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What Is Situational Awareness?

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Situational Awareness Introduction

Situational awareness is the concept and practice of being cognizant of specific factors about one’s surroundings and how they relate to the individual’s safety. In its most basic form, situational awareness is knowing what is going on around the individual: people, time of day, vehicles, and the potential threat that those elements pose. More advanced training of situational awareness is designed to enable people to anticipate threats and act accordingly. 

People cannot mentally “flip a switch” to become hyperaware and predictive. Like running a marathon without the proper training or taking a test without studying; successful situational awareness is impossible without first achieving a baseline level of knowledge and physical skill.

Active situational awareness requires more mental energy than is used when complacent. Processing sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that would normally be disregarded increases the rate at which the mind fatigues. Much like raising the altitude of a marathon’s course, traveling to new locations further increases the overall strain on a person’s mind.

Situations are very fluid and are always changing, therefore you must remain flexible and continue to observe and interpret your surroundings to make the best possible decision.

Stages of Situational Awareness
The practice of situational awareness is typically broken down into three general stages, including identification, reflection, and forecasting.

Stage 1: Identification

The identification stage is situational awareness in its most basic form. During the identification stage, a person continuously gathers information about exits and entrances, nearby people, environmental concerns, and the passage of time.

In this step, a situationally aware person makes a cognitive switch from being a reactive observer of their environment to someone who habitually seeks new information about their environment. This shift is not to be confused with a sense of paranoia or stress that often comes with venturing into a new environment.

Take a few moments a day to close your eyes and mentally describe your surroundings using all your senses. Then, survey the environment around you. Did you miss anything?

TIP: Use this reference checklist to reiterate things like intimate space, personal space, social space, and public space as a part of this exercise.

Assess Your Environment

Knowledge Baseline


Pre assessment and research


ID the type of environment you will be in

  • Urban

  • Rural

  • Inside

  • Outside

  • Security posture

  • Weather considerations

Real Time Baseline

  • Build your baseline

  • What's going on here?

  • Does this fit the picture?

  • What would make something stand out?

  • Normalcy Bias


Keep thinking during an incident

  • What is going on around you?

Constantly identify options

  • Pro and cons

  • Compare as many possible variables

  • Avenues of escape

  • How many ways can I get out?

  • Places of shelter

  • Potential hazards

  • Recognize sights and sounds foreign to your environment

Think about what you see in terms of safety and threats

Control Attention and Focus
  • Don’t assume weird behavior isn’t a threat

  • Don’t get distracted

  • Pay attention to time

  • Fight complacency

  • Fight fatigue with regards to situational awareness (always know your surroundings)

  • Use you peripherals

Danger Awareness

  • Try to predict upcoming events around you

  • Trust you intuition/gut

  • Position yourself to ID potential threats

Factors Affecting Loss of Awareness

Tunnel vision

  • Not scanning

Fixation or preoccupation

  • Work
  • Headphones

  • Cell phones

  • Texting

Dynamic Situations

  • Inflexible response to fluid situation
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