Image this; you’re in a large department store in the shopping mall with your family on a busy Saturday. Suddenly, without warning, you hear the unmistakable sound of an AK-47 on full automatic fire, coming from somewhere behind you. As you turn, you see a gunman spraying lead in all directions. One of his bullets hits you in the chest, before you can finish your turn and draw your sidearm.
You were armed and you thought prepared, but you were just too late.
Unrealistic scenario? Actually, it’s quite realistic. Just carrying a gun doesn’t guarantee you any safety, if you’re ready to use it just a moment too late. You have to be ready to switch from calm and casual to a guidance machine for a firearm in the blink of an eye. Otherwise, you may never get a chance to draw that gun, let alone so any good with it.
Shooting situations may be rare, but they unfold with amazing speed. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about that trip to the mall, a survival situation or a home invasion, things go from normal peacefulness to outright terror faster than the human mind can react. The shooters are counting on that, expecting to use that moment’s reprise to accomplish their goals, before any serious opposition can be raised up against them.
Those first few seconds are the most critical. So, what you need to do is shorten that time. While practicing drawing your sidearm quickly will help, it can’t help as much as practicing situational awareness.
Phrased simply, situational awareness is nothing more than being aware of what’s going on around you. Few people actually are. Most of us walk around looking at the ground and avoiding eye contact with the people around us. We studiously ignore them, who they are, what they look like, what they’re doing and what they’re carrying. That makes an almost ideal situation for the bad guys to avoid detection.
There is a difference between looking and seeing; but you’re not going to see anything if you don’t bother to look. We’re talking more than a casual glance here. Truly looking requires the brain being connected to the eyes and questioning what it sees. It also includes looking beyond the obvious. Just seeing what’s before you isn’t enough. What about things that are to your sides, behind you or above you?
That person wearing a jacket in the summertime, why are they wearing a jacket? The woman stopping to adjust the blanket covering her baby, why is she looking around so much? The college student with a backpack, what’s that strange bulge on the side? That young woman rushing through the store, why does she look terrified? These are the types of things you need to see and the types of questions you need to be asking yourself. Finding the answers may point out danger to you, when there is no other sign.
That jacket could be hiding a gun. The woman may not have a baby in her stroller, but is serving as a lookout for a robbery. The bulge in the backpack could be a bomb and the terrified woman saw all this, because her situational awareness is on and she’s getting out of there.
Our world is filled with two-legged predators who look for opportunities to prey upon the weak. Part of that is looking to see if the people around them have their situational awareness turned on. If they do, the predators will avoid them like the plague. More than anything, they’re looking for people who have their heads on a swivel. Those people are aware of what’s happening around them and are more likely to remember the person who is committing the crime.
What’s Your Awareness Level?
We all have an awareness level at all times. That awareness level could be “unaware.” While not an enviable level to have, it is still a level. This is the level that most people live in. We call it, “condition white.” There are five of these, labeled as:
- Condition White – Not aware of their surroundings
- Condition Yellow – Aware of surroundings and what is happening. Looking for potential threats
- Condition Orange – Heightened senses, caused by noticing a potential threat. Planning potential reactions to the threat
- Condition Red – Focused on the problem, ready to take action at the first sign of trouble
- Condition Black – A state of panic and hesitation caused by not being ready to react when the situation turns bad
Let’s go back to our example in the mall, using these condition levels. Most of the shoppers in that mall are in condition white. They’re concentrating on their shopping and the only things they are aware of are their family or companions and what’s in the store windows. But you should be in condition yellow. Instead of focusing on the store windows, you’re looking at the people who are filling the mall, evaluating those that could be a threat.
This evaluation is purely subjective. In today’s politically correct world, it might be called racial profiling. But rather than race, you’re looking at how people are dressed, how they are acting and what they are carrying. You are looking for people who might be carrying a weapon, those who look like they are picking out targets, those whose actions and attire set them apart from the crowd of shoppers and those who are taking actions that could show malicious intent. You are in condition yellow.
When you find someone who fits that description, your focus changes. No longer are you just looking for them, you have specific people who you are paying attention to, while still scanning the rest of the crowd for other potential dangers. During this time, you are monitoring the actions of the potential threats you’ve picked out, looking for anything that they might be doing, which would indicate danger to you and your family.
At the same time, you are also planning potential counter-moves to take, in order to neutralize that threat. Those may require active measures, such as seeking cover, drawing your gun and returning fire. They could also be something more benign, such as getting out of that store, so that you are not in their range of fire. You are in condition orange.
Since you are aware of everything that’s going on around you, you noticed the guy with the long coat on, who was looking all around, but didn’t seem to be looking at the merchandise. You’d already decided that he could be a threat, before he pulled his gun out from under his coat. So, when he did pull it out, you were ready. At the first sign of that AK-47, you pushed your family to the floor, behind the nearest sales counter. You didn’t have to think about where to go, because you had already spotted the layout of the counters, and had been keeping track of the gaps as you walked. You’ve been in condition red for the last several minutes, so you are ready.
Now that your family was concealed from the gunman, you draw your gun. Since you had been keeping track of the sales counters, you knew how you could outflank him, without exposing yourself to his fire. So, telling your family to stay put, you run, keeping below the level of the counter, and put an end to that predator’s shooting spree.
Train Yourself on Situational Awareness
Does that sound a bit paranoid to you? Perhaps it does. But I can guarantee you that having that level of awareness can be and often is the difference between life and death. It is essentially the same thing that combat troops do, when out on patrol. They have trained themselves for it, so being in condition yellow and cycling through orange and red as the situation dictates, is automatic to them.
Having that level of awareness doesn’t come automatically. What does come automatically is condition white and condition black. Those won’t help you. You’ve got to train yourself in being aware, forming the habit. That requires diligence during the training process.
Some exercises that might help you develop situational awareness:
- Walk through the mall, picking out people who are dressed in a way that could conceal a firearm.
- Try to pick out those who are seriously shopping and those who are just wandering through the mall with friends or for something to do (Related: Walmart Prepper Food Run)
- Keep track of the cars behind you while driving (but don’t lose track of what’s happening in front). See if you can determine how long they follow you. When you have that down, look do it with the cars that are two or three ranks back.
- Take a walk along a busy street and try to keep track of several different people at once.
- Look at the places you frequent. What are all the ways a gunman could enter? How could you react if one did?
Keep practicing until it becomes automatic. You want this to be a habit, to the point that you can maintain yourself in condition yellow, moving into condition orange as necessary, while still maintaining a conversation with the people you are with. (Related: Choosing Your SHTF Companion)
In a Post-Disaster Situation
Historically, danger from two-legged predators increases in the aftermath of any disaster. Whether they are simply looking to loot abandoned homes or are out to rape and pillage, the criminal element comes out of the woodwork during this time. Chances of a confrontation are heightened, increasing the need for situational awareness.
However, without practicing situational awareness when things are normal, you won’t be ready for it during such a time. If anything, the needs of the moment will make situational awareness harder to maintain, simply because of trying to do all the tasks necessary for survival. That’s not the time to try and learn.