The biggest key to spotting and identifying a legitimate threat is situational awareness. These days, the #1 threat to your safety is your cell phone and accompanying earbuds. In our modern society, distractions abound, and few things hold our attention like our cell phones. It’s impossible to be observing and processing your surroundings when your head is down and you’re focusing on a video or conversation. To protect yourself and your family, you need all of your senses engaged, and to know what is going on around you.
Lack of situational awareness and an inability to comprehend events and predict future outcomes is the main cause of human error and accidents. How can you accurately assess if a person or situation is a threat if you have not noticed and observed them?
In addition to awareness, trust your intuition. If the voice inside your head tells you that a situation may not be safe, listen to that voice. It is better to avoid a possibly dangerous situation than take a chance.
So how can you learn and practice situational awareness? At first, you may be overwhelmed by trying to notice everything and everyone around you, but eventually it will become second nature.
Steps to Take
As you build your situational awareness, make a point to notice the following things each time you enter a new space:
- Objects around you – what can become a weapon or what might be an obstacle
- People around you, and their behavior
- All entry and exit points
- Any behaviors you’re observing that could lead to a negative outcome
Put your cell phone or any other distractions away, and focus on your environment. Continue to engage with your surroundings, and work on staying engaged over time.
Questions to Ask Yourself
As you enter any situation, use your eyes and ears to take in everything happening around you. Even your sense of smell can tip you off to things like a fire or gas leak. Then start asking yourself a series of questions:
- Does everything you see make sense?
- Does anyone stand out to you?
- Do you have a gut feeling that something is wrong or could go wrong?
- Do people seem relaxed or unsettled/agitated?
- Where are my exit points if I need to get out of here?
Learn to gather information about the people around you.
- Are they paying attention to you or your family?
- Are they dominant or submissive in nature?
- Is the person acting comfortable or uncomfortable?
Warning Signs to Watch For
People that you should be worried about will generally give indications of their intentions. If you are paying attention, you will notice these warning signs before trouble occurs. Warning signs to watch for include:
- Paying too much attention to you or your family
- Uncomfortably shifting or moving, pretending to be on their phone
- Frequently and abruptly checking around them, like they are being followed or watched
- Frequently reaching to an area where a concealed weapon may be hidden
If someone is raising red flags for you, look around to see if the person is by themselves, with their families, or seems to be communicating with another or several individuals in the vicinity. Some people have uncontrollable tics, but these would not be concerning to people that they are with. You have to use more of the surrounding factors to make a judgement call on behaviors.
I’ve Spotted a Threat – Now What?
The goal is always to protect yourself and your family. That means avoiding danger, not running into it. Once you’ve established that you’re uncomfortable and something bad could happen, leave the area as quickly and quietly as you can. Once you’ve reached a place you feel is safe, you can then call authorities if you feel it is necessary.
If you feel unsafe, forget about manners or making people uncomfortable. Yell or scream at a person who is too close to you or your child. Draw attention to the situation as you get out of there. Even if you are observing unsafe behavior that is not directed at you and your family, leave as soon as you notice something amiss.
On most occasions, noticing your surroundings will not reveal dangers. You will travel, shop, work, and play with no incident. But don’t become complacent; make situational awareness part of your everyday life. On that rare occasion that something goes wrong, you’ll be glad you acted quickly.