Many people believe the first step to self-protection is purchasing a firearm. While it is important, buying a gun is a singular action and not the whole sum of personal protection. One of the most important steps you can take is learning about situational awareness and how to properly apply it. Situational awareness (SA) is defined as “the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.”
Now you know how SA is defined, but do you understand how to apply it and what you can add to your self-defense needs that enhances its use? Many think SA is the use of intuition, but that is merely one element. Let’s explore a simple way to apply SA and what tools can assist us.
When observing your environment and its associated elements, what are you actually looking for and are you taking the simple steps to be safe? Take a large, multi-level parking garage as an example. You have attended a function that started at 6pm and ended at 1am on a nice summer evening. You and your spouse arrived at the beginning of the event and remained 30 minutes after its conclusion. Before leaving home, you decided you wouldn’t indulge in adult beverages, so none of your senses are impaired. You and your spouse walk to the garage to retrieve your vehicle and head home. You are unaware that two criminals, with the intent of armed robbery, are hanging out in the garage on the level below where you are parked.
The two of you walk into the garage laughing in celebration of the wonderful time you’ve just had. You are so distracted that you forget which level of the garage you parked on. You walk up the stairs of the garage until a level color sparks your memory. As you make your way through the garage, your noise alerts the criminals, who are standing by for a victim. They then begin to track you and use your failure to remember your vehicle’s location to their advantage. Because your focus is now on the vehicle, you decide to use the vehicle’s panic feature to alert you to its location. You hit the panic feature and the vehicle alarm begins to sound. Yes! The search is over, and you can make your way home. But you have also alerted the bad guys where your vehicle is, so they know which way you are headed. The next thing you know, they emerge and victimize you.
How can we reduce the risks of this situation? How can we use situational awareness and other complementary skills to avoid such dangerous situations? Let’s start from the beginning, when we parked our vehicle. The first thing I do is park on the level that has the most visible traffic. I locate the best parking spot based on what is available and back into that spot. Backing in allows me a faster departure in case I need to get out of there in a hurry when I leave. You see how I prepare myself for my departure upon my arrival? This allows me to complement situational awareness later by utilizing it sooner. I then commit my vehicle’s location to memory and challenge my spouse to do the same. I also consciously commit my path from the garage to memory, so I can backtrack later and hopefully have the quickest way back to my vehicle.
Once I have enjoyed the evening and made the decision to leave, I confirm with my partner the location of the vehicle and the pathway back to it. I have also already prepped my spouse to engage as little as possible when we get near the garage. Don’t talk and laugh with my spouse? Why not? Go back to the definition of SA: We have to understand the environment, what it means, and its future status. Parking garages are constructed in a way that allows for echoes. Also take into consideration that my departure will be in the early AM hours, which means it will be dark. Sounds are louder at night, so I want to make a minimum amount of noise that will echo and alert anyone to my presence.
We quietly proceed to our vehicle and approach it from an advantageous angle. What I mean by that is, we approach the vehicle in a way that we can see around it and around the vehicles next to it. This gives us an advantage in seeing anyone using the vehicles for concealment. I don’t unlock the door until it’s time for us to enter the vehicle. Once inside the vehicle, which is facing forward, I put my seat belt on and immediately leave. No fumbling with the radio to find my favorite song — it’s time to go. Since my vehicle is facing forward, I can look around the area, and I’m not slowed down by reversing out. The same two criminals are now at a disadvantage. They didn’t hear us talking and laughing, and because we knew the vehicle’s location and had a straight path toward it, we minimized our exposure to risk. Some simple steps can enhance our situational awareness. A proactive approach is always recommended. We never want to wait until we have an immediate risk to begin preparing for it.
Think about being out with your family for a fun day of adventure, shopping, and tons of sugary treats for the kids; and maybe you enjoy a Slurpee or two yourself. Make sure your spouse and children are moving safely. When you arrive at your destinations, did you prepare in advance? Did you park in the midst of all the other vehicles and heavy traffic? Did you park your 4-door sedan in between two full-size SUVs? I want you to take a moment and think about this. There are ways you can manipulate the environment to your advantage. Your vision is a valuable tool when scanning your environment, so why park in between vehicles that are taller than yours and limit your view? Why park in the most crowded portion of the parking lot? The time it will take you to get out of that parking spot is longer, thus leaving you exposed to a potential carjacker.
What if you take what the environment gives you and utilize it to your advantage? Why not park several meters from the most congested area? You can increase your field of view and maximize your time when exiting the area. When you are approaching your vehicle, there are fewer spots for a criminal to hide and surprise you. Still approach your vehicle from an advantageous angle and then unlock the doors. Remind your spouse and kids to immediately put their seatbelts on as they enter. You should be the last person to get into the vehicle. Head over to the driver’s door and prepare to enter but first, scan the area from a standing position. This allows you to see any advancing threats and even look for the fastest route out of the area. Once you’ve confirmed everyone else is ready, enter the vehicle, which should be facing forward, and immediately exit the area. Resist the kids telling you to put on KIDZ BOP until you have made it out of the parking lot. You can see how preparing yourself in the beginning gives you an advantage later.
AN OUNCE OF PREPARATION
The best complementary resource to SA is preparation. Preparation leads you to other tools that provide other benefits; however, being proactive is the catalyst for everything else. We can talk about flashlights, edged weapons, medical kits, holsters, guns, window breakers, seat-belt cutters, and many other tools. However, if you are prepared, it makes all these tools easier to deploy. Stop and think about where you are going and how you can analyze that environment before you arrive. Set things up to your advantage and make them a disadvantage to any potential threats. You can do these things without making your loved ones believe you’re a lunatic who thinks zombies are going to emerge from the shadows.
I often say that intelligence is the proper application of knowledge. You might think you know what situational awareness is because you can recite the definition, but are you properly applying it to your life? Preparation and the proper application of SA will prove you to be intelligent when it comes to your self-defense. The most beautiful thing about this is that it costs you nothing to practice and perfect. Prepare like your opposition does, and they prepare daily to make you a victim.