Thursday, May 21, 2015

What is Situational Awareness?

I listed "Situational Awareness" as one of the top ten skills that you really need to survive in a previous post. In this post, I will explain exactly what situational awareness is, and how you can develop your situational awareness.

What is Situational Awareness? 

Scott Stewart of  Statfor.com defines situational awareness as "being aware of one's surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations." That is an okay definition as for as it goes, but is primarily limited to immediate (in both time and location), physical and external threats.

A better definition of situational awareness should incorporate the concept of "environmental scanning" from the business world (especially public relations).  BusinessDictionary.com defines environmental scanning as "careful monitoring of an organization's internal and external environments for detecting early signs of opportunities and threats that may influence its current and future plans."

This definition looks for opportunities as well as threats. It expands the scope beyond the immediate, to include developing trends that may lead to future threats and opportunities. It includes not just danger from physical threats, but other threats (political, financial, etc.) as well. Finally, it adds the idea of not just looking at the external situation, but also the internal situation.

A Mindset, not a Skill Set

Situational awareness is more of an attitude - a mindset, rather than a skill set. It is something you need to consciously do on a continuous basis as you go about your normal day-to-day activities. Make it a habit.

There is no need for special training or specialized skills.  What is need is thoughtfulness of purpose, rather than distraction, and a willingness to pay attention and to trust your instincts (if a situation doesn't feel right, it probably isn't right). 

Realize that you need to be aware of your surroundings everywhere you go. Don't let your guard down just because you are somewhere you feel safe. Bad things don't just happen in bad neighborhoods, but can happen in good neighborhoods as well.

Know what is "normal" for where you are and what's going on around you. Pay close attention to anything that is outside the expected normal. Observe what is going own around you, and evaluate it against what you would expect to be happening.

Part of observing is being able to actually see what is going own. Position yourself to be able to see what is happening around you. This may mean seating with your back to a wall rather than turning your back on the room. It may mean seating where you can observe doors and windows. It means parking in a well-light, highly visible spot. It means avoiding dark alleys.

Don't get so focused on something (your smart phone, your I-Pod, a conversation, reading a book while waiting, that attractive lady in a mini-skirt, or whatever) that you tune out everything else going on around you. This is sometimes called focus-lock.  

Micro and Macro

There are two types of situational awareness - the micro and the macro. Both are should be practiced. Micro looks at your immediate surroundings (your neighborhood & community, your workplace, the store you're in, the people around you, the parking lot, the road you're driving on, and so forth). Macro looks at the bigger picture, such as local, regional, national and international events that may affect you in some way.

Micro: As you go about your day, maintain awareness of your physical surroundings. This is the people and activity where you are at the moment. Don't get so involved with your smart phone or I-Pod that you ignore what is going on around you. Stay aware of your immediate surroundings and any potential risks and threats. Are you parking in a highly visible, well-light location near the entrance to minimize chances of ambush & muggings?

Pay attention to the people around you and what they are doing. Is anyone acting suspicious or nervous? Is anyone loitering, or otherwise looks out-of-place? Are you making yourself a target by wearing expensive, flashy clothes & accessories, or driving an expensive car? Before getting out of a car or walking out of a building, do you look out a window first to identify possible dangers?

Macro: Stay informed of the news (local, national, global). Know your elected officials in Washington, and keep up with what they are doing. Especially pay attention to the flow of money - who are their donors?, who benefits from their efforts?, how are they spending your money? How will any pending legislation affect you? Same goes for your elected officials on the state and local level.

Know your community and how it works: Who are its local politicians, important bureaucrats, community leaders? What are the local power & water sources? How well do you know the roads in and around your community? (hint: you shouldn't need GPS or google maps to find your way around where you live without getting lost.) Do you know the "bad areas" of town to avoid? Pay close attention to economic and business news. How well is your company and industry doing? (Layoffs are never really a surprise to those paying close attention.)  Do you know how safe & stable your bank and insurance companies are? Pay attention to their bottom lines and management shake-ups to avoid nasty surprises. 

How Might It Affect Me?

When looking for future threats, ask yourself:  How might it affect me?

For example, if you here about a new shopping center to be built near your neighborhood, ask How will that new shopping center affect me? Answers might be positive - such as shorter shopping trips, more employment opportunities, and increased home value. And, the answers might  be negative, such as more traffic, higher crime, or more pollution.

Think about how the actions of the local government, such as annexations and changes in zoning laws, might affect you.

Also, consider the how changing economic conditions in your area might affect you. A local factory closing and laying off 100s of people might affect you in many ways even if you don't work there. Think through how the actions of others (government, businesses, people) might affect you.

Don't Forget the Internal

We mostly think of threats coming from outside, but often threats come from within ourselves. How is your health - physical and emotional? Are you gaining weight? Losing fitness? Developing health problems? Developing addictions or bad habits? Notice your eyesight getting worse? Are you maintaining your current job skills?  Are you learning the new job skills you need? Are you sinking into credit card debt? When is the last time your went to the gun range? Are you as good a shot as you used to be? When is the last time you had a first aid refresher course? Situational awareness needs to include an honest appraisal of yourself.

Don't forget about your stuff. Be aware of any developing problems with your home or vehicle. Are you going to need a new roof anytime soon? Are the batteries in your smoke detector getting weak? Are your car's brakes starting to squeak? 

A Few Tips from my #DailyTips Series

#DailyTip 43 – Pay attention to your surroundings. Be wary of people who look out-of-place, are loitering, or who act nervous.

#DailyTip 44 – Before getting out of a car or walking out of a building, look out a window first to identify possible dangers.

#DailyTip 45 – Always be alert to what is going on around you. Danger can pop up quickly and unexpectedly.

#DailyTip 46 – Don't get so involved with your smart phone or I-Pod that you ignore your surroundings. Always be alert.

#DailyTip 47 – Be careful who you let into your life & share your plans with. Friendship & trust should never be given lightly
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