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Life is a series of choices made by individuals with the information they have gathered while living with choices made by themselves and others around them. We can thank pilots for the term “situational awareness.” However, for the past few decades many professional crime fighters, military, and trained citizens have used this term and have trained to understand and be more aware of
their situations. This is an article about a term many of us think we know well. It’s my intention to aid in understanding it more completely, and perhaps add an opportunity to learn a few new things as well.

Situational Awareness is understanding, observing and being involved in your immediate environment. The technical definition is, “the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future.” As individuals who desire to be prepared for what life may throw at us, having a well tuned situational awareness is easily the most important thing we can do.

How do we train ourselves to be prepared all while maintaining a safe immediate environment?

For myself there is one approach that I learned very early in life, I call it “UN-focusing”. Using the horizon, I look out and consciously make myself see the objects on the horizon without focusing on any of them in particular. When you do this you will find that the smallest movement or change in your eye line or field of view will cause you to instantly shift and focus on it. It is this approach that has honestly done the most over the years to help me stay safe, and by default keep my family and those around me safe. Situational awareness is understanding your environment and how you interact within it. The key is being aware of your surroundings. I have also taken Colonel Cooper’s famous quote to heart as well… “Be kind and courteous to everyone you meet, but always have a plan to kill them.”

Many, many years ago I learned Colonel Cooper’s color code approach to maintaining awareness. White = relaxed and unaware; Yellow = relaxed but aware of what is around you; Orange = something of interest has entered your awareness, a potential threat; Red = what you are aware of is a threat. After some time I learned the fifth color code; Black = acting with intent and force to stop a threat. It only took a little while before I realized that simple is better than complicated when it comes to self-defense. This is why I use an abbreviated approach that has worked well for me.

Using just three colors you can navigate life and stay safe. Understanding that everything is a threat until proven otherwise; I simply tossed White and maintain a life in Yellow… Relaxed but aware of what is around you including items of interest. This way I can easily move directly to Red… Aware of, and focusing on the threat or threats, and if necessary, fluidly into Black… Acting with the intent to stop a threat as needed based on knowledge of human actions and human nature, and based on the surroundings in which I may find myself at the time. Again, there are really only three colors in the life of someone who understands a threat is NOT always someone that needs to be shot. A threat can be an out of control vehicle, a falling building, rock, tree, or even a four legged animal.

By utilizing additional props that are all around us in our daily life we can easily expand our 180 degrees of visual awareness to include 270 degrees of auditory awareness, and then extend it further into a full 360 degree awareness bubble, (NOT circle), as what is above and below us is just as potentially dangerous as what is in front, beside, or behind us. To do this learn to use mirrors, real or improvised that exist in anything and everything reflective. When teaching surveillance and counter surveillance we use buildings, other people and the age-old primal intuition, deception. When walking down a street with or around other people do you notice their expressions or shifts in concentration? Humans have barely imperceptible shifts that occur in our faces, posture and demeanor when we become aware of anything else in our vicinity.

We often perk up, our lips may purse or our eyebrows may furrow just for a split second, these are tells that regardless how good someone is, WILL occur in almost all situations. Specifically, we view what is deemed to be a potential threat through social programming or simple genetic coding. These are the tells you can utilize to allow yourself to easily extend your bubble past your perceived 360 degrees and almost into the realm of the supernatural.

Consider for a minute the various individuals who over many years we have come to see as somehow more advanced or superhuman in their various abilities. Good, experienced SF/SEAL/Scout snipers or other seasoned special forces, and/or seasoned field agents with any number of agencies can sometimes seem to be capable of things far beyond the normal range of human capabilities. Let me assure you, their capabilities may sometimes be the result of natural ability, but more likely, they are simply very well trained and dedicated to the mission.

Be aware of your surroundings and learn to them it to your benefit. Remember, that glass-walled
building is a mirror, the concrete planter is cover, and sometimes those people who will surely freeze also offer momentary cover for you to react. After all, ACTION always beats REACTION, but since we are not the actor who initiated the event, we, by definition will always be REACTING. I personally have absolutely no compunction whatsoever with placing someone I do not know between my family/client and a potential threat if necessary (I am NOT talking about grabbing someone as a human shield, but simply moving behind others to maneuver into a position to neutralize the threat). That having been said, the sooner I can freely engage said threat, the faster the threat to EVERYONE is terminated.

This leads to the next step regarding situational awareness, understanding that everything you do is based on your internal measure of the individual value of your life and the lives of others. I am not asking you to actually place a value on others, rather, I need those interested in truly understanding what is necessary to resolving a threat to understand that subconsciously we ALL already do value others based on any number of reasons. This is human nature, nothing more, it is not a negative, it simply is. Understand this and your life will become both more difficult, and yet much simpler.

Next, in the lineup of things to work on that relate directly to situational awareness from a daily standpoint is the very simple idea that a moving target is always harder to hit, so when things go south, stay off the X. On a daily basis you should be in condition Yellow... relaxed but aware of your surroundings by simply un-focusing. This is possible to maintain at all times regardless of external or internal factors.

I am talking about being able to move instantly off the X. I am talking about the X/Y axis that is your 360-degree environment. What you should always be noticing are potential areas where a threat may occur. All predators enjoy a hunt, however, they enjoy an easy capture/kill far more than the hunt itself. Know where ambushes may be more likely, or where people may crowd into or through a single place (fatal funnel) making them easy pickings.

Recent events have shown me yet again that understanding situational awareness is necessary
regardless of your belief in self-determination. Consider that recent school shootings have NOT been accomplished by well trained or even intelligent individuals. Rather, they have been accomplished by predators who acted on their base animal instincts. They pursued easy to hunt prey and did so in locations where little or no resistance would be encountered. When the prey no longer presented an easy target in almost all instances the predators left or terminated themselves. I am not discounting the heinous nature of the events, I am simply stating facts. Utilizing situational awareness can save lives.

Lastly, it is absolutely necessary to address our actions when we are tired or believe we are in a safe place and why even in our castles (homes), we should strive to remain in condition Yellow. The greatest number of traffic accidents happen within 2 miles of one’s own home. Home invasions are at an all time high. Violent crime statistics show us that the vast majority occur in commercial or familiar areas (restaurants, bars, gas stations, etc.) where we are relaxed or spending time with loved ones and our attention is not on our surroundings. There is NEVER a reason to drop our Yellow level under any circumstance if we take the time to train ourselves to do so.

I firmly believe in the concept of training one’s self to maintain situation Yellow at all times and have learned to adapt sleep habits to match, with some minor adjustments.

Train like your life depends on it, for it very well may.

Free the mind and the body will follow…