When it comes to maintaining a “State of Readiness”, one of the most important elements in your arsenal is “Situational Awareness”. You can’t buy it, borrow it or inherit it like other pieces of gear; you have to develope it and diligently use it. To put it simply, Situational Awareness (S.A.) is being aware of your surroundings and interpreting what is happening around you (There are much lengthier explanations, but that is it in a nutshell). In most scenarios, such as a criminal attack (mugging, rape, assault, etc.), being situationally aware will allow you to avoid the event completely. When it comes to events that can not be avoided or are inevitable, by being situationally aware you are better prepared to deal with what comes than if you were completely taken by surprise.
Some folks will describe SA as “keeping your head on a swivel” and “checking your six” (military terminology for looking behind you and checking your back). While on a military patrol in a hostile area, this may be necessary and quite acceptable. While going about your daily tasks like going to work or the store, not only is it impractical, but I’m pretty sure that it would be unhealthy to live in a constant state of that level of anxiety. Not to mention that it would make you stand out, which can make an attacker think that you have something of high value, therefore worth attacking anyways. What we are looking for here is to appear normal and confident while being aware of our surroundings.
We’ve all seen people walking down the street, earbuds in their ears and nose in their cell phone totally unaware of who and what is around them. Youtube is full of videos of people like this walking into fountains, stepping into traffic, falling into ditches, etc. This is what we DON’T want to be. My Dad had a name for these types of people… they would walk right into danger without paying any attention to what was happening around them… they would unnecessarily wander into bad areas and put themselves into bad situations fully unaware… What did he call them? Oh yeah…. VICTIMS!
OK, you get the point. Maybe you are not always “Situationally Aware”, but because nothing bad has ever happened to you; you’ve gotten kind of lax. It happens to all of us from time to time, don’t be too hard on yourself. Below I have a few little “exercises” that can get your head back in the game and elevate your State of Readiness. I also have a tip for a “game” you can play with your kids, that will condition them to be aware of their surroundings.
Let’s get started:
1. When walking into work, the store, etc. put your cell phone in your pocket or purse (you can return any missed calls or texts in a few minutes. I promise, you’ll be OK).
2. When parking, pick a well lit spot (at the store, you want to be near the cart returns) and either back in or pull through so that you will exit the spot forward, rather than reverse.
3. Take a moment and note where you parked and what vehicles and/ or people are in the parking lot.
4. Make a mental note of anything/ anyone that looks out of place or unusual. If anything makes you feel uncomfortable; leave if possible. If that’s not possible, take note of the details (If a vehicle; the make, model, color, license plate or any identifying features. If a person; sex, height, weight, hair/ eye color, ethnicity, clothing or any scars/ tattoos).
5. LISTEN to what is going on around you. Working as a bouncer I identified as many problems by listening to peoples’ tones of voice as much as I did by watching their body language. I’ve also heard a lot of people walking in parking lots, around corners, in the woods and the desert long before I saw them.
6. When returning to your vehicle, take a moment and observe the area as you did when you got out. What’s changed? Keep your hands free while walking back to your vehicle (especially important if you carry a concealed weapon), check your car before getting in and immediately lock your door once you are seated in the vehicle. NOTICE that I did not say to put your keys between your fingers so you could punch someone with them. Nearly every “self defense” instructor will recommend this (especially to women). If you think that this is a good idea I am going to ask you to do the following: Grab your keys like that and punch a heavy bag of even some couch cushions (DISCLAIMER: I will not pay for any stitches or broken fingers if you do this!). I promise, this will hurt you at least as much as anyone you hit. If someone tells you that it is a good idea, they are an idiot, ignore any other pearls of wisdom that they try to bestow upon you.
7. While driving, pay attention (you should be doing this anyways)! Avoid distractions that take your attention away from the road and what is going on around you and your vehicle. Cemeteries are full of people that had the right of way. Keep your doors locked and when driving in urban or suburban areas, get into the habit of rolling your windows up when you stop at intersections.
8. When out for a walk or jogging be aware of what is ahead of you as well as behind you, forget the ipod and listen for vehicles, etc. Take a different route and don’t always go at the same time to avoid someone patterning you.
9. When entering a store or restaurant, make it a habit to identify the exits first, how many people are there and what the atmosphere is like.
Be aware of the “Baselines”. The “Baseline” is what is normal or what you would expect to be normal where you are. If you walk into a sandwich shop and everyone is quiet, not making eye contact with you and the cashier is sweating like a whore in Church… Something is not right (unless of course, you hang out in some odd places). If you walk into a convenience store at 2pm in July and there are 3 guys wearing jeans and hoodies, something may be amiss. If the atmosphere or people don’t match what you are used to or expecting, be ready for things to go bad.
There are many ways to improve your SA, these are just a few things you can think about and practice. Remember, it’s more of a mindset than an actual “skill”. It may very well save your ass someday, so I would recommend practicing and getting in the habit of paying attention to your surroundings.
Now for a way to teach the kids without it really coming off as a lesson; it’s more of a game. The winner can pick the movie that night or if it’s only the one child maybe they get something based on how many answers they get correct.
Next time you go to a restaurant, store, playground or wherever; hit them with the “Let’s play a little game”. Ask them some questions like the ones below and see how they do. If you play the game enough, you’ll be surprised by how much they will notice after a while!
1. What color were the walls?
2. How many people were there?
3. How many kids?
4. How many men/ women?
5. What color was the hostess’s hair?
Make it fun and increase the amount of questions and level of difficulty as you go.
Raising your level of SA will help you to see things coming before they happen and will also lower your anxiety about what is happening for those events you can’t avoid.