When recently asked for thoughts about situational awareness training, I became (quite honestly) puzzled. It seems to me, it’s not a skill that needs to be taught—it’s quite intuitive. I believe recognizing human predatory behavior is hardwired into our psyche. Over time, wild animals have been replaced by criminals as our main predators. Just as a dog raises its hackles in a confrontation, the hair standing up on the back of our neck is a sign—an instinctual warning that something is amiss.
We interpret many unusual social behaviors as predatory behavior. Survival instinct tells us, when a group of kids split direction, they may be attempting to surround a potential victim—just as a pack of wolves do. We find ourselves concerned with stout eye contact by strangers. These skills kept us alive as cavemen and continue to this day, albeit in a different form.
The more I thought about whether there is a need to teach specific awareness skills, the more reality seemed to set in. While the capability of being aware of your surroundings is probably instinctual, the desire to do so needs to be instilled.
From my observations, most people do not maintain a vigil of awareness. I find that it is because most people are not motivated to do so, and that is because they have not yet realized its importance.
Most of the people that I have talked to, who carry a gun, believe that they will be able to stop any attack with their firearm. After all, that’s why they carry a gun.
Like most people, I did not realize that a defense is not likely to succeed when it is a reaction to violence that has already commenced.
It took several exercises, that tested my skills in real-life situations, for me to recognize that in a direct, personal attack, it is not possible to respond in an effective manner without advance preparation. If it was surprise attack, I would most likely not prevail! Even knowing an attack was imminent, I found myself behind the time/power curve because action beats reaction.
Realistic Situational Awareness Test Scenarios
Empty and tape up your gun so it’s safe, use a dummy gun, or use an Airsoft replica to role-play realistic situations in order to test your reaction time. One good scenario is to have a bad guy stage a hold up demanding money. Have him point his gun at a companion then draw your weapon to see if you can shoot him before he turns and shoots you.
A car jacking or road rage incident is another good scenario to test. Seeing the driver get out of the car in front of you with a weapon, how long would it take you to get to cover and/or get your gun? Once these lessons of action and reaction are convincingly instilled, you will realize there may be no viable defense in a direct attack and situational awareness to avoid the encounter is your only key to survival.
Defense, by definition, is a reactive response. Because of reaction time, the victim is thus in a weak position once an attack has commenced.
It takes less time for an attacker to move four feet to stab someone than for the victim to move their trigger finger a quarter-inch. The victim’s brain needs to first perceive the attacker’s motion, interpret its meaning, determine if it is a lethal attack, determine a reaction and then actually move the body. In reality, the victim can be stabbed well before he can fire his gun, and more than likely, he will be stabbed even before he even realizes what is happening.
The Tueller drill demonstrates that an average attacker can transverse 21 feet faster than the average person can perceive that the attack has commenced, draw, and fire a handgun. If you are attacked while your gun is still in your holster, chances are it’s far too late to use it. Therefore, your best chance to successfully fend off an attack is to anticipate the encounter and prepare.
Benefits of Situational Awareness
Situational awareness encompasses several main elements including looking for potential attackers, knowing the locations of cover and concealment, determining potential exits, and seeking lanes of egress. Being aware of your situation and surroundings can benefit you threefold.
- You can avoid trouble by simply avoiding it. If you are watching your surroundings and you see what looks like trouble ahead, stay clear.
- Knowing about trouble ahead of time can give you time to prepare a plan, seek out cover and concealment, and ready your weapons (retrieve pepper spray, open your knife, place hand on gun, etc.)
- If the assailant knows that you are aware of his presence and possibly prepared for an encounter, he may simply decide to find an easier victim.
On one walking trip through downtown, a group of friends and I saw a small group of street punks ahead walking our way. I had the impression that they did not have the best of intentions in mind. Not in a position to avoid the situation easily, we made it quite clear that we were aware of their presence and we would not be easy victims by moving the two women to the protected side of our group and make stern eye contact with the potential trouble makers. As soon as we did that, you could see the punks’ attitudes change. They were no longer loud, obnoxious, and dominating. Instead, they quietly passed us by. Had their presence not been detected early, the situation may have turned out very differently.
Victim Selection Process
Criminals most often don’t select a victim at random. They seek an opponent they can beat easily. They would rather take $10 from an easy victim then fight with a victim over $50. In the 1960s, street thugs would often seek out hippies to victimize, since they would surrender their valuables without a struggle and would not report the crime to police. Today, little has changed. Criminals seek victims who are similarly unaware and unprepared.
It is always best to be aware of your surroundings. Remain vigilant and alert. You can live your entire life in a watchful state without any psychological harm. Demonstrating alertness tells the criminal you are watching, aware of your surroundings, and probably aware of his presence. The assailant will get a sense that you are not the easy victim he seeks.
What is your level of situational awareness on average? Do you have a tip for improving situational awareness that you can share with other readers? Share your answers in the comment section.
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