Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Situational Awareness: The New Talisman

I posted something on Facebook that looked a lot like this:

Situational Awareness
Okay, so it's a phrase, not a word. You get the point.
People got all bent out of shape,  jumping to the conclusion that I am against situational awareness. I challenge anyone to find evidence of me recommending people walk around with their heads firmly planted up their butts.

It's not that I don't like situational awareness. In fact, I love it! It sparks interesting conversations. It allows you to enjoy your environment. It keeps you engaged. It can even save your life.

Situational awareness is a really good thing. It's just being mishandled. Or misrepresented. A lot of weight is being put on its shoulders. Instead of being another great tool, it's becoming something of a talisman that people are pulling out and using as an excuse to berate, to not train, to have sloppy carry methods, etc.

Situational awareness is the ability to scan an environment for items or actions that could be potentially dangerous. It allows us to alert to those items and behaviors and activate one's capacity to make intelligent decisions and actions in regards to that data based on one's training and experience.

Situational awareness does not make the untrained and unprepared better at responding to that data.

If he'd had better situational awareness, that wouldn't have happened.
News flash: people get hurt. They get victimized. Sometimes there's nothing that can be done to stop it.

Yes, there are legitimate cases where having better situational awareness could have at least let someone be aware that danger was close. In regards to people who walk into traffic, down flights of stairs or into fountains because they weren't paying attention, there's not much lacking but situational awareness. It doesn't take a lot of sense and training to walk around a fountain instead of into it. 

In the realm of self defense, however, seeing the potential attack does not mean the outcome would be different.

If you see the truck or the rapist of the burglar or the axe-wielding maniac and you don't have any capacity to do anything with that data and change your situation you'll still get ran over, raped, burglarized or chopped to pieces.

Situational awareness is only as good as it's ability to alert you in addition to activating your capacity to do something with that information.

I use situational awareness. I don't need to keep one in the chamber (or carry a gun, or know hand-to-hand skills, etc) because I'll always have time because I'll always see it coming.
We've discussed what situational awareness is and what it isn't and what its limits are. Now we have to admit to ourselves that situational awareness is not infallible.

We will not (cannot) always see it coming. We do not have eyes on the backs of our heads. Our eyes are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. We also are capable of misreading any number of situations. Even when we recognize those situations as being dangerous we don't always allow that data to activate our capacity to do anything about it via a nifty little trick I like to call DENIAL.

Let's go back to capacity, however. Let's say you see the danger but don't have the capacity to respond to it. That capacity might be because of mechanics--your arm is pinned, shot, broken, protecting your head and you cannot physically put a round in the chamber; your gun is stuffed so far down your pants in ubber-deep concealment to the point it is inaccessible; you are getting your head pounded into the pavement because you tried to go for your gun and got punched in the face and your draw stuffed and now have no idea how to get out of that situation and the lights are dimming.

That capacity might also be because of time--it takes you 2.5 seconds to draw, rack and fire but the guy who's fighting you is going to kill you in 2 seconds.

You don't always see the danger coming. Even if you do, if you lack capacity, you may be no better off with that knowledge.

In short, situational awareness is not a substitute. It is not a substitute for good equipment. It's not a substitute for common sense and it's certainly not a substitute for good training and practice.

Use good situational awareness! But give it substance to fall back on.


  1. I like your definition of SA. I think there is something missing from it tho. When you scan an area for items or actions, etc. does the person have the knowledge of what items and actions; does the person have a knowledge of the area's culture; Does the person actually understand the culture toward behaviors in the area they are entering; does the person have the ability to leave their culture and beliefs along with their sense of entitlement behind with a willingness to open their eyes toward the area they are in? This is off the top of my head but I think you get the idea.

    I don't want to assume that because you mention "Items and Actions" that everyone knows what items and actions because a lot of folks will carry the items and actions of their clan/tribe/environment to a different area and assume that those rules apply there as well.

  2. That's true, Charles, but 1) not many people travel so far out of their comfort zones where items and actions would be so radically different that it would negate situational awareness and 2) I dare say that a man coming after you with a knife is universally a bad thing in all cultures.

    I guess a good example of situational awareness in regards to other cultures would be when I was in the Ukraine. I walked around whistling and a woman came running out of a hotel room screaming at me in a foreign language. I had no idea what was happening. She was angry at me, clearly, but the most "violent" she was getting was waving a cleaning cloth at me and pantomiming that I shush. I pantomimed that I would be quiet and I left.
    I talked to an interpreter later and he laughed and said that in their culture, whistling is thought to bring on devils and evil spirits. I didn't know that. That wasn't in any travel guides. I stopped whistling. I didn't have any repeat problems. Lesson learned, carry on.

    And I'm not entirely sure what a "sense of entitlement" would have to do with situational awareness. It's just observing and processing. That's it. It may entice action but there should be nothing in regards to entitlement.

    I do think that if people are going to travel outside of their comfort zones they should, indeed, respect the cultures of where they travel through trying to learn about culture and being smart about what decisions they make. But, again, I'm not sure how one can draw a direct line between situational awareness and the attitudes one has regarding culture.

    If I'm in another culture and I see something different than what I'm used to I'm going to observe it. I'm going to orient myself to it, decide how it may or may not affect me and carry on. If it's nothing I perceive as dangerous, I'll carry on. If I see it as dangerous I'm going to try to avoid it or make other decisions in regards to how I want to handle it. That's pretty much it.