Learning the Art of Situational Awareness May Keep You Alive


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Situational Awareness can help keep you alive! | preppersillustrated.comWhat if I were to tell you that one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself safe doesn’t have anything at all to do with your every day carry gear? Would you be surprised?

Now, before you think that I’m off my rocker, I’m not suggesting that you should stop carrying your choice of self-defense gear.

What I am suggesting is that a thing called “situational awareness” may be one of the single most important skills that you can develop when it comes to keeping yourself safe from potential threats.

Developing this ability can help you stay safe in a doomsday type scenario but it can also help you right now in your day to day lives.

What Is Situational Awareness?

If you’ve never heard this term before, let me take just a minute and describe what it is for you. Situational awareness is having the mindset in which you are constantly evaluating your surroundings for dangerous situations and any potential threats to your safety. It’s not, however, about walking around paranoid. It’s about training your mind to see dangerous situations and having the common sense to do all you can to avoid them.

One of the most important things that you can learn is that regardless what self defense gear you might be carrying, if you aren’t aware of nearby threats, you’ll be much less likely to be able to protect yourself.

This Is Really More of an Art Than a Skill

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “a woman’s intuition” before. Situational awareness is very similar to this although it’s certainly not limited to only women. There are skills that you can practice that will help improve your ability to detect any would-be threats in your immediate vicinity, but ultimately situational awareness is the instinctual ability to “feel” that you are in a dangerous situation.

Many of you will have had experiences in your life where you remember having the distinct feeling that something just wasn’t right. Let me share a personal story with you that demonstrates a perfect example of how situational awareness kept me and my husband safe many years ago.

The year was 1995 and my husband and I were enjoying one of our favorite weekend activities which was camping. We usually took our son along but this time it was just the two of us.

This camping trip started out like any other but as the night progressed my husband’s innate ability to sense danger kept us safe. Shortly after we finished eating a can of stew that we had cooked over the fire, we were sitting around and enjoying the evening stars when my husband heard a branch break in the nearby bushes.

Since we were in the woods, this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but it could have been either a deer or a bear. Obviously, being confronted with a bear after having dinner around the campfire could make for a very dangerous situation.

My husband then grabbed a large branch and threw it into the bushes where he heard the sound come from. He was thinking that if it was a wild animal, this would be enough to cause it to run away. To his surprise, after throwing the branch, we didn’t hear any more sounds. If it would’ve been a wild animal that had broken the branch, it surely would have run off and made even more noise as it was leaving.

When this didn’t happen, my husband instantly knew that something was wrong. I remember him quietly saying to me, “Listen to me very carefully and don’t ask any questions. Keep going about your business as if nothing is wrong but make your way to the car and get in like you’re just getting something for desert.”

To tell you the truth, hearing him say this really freaked me out but after waiting a few seconds, I did exactly as he asked. Shortly thereafter, he got into the driver side, started the car, and we left without picking up any of our camping gear.

Naturally, the first thing I did was ask him what the heck was going on and he responded that he didn’t know but he knew something wasn’t right and that it wasn’t safe for us to be there so we were going home for the night. I remember him saying, “we’ll come and get our stuff tomorrow but tonight we’re getting out of here.”

To our surprise, the next day, while watching the news, there was a story about a group of armed individuals who were in the very same area that we were camping at the night before. These guys were assaulting and robbing people who happened to be camping!

This story is a perfect example of how developing a sense of situational awareness can help to keep you safe in a dangerous situation. My husband didn’t actually see anyone in the bushes but something deep down inside him told him that it wasn’t safe for us to be there that night.

The most important point that I can make regarding this situation was that my husband’s instincts were actually based upon an “observation”. It wasn’t merely the fact that he “felt unsafe”. He used the information that was available to him at the time to make an observation about his surroundings. In this case, he was able to gather the information that he needed by throwing a branch into the bushes and expecting a wild animal to run away.

When that didn’t happen, it raised suspicion with him and then he listened to his instincts and made the right decision that ultimately ended up keeping us safe.

Some Things That You Can Do to Develop Situational Awareness Instincts

Remember, I said that developing situational awareness is more of an art than a skill but like I said before, there are some things that you can do to train your mind to start thinking differently which will help to keep you safe.

I’ve taken the liberty of listing just a few of them that come to mind below.

  • Get into the habit of walking with your head held high and looking around as you walk. So many people are in the habit of looking at the ground or at their feet while they walk that they aren’t able to see potential threats that might be in their immediate vicinity.

    Start looking for things that seem out of place or situations that don’t look safe. If you see a group of people gathered in an unusual location, change your course and don’t walk through that area. The main point is to use your eyes with the intent of looking for unsafe situations.

  • When you sit down at a public place such as a restaurant, choose to sit where your back can be towards the wall and your face can be towards the open door or at the very least, towards the area that has the most action.

    The point of this tip is that if your back is facing the wall and someone comes in who is demonstrating threatening or dangerous body language, you won’t be able to see it. Again, your eyes are your best asset in this situation so make sure they are pointed in the direction where they will be able to see any potential threats.

  • Get into the habit of parking your car under brightly lit areas. It might be light outside when you park your car to go into the movies. But, if it’s a late night movie, it will be dark when the movie gets over. You’re less likely to be assaulted in a brightly lit area than you are in a dark, distant, corner of a deserted parking lot.

  • When you are walking, get into the habit of looking around you to see who is nearby you. This will help you determine if you’re being followed. If you see a guy wearing a black hoodie and bluejeans that seems to make every turn you’re making as you walk, there’s a chance that he might be following you. If this happens to you, make sure that you stay in a crowded area where you are less likely to be involved in a confrontation.

  • When it comes to driving in strange places, use caution about where you actually drive. For example, if you’re not familiar with an area, don’t drive down dimly lit alley as you look for your destination. Remember, if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you are likely to be assaulted, the chances of it actually happening are much less.

  • The last tip I have for you is don’t let your body language project weakness. If you walk slumped over and slowly, you look less confident than if you walk with good posture and at a brisk pace. Predators may be less likely to target you as a victim if they perceive you as being a strong and confident individual so carry yourself that way.

I hope this article will inspire you to work on developing better situational awareness skills. The spirit of this strategy is to learn to avoid situations where you have to rely on your ability to defend yourself. This is always a better option than making poor decisions about the situations you put yourself into and having to fight for your life.

Share Your Tips!

We can all learn from each other when it comes to things like this. What are some tips that you have about developing situational awareness skills that you can share with us? Please take a minute and share them by leaving a comment below!

Another Article You May Enjoy

Since you’re already here, I thought you might enjoy reading another article. At the current time, the most popular article on Preppers Illustrated is called, 7 Deadly Sins of Prepping Revealed: Number 3 is a Doozy!.

Take a minute and read it if you have the time. It might help you take a closer look at your emergency preparedness plans to see if there is something that you can do better.

15 Responses to “Learning the Art of Situational Awareness May Keep You Alive”

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  1. Glenn N says:
    1. Establish a baseline – know and understand what is the usual activity in your area (i.e, camping trip story – sound of a broken branch, no animal scurrying away after object thrown its way).
    2. Watch your six o’clock. Know what is behind you. Use reflective surfaces such as store window, car window, standing water.
    3. Narrative driving (walking). Talk to yourself as you observe activities around you. Narrate to yourself what you are looking at, what is around you, where you are that moment. This will seem strange at first but will be come second nature until it is at a subconscious level after enough practice.
    4. Criminals will ambush an unsuspected victim. Take away their element of surprise by letting them know you are aware of their presence. Know the 21 feet circle rule: Someone within 21 feet from you can reach you within 3 seconds if attacking.
    5. Limit the use of your phone while walking. No talking or texting unless you can find a safe place to do so.
    6. Watch for blind corners, walk on the street side of the sidewalk and look around corners as you approach one.
    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Glenn N,

      Thank you very much for adding your insightful comment and suggestions. Those are some good ideas!

  2. Beuna says:

    Many people now are so busy looking at their cell phones that they do not notice their surroundings.

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Buena,

      I agree 100%! People do become so fixated on their cell phones don’t have the slightest clue as to what is going on around them! Very good point. Thank you!

  3. Donna says:

    Carry keys between your fingers poking out when walking to your car at night or into a building. I took a self defense class through my job about a year ago and that was one of the recommendations they made in addition to the situational awareness. Another was to be especially vigilant at ATM’s. I know this seems obvious, but make a habit of checking your surroundings as you use the ATM. If it doesn’t feel safe, leave and go to another one, such as in a store. Would you rather pay a 3 dollar service fee or be robbed?

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Donna,

      Very good suggestions! Thank you!

  4. Brooke says:

    Hey Glenn (or anyone), can you elaborate on the narrative driving (walking) comment above? I’ve never heard of that. How does that help with situational awareness? Thanks.

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Brook,

      Verbalizing or narrating what you see around you in your mind (or out loud) is a mental training exercise that will help you get into the habit of actually making observations about what is going on in your surroundings.

      At first, you will be making a conscious choice to verbalize or “narrate” what you see in your surroundings but after you have done it often enough, it will become a subconscious habit and second nature to you.

      For example, if you’re going about your day to day activities and as you make observations, you might say things to yourself like:

      1. “Okay, I see three people on the corner. One is wearing a blue jacket, one is wearing black pants, and one has a white baseball cap on.”
      2. “There are two cars driving behind me, the white two door sedan with tinted windows has made every turn I have made for the last ten minutes.”
      3. “As I’ve been walking my dog at the park, a man with a grey sweatshirt has been following me for the last 30 minutes.”
      4. “There’s a group of four men who have been walking around the parking lot looking in the windows of every car they walk past.”
      5. “There are two people sitting in a parked car just watching everyone who walks up to the ATM.”

      It’s just a way of making an active decision to observe your surroundings and the “narration” or “verbalization” is an exercise that will train your mind to always be making observations about the things that are going on around you.

      In my examples above I used several examples of suspicious behavior but, most observations you make won’t lead you to believe that you are in a dangerous situation. For example, the fact that you saw three people standing on a corner doesn’t necessarily mean they are a threat to you. They may just be waiting for the light to turn green so they can cross the street.

      But, getting into the habit of making observations about what you see may help to train you to become observant enough that you don’t walk right into a dangerous situation because you weren’t paying attention.

  5. Wes Anderson says:

    Hi Patty,

    I am a martial arts instructor and we teach people of all shapes and sizes how to handle themselves on the streets. I find your article to be excellent advice. It should be required reading for everybody! This is what we call “common since before self defense”. Every prepper needs self defense training as well. Find a good martial arts school or even an MMA or boxing gym. Even small people can learn to fend of larger, stronger attackers. It is about training.

    • Patty Hahne says:

      Hi Wes,

      Thank you for your kind words! I also agree that knowing how to defend yourself is important as well. That being said, my ultimate goal is doing all I can to avoid putting myself in a situation where I have to use my self defense skills. That may not be possible all the time but by using, as you say, “common sense”, I believe that it can happen most of the time.

  6. David says:

    Re: walking through a parking lot, don’t just see cars, see THROUGH cars. Cars have windows. Train yourself to see whether someone is in, or concealed behind, each car before you get to it.

    In stores, play the corner game. As you walk through the store try to see people coming to the corner from the right and left before they see you. Every time you see someone before they notice you, give yourself 1 point. If you fail to see someone clearing the corner before you see them (“Whops! Excuse me!) subtract 2 points. Try to have a positive score before you check out. This game, played consistently, will help you make a habit of alertness.

    Try these; they really will help you be more aware at all times.

  7. Kyle says:

    Me and my sister always played a game as kids we called the alphabet game. The goal was to find every letter in the alphabet in order before the other person did. Now looking back it is usefull to teach you to notice smaller details of the enviroment( not potential threats in the game but it transfers over) because you will be checking every sign and licence plate you see to find your letter. After a while youll know every liquor store in the area on your quest to find Q.
    The narrating advice above is very good. I find myself doing it quite often and didnt realize it was a way to develop situational awareness.
    I also agree the most important part is to establish a baseline. If your camping and thow something at a noise it should run unless its a person or predator trying to hide. If your at a rock concert people should be singing and dancing in close proximity to echother. If someone is standing with there hands in there pockets in a dark corner you should be suspicious.
    Also rule number 22. When in doubt know your way out and rule number 31. Check the back seat.

  8. Kyle says:

    One more thing is check peoples hands.anyone under the age of 50 with there hands behind there back as the walk toward you should raise suspicion.(some people from the generation above were taught to walk like this) If a suspicious person is walking right to you with his hands in his pockets or someone reaches for something in an argument things are likely to go bad.

  9. Kate says:

    One thing that is important for younger people is looking at your phone all the time. When you’re walking, especially at night, look around you and don’t become focused on your cell phone, predators often target people who are distracted or seem unprotected.
    Also, having your keys ready before walking out into the parking lot is important to your safety. Even during the day. And if you don’t feel safe, find a security guard (if one is available) to walk you to your vehicle.

  10. Sanguinairius says:

    These tips are minor, but have helped avoid a few confrontations, however they mainly pertain to people living in towns or cities.

    1. Watch the reflection in windows, as you walk down the sidewalk be sure to glance as subtly as possible at the windows reflection just behind you as you pass, or just ahead of you if the angle of the glass is sharp enough. This gives you a shot at spotting someone approaching behind you or someone following you more discreetly so you can react or leave the area with faster response time. You can pass this off easily as ‘just window shopping’ in crowded areas.

    2. Watch the shadows at night. If you’re in an area that’s well lit enough by street lamps or passing vehicles, pay attention to where not only your shadow is, but how long and ‘dark’ it is. As you get used to gauging different distances and light sources, this can come in handy in spotting someone else lurking behind cover, or trying to approach you from behind as their shadow will be more apparent to you.

    3. This one is more difficult for those who wear earphones often, but pay attention to the ‘echo’ of footsteps if you’re alone. Stop and start your pace if you’re a safe enough distance or in a safe enough area to do so, its unlikely someone will be able to match their pace directly to yours and you should be able to hear the difference in pattern. This is again handy if you suspect someones following you or has stepped closer to you from behind.

    4. Keep your hands out of your pockets, walk confidently and swiftly to help discourage attackers and put distance between potential threats.

    5. Strafe your corners when you walk around them, leave a wider distance between you and any cover or corner you cant immediately or quickly see around to limit the ability to grab you from around the edge. A simple side step as though you were moving to walk on the right hand side of the sidewalk makes this very subtle when fluid.

    6. Learn to stealth step, a method of ‘rolling’ your foot as it lands to soften or mute the sound of your footfalls. This is especially handy in echoing, desolate, areas, but can also be used for tracking and avoidance in wooded or rougher terrain like gravel. Can usually still be done even in high heels and heavy boots with practice. Also makes it easier for you to tell if someone else is walking near you, rather than melding with your own and being harder to decipher.

    Just a few tips I’ve learned over the years, hopefully they help and are worth adding to peoples repertoires. Take care and keep safe!

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