Several weeks ago, we had an article on self-defense. One aspect of self-defense deserves its own article, Situational Awareness. More and more people I see on the street are walking around like zombies. They are not focused on their surroundings and they are at greater risk of being victims of violence.
If you look up the definition of situational awareness online, you’ll see definitions like: The perception of environmental elements with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time or some other variable such as a predetermined event. (Wikipedia)
What does this mean and why should this be important to you?
Reacting appropriately and timely to situations requires that you have awareness of that situation. Not being aware of what is going on around you is dangerous to you and the people around you. That may sound like hyperbole but there are facts that back it up. Many of our examples will deal with cellphone use and how the use of phones at inappropriate times leads to reduced situational awareness and danger. There are other distractions that can cause similar results as the cell phone but inappropriate cell phone use really demonstrates the points well.
The most blatant example of a cellphone usage reducing situational awareness to the point of posing a danger to yourself and others is texting while driving. As mentioned in previous articles, self-defense goes beyond defending yourself from a mugger. Self-defense includes defending yourself against injury while using equipment like cars and protecting yourself from liability and guilt from hurting or killing someone else. Texting while driving shrinks your situational awareness to the cell phone only. You cannot observe the road, so you are unable to make adjustments to your behavior to prevent injury (slowing down, shifting lanes, etc.) Cellphone use is a chronic destroyer of situational awareness. A search of YouTube will allow you to find videos of people walking into obstacles like glass doors and fountains because their situational awareness has been reduced to the size of a cellphone screen.
People get defensive when discussing their cellphone usage, saying that they would not walk into a door or fountain just because they are distracted. I believe that they could avoid those stationary obstacles, but they could walk into a bad situation. Even without the cellphone, many of us are completely oblivious to our surroundings and walk into bad situations because we don’t recognize them as dangerous. If you are completely consumed by a distraction like your cellphone, texting and listening to music through earbuds, how do you see the suspicious man walking behind you or the gang of teens standing under the broken streetlight, or the drunk driver weaving onto the sidewalk or any other danger that that is apparent if you only look?
The million dollar question is, how do you identify a dangerous situation before entering it? First, you need to understand that you will have a lot of false alarms. Contrary to news reports the United States is a pretty safe place to live. However, just because a place is generally safe does not mean that you are always safe. Bad things do happen to good people. Even though the frequency of attacks are generally low, the severity of the attack’s impact on you can be very high. You need to keep an eye out for danger signs and places you may be vulnerable. A light out in your office bathroom is probably not a danger sign. Lights out in a public bathroom on a subway platform, however, is different.
Before we continue, I want to state that crime is never the victim’s fault. It is always the criminal’s fault. We should be able to walk in a dark parking lot listening to music and texting, but we live in a world full of risks. Also, having situational awareness will not protect you one hundred percent of the time. We are discussing preventative measures that can help mitigate the risk of being victimized by criminals and injuring yourself or others in accidents. It is not possible to avoid every situation and on the other hand many of us will never face a dangerous situation. Being prepared is prudent because it helps reduce your risk level.
What should you focus on to help your situational awareness and reduce your risk level?
1. Physical Condition – Are you tired, intoxicated, injured? Conditions like these reduce your situational awareness, so you need to adjust your behavior. For example, if you are going out to a new bar to have a few drinks, go with friends you trust.
2. People Around You – Are you by yourself, surrounded by strangers, are you with friends? You need to be cognizant of who is near you. Are the people around you potential threats? Have the people around you cutoff your escape route? Keep an eye on who is around you and make sure they can’t prevent you from getting to safety.
3. Your Location – an office, a dark parking lot, an unfamiliar street? You need to assess your familiarity of the area, determine your comfort level with your personal security and determine how you will be able to get out of a bad situation.
4. Time of Day – Walking out of a restaurant after lunch is safer than walking out at 2:00 AM. If you close a bar, you need to be especially cautious. Many attacks happen late at night and there are more drunk drivers out at this time (hopefully not you).
5. Identify the Exits – It is important to be able to leave quickly in an emergency. If there is some panic causing event (a fire, a fight, some kind of threat), it is important to know how you will get out, so you don’t panic like the people around you.
6. Trust Your Gut – If it seems wrong, it just might be. If you feel uncomfortable, leave. You may be sensing tension around you. You don’t need to “demonstrate your courage” by staying in a bar or party that has gotten a little too rowdy or by parking in an uncomfortably dark and unfamiliar parking lot.
7. Protect Your Assets – Wads of money and lots of jewelry shouldn’t be flaunted in public. You are making yourself a target. A criminal is taking a risk when they rob someone. They may “do the work and not get paid” if their victim has no money on them. Don’t show criminals that they will hit pay dirt by robbing you.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Make adjustments as needed.
It is better to err on the side of caution.
Being aware of your surroundings is not a guaranty of safety but it materially reduces your risk. If you are watching what’s happening around you, you might see the guy on the cell phone walking into the fountain, rather than being the person walking into the fountain.