How to do Situational Awareness the Right Way
"Security is about detection and deterrence"
Situational awareness (SA) is more than just “keeping your head on a swivel,” or “staying vigilant.” SA is the presence of mind to know where you are, what is happening around you, and what could happen based on the circumstances. It’s about connection to your environment.
There's plenty of videos and articles discussing what SA is and what it looks like, but few tell you how to do it. The results are that many adopt a paranoid or hyper-vigilant posture, mistaking that for situational awareness. This approach may work in the short term, but it quickly fizzles out.
A good example is when I run law enforcement officers through counter-surveillance exercises. Typically, I’ll take them out to a mall or public venue where I've arranged for an assistant to covertly follow the group. The class is divided up into teams and given the task finding the person tailing them. This typically results in a number of false positives.
The group is so hyper-vigilant, anyone glancing at them or catching their attention immediately becomes suspect. By the time we’re done, the officers are convinced that there are half a dozen or more following them!
Practicing good situational awareness is your best chance to thwart an attack before it happens, but you can see it coming if you don’t know what to look for. So how do you do it? I recently did an interview with a local media outlet on this very topic. You can check it out by clicking here.
Honing your situational awareness skills takes work, but it's not rocket science. Although we delve more deeply into the mechanics of SA in our courses, this is the basic framework that will get you started.
- Establish the baseline: Each time you enter a new environment: a restaurant, sporting event, movie theater, etc., take note of the current scene. Are everyone’s dress, emotional state, and interactions congruent with what you expect to find in that social situation? Someone erupting with emotional shouts or cheers is expected at a football game, but what about the public library? Enter the environment, scan the people and activities around you, then quickly analyze what you to see. Are the people and the actions you witness congruent with your expectations? This is establishing the baseline.
Security is about detection and deterrence. Once the attack occurs, you're security protocols have failed. Now you're in response mode and damage control.
- Monitor for disruptions. Once you’ve established the baseline, you simply monitor for disruptive patterns. A disruption is any action or event that is incongruent with established social pattern. A disruptions could be a man wearing a black trench coat in August, or someone sweating profusely and mumbling anxiously to themselves before boarding a plane. Even inanimate objects can be a disruption to the baseline - an unattended backpack inside a bus station, for instance. It's important to note that disruptions are not threats per se, but they must deemed suspicious until you can determine otherwise. To do this, you'll have to gather more information. This requires action step on your part.
- Taking action. Once a disruption to the baseline has aroused your suspicion, you must take action. There are 2 basic actions available to you: Gather more information through observation or confront the suspicious indicator straight-on. These two actions contain subcomponents that require more discussion, so we'll hit that next week.
Remember, security is about detection and deterrence. Once the attack occurs, your security protocols have failed. Now you’re in response mode or damage control. Observing and knowing how to interact with the information you receive is critical to detecting and deterring threats.
If you’re interested in learning more about our Counter-Terrorism; Covert Police Intelligence Operations; or other security and tactical training programs, please contact us today.
Until then, be on the lookout for next week. I'll finish up on what to do when you encounter suspicious activity.
PS: Again, you can check out my video interview here by clicking here. After you watch it, hit that reply button and let me know how you’re keeping yourself alert and aware when you’re on the move. Talk soon!
December 6, 2017: Defense Against Lone Wolf Attacks: Daytona Beach, FL, Florida Intelligence Unit
December 13-14, 2017: Proactive Security Training for Campus Security Teams: Ft. Lauderdale, FL (Closed)
March 1, 2018: Defense Against Lone Wolf Attacks: Oklahoma City, OK (under construction)