Oct 12

How Much Situational Awareness Do You Need?

Last night my wife and I went out to eat at our favorite Mexican Restaurant.  I was sitting about 20 feet from the door and knew the exact number of people in the room at any given time.  I knew when individuals (or families) came and left, which server walked with a slight limp and thus made him less of a threat, and I observed that the guy who was in the corner booth had probably had at least 2 margaritas too many (or was he faking it?).  Before I even went into the restaurant I drove the parking lot twice and checked the delivery area in the back and I made sure to “go to the bathroom” once to check toilet reservoirs for hidden devices in zip loc baggies.

If you believe all that you probably think I’m obsessed with James Bond or that I’m just plain crazy.  The reality is I sat down and started crushing some awesome chips and (fresh) salsa then proceeded to throw down on some arroz con pollo with extra cheese drizzled all over the top.  I chatted with my wife and even checked my phone for messages occasionally.  I did in fact sit where I could observe the entrance but beyond that I simply paid attention to what was going on around me.  Quite the polar opposite from what I described in the first paragraph and although I was joking I’m betting there are some guys out there who do actually take their situational awarness (SA) to that extreme.  Good for them I say, but for most of us that simply isn’t necessary.

Of course there are always two ends of the spectrum, those who believe they are James Bond and those who go through life daily with their face permanently attached to their mobile device, completely oblivious to the world going on around them.

The man drew the gun several times on the crowded San Francisco commuter train, with surveillance video showing him pointing it across the aisle without anyone noticing and then putting it back against his side, according to authorities.

The other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn’t notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student, authorities said.

So how much SA do we really need?  Well the answer to that is sort of ambiguous:  It depends.  Right now I’m sitting on the couch in my basement with a huge dog next to me, he is munching on my wife’s sock (I’m not supposed to let him do that) and I’m on coffee #3.  My SA is pretty low as I’m very familiar with these surroundings and it happens to be early on a Saturday morning in suburbia.  Last night my SA was up a few notches, even though we were in a familiar restaurant with staff who we knew I recognized none of the other patrons.  I made it a point to enjoy my meal and time with my wife but also included the occasional glance at the door to see who was coming in.  I should also mention I took a brief glance around the room before sitting down just to visually assess the situation, it took about 5 seconds and that was that.

There have been other times when my SA was ratcheted up to higher levels, late night bathroom breaks at rest stops on the interstate being one of them.   Crowded movie theaters and outdoor festivals also come to mind as times where I pay a bit more attention to my surroundings than I normally would.  I still don’t go into 007 mode but I do scan the crowd and try to refrain from checking messages, I also try not to put myself in a position where I could become boxed in.  An example of this would be not sitting in the middle of a theater but rather next to the aisle, which would hopefully alleviate getting trampled should the unthinkable happen.

Here’s the bottom line, just pay attention to your surroundings and keep an eye out for the unusual, things (or people) which look out of place with respect to the environment you are in.  That guy talking to himself in an angry manner in the back of the bus?  Other people will pretend he isn’t there and hope he gets off at the next stop.  You will most definitely keep an eye on him.  That person who sat a nice looking backpack down near a festival booth and simply walked away?  That might be a problem and something you should bring up to the local authorities.  Most of these glaring issues manifest themselves in plain sight but most people are too oblivious to reality to notice or care.

Pay attention, maintain whatever level of SA you deem necessary for the given environment and you’ll be doing much better than most of the population who live for the next refresh on their mobile device’s screen.


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  1. I pay particular attention to people when I’m in a crowded area, whether it’s a restaurant or outdoor gatherings. In society today we have those that play the games of; one punch knock out (or whatever they call it), snatch the cell phone and run or any number of assault, robbery, or violent act. Are we to be paranoid or just observant/? I say observant to anything out of the ordinary is fine.

  2. Great post really useful info

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    • grammyprepper on October 16, 2013 at 11:00 PM
    • Reply

    I am a cops daughter, I NEVER sit in a public place with my back to the door…My DH is more SA than I am but it’s always in the back of my mind…between the two of us, we are on top of this…hope it helps us down the road, i think it will

      • PJ on October 16, 2013 at 11:42 PM
      • Reply

      Glad you are of a like mindset. My wife and I went out for breakfast today and she tried sitting in the chair facing the door, I had to ask her to move to the other side. I guess both of us realized that sitting with our back to the door is indeed an uncomfortable situation.

    • The Maj on October 17, 2013 at 2:30 PM
    • Reply

    I treat most of my SA like trying to outrun the bear joke. I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun one of my buddies. I know, it sounds silly, but there are plenty of sheep out there perfectly willing and happy to keep absolutely no SA about them. Typically, in most situations that anyone will encounter, maintaining a level of SA just above the sheep will cause a common criminal to move on to the next (easier) target. So, not sitting next to a door in the restaurant, having a clear view of the entrance, glancing around occasionally, etc will typically be enough to keep you out of trouble.

    About the only time you may need that 007 sense of SA is when you know someone is out to get you or you happen to be entering a high crime area.

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