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How To Increase Your Situational Awareness – Part 1

Situational awareness deals with the perception of events and environmental elements with respect to both space and time, the comprehension of their meaning, and the perception of their status after a variable has been changed. This can include time or a pre-assigned event.

Also called situation awareness, this refers to a field of study that is all about understanding an environment that’s purely critical to decision-makers, in a comprehensive dynamic area – Including ship navigation, air traffic control, aviation, power plant operations, military command and control, policing, and fire fighting. It can also be applied to everyday tasks like riding a bicycle or driving a car.


Situational awareness involves a person becoming truly aware of whatever is happening around them, to know more about how information, events, or their own actions will set an impact to their own personal tasks and objectives, both today and in the far, far future. A person who has a complete sense of situation awareness has a high value of knowledge, and respects both a system’s inputs and outputs. They have strong, innate feel for people, situations, factors, and events that happen at that moment due to variables that a person can willingly control and change. Not having enough situation awareness has oftentimes been considered to be one of the main reasons why accidents occur, contributing to human error. So situational awareness is highly important in areas of work, since information can be disseminated from all corners, and just one small mistake can lead to perhaps fatal consequences. This includes piloting an airplane, working as a soldier, or a doctor who specializes in treating critically injured patients.


There are three facets related to situational awareness research. These are:

  • Situational awareness state
  • situational awareness systems
  • situational awareness processes.


The first one, situational awareness state, deals with a person’s actual awareness of the entire situation itself. The second, situational awareness systems, refers to the distribution of situational awareness in teams, and between objects inside an environment. It’s also about the exchange of situation awareness in between system parts. And the last, situational awareness process, deals with the updating of situational awareness states, and whatever guides the moment-to-moment change of a situation.


It’s important to have complete, accurate and timely situational awareness, especially where technological and situational complexity is concerned. The idea of situation awareness has been acknowledged as an important, albeit elusive, foundation for a person’s highly-successful decision making, all over a wide assortment of comprehensive and dynamic system. This includes air traffic control, aviation, ship navigation, health care, responding to emergency situations, managing power plants and nuclear plants, and controlling the military.


As its name suggests, situational awareness is all about knowing what’s happening around you at that very moment. This might sound very simple, but it needs tons of practice. Situational awareness is a skill taught to soldiers, police officers, army men, and even assassins. Civilians must also learn how to hone their situational awareness skills, because when you’re faced in a dangerous situation, becoming aware of a threat even seconds before everyone else does can help you steer clear of danger.


Becoming aware of a situation is a skill that can be fully developed, for many reasons outside of your personal safety and defense. In fact, the term ‘situational awareness’ is another term for ‘mindfulness’. Developing one’s own situational awareness will turn you into a person who is completely updated with what’s happening around you, and to help you become more present in your daily activities. And in turn, this can help you make better, wiser decisions in every aspect of life.


A person who is willing to learn a lot about situational awareness will spend months researching and learning more about the topic. They will talk to experts about incidents that will require one to use their situational awareness. Found below are ways to enhance your skills on assessing situational awareness, in order to prevent your loved ones or yourself from getting involved in a violent attack.


Situational Awareness Training


Situational awareness is a skill that can be developed just by being observant of your surroundings. It’s all about knowing what’s happening around you by carefully scanning and closely observing your environment. However, just what exactly are you trying to find here? How do you know if you’re paying attention to the right things? Are there several warning signs or behaviors of a threat that you need to be aware of?


You need to frame the situation itself within the OODA loop. The OODA loop is a type of learning system and choice-making process, invented by military strategist and fighter pilot John Boyd. According to Boyd, there are four steps comprising the OODA loop:

  1. Observe
  2. Orient
  3. Decide
  4. Act


When you’re faced with a head-to-head competition, such as air-to-air combat, a confrontation with an angry individual in a parking lot, or even during a political contest, the first one who can course through the OODA loop the fastest is the winner.


The first step is to observe the situation. This is the one that is most commonly associated with situational awareness training.


The second phase is to orient. By orienting ourselves in a situation, this will tell us what to look for when making an observation, then place these observations into a context, so we’ll know what to do whatever happens next.


In a book called Principles of Personal Defense, author and gun expert Jeff Cooper has implemented a color code that can help soldiers place their mindset in case of a combat scenario. Every color represents a person’s state of awareness and focus, with white being the lowest, and black being the highest. To best achieve a sense of situational awareness, Cooper suggests that we stay in condition yellow, since that’s where your heart rate is closest to normal.


Despite situational awareness being associated with visual stimulation, you can also learn plenty of things about a certain scenario, including the area’s sounds, or even their smells. It’s important to stay calm and relaxed. People are going to notice you if your head keeps swiveling around or if your eyes are constantly shifting. Also, staying relaxed helps you to reel in more information about whatever’s happening around you. Calmly scan your environment to see whatever’s going on around you.


Placing yourself in an obstructed area will prevent you from taking in more information. Put yourself in a position that allows you to see as much as possible – In which you can look at the nearest exit points, or the ones that let you put your back against the wall.


You can also play a little something called “The A-Game”. Once you enter a place, take a look at a couple of things surrounding your environment. When you leave, ask yourself questions like: ‘Was the person beside me a man, or a woman?’, ‘What color of shirt were they wearing?’ ‘How many exits were there?’. This can help you train yourself to become more mindful of your surroundings.


There are three things that can help you achieve full situational awareness:

  1. Look for anomalies and baselines for a particular environment
  2. make mental models of human behavior
  3. create a plan of action


A baseline is something that is considered normal in whatever given situation. This will all differ from one person to the other, and from one environment to the next. The reason why we build these baselines is so we can spot something wrong, which is known as an anomaly. An anomaly is something that draws attention to people who are taking in their surroundings.


Each time you place yourself in a new environment, ask yourself the following questions: What’s going on here? What is the general mood of the place? What activities should I expect here?


Finally, what could cause something to stand out? Sometimes, we have a tough time paying attention to everything surrounding us in one go – The human mind can only handle so much information at any given period. So when it comes to personal safety, in which things develop quickly and there are seconds in between safety and disaster, how we focus our attention to something is very important.


Tips for Situational Awareness Safety


When it comes to situational awareness safety, always rely on your heuristics. A heuristic is a type of quick problem-solving mental shortcut that your brain uses, to piece things together whenever there’s not much time or information available.


According to author Patrick van Horne, there are six domains of a person’s behavior that are used on the battlefield, which can quickly tell you if the person is a friend or an enemy. The most important one is called kinesics, a type of behavior that deals with a person’s conscious and subconscious body language.


Inside the domain of kinesics, there are three clusters of body language that you should pay particular attention to for situational awareness safety. The first is dominance/submissive behavior, comfortable/uncomfortable behavior, and uninterested/interested behavior.


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