do is to scan the area of all its elements. The elements will include all the people present, the tables, bartenders, the doors that lead to the bathroom and cleaning staff.
In regards to its condition, you will look at where the people are standing, whether they are drunk, what are they doing, etc. What is their current emotional state?
Are the people laughing or are they sitting in the corner feeling sorry for themselves? Is there any aggression?
This is the level 2 phase and involves the second step. In this step, you will evaluate all of the elements and its conditions that you detected in the first step. You already know the “WHAT” part of the equation but now you will ask yourself the “WHY” part.
Let me show you an example.
Let’s get back to the bar. Let’s say you spotted two men in the bar that are showing aggression to each other. You need to ask yourself what could have happened to which could have led to this situation.
Maybe the one guy stole something from the other one. Are women involved? Or are they just putting up a show?
Let’s stay you have spotted someone sitting alone in the corner. Maybe this person is waiting for someone else to arrive. Perhaps this person has an ulterior motive and planning for something insidious.
This part of situational awareness can also be called the third level or step. Now you are already aware of all the elements and their status. If some of the elements are out of balance, you already know what might have caused this imbalance.
This is not enough as you now need to determine the effect it will have on you and the environment through future predictions.
Here is an example.The two men in the bar are showing aggression, and you already determined that it revolves around a female. Now you need to ask yourself what is going to happen next.
Are they going to fight each other or resolve the problem like adults? Do you need to move to another table to avoid getting involved in this fist fight?
The guy that is sitting in the corner, what is he going to do next? Does he have explosives on him or a firearm? Is he harmless and do you need to do anything to avoid violence?
There are also a lot of other factors that can influence the Endsley’s model which involves the environment and individual factors. The complexity of the situation is a major environmental factor, while experience, goals, and knowledge are some of the most influential factors related to that of the individual.
Developing Situational Awareness (OODA Loop)
The OODA loop stands for Observing, Orient, Decide and Act. It was created by the United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. In this section, I am going to explain to you how to observe with the help of Cooper’s colors and other techniques along with tips on how to improve this process.
Then I will show you how to orient yourself by analyzing the information. I am also going to show you how to form a baseline to work from and what to look for when searching for anomalies.
a) Be Mindful And Observant
This section will be the first part or step in the OODA Loop. It is also where the first “O” comes from in OODA. The section on observing is where you need to collect as much data as possible.
You will observe your environment looking for potential threats that can pose as a danger. You can also observe the financial market if you are an options trader or use this observation step to get more information on the problem that you are facing.
Below, I will go deeper into the principles of observation.
Levels of observation (Cooper’s colors)
Coopers Colors will illustrate the different levels of observation that you should be aware of. There are currently five levels where each one will represent a level of focus and awareness. The colors range from white, yellow, orange, red and also black.
- White level – This is the lowest level, and it is, unfortunately, the level that most people fall under. This level represents almost no awareness or can also be stated as “switched off.” People that are distracted, asleep, under the influence of drugs or alcohol will fall under this level. I would not recommend you to be on this level.
- Yellow level – People that are on this lever are aware of their surroundings without showing any signs of panic. You are calm, collected and relaxed. In this level, you will be mindful of the people around you and their current mental state and body language and also your surroundings. This level is the most acceptable level in public and my recommendation.
- Orange level – When in this level, you will already notice that something is not right in your environment. It is also a heightened level of awareness when spotting danger. In this level, you will start to implement an evacuation plan or plan of action to deal with the threat. For let’s say you spot a person that has a suitcase full of explosives.
- Red level – When you have reached this level, the confrontation or fight is already on. You have verified a threat, and you are executing a response. You will also start to flee from the scene if the threat is of too much danger.
- Black level – You never want to be in this level because it involves panic and being in a coma. It is when your body and mind are overreacting to the current situation. You are also experiencing stress, and the situation is too much to handle for your psyche.
Your first scan
Have you ever noticed after you have entered a room that you will subconsciously scan the room? Most of us will do this, and it is an excellent habit to maintain.
There is only one problem.
Most of us do not focus on the right elements. Below, I will show you exactly what you should look for and as this process will not take more than 15 seconds.
– Look for exits, windows, and doors
The next time you enter a room, you should look for all of the exits. This can involve doors that are linked to the outside of the room, bathrooms and also rooms used by staff.
You should also try and spot windows. Go to the window and have a look outside to detect anything unusual. If anything happens, you will already have an escape route.
– Concentrate on spotting suspicious objects
You can look for suspicious objects such as firearms, knives or anything sharp. You should also look for unattended suitcases that might contain explosives.
Look for objects that are lying around or are being used by people.
– Suspicious individuals
It can sometimes be hard to detect them, but sometimes people will act in a way that will give themselves away. Look for people that are trying to cover their facial features and those that do not make any eye contact.
You can also easily spot people that are anxious and not at ease.
Avoid Focus Locks
A Focus Lock is something in our environment that draws all of our attention to it. It is a distraction that is so engaging that we lose track of all of the other elements around us.
An excellent example of a focus lock in a bar is an attractive woman that shows too much skin or wearing a red dress. All of the guys will lock their focus and attention to her.
Another example is a band that is performing that will also draw all of our attention. Cellphones are also good examples of a focus lock that will make you bump your toes against a table.
The only way to avoid a Focus Lock is by practicing. Make your observation on the element and move on to the next element. Give yourself a time limit on each element to avoid Focus Lock. It also takes a lot of discipline to implement and practice to develop the right habits.
There is also the phenomena called inattentional blindness which is when you do not even spot an event or an element that is in plain sight.
Have you ever searched your car keys only to realize that you were holding it the whole time?
The Federal Aviation Authority also implemented the sterile cockpit rule where you are not allowed to chat when the plane is flying low enough.
Watching your back
It is almost impossible to see what is happening behind you and it is not advised to turn your head continually. When you enter a room, you should make sure to sit or stand somewhere where your back is facing the wall.
If you are eating out somewhere in a restaurant, you can book a table that sits along a wall, and that is also close to an exit if possible. There is also the chance of someone that will hit you from behind. You will also be vulnerable to a rear naked choke.
Reflection is your friend
If you can’t find a wall to sit or stand against, the next best option is to look for reflective surfaces. These surfaces can include mirrors, windows, and walls covered by metal sheets.
If you walk down the busy streets within a city, you can also use reflective surfaces such as the windows of the buildings. This way, you can easily see what who is walking behind you and if they are too close to your comfort zone.
Find the best spot
The quality of your observation will be limited to what is visible to you. If you are in a room where you have limited view because of too many obstacles, then you will not be able to get enough information.
If you are entering a room, then you should choose a spot to sit or stand so that you can take in as many information as possible. Most restaurants or an area around your vicinity will have internal walls or large pots with plants that can obstruct your view.
As a rule, you should sit somewhere where you can at least have the main entrance in your sight. This way, you can continuously evaluate the flow of traffic, and you will also be closer to the main escape route.
Keep track of time
Events will continuously change where you will consistently need to cycle through the OODA Loop or Endsley’s Model. By keeping track of the time, you will also keep up with your schedule and knowing at which pace your environment is changing.
You will also be better equipped to change your schedule if something of significance has happened. I know that most people do not like to were a watch, so use your iPhone.
b) Orientation And Analyzing The Information
Now that you know how to scan the environment for all of its elements and also how to do it effectively, what is the next step?
You need to take the information and analyze it until you have a theory of what is going on. You also need to interpret the data accurately so that you know exactly what is going on.
If you have this information, then you can also accurately predict the future outcome of the events in your environment. But first, you need to have a baseline of what is normal.
Creating a baseline of what is normal
A Baseline can be defined as a homeostatic state in which an environment goes into when nothing of significance is going on.
Let me show you an example.
Let’s say you are walking down the street in the middle of the day. It is quiet, and the traffic is not very busy. There is also not a lot of people walking on the sidewalks.
This will be the baseline of what is standard in the area.
The day reaches 5 pm, and people that were working are now leaving their workplaces to go home. The traffic starts to increase, and the sidewalks are flooded with people. Taxi drivers are pushing their horns and road rage sets in.
The baseline has now shifted, and the environment is more active.
It is also important to note that it is only natural for the baseline to change during the day. This is why you need to keep track of time so you can know about these natural changes.
So when should you be worried?
When an anomaly has happened which has shifted the baseline and let me explain to you what an anomaly is.
An anomaly is an abnormality that does not fit with the rest of the pattern. For instance, if you are walking down the street and you see a person wearing a Jilbab or a clown suit, then that can be considered an anomaly. A change in the baseline will also give you more information to update your database.
Notice Dangerous Anomalies
In regards to attackers or muggers, you can look at some of the obvious anomalies that you should look out for. Sometimes you will see through their plan before they strike and you will also see in their body language what their real motives are.
– A Small group’s attention is on you.
If you are walking down a street or sitting somewhere peacefully and you notice a small group of people is heading straight for you then you should be cautious.
You will also see in their facial expression that they are focusing in on you. Usually, a group of people will chat and focus their attention on each other. If they are also breaking away from the normal pathway to your direction, then it is also something to look for.
– Requesting for Personal Assistance
This one is huge. What better way to disguise your motive than a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Some criminals will offer their assistance for such as helping you change a tire or helping to carry your grocery bags.
In return, you should tell them that you are okay and fine on your own. Criminals commonly use this tactic to either draw your attention away from danger or to get you somewhere alone.
– Study their hands
If someone is planning to attack, then you will notice that their hands are not visible. Their hands might be hidden in their pockets or inside their jacket. Criminals will rarely walk around with a weapon in one of their hands exposed.
They are trying to hide their hands because they do not want you to see that they have a weapon. They can either be holding a knife or a handgun.
Below is an interesting video on how to spot a suicide bomber or terrorist.
– They are hiding their face
Most grocery stores and public spaces make use of CCTV cameras for security reasons. Criminals know this and this why they will wear something on their head to cover their facial features.
Some will wear a hoodie, a jacket with long collars or even a hat to hide their face. They do not want to be identified when the police go over the recordings made by the cameras.
– Look at their body language
If you are about to commit a hideous crime then it will be difficult for you to keep your cool. You can easily see when a person is under pressure. They will start to sweat and will not act normal.
An attacker will try to avoid eye contact while some will make eye contact in short intervals. They will look you in the eyes for a split second and then quickly look away.
If an attacker is looking you straight in the eyes, then you should look for pupil dilation. This is an involuntary action that cannot be hidden. If a person is a heavy breather, then you can also look for rapid breathing which is also a signal for stress.
c) Deciding And Planning Out Your Response
Let’s say you have done everything right. You have mastered your observation and scanned the area around you. You also managed to create a baseline and noticed a dangerous anomaly that is sticking out its head.
What should you do now?
Well, there are a couple of things that you can do. Remember when I mentioned previously that you should look for exits during your first scan of the environment?
If you are in a grocery shop or on the street, you should try to great as much distance between you and the attacker or run to the closest exit.
If you are somewhere alone in an alley, then try to reach the nearest crowd. The last thing that you should do is to face your attacker head on. Do not try to be like Chuck Norris as your life is not worth it.
If you cannot create enough distance between you and your attacker and to fight back is your last resort, then kick your attacker where it hurts. It will also not hurt if you familiarize yourself with Krav Maga.
Awareness Drills, Games, and Exercises
In this section, I am going to reveal to you two games and exercises that you can do to help your situational awareness skills in front of a computer.
The best form of exercise is outside in real life situations where you can take a piece of paper and pen. Write everything down that you observe and follow through each of the steps revealed in the Endsley’s model and OODA loop.
I am going to show you the games below and what they can do to help you.
a) Kims game
This game is straightforward to follow as you only need to remember a couple of items. You can take up to 20 random items and place them on a table or mat.
Give yourself 60 seconds to memorize them in no particular order. After the 60 seconds are over, take a piece of paper and write down each of the items.
Once you have written them down, go back to the table and calculate how many you got right. The video above will illustrate how the game should be played and also gives you a practise run.
Your short term memory will take you a long way in developing your situational awareness.
b) Peripheral Vision Exercise
This type of vision is the part that occurs on the side of your field of view. Your peripheral vision is not that good at detecting detail but is much better at detecting movement.
Have you ever noticed something that happened so fast that it appeared as a glimpse in the corner of your eye?
By improving your Peripheral Vision, you will reduce your chance of missing any important information, and you will be more sensitive to movement.
Now you will be more aware of your surroundings than 99% of the general population. I went through the specific phases that make up situational awareness.
With this information, you will be one step ahead of danger which will give you enough time to plan and react. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions.