Eyes Wide Open: Using Situational Awareness to Avoid Trouble (2023)

Recently, my cousin and I were sitting in an Italian restaurant having lunch. It was warm outside, so I was surprised to see they had the front door open with the air conditioning on. As we were enjoying our lunch, I noticed several young males hanging around outside the front entrance. They were all wearing hooded jersey sweatshirts, which I thought was odd because it was so warm out. These are the kinds of things you notice when you practice situational awareness.

Safety Through Situational Awareness

My Aunt had recently been admitted to a nearby nursing home. So, I was engrossed in conversation with my cousin, remembering the good old days. But I could not keep my eye off those guys.

They were not acting friendly with one another and seemed to look around a lot, nervously talking on their phones. I felt uneasy, so I decided we should get up and pay the cashier and leave the restaurant immediately instead of waiting for the check. It’s a good thing, as I found out later that the restaurant was robbed about an hour after we left.

According to recent FBI statistics, there were 1.2 million violent crimes committed in the United States in 2018. (The FBI defines violent crimes as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault). That boils down to about 369 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants.

And among the various types of violent crime reported in the United States, aggravated assault (assault with a deadly weapon) is the most common. In 2018,the crime rate (the number of reported instances per 100,000 inhabitants) was 246.8 for aggravated assault.

But not to worry. There is plenty you can do to protect yourself, and lower your risk of becoming a statistic. A great first step is to develop the fine art of situational awareness.

What is Situational Awareness?

According to Gary Quesenberry, author of the book Spotting Danger Before It Spots You, situational awareness is the ability to identify and process environmental cues to accurately predict the actions of others.

(Video) Eyes Wide Open - Situational Awareness

“You cannot fight what you don’t see coming,” explains Quesenberry.

Quesenberry is also a Federal Air Marshall and has been featured on the History Channel’s Top Shot program.

“Without situational awareness, you’re always going to be reactive. So, if something goes down in front of you that you are unaware of, your reaction times are going to be significantly decreased because you were not cognizant of your surroundings.

“In a violent situation, not only seconds count, but milliseconds count. So, if you want to give yourself the best opportunity to survive a violent encounter, you have to have the situational awareness piece in place first.”

In his book, Quesenberry makes the point that situational awareness is a full-time job. Tim Schmidt, president and founder of the United States Conceal Carry Association, agrees.

“Situational awareness is a lifestyle,” says Schmidt.

“It has to be a conscious choice that you make to take responsibility for the things that you can observe and control in the world around you. This includes constantly mitigating risks and mentally preparing for threats, such as always looking for the safest exits, identifying possible dangers, and pre-planning your response if something bad should happen.”

(Video) Navy SEAL Teaches Situational Awareness | Tactical Rifleman

Experiencing a Self-Defense Awakening

Schmidt adds that the first step to developing a general sense of situational awareness is to experience a self-defense awakening.

“It all starts when you awaken to the fact that there are very real threats in this world, and you are personally responsible for the safety and security of the people you love. After that, you need to recognize that you absolutely do have the power to be a protector. I went through exactly that when my first son was born, and that’s why I established the USCCA.”

Look In The Mirror

The first step is to look at yourself the way a predator will examine you. Do you look and act like a soft or a hard target?

“People will be considered hard targets when they appear aware of their surroundings, carry themselves with confidence, and look like they could handle themselves in a fight,” says Quesenberry.

“If you’re out and about, always keep your head up and look around often. Don’t look down at your phone, and don’t wear headphones or earplugs. That’s a sure way to cut yourself off from your surroundings.”

When researchers videotaped people walking through a busy intersection in New York City, they later showed the tape to inmates who were incarcerated for violent crimes. They asked the inmates to rate the pedestrians on a scale of one to 10. One is an easy target, and 10 is a hard target.

The inmates rated the following body language characteristics as being a soft target:

(Video) Daily Situational Awareness Brief for Friday, 26 May 2023

  • Short, shuffling strides
  • Not swinging their arms in proportion with their stride
  • Exaggerated side-to-side movement when walking
  • Head facing at a downward angle

Conversely, the inmates rated the following body language characteristics as being a hard target:

  • Medium to long stride
  • Arms swinging in proportion to their stride
  • Body movement in vertical alignment; appeared as a strong and determined walking pattern
  • Head level and eyes visible when walking

The Golden Rule

“Don’t go anywhere with your gun you wouldn’t go without it,” says Schmidt.

“If you feel like you might be in danger, you probably are. The hair on the back of your neck doesn’t lie. Don’t meet the attacker halfway by taking a shortcut down a deserted alley or parking in a dark, isolated area. Never start thinking that you don’t need to avoid potentially dangerous areas or situations simply because you carry a gun.”

According to Schmidt, predators look for easy prey. After they see a potential mark, predators want to see if they can move in to strike without being noticed.

“The best way to ensure you are not the victim of a sudden assault is to make sure you notice who is noticing you,” explains Schmidt.

“Has someone taken more than a passing interest in you? Does that person appear to be following you? If you change directions, does he or she mimic your moves? It’s a harsh reality that if you look like prey and act like prey, you increase your chances of being preyed upon. Own the spaces around you.”

Whenever you enter an area, use “what-if scenarios” to rehearse your reactions to bad situations.

(Video) Security Advisers Guide to Situational Awareness: 3 Techniques To Use From Warzones To The Office

“By imagining various scenarios as we move through our environments and visualizing the possible outcomes, we better prepare ourselves to act should the need arise,” explains Quesenberry.

“Remember to include solutions that address all three elements of personal safety, which are avoidance, de-escalation, and confrontation. Of those three, avoidance is the best way to stay safe 100% of the time.”

Escape Plan

No matter where you are, whether you are at home, in your car, at work, shopping, or out with family and/or friends—KNOW YOUR NEAREST EXITS.

“Learn to look at your surroundings like a detective,” advises Schmidt.

“Would that building window actually be a good escape in an emergency? If you already know you have a door or window that works as an exit before an attack happens, you are one step ahead of where you would have been.”

It’s also a good idea to make note of where tables and chairs are. Just in case you have to throw a piece of furniture through the window to escape or use the item to protect yourself against the threat.

For more information on situational awareness, check out the following books:

(Video) Why You Must Maintain SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

  • Spotting Danger Before It Spots You, by Gary Quesenberry
  • The Crucial Advantage, by Steve Tarani
  • Sheep No More: The Art of Awareness and Attack Survival, by Jonathan T. Gilliam
  • The Green Beret Survival Guide: Advice on Situational Awareness, Personal Safety, Recognizing Threats, and Avoiding Terror & Crime

This article originally appeared in the June/July Gun Annual 2022 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Get your copy today atOutdoorGroupStore.com.


What are the 3 ways to look to maintain situational awareness? ›

7 Ways to Practice Situational Awareness
  • Be mindful. Practice being 'in the moment' - when you are cognisant of your surroundings, your senses are all fully engaged. ...
  • Identify exits. ...
  • Watch people without staring. ...
  • Notice nonverbal cues. ...
  • Limit distractions. ...
  • Trust your gut feeling. ...
  • Be strategic.
Mar 10, 2021

What are the 3 stages of situational awareness? ›

The three stages of situational awareness:
  • Information gathering – know the typical sources of information available.
  • Understanding information – be able to interpret the information gathered.
  • Anticipation – be able to anticipate how an incident will develop and change.

What are the 4 levels of situational awareness? ›

There are four main characteristics of situational awareness including observation, orientation, decision, and action. Observation involves constantly monitoring the people and actions taking place around you.

What are the 5 elements of situational awareness? ›

To illustrate the importance of situational awareness training, let's review how it plays a role in each of the five essential responses of ALICE Training®, which can be used in any order: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. Being fully aware of one's surroundings is at the heart of situational awareness.

What is the situational awareness strategy? ›

Here is a strategic planning definition: Situational awareness involves knowing where you are and being aware of what is happening in your environment, in order to better understand how information, events, and one's own actions will impact both immediate and future outcomes.

What are the key points of situational awareness? ›

Situational awareness involves three elements which are observation, comprehension, and anticipation. You observe what is happening around you and take in all the elements of your environment.

What are the two main elements of situational awareness? ›

The formal definition of SA is often described as three ascending levels: (1) perception of the elements in the environment, (2) comprehension or understanding of the situation, and (3) projection of future status.

What is situational awareness in simple terms? ›

Situational awareness is knowing where you are and what is going on around you, allowing individuals and organizations to be more alert and informed and to make better decisions. For organizations, this includes awareness about personnel location and assigned duties, the environment, and any potential risks.

What are the six barriers to situational awareness? ›

Human Factor Barriers to Situational Awareness
  • Radio traffic.
  • Conflict.
  • Previous errors.
  • Collateral duties.
  • Incident within an incident.

What are the six domains of situational awareness? ›

"We say every Soldier is a sensor. The lessons taught in ASAT can have a positive and lasting effect on combat readiness." The behavior-profiling skills taught within the program are based on six key domains: heuristics, geographics, proxemics, biometrics, atmospherics and kinesics.

What is the highest level of situational awareness? ›

Level 3 SA: Prediction of future status This is the highest level of situational awareness and is associated with the ability to project the future of the elements in the environment (e.g. projected potential aircraft conflicts).

Why do people lack situational awareness? ›

Situation awareness may be lost because of fatigue, distractions, stressful situations, high workload, vigilance failures, poorly presented information, forgetting key information and poor mental models. Optimising these (and other influences on human performance) is central to the human factors approach.

Which is the best example of situational awareness? ›

What is situational awareness? Most employees think being aware just means paying attention. For example, it might be mean watching for hot pots and pans in food service. A delivery truck driver might be careful to park somewhere safe before unloading.

What are the methods of awareness? ›

19 ways to create awareness and generate leads
  • Improve brand recognition.
  • Generate word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Retarget your prospects with ads.
  • Gain attention from the media.

How do you deal with someone who lacks self-awareness? ›

Provide caring and honest feedback. Whether they want to change or not, you can still make them aware of their faults. Of course, there's no need to belittle or harshly criticize people who lack self-awareness. Instead, discuss with them privately how their behavior is affecting others.

What is another term for situational awareness? ›

An on-going process of gathering information by observation and by communication with others. This information is integrated to create an individual's perception of a given situation. synonym: Situation Awareness.

What is an example of situational awareness at work? ›

Examples of situational awareness in the workplace

Here are some examples of situational awareness on the job: Truck drivers need to watch out for hazards that could lead to an accident, such as inclement weather, unsafe drivers in surrounding lanes, or debris on the road.

What is an example of situational monitoring? ›

Ask: What are some of the ways you monitor the situation on your unit or in your department? Examples: Assessing the resident's condition, noting malfunctioning equipment, and being aware of workload spikes and stress levels among team members.

What is an example of a situational barrier? ›

Situational barriers. Working adults are often confronted with significant barriers to participating in learning opportunities as they juggle multiple responsibilities and family obligations. When surveyed, working adults expressed concerns about transportation, family needs, and financial constraints. Transportation.

What are barriers to situational awareness? ›

Barriers to situational awareness: Perception based on faulty information processing. Complacency. Overload.

Is lack of situational awareness a root cause? ›

Is a lack of situational awareness a root cause? The short answer is no.

Are you born with situational awareness? ›

Situational awareness is not something a person is born with. It is a skill that is developed through repetition, focus, and consistent use of hazard analysis. Simply put, situational awareness is knowing what is going on around you.

Is situational awareness a strength? ›

Situational awareness requires outward focus, listening, observing, and consideration of the dynamics of the situation as well as an inward awareness to manage our strengths and struggles to be the most effective. SA is always crucial to the art of leadership, and the stakes can be high.

What are the 3 elements that form the core situational awareness in security? ›

Summary. Situational Awareness (SA) is the ability to recognize and understand a situation or environment and identify possible threats. SA consists of three levels: Perception, Comprehension, and Forecasting.

How do you maintain situational awareness in aviation? ›

Improving Situational Awareness
  1. Predict The Future. Think ahead of the airplane. ...
  2. Identify Threats. Monitor, detect and recognize the events and factors that pose risk to your flight. ...
  3. Trust Your Gut. ...
  4. Minimize Task Overload. ...
  5. Avoid Complacency. ...
  6. Fight Fatigue. ...
  7. Perform Constant SA Assessments.
May 17, 2017

What are the three 3 fundamental security requirements? ›


Regardless of security policy goals, one cannot completely ignore any of the three major requirements—confidentiality, integrity, and availability—which support one another.

What are the main three 3 objectives of security? ›

Included in this definition are three terms that are generally regarded as the high-level security objectives – integrity, availability, and confidentiality.

What is the 3 major aspect of security? ›

Confidentiality, integrity and availability together are considered the three most important concepts within information security. Considering these three principles together within the framework of the "triad" can help guide the development of security policies for organizations.

How do you maintain situational awareness in the workplace? ›

8 Expert Situational Awareness Safety Tips for the Workplace
  1. Adopt a structured situational awareness framework. ...
  2. Stay focused. ...
  3. Watch for fatigue. ...
  4. Be vigilant. ...
  5. Encourage clear and thorough communication. ...
  6. Use visual and auditory signaling devices. ...
  7. Have an exit strategy. ...
  8. Practice and reinforce situational awareness.
Sep 27, 2022


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