Why do you need situational awareness in today’s world? Situational awareness is the foundation of your personal safety protocols. It focuses on being perceptive and paying attention to your environment at all times, observing both the glaringly obvious and the tiniest details at the same time. Knowing what is going on around you is critical for conflict avoidance; giving you time to react proactively if there are potential threats coming your way. It is also “Sheepdog” mentality 101: it helps you see if others are in danger so you can go to their rescue or call for help.
Imagine being in this scenario:
You are out at a restaurant and go to the bathroom. A woman is in the hall holding her baby and she asks you, a MAN, if you can help her change her baby. You say you can’t, but you will go get your wife to help her. You think to yourself that this is a very odd question from a woman, but you instantly go find your wife to help her. Your wife goes to the restroom and the woman and her baby are not there.
What thoughts are going through your mind right now?
Why would a woman ask a complete stranger, that is a man, to help change her baby’s diaper? This is quite an unusual request.
Is this her code word for someone that is supposed to take the baby?
This is a true story.
Clearly something is not right in this scenario. It is an abnormal and unusual request from a mother to ask a strange man for assistance with something as simple as a diaper change. The baby was not crying or distressed. Comment below on what you think this interaction was really about. Do you think the man should have called the police? Do you think she was selling a baby or could this have been human trafficking?
Next, I will cover situational awareness as it pertains to your safety.
What you need to know about Situational Awareness:
In a dangerous situation, a few seconds’ notice can give you time to better plan how you’ll respond to a threat. ”The lack of or inadequate situational awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error. Accidents are the fourth leading cause of death in America according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and listed in the top ten causes of death in the world cited by the World Health Organization. Although this skill is lacking in much of modern society, our ancestors used it to great utility to survive. It has been extensively taught for decades to law enforcement and the military, but doesn’t have to be exclusive to them.
You can be distracted with your face buried in your phone and this makes you the perfect target for a criminal. The vast majority of criminals are opportunists who will only strike when they see you are not aware. Prevent them from taking advantage of your distractedness and this helps remove any threats to you!
Situational awareness means noticing people, places, and things in your vicinity. You need to learn to watch body language, assess different situations and make the best decision based on those assessments. Situational awareness is really just another way of saying mindfulness, and developing this skill will make you more present in daily activities, which in turn helps you make better decisions in all aspects of your life.
Most experts agree that situational awareness is a critically important skill to develop. The concept of situational awareness was identified during World War I by Oswald Boelcke who realized the importance of gaining an awareness of the enemy before the enemy gained a similar awareness and he devised methods for accomplishing this. Colonel Jeff Cooper, who served in the US Marines during the Second World War, developed “Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness.”
Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness
Cooper’s color-coded system helps categorize the different states of awareness as we go about our lives. Cooper, a prominent instructor on self-defense, believed situational awareness to be more effective for self-defense than martial arts or weapons. The levels of awareness are categorized by color: white, yellow, orange, and red. I will go through each one to explain so you fully understand each color.
The first category is condition white. This is when you are oblivious to anything around you. You are an easy target because you are not paying attention to your surroundings and criminals will use this to their advantage. If you don’t see someone or something coming, how can you plan a response or fight back? This is the body language that predators are looking for when selecting a victim. This is the stage that you don’t ever want to be in unless you’re at home watching TV or napping on the couch.
Condition yellow is a relaxed state of alertness, with no predetermined focus. You are not looking for anything or anyone in particular; you keep your head up and your eyes open. You are difficult to surprise and therefore difficult to harm.
You do not expect to be attacked today, but you are alert and notice anything out of place. You recognize the possibility that something could happen without any warning, at any time, in any place.
Condition yellow is the ideal condition to live in if you want to be aware. When you are out in public you should be aware at all times even 30-50 feet around you so you have ample time to move. Walk with purpose and confidence, using body language that is assertive and shows you are aware and confident.
Keep your head up and scan around yourself. If you see someone that frightens you or makes you nervous, make eye contact that basically says, “I see you!” with your eyes. This actually sends a subconscious message to the predator that you are a fighter and you know their true intentions. There is no opportunity for a surprise attack so the criminal will likely look for a different target. In fact, Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer, was quoted multiple times saying that he would never go after a woman that had strong eye contact because she would be too difficult.
An example would be seeing a man sitting very upright on a bench with his hand inside of a paper bag. The paper bag is up in the air and his pupils are dilated wide as he scans the crowd. He has a crazed/drugged look and his body language appears to be ready to jump up at any time. Do you walk by this man or do you cross the street before you get to him?
Condition orange is a more intense level of situational awareness. The essential difference between Yellow and Orange is that you advance to Condition Orange once a specific person or event alerts you that your full attention is needed to determine whether there is a threat or not. It might be the fact that a guy is wearing a trench coat on a 90-degree day as though concealing a large object. It might be a van driving down a beach or road, too close to where people are standing. It might be a stranger loitering who locks his eyes onto you and then heads your way.
This is the phase when you must immediately analyze and respond to whatever threat could be coming your way. This is when you usually have seconds or minutes to move away from the threat if you see it early enough. In the book What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro, he educates that the feet do not lie. The feet will point to where the body is going before anything is said.
Quick tip: When you leave a store, you need to look back over your shoulder and see if somebody is following you in an inappropriate manner. If someone is in fact following you just turn around and go back into the store. This simple move could easily save you from a potential attack. It is also very easy to ask for a store employee or security guard to walk you to your car. Having another person with you is another step to dissuade a predator.
The last condition is condition red. This is when your life or safety is threatened. In Red, you are ready to fight and have to move, now! You may or may not actually be fighting but you are MENTALLY PREPARED to fight or move. If you have not had the proper training or warrior mindset then most people freeze if put in a scary situation.
You need to immediately react or respond and not freeze. The way you respond depends on whether you feel that your safety is threatened. Does the person have a gun or knife pointed at you? Are they trying to physically grab you? If you cannot get away from the threat then it is best to fight for your life.
Quick tip: If someone is walking without a purpose and then heads straight for you it is a warning sign. Assess them as a potential threat because they were loitering, but now they have an interest in you. Anything that makes your freak meter go off or your intuition kick in, you must pay attention to.
You have an opportunity RIGHT NOW to build your skills.
Live in Condition Yellow by paying attention to your surroundings at all times.
Be in a general relaxed state of alertness with no specific focus. You are not looking for anything in particular; you have your head up and your eyes open. You are difficult to surprise so you are difficult to harm.
Watch for anything that seems out of the ordinary.
Notice hands in pockets or behind backs.
Observe body language and know the position of feet are where the person will move next. So, if they say they are leaving and their feet are still pointing at you then they are lying.
Look out for anything hazardous like a pothole, loose boards on a deck, or moving objects and cars.
Pay attention to 30-50 feet all around you since you will have enough time to get away if you need to.
Watch people’s eyes and notice who is staring at you and taking an interest in you.
Transition to “Nike” and get the heck away from any threat. The best fight is the one you are never in. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
So, let’s review a bit. Where should you use situational awareness? Everywhere, especially in public and at a time like this with the pandemic that may bring an increase in crime. Develop the habit of watching all around yourself and remember to check what is behind you.
Be Safe, Be Empowered and Be Loaded!
Beth is the founder of Pretty Loaded. On a mission to install strength, awareness, and confidence, Beth began her journey as an educator and National speaker after a close encounter with a would-be predator. She has trained thousands of people in person, and through her online training and videos around the world. Her safety videos reach millions globally! She is responsible for starting the National Situational Awareness Day and this was approved by the registrar of the National Day Calendar. Beth has been featured on Consumer Reports, Reddit, Yahoo!Finance, Elite Readers, BuzzFeed, ViralNova, and many more networks. Beth loves spending her time reading, playing tennis, cooking, and painting. She is married and has four wonderful girls, a supermicro pig named Clover Smalls, and lives on an organic produce farm and vineyard.