How to Develop the Situational Awareness SA Through Training EP8

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Developing Good Situational Awareness SA Through Training Will Get Left Of The Boom

People with good situational awareness make it seem like a superhuman skill. They have an effortless ability to make precise assessments quickly and covertly. Situational awareness is developed and shaped with training and practice.

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Situational awareness (SA) is defined as the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.

Situational awareness taught in the military, police officers, and its a critical skill for people to learn. In a hostile situation, being aware of a potential threat even seconds can mean life and death.

Leading expert in the areas of Situational Awareness and Behavioral Analysis.Yousef Badou says if your just 1% more aware it can give you second or more time to react...It may not sound like a lot right now, but when the unthinkable happens, this minimal difference often can mean the difference between life and death.

Self Defense Magazine-AxxNox
Self Defense Magazine-AxxNox

Situational awareness is a skill that can help you beyond self-defense. Having more information around the events in your life can help you make better judgments and better outcomes. The Situational awareness skill is more natural for sensitive or empathetic people however anyone can develop it.

The following information has taken from years of research in the field of Situational Awareness and Behavioral Analysis. Much of it was developed from the life and death struggles on the battlefield.

How to Develop Situational Awareness

You will hear common phrases like head on the swivel or check your six as the definition of situational awareness. That description is very incomplete. There is too much noise in today's world. You must be able to pay attention to what's important and filter out the rest.

You would be exhausted quickly if I asked you to absorb everything in your environment and your ability to process the information would be diminished accordingly. Let's focus on the things that matter like behaviors or warning signs of an imminent threat.

You should also start all these scans from the immediate vicinity and work out farthest as the closer a hostile threat is to you, the easier it is for them to hurt you.

When you scan for overt indicators always think "immediate action." If you observe one of these indicators you need to make a decision to fight, run, or hide to keep yourself safe.

Let's Review the essential principles for improving your observational skills and then expand into situation awareness as a whole.

Observation + Orientation = Situational Awareness

First Let's Define the terms

  • Observation - the determination of the relative position of something or someone especially oneself

  • Orientation - the action or process of observing something or someone carefully or in order to gain information.

AxxNox Situational Awareness SA OODA loop tool
AxxNox Situational Awareness SA OODA loop tool

The OODA loop tool will aid our understanding. The OODA Loop is the cycle observe–orient–decide–act, developed by military strategist and the United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd applied the concept to the combat operations process, often at the operational level during military campaigns. The person who can cycle through the OODA Loop the fastest and more accurate wins. Notice the relative phrase more accurately. That's because you can be most accurate but slower and lose.

Orientation helps us filter out and focus on what's important and puts those observations into a form or setting in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

One must have the right perception to process information accurately. In his book, Jeff Cooper laid out a color warning system to help people gauge their mindset for hostile scenarios. The book's title is Principles of Personal Defense. The colors indicate a person’s potential state of focus and awareness;

Situational Awareness AxxNox
Situational Awareness AxxNox

Stay in Condition Yellow Alert

For optimal situational awareness, Cooper suggests that we always stay in what is best described as “relaxed alert.” There’s no direct threat, but you are alert and you’re observing your surroundings with your 5 senses.

It's important to describe the yellow alert state as a relaxed calm demeanor so you don't bring any unwanted attention to yourself. If your head is on a swivel you may attract the attention of shifty people. Maintaining a true calm demeanor will allow you to take in more information and process it.

Stay in Condition Yellow Alert - AxxNox
Stay in Condition Yellow Alert - AxxNox

Stress and anxiety shrink your cognitive skills. causing tunnel vision and the dulling of your 5 senses. Sensory fade will cause us to miss critical details on the environment.

Use can use your smartphone as a method of looking busy like everyone else while you covertly scan your environment and gather all the data elements.

Optimal Situational Awareness Position

A good vantage point choice will position you in an unobstructed spot to see the environment but still offers you good security. An example of a good vantage point might be your back to a wall and line of sight of all if not most entrances and exits.

Optimal Situational Awareness Position allows you to see people coming and going while allowing you to make a quick exit and eliminates the possibility of threat from behind you. Law enforcement officers typically take this position in restaurants.

Be aware of this discipline if you're meeting someone for dinner of questionable character and they pick the restaurant and arrive earlier taking the preferred seat. Not only may they have the best Situational Awareness spot they may have put you in the worst for a reason.

Understandably this is difficult to achieve however getting to the table first will give seat selection.

Situational Awareness Practice and Training

Identify Objects Around Your Environment

Developing situational awareness starts with being aware of your environment. Take a second to identify objects in your immediate vicinity.

  • Chairs and tables

  • Walls and windows

  • Objects on table

When you’re aware of the objects around you, you can effectively determine what can be used as a weapon and what will be a potential obstacle. Should a dangerous situation develop, you’ll have a leg up in using your environment to your advantage.

Recent CIA Situational Awareness Post Answers Below
Recent CIA Situational Awareness Post Answers Below

Situational Awareness Exit Interview Game

How well do you see things, when you don't know what to look for? How well do you take in the little details of the environment? If you’re like most human beings, you ignore them. The Situational Awareness exit Interview exercise will get you to develop your skills of observation and orientation.

Next time your out with a friend, as you leave a store, restaurant, or other location, ask each other what you saw there. The questions you're looking to ask are:

  • How many people were working there?

  • What were the people at the next table eating?

  • How many customers?

  • Can you describe where were the exits?

  • Describe the decorations in the room?

  • Where were the tables or product shelving?

  • Was anyone there by themselves?

  • Were people sitting?

  • How well did the couples know each other?

The person who can recall the most details wins.

Orient: Baselines, Goals, and Action Plans

Making your observation become actionable is part of the orienting process. Orienting the information is achieved by the relationships between these three things.

1) Baselines and anomalies for our particular environment, baselines include

  • Type and volume of noise

  • Odors

  • The level of light both artificial and natural

  • Patterns of movement of customers and employees

  • Customer activities

  • How is the crown dressed

  • The general mood of the crowd

2) Mental models of human behavior

3) Plans of action depending on our observations

Establish a Situational Awareness Baseline Wherever You Go

All environments and people have a baseline. A baseline is a minimum or starting point used for comparisons. Its what’s “normal” in a particular situation. It will vary from person to person and environment to environment.

After you have established a baseline, you can now track and spot those elements that do not match it. Those elements are anomalies and will always exist for some purpose. While many will not be a threat, each must be evaluated to see if there is a potential threat.

Anomalies are something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected in that environment. You will focus and collect all the anomalies and make predictions on the fly. Situational awareness is achieved by taking in our surroundings.

"After we orient ourselves to establish a baseline, we direct our attention to anomalies."

Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley in the book Left of Bang suggest that you mentally ask yourself these questions every time you enter a new environment:

Baseline Questions: What’s going on here? What’s the general mood of the place? What’s the “normal” activity that I should expect here? How do most people behave here most of the time?

Anomaly Question: What would cause someone or something to stand out?

What Behavioral Clusters Should You Look For?

The human brain can only process so much information at a given moment. In the world of self-defense, where things unfold quickly and seconds are often the difference between life and death, where we direct our attention is critical. How do we do it? Heuristics

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision. Examples that employ heuristics include using trial and error, a rule of thumb, or an educated guess. Decisions made from heuristics aren’t always perfect, but in the context of your self-defense, they’re usually good enough and better than nothing.

The Observation of People Can Be Very Revealing

Experts in interpersonal communication have estimated that nonverbal communication constitutes approximately 70 percent of what is involved in communication. In other words, only about 30 percent of communication involves the actual words that we use.

Van Horne has stated that the important category of clues is what he calls kinesics, an area of behavior that involves people’s conscious and subconscious body language.

"words are the lowest form of communication" Fausto Alarcon

Kinesics is the study of the way in which certain body movements and gestures serve as a form of nonverbal communication.

In the discipline of kinesics, there are three clusters of body language that are of particular interest for situational awareness. They are submissive/dominant behavior, uncomfortable /comfortable behavior, and uninterested/interested behavior.

Comfortable- uncomfortable behavior trait. Most people are going to appear comfortable in their day to day environment. If someone appears to be uncomfortable, that’s an anomaly that warrants attention, but it doesn’t mean they are a hostile threat. They could be distressed for personal reasons. It’s just something to keep your eye on.

Another typical display of uncomfortable behavior you’ll see from people with potentially bad intentions is head swiveling. Bad guys will look over their shoulders to see what’s behind them. They will scan their surroundings for opportunity or see if there is a potential threat for them prior to the bad act.

Human beings who are relaxed and at ease typically don’t do this because they don’t feel any threat. So if you see a guy looking over his shoulder a lot and standing there aloof, that’s an anomaly that should get your attention.

On the flip side, someone acting comfortable when everyone else is uncomfortable would be an anomaly.

Interested -uninterested behavior trait. Most human beings don't pay attention to their environment. Individuals who are showing interest in a particular person or object that most people wouldn’t be interested in is an anomaly that warrants further observation.

Dominance-submissive behavior trait. Typically, most human beings try to get along with others, so for the most part people act in accommodating and submissive ways.

Human beings get along to get along, aggressive behavior often constitutes an exception, and the individual presenting it deserves attention. If an individual acts in a pushy, dictatorial, or overbearing way, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a threat; context matters.

You would not think twice if a supervisor acted authoritative in relation to their workers and the employees to act passively to their manager. Extreme aggressive behavior being acted out by a customer towards a worker isn’t as common. Such behavior should be watched.

Body language clusters establish baselines for situations in which we find ourselves and allow us to direct our finite attention towards behaviors that are potentially more important and/or hostile.

If an individual's behavior amongst the following principles does not fit the baseline, they are an exception and you should monitor them closely. If the individual's conduct matches the baseline for that particular circumstance, you can pretty much ignore them.

How To Spot The "ALPHA" In The Group

  • Mimicry- Who is using who as a model.

  • Adoration- Whos opening doors for who.

  • Direction- Whos giving directions overt or covert / head nod-giving. Who are the people in the group looking towards?

  • Entourage- Who are the people attending or surrounding and who is the important person.

Other Behavioral Threat Indicators That Should Peak Your Situational Awareness

Bulges in Clothing. Most weapons cause visible bulges in clothing unless the individual is wearing clothing that is specifically tailored to hide it.

Checking the hands- Clear the hands to ensures that the person is not holding a weapon and is not preparing to strike. Hands often telegraph hidden nefarious intentions.

Checking the contacts eye movement and blinking rates. Studies have indicated measurements of head movement, blink rate, eyelid closure, or gaze direction in any and all can be a reliable data point.

Even though someone's hands are empty, are they concealing something they don’t want to be discovered? Bad guys carrying a gun, knife, or stolen object, will often touch or pat an area on the body where that object is concealed to ensure the object has not been lost or is still hidden from view.

“Acting Natural.” It’s difficult to act naturally. People acting naturally will appear distracted and over- or under-exaggerate their movements.

Situational Awareness AxxNox
Situational Awareness AxxNox

Have a Plan of Action Based on What You Observe

You don’t have time to formulate a well-thought-out plan. What’s more, the stress of the threat event will muddle your thinking and decision-making.

Flight- Can you leave and call it in?

Fight- Depends on your skills and abilities

Practice Daily, Establish baselines. Look for anomalies and develop a plan.

A Final Word About Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is a cultivated mindset. You want to get to the point that it’s just something you do without having to think about it. To get to that point, you have to practice it regularly.

When your out and about take the opportunity to practice. Look for entry and exit points whenever you enter an unfamiliar building.

Observing people and establish baselines and spot potential anomalies while you’re at the store, at work. Develop the what-if muscle by thinking through scenarios and responses. What you would do in that specific situation if a possible threat arose. Don’t be paranoid, just mindful.

You won't become a situational awareness expert overnight. This training takes considerable time and practice to become good at.

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More How To Resources on Situational Awareness and Pre Threat Indicators

Yousef Badou is a former Marine Infantryman with multiple combat tours and an industry-leading expert in the areas of Situational Awareness and Behavioral Analysis. He is routinely utilized by the FBI, Joint Regional Intelligence Centers, Overseas Advisory Council, and all levels of Military and Law Enforcement.

Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley. Patrick Left of Bang by

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AxxNox self-defense magazine focuses on self-defense industry, education, news coverage, article stories. AxxNox represents numerous thought leaders and subject matter experts from a wide range of backgrounds. Our goal is to provide evidence-based analysis that can help men and women avoid and respond to a real-life crisis. The online magazine creates, curates, and reviews various types of self-defense skills and tradecraft. Education, techniques, and tips are delivered in quick how-to guides and videos.

Recent CIA Situational Awareness Post Answers
Recent CIA Situational Awareness Post Answers

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