Situational awareness is simply being aware of your surroundings. As you can imagine, awareness plays a major role in threat detection and our capacity to avoid and defend danger. Each of us are equipped with highly advanced senses that have evolved over thousands of years, each with the purpose to keep us alive. But unfortunately, most of us today simply turn off our threat detectors in favour of distraction or entertainment.
Situational awareness is at an all time low, despite having the most advanced survival senses on the planet. The fact that people have died from playing Pokemon Go should tell us that society has a serious awareness problem that needs to be addressed.
Here are three things that having good situational awareness does for your safety.
1. Avoid danger altogether.
If you let your senses do their job, they will often keep you out of harms way. Whether it's avoiding environmental dangers like dangling street lights or speeding cars, or avoiding human threats like an aggressive crowd ahead that looks seconds away from a shoot out.
2. Increase response time.
Awareness equals response time. When you're paying attention, you'll be able to detect cues that tell you something isn't right, which then trigger a response. Let's take a street kidnapping for example. If you're paying attention, your ears will pick up the odd sound of a car slowly trailing you from behind, prompting you to look back and check out what's going on. At this time, you'll see the threat and have time to run away. But if you're not paying attention, you'll won't pick up on any alarming signals, and you'll only find out about the attacker once they've already grabbed you. Being aware of our surroundings means giving yourself the most time to defend possible attacks.
Awareness = response time.
3. Deter criminals from targeting you.
Awareness is a deterrent in itself because it makes an attack more difficult. It robs criminals of the element of surprise and raises the chances that the target will escape, along with a good description of the attacker. Criminals look for the path of least resistance. Kidnappers want to execute an abduction in as little time as possible and with as little resistance as possible. Therefore someone who is not paying attention to their surroundings is an easier target than someone who is.
When Do I Need Situational Awareness?
In perfect personal safety land, we'd all have 007 secret agent level awareness all the time. But that's not real life, and in certain settings it's truly not as necessary. It's important to learn how to identify High Risk settings so that you can avoid them or take further safety precautions. The number of people around, visibility, remoteness, and location are all factors that contribute to a settings Risk Level (RL). These are the places that you want to make sure to practice good situational awareness, as well as other prevention measures like walking confidently, sticking with a group, and perhaps staying sober. And when you're in a safer setting like school or work surrounded by good friends, it's okay to relax your super senses.
I will also say that although the dark alley way in the dangerous neighbourhood seems to be an obvious place to put your phone down, we are statistically most likely to be attacked on our every day routes. So technically, the most important location for you to use situational awareness are the paths you take every single day, despite how familiar and safe they may feel to you.
How To Improve Your Situational Awareness
Awareness is a skill. We are all capable of great awareness, but we do have to consciously practice it to make it a habit. And the more we practice, the better we get! Here are the things we can do to improve our situational awareness.
1. Remove Distractions
Put away your phone and headphones so that your eyes and ears can do their job.
2. Scan The Environment
Always keep your head up, looking forward to see what's in front of you, beside you, and behind you. Don't look at the ground when walking.
3. Stay Sober
Drinking and drug use increase your vulnerability to attack in a few ways. They lower your awareness, impair your judgement, and weaken your ability to physically defend yourself from an attack. Intoxication makes offenders more aggressive and impulsive, targets more vulnerable, and bystanders unable to provide adequate protection. Staying sober is especially wise when you are in more dangerous settings.
Simply put, alcohol neutralizes awareness.
4. Sound Mind
A highly emotional state can impair your senses in a similar manner to alcohol. Emotions lower your awareness by distracting you, but they also increase your vulnerability to predators. For example, a teenager who gets in a heated argument with her parents and then takes a walk at night will be more vulnerable than the same teenager who has a calm mind, confident demeanour, and good awareness. Signs of emotional distraught like crying, stress, and sadness are indicators of vulnerability to predators. Abusers like human traffickers seek to manipulate these emotions and circumstances to gain trust from their victims. If you are in an emotional state, it is not a good time to walk alone.
For optimal safety, it's best to be perceived at secure and confident.
"Observe your cat. It is difficult to surprise him. Why? Naturally his superior hearing is part of the answer, but not all of it. He moves well, using his senses fully. He is not preoccupied with irrelevancies. He's not thinking about his job or his image or his income tax. He is putting first things first, principally his physical security. Do likewise" -Jeff Cooper
Put It Into Practice
These are all common sense measures, but unfortunately common sense just isn't that common these days where personal safety is concerned. Try to actively put these measures into practice on your daily paths. Make it a habit to put your phone away, take out headphones when you have to walk somewhere alone, and do your best to look around you and notice things about your surroundings. When heading for a night out on the town, be aware that drinking lowers your capacity to defend yourself, and take extra measures like sticking with your friends and parking in a well lit spot with lots of people around. Remember that your every day paths are the most likely site of attack, so be aware of your surroundings even in your own neighbourhood. For some fun ways to help kids develop situational awareness, find our awareness games here.
Next Steps: Becoming a High Risk Target With Confident Body Language
Our prevention curriculum is centred on becoming a High Risk Target, and avoiding High Risk Settings. Situational awareness is the first part of becoming a high risk target for criminals (and avoiding non-human threats as well). The second part of becoming a High Risk Target is presenting yourself as confidently as possible. To get that lesson, click here.
Thanks for reading! If you're interested in self defense and street safety, have a look around our blog and website, and don't forget to follow our instagram for great tips!
Author: Gemma Sheehan, Founder of Girls Who Fight Inc.
Gemma is an ex-MMA fighter who started Girls Who Fight Inc to bring the value of martial arts and self defense training to the female audience.
The Girls Who Fight Film, By Jennifer Roberts