Situational Awareness has a number of definitions, from the rather complex to the “simple”. They include:
- The process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it. (Being observant of one’s surroundings and dangerous situations is more an attitude or mindset than it is a hard skill.)
- The ability to maintain a constant, clear mental picture of relevant information and the tactical situation including friendly and threat situations as well as terrain.
- Knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do.
- What you need to know not to be surprised.
This comes to mind because of my recent reading of your novel, “Patriots“. (An excellent book. A must have for any “prepper”.) The book is primarily about a group of people who joined together to survive in the “days after”. The daily requirements of surviving in times of roving bands of criminals and martial law enforcers were covered rather forcefully. Many of the challenges they faced required an armed response, and situational awareness was often discussed. For the kinds of situations in which the “Patriot” folks found themselves, the extremely helpful explanations of such matters as OPSEC and LP/OPs are very helpful to anyone facing what is soon coming for many of us. As the book describes, situational awareness is absolutely vital to survival and success in our near future.
But, while situational awareness is most commonly thought of as a conflict skill, there are also other kinds of situational awareness. On Yahoo Groups, there is a discussion group about surviving in the days after. One of the most prolific writers has several times recently warned the readers to “Get out of the cities now !”. He’s even suggested moving to very unpopulated areas and using wood pallets to erect shacks. IMHO, this is a suggestion that will cause many people great harm. Folks, with little or no preparations, suddenly moving to the land to escape the “Golden Horde“, will likely fail or die. Just reading the stories of the many pioneers who moved west, will quickly sober you up from any “can do/don’t know” thinking.
I have lived nearly all my life on a farm. I have developed a deep knowledge of the land. It has come at the great expense of many missteps, failures, successes, hard work and time. I call it having situational awareness of the environment. I know what certain kinds of clouds mean when forecasting tomorrow’s weather. I know that the vine-like plants with three shiny leaves aren’t so good to eat or touch. I know a dead snake can still bite. People just coming to the land for the first time will have little of that knowledge.
For untold years and many generations, the knowledge of how to live on the land and be self-sufficient was passed down thru families. In farm country, school was often found at the back fence. If you or your Grandfather didn’t know something, the farmer next door often did. I remember many times in my youth when I’d be out working the land and the guy next door would be out on his. Often as not, we’d stop and stand by the line fence and talk. …And I learned lots. But, now, much of this passing on of knowledge is lost. Farmers more commonly sit 12 feet in the air, driving an air conditioned combine, following the turns suggested by the GPS receiver on the dash. Your parents most likely worked in a factory or a shop, than on a farm. What was common family knowledge just a couple generations ago, such as maple syrup making, canning, gardening, butchering, animal husbandry, etc., etc., is gone. The “chain” is broken. Without this great deal of passed on knowledge and experience, nearly any farm endeavor can, and often will, lead to unexpected disaster.
This is where Situational Awareness comes in. “The need to know, so as not to be surprised.” The list is endless, but for starters:
- Knowing the good bugs from the bad in the garden
- Knowing fresh horse manure will kill a garden, fresh chicken m. will help
- Knowing only 3 or 4 ounces of yew leaves–a common landscape plant in much of the US–can kill a horse
- Knowing how to split wood so that the axe won’t glance off and chop your leg
- Knowing that burning certain kinds of wood in your wood stove means you need to clean the chimney twice a winter so you don’t burn down your house [with a chimney fire]
- Knowing the nice, fresh, clean, free flowing, mountain stream may be full of giardia.
- Knowing that, when plowing with a horse, you should never tie the reins together and put them around behind your back so your hands are free to handle the plow. (This was the way it was done in the novel “Dies the Fire” [by S.M. Stirling). If your horse happens to shy and takes off running, you will be dragged along the ground and be seriously hurt. The proper way to plow is with the reins over one shoulder and under the other. Then, if your horse runs, you just duck your head and the reins slide off.
- Knowing that crows in the garden are bad because they eat the new planted seeds, but crows around your chicken coop are good because they keep away the hawks that will eat your chickens.
- Knowing that if your tractor suddenly starts making a new sound, this is not good. Stop immediately and figure out what’s going on, before something breaks.
- Learning to look around you when walking, instead of only staring at the ground for your next step, (as most people do).
And on it goes. I have lived decades on the land. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t learn something. But even with all my handed down knowledge and hard-fought experiences, I’m not even sure I could make a go of suddenly heading out to the “country” to build a cabin and barn, till the soil, cut fire wood, store food for man and beast, and more. It’s just awful hard without lots of prep’s. And I can tell you, without an extensive knowledge of what the “environment” around you is telling you, it’s darn near impossible. …(Taking a walk in the woods can hurt just as much as a walk on certain inner city streets.)
So what are you to do ? Well, having a “G.O.O.D.” bag and great escape vehicle is a start. Having supplies, tools and seed already in place really helps. But once you get to your retreat site, have a plan, have some knowledge of how to do, what to do. Practice now. If you think you’re going to learn while living in a wood pallet shack, you won’t. You’ll most likely die. If there’s no more Elders to ask, get to know the other “elders”–books. Go to local farms and ask to spend time just helping, so you can learn something. Go to a school to learn skills; like tracking, orienteering and fire building without matches; (one of the best, imo, is Midwest Native Skills Institute). Never take charcoal or lighter fluid on a picnic, learn to gather what burns. Go camping in winter, instead of just when it is “pretty” outside. Find a “big animal” vet. and ask to attend and help when birthing a calf. Most especially, turn off your tv. Use your time to learn to sew, or knit, or make soap. Pick up (fresh) dead animals on the road and practice skinning them and then tan the hide. [JWR Adds: Needless to say, consult your state Fish and Game laws before doings so!] Find local crafts people and acquire a skill, such as weaving, or candle making, or tin smithing, because having a survival trade in a cashless society may keep you alive. Learn to listen. Throw away those darn ear plug music things. Learn situational awareness. What is the wind telling you about the day ? What does the sudden and not normal crowing of a rooster warn you of ? What does the setting of the moon in a certain place on the horizon tell you about the season ?
Learn what it takes to live on the land, before you have to suddenly move there. Learn what nature, the land, and new tasks are telling you, before you find yourself in a difficult situation, …(un)aware.
– Jim Fry, Curator, Museum of Western Reserve Farms & Equipment, Ohio