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8 Tips to Improve Situational Awareness


8 tips to improve situational awareness

How you can improve your safety and situational awareness


Have you ever felt a twinge down your spine, realizing that something feels "off" about a place or a person? That primal feeling is an example of human intuition influencing situational awareness, your brain's ability to process information from your surroundings and understand the potential for danger.

 

While often associated with high-risk professions, situational awareness is an essential skill for everyone. From navigating crowded streets to walking alone at night, being aware of your environment can meaningfully reduce your risk of encountering danger and empower you to respond effectively if necessary.

 

This article will explore 8 Tips to improve situational awareness, making you feel safer and more confident in your surroundings.



What is Situational Awareness?

 

Situational awareness is the ability to understand the elements of an environment and how it can affect your personal safety. This is a layman’s definition of the term and the one we’ll be using for this article. Overall, situational awareness is a vast study in human behavior that can become a life-long journey to master.

 

The reason that situational awareness is important is because we can read people, places, and vibes of an environment to draw reasonable conclusions that will help us understand if we are in danger and if so, what is our best course of action. Everyone has the ability to understand what’s going on around them, few are willing to fully embrace it. Now, let’s address 8 elements that can improve your situational awareness and keep you safe in your daily life.


8 Tips to Improve Your Situational Awareness

 

Situational Awareness Tip: Sitting with Your Back to the Door

 

For years my spider-sense tingled when I would go to a restaurant and sit down. If I didn’t sit where I could see the front door, then I felt off. There was this primal compulsion to know who was coming and going. If nothing else, I needed to be able to see the front door to detect trouble before it started. But the issue with this is, that trouble does not always come from the front door.

 

In an interview with Greg Williams and Brian Marren of Arcadia Cognerati, Greg explained to me that danger can come from anywhere in a restaurant. Case in point, in my area a few years ago two fast food co-workers got into a heated argument. One left and retrieved a weapon from his car and fatally shot the other. If I had been there and only focused on the door, then I might have missed the fatal encounter that was developing in the kitchen.

 

Instead of only focusing on the door as the potential point of danger in a restaurant, open your thinking up to see the entire environment. Tunnel vision on a perceived trouble spot will not do you any good, see what’s going on around you instead of prescribing to preconceived notions.

Bonus Situational Awareness Tip:  When observing any room, a person who seems particularly focused on the front door is someone to observe. They could be a law enforcement officer, or someone concerned about what they are about to do. The answer lies on more observations.

 

Situational Awareness Tip: How Time Changes an Environment

 

As humans, we want to feel safe and comfortable where we are. Of course, there are times and places when we don’t feel this way. Many times, we work to quiet our intuition by deeming a location as “safe”. What we may not factor in is how the time of day affects locations.

 

For example, at 9:00 am on a Tuesday a city park may be full of parents letting their toddlers play. This is a relatively safe time to be in this location. At 9:00 pm that same day, the park is dark and can create the right circumstances for illegal activity. Then at 9:00 am on Saturday, the same park could be crowded with protesters who are about to march on city hall. The location has not changed, but how people use it has.


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Time influences how people act in environments. During the day when the sun is up, crime may be less likely to occur, but the park is more populated. At night, illicit activities can occur when there are fewer people around. The takeaway is that the park is safe, but only at certain times of the day. In thinking across decades, environments once deemed safe can become less safe as law-abiding citizens move away and crime increases.

 

Situational Awareness Tip: Decision Making

 

Being situationally aware is not enough. Situational awareness alone will not save you. Seeing a punch coming before it reaches your face will not save you from a broken nose. Your ability to read the situation and act, will.

 

Another tip I’ve picked up from Greg Williams and Brian Marren is B + A = D. This safety equation is used when we need to be proactive in observing our environment for threats.

 

B + A = D simply stands for baseline plus anomaly equals decision.

A baseline is the feeling of an environment. In short, it’s the vibe of a place. In our equation, A stands for an anomaly. Just like you may expect an anomaly is when something is different. Anomalies can be positive and negative. And don’t mistake positive for good and negative for bad it just means something is different beyond the normal baseline.


And the D stands for decision. Once you determined the baseline for an environment and you’ve observed an anomaly it’s time for you to make a decision. Once we determine that an anomaly is significant enough for us to be concerned about our safety, we must decide and act. For civilians, the first decision should be should we stay, or should we go?


Once the problem has been solved for D, don’t second guess yourself. If you think the anomaly in the environment is a threat or could escalate to a threat, then it’s best to leave.


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Situational Awareness Tip: Multitasking is a Myth


Contrary to popular belief, true multitasking is generally not possible with the human brain. While it may seem like we're juggling multiple tasks at once, in reality, our brains are more like rapid switchers, focusing on one task at a time and then quickly shifting to another.


We are not doing two activities at once. We are simply starting and stopping those tasks rapidly. Some of us may be good at it, others not so much.


With this in mind, our awareness of safety cannot be left to the myth of multitasking. We have to give our brains ample time and power to see what is really going on in an environment. Looking at our smartphones will switch our brains to focus on our email, not the lone man who walked in the door with a trench coat on a 98° day. We will miss the anomalies in the baseline.


Many times criminals look for the distracted person on their smartphone to target for a robbery. Even they know you are not paying attention. Their success rate will be much higher. This new knowledge will help you prioritize your behavior in public.  


Situational Awareness Tip: Chosen Clothing


One of the more fascinating elements of reading environments and human behavior is chosen clothing. This is the observation and interpretation of why others are wearing what they are. Our observations may not always be correct, but reasonable conclusions can be drawn as to the intent of the individual based on what they are wearing.  


A classic example of this comes from the movie Runaway Bride. In the movie poster, Julia Roberts is a bride wearing running shoes. Normally brides wear extravagant shoes to match their wedding gowns. Their biggest concern is whether the shoes match and if they can walk down the aisle in them. But Robert’s character chooses to wear running shoes because she may have second thoughts and sprint away from the alter, fleeing her impending marital agreement. A bride in running shoes is a red flag for the groom.


In an environment like a construction site, it is expected to see workers in safety vests, hard hats, and boots. The man in a suit and tie with a hard hat is an anomaly. Most likely you can conclude he is not a worker, but maybe a person of importance to the site. His intent is not to perform manual labor, but he is there anyway. More observation is needed to draw a reasonable conclusion as to who he is.


Situational Awareness Tip: How Fatigue Affects Awareness


Fatigue, whether physical or mental, can significantly impair our decision-making abilities. One way is our decreased ability to spot potential anomalies in an environment. The more fatigue we experience, the less likely we are to spot danger before it starts.

Similar to a phone battery running low, fatigue depletes the brain's resources needed for complex cognitive tasks like decision-making such as situational awareness. It becomes harder to concentrate on relevant signals and filter out distractions, making it difficult to thoroughly evaluate our environment.


In some cases, people experiencing fatigue may exhibit a heightened risk aversion. This means they are more likely to avoid making any decisions, even if it means missing out on potential dangers. I can personally attest to this. I’ve been so tired that I know my awareness level is low and I have to adjust my behavior to do the best I can with the energy I have.


These combined effects can significantly impact the quality of our decisions when we are fatigued. When we know this, we can adjust our behavior. A quick nap or eating a meal can improve our situational awareness and help us to make safer choices.


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Situational Awareness Tip: It's Not The Worst-Case Scenario


When studying situational awareness especially as I started, my mind would automatically rush to the worst-case scenario. I feel that this is typical for many people who are starting to learn situational awareness and understanding human behavior.


Situational awareness is not paranoia even though it can feel like that in the beginning. During a three-day intensive training course with Greg Williams and Brian Marren of Arcadia Cognerati, I learned the distinct difference between the most likely course of action (MLCOA) and the most dangerous course of action (MDCOA).


When determining the intent of a person in a developing situation, it’s important not to rush to conclusions. More information is always a good thing as long as it does not prohibit you from action. Filtering your observations through what is most likely going to happen versus the worst-case scenario can help you make better observations and draw better conclusions for action.


Don’t assume that you know everything and that everywhere you go an active shooter situation is brewing. Filter your observations and take the perspective of others to make a better determination of what is really going on and if it affects you.  


Situational Awareness Tip: Family Safety Phrase

 

Understanding situational awareness as an individual is a great skill. When you are responsible for your spouse and your children, situational awareness must go beyond your boundaries and extend to theirs.

 

An anomaly that may not bother you may greatly bother your wife. It's important to understand her perspective and determine the safest course of action for your family. You can also not assume that everyone is going to see and interpret the environment the same way that you are. What is obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.

 

Also, situational awareness for a family requires more effort and greater action. When noticing an anomaly in the baseline an individual can respond quickly. It will take much more effort to communicate the issue to a group, explain a plan, and then execute that plan.

 

Develop a safety phrase to help expedite action. A safety phase is simply a phrase you determine with your family that will instantly let them know they need to focus on you, listen, and follow your instructions. Examples of safety phrases are city names, football plays, and street names. These may not organically arise in conversation, they are understood by all as a queue to listen and then act.

 

Conclusion: Tips to Improve Your Situational Awareness

 

Developing and honing your situational awareness is an investment in your personal safety and well-being. By actively engaging your sense-making, interpreting your surroundings, and anticipating potential hazards, you empower yourself to navigate everyday life with greater confidence and preparedness.

 

Remember, even small adjustments to your daily routine, like silencing your phone in unfamiliar environments or being mindful of your fatigue, can significantly enhance your awareness and potentially prevent dangerous situations. By taking these steps, you can move through the world with a sharpened focus, ready to respond effectively and confidently to whatever life throws your way. Stay safe!


Watch Everyday Situational Awareness Tips on YouTube



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Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.

 

Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

 

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