My father impressed upon me a useful skill that has saved my life on more than one occasion. Whether it be traveling on dangerous highways in the saddle of a motorcycle or watching for a gun in the hands of a suspect, constant and consistent situational awareness is a critical survival skill. When the grid shudders to a stop or money becomes more useful as toilet paper than currency, our exercise of practical situational awareness will mean the difference between life and death on a daily basis. This is why we should take actionable steps to continually hone this perishable skill.
Basis of Almost Everything We Do
First and foremost, it is important to understand that situational awareness is at the basis of almost everything we do. It will help determine the choices we make and the situations we find ourselves in. For example, a veteran police officer once asked me a hypothetical question, “What is the best way to win any gunfight?” The answer he gave was simple. He said, “Never end up in a gunfight in the first place.” His point was that many dangerous situations can be completely avoided if we are aware of our surroundings and know what to look for. If we have our eyes up and head on a swivel when we are walking down the street, we are more apt to spot potential dangers ahead of time. Then we can anticipate them and take appropriate action.
Situationally Aware, Taking in World Around You
To be truly situationally aware means to be present in the moment and constantly taking in the world around you. This principle sounds simple. However, it may be harder now, more than ever, to engage in this practice because technology is everywhere we turn. In our homes, in our cars, in our offices, and in our pockets, we have screens that are built to capture our undivided attention. Obviously, after the collapse of our modern society, we will have fewer of these technological distractions. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards developing this skill now so that it comes as second nature when it is needed most.
Professionals who deal with dangerous individuals on a daily basis, such as law enforcement officers and our military members, rely heavily on situational awareness to stay safe on the job. An important situational awareness tactic that they can teach us is to always try and put yourself in a position with the observational advantage. For example, most cops will always put their back to a wall while eating in a restaurant. This is so they can subtly monitor the entrances and exits to give themselves the best possible edge if a threat were to present itself. Along these same lines, many military members will advocate setting up outposts on the high ground whenever available. This ensures that they have 360 degrees of observational coverage. Their high vantage point will allow them to spot hostile actors as far in advance as possible.
What’s Going to Reach Out and Hurt You?
Another awareness tactic military and law enforcement officers use is to always be on the lookout for what is going to actually reach out and hurt you. This is why officers will ask you to take your hands out of your pockets or to put them on the steering wheel during a traffic stop. An individual’s hands are what is likely going to pose the threat to your personal safety. A constantly awareness of what they are doing or where they are can give you more time to react if they were to attempt to harm you. These tactics are simple and can be easily practiced on a daily basis.
The next time you sit down at a restaurant or wait in line at a grocery store, try practicing counting the exits and standing in a position that you can observe others without putting your back to individuals. See if you can keep track of what people around you are doing with their hands. You can take this process a step further by asking yourself, “What would I do if the man in front of me in line pulls out a gun instead of his wallet?” By running through these hypotheticals, you can set yourself up to react in a moment’s notice.
What Doesn’t Belong?
Another critical tactic for developing situational awareness is to look for what doesn’t belong or doesn’t fit within the current situation. Your gut instinct can be extremely helpful, especially when you ask yourself what doesn’t seem normal. For example, when you look out into a crowd of people during the summer, it wouldn’t make sense for an individual to be dressed in a thick, winter-weight trench coat. If a situation or a person doesn’t feel right, pay close attention to this feeling. Oftentimes this is our instinct trying to warn us of danger.
Gavin De Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear , offers many lessons on how we can train ourselves to be more aware of our body’s natural ability to sense danger. Additionally, his book covers a wide variety of situations and signs to look for in individuals that could mean us harm. By familiarizing ourselves with these signs and behaviors, we can not only be aware of potential dangers but also work towards anticipating them before they occur. Therein, we can respond appropriately.
Behaviors Out of the Ordinary
It is critical that we pay attention to behaviors that are out of the ordinary. They may give you insight about the true motivations for why an individual is there. Law enforcement officers use this tactic regularly to help identify suspects. For example, one of the main reasons that the Boston Marathon Bombers were identified was because their behavior stood out from the crowd. When the first bomb initially went off, everyone in the crowd turned to look towards the explosion. However, the man who planted the bomb turned and began to move in the opposite direction (CBS, 2015). In the first few seconds after a loud explosion, our natural instinct is to look towards what made the noise.
However, the bomber already knew what made the noise of the explosion. Since turning away was a completely unnatural reaction and didn’t fit with the current situation, it gave observers critical insight on the individual’s motives for being there. The Boston Bombing may be an extreme example, but it lends authority to how constant and consistent situational awareness can give us key insight on the motivations of those around us.
Increasing Awareness After A Collapse
As the danger around us increases so should our level of awareness. After a collapse in the rule of law, looting, rioting, and other forms of crime tend to become exponentially more prevalent. Some concrete actions you may want to consider to bolster your situational awareness can be to set up a listening/observation post(s) around your residence or camp. If the man power is available, these posts can and should be staffed 24/7 to ensure that your family or group always has someone keeping a lookout out for possible dangers, such as hostile actors or hazardous weather.
When possible, these look out posts should incorporate 360 degrees of observational coverage. The shoul also be difficult to spot by approaching individuals. In urban environments, attics, tree houses, and top floors of abandoned buildings could be used. Additionally, screens or camouflage netting can all be used to conceal look out posts. In rural environments observation posts can be constructed from deer blinds, holes dug into the earth with natural foliage covers, and above ground shelters built from readily available materials in your environment.
Alerting Your Group
When considering where to place and how to construct these look out posts, it may be helpful to also think about how your spotters can quickly evacuate and alert the rest of your group. If possible the use of whistles , horns , sirens, bird calls , or radios  can also contribute to your collective situational awareness. These tools can be used to give your group a way to communicate impending dangers without giving hostile actors a complete picture of what your response might be. For example, you may tell your family that three sharp blasts from your whistle means there are armed individuals immediately headed your way.
Hearing those whistle blasts should prompt them to get into their defensive positions. Alternatively, radios can give you a sense of situational awareness over a much larger distance. For those of us who may chose to homestead in remote locations, a working knowledge of radios can be used to communicate with your local group members. We could use radios to communicate our efforts to scout out resources or alert of possible threats headed in your direction.
Without Luxury of Others On Guard, Inexpensive Tools
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of having others on guard while we they sleep. This does not mean we can’t take steps to bolster our awareness of our surroundings. An inexpensive and effective tool to alert you of approaching individuals has been to set sound traps or trip wires. These can be as simple as a wire with cans strung up at ankle height around your campsite. If your trip wire is set off, it will make a considerable noise to warn you of intruders. This can also be done in homes or hotels by stacking glass cups, cans, or bells  near doors and window ledges. The trick is to set these items up so that they will easily be knocked over if the door or window is opened. This advanced warning time will give you a chance to prepare for whatever may be headed your way.
Has Someone Been in Your Office, Home, or Car
Another useful tip that can alert you if someone has been in your office, home, car, or hotel is to set small objects sublty in very specific places. Your specific placement let you know if they have been moved since you last visited that area. Place a small string or folded slip of paper closed in a car door. Place it so that if the door is opened, it falls to the ground. This can be an effective method to see if your vehicle has been tampered with. If you have an office that can’t be locked, it may be helpful to arrange papers and pens in a specific order that only you will notice if they have been shuffled around or adjusted.
For example, place pens exactly one inch away from the edge of your desk or mouse pad. This is a way of making it easy to spot if someone has played with your mouse or gone through your desk, as this movement will likely shift the pen from its precise placement.
A Perishable Skill
If not practiced, situational awareness is a perishable skill. Therefore, it may be helpful to play awareness games with yourself or your family and friends. One common method of doing this while out and about is to play the “License Plate Game”. This is a game that teaches you to not only look for vehicles but also pay attention to the small details about them as well. Growing up, my father would ask us to play this game by noticing the numerics on out-of-state plates on vehicles around us while driving down the road. He made the game more complex by asking us also to be able to recite the color, make, and model of the vehicle so that he knew we were truly actively participating in our own situational awareness.
The trick to making these games effective is that they require us not to just observe our environment but actively pay attention to the details in it. Games like this can make increasing your family’s situational awareness fun while also training them to actively take in the world unfolding around them.
Different From Paranoia
Finally, it is important to remember that a healthy curiosity and situational awareness are different from paranoia. It isn’t healthy or realistic to be in the mindset that everyone is out to harm us. Situational awareness is different from paranoia because it takes a down to earth approach to perceiving the world around. We practice this so that we can put ourselves in the best possible position of advantage if a threat to our safety should materialize.
In summary, it takes practice to be truly situationally aware. By engaging in these activities we can give ourselves the best possible edge during uncertain times.
- Sources: Becker, G, (1997), The Gift Of Fear Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence. Dell Publishing.
- CBS,2015, Boston Bombing Jurors See Video of Tsarnaves Before Blast. website 
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest . The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator  from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course  (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses , excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper . These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees  in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product  from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses .
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4  Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of  Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners , donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections , a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord  (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail  us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.