Sunday, 12 August 2018 18:00

The Situational Awareness Trap: Do You Know What to Look For?

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In the previous two posts I discussed some important issues concerning situational awareness and its importance.

The first article discussed the importance of developing situational awareness as a key to the prevention of violence.
The second article discussed why some people don’t listen to their gut instinct, with some entertaining and amazing stories to show both terrible awareness and excellent, literally life-saving awareness.

Before we get into how to develop better situational awareness, I think it’s important to stop and identify the situational awarness trap; we are often told we need to develop it, that it's important, that it can save your life... And that's all true. We may evn be given some tips on how to develop this (I'll discuss this int he next article). But even with all of this in mind, do you know what to look for?

There are many tips that are given readily by martial artists or self-defence instructors that are impractical or unrealistic to implement. My favourite one being ‘don’t run with your headphones in’. It annoys me so much that I wrote an entire piece on it and you can read it here.

While these tips may be valid, they don’t teach us what to look for. In other words, even if you don’t run with your headphones in, you are still at risk if you don’t know what sounds indicate danger.
In much the same way, not looking at your phone while walking down the street will improve your awareness dramatically… but knowing what to look for will improve you chances of identifying danger even more significantly.
Think of these examples as simply opening your senses to allow you to notice if something happens.

An interesting point is that there much of the research done about victim selection shows that there are 3 main things that potential attackers will look for:


  1. Are you alone? It’s much easier to attack one person than it is to attack several people. If you’ve ever done any training for dealing with multiple attackers, you know that 1 plus 1 does not equal 2. You can read more about this here.
  2. Are you aware? I have discussed this in depth in the articles mentioned at the start of this piece. Lack of awareness makes it ever so easy to blitz attack someone, as well as to take a lot of time to set up the attack before it happens. Most attackers will take a long time to get in and get close, but when they attack, they attack quickly and ferociously. Detecting them in this stage is key to prevention… and this is what we are talking about here.
  3. Your gait - How you walk and carry yourself is a key factor. Your gait tells volumes about your physical and emotional state. Much like in nature predators prey on the weak, the ones struggling to keep up with the herd. Someone walking with purpose and confidence, holding their head up and looking around is not an easy target. On the other hand, someone who drags their feet, shuffles along, limps, or who’s gait is unnaturally long or short, may be an easier target. It may indicate weakness, illness, injury, fear, etc.

Potential attackers will look for these, then sync their movement with yours. They’ll take their time getting close and getting ready. When they are ready to make their move, they’ll move swiftly.
So the people trying to attack you will be looking at these things… But what should you be looking at?

Before I move on, yet another disclaimer. This is a huge topic and there are many excellent books that can explain this in detail (I’ve listed a couple of my favourites at the end). The following is a short list of the basics, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Lastly, before we get started, I am referring here to people. There are other things that should be included in your ‘awareness toolkit’ that we can discuss later.

So, in no particular order, here are a few things to help you identify potential dangers:

  1. How do they look?
    We are used to scanning and categorising people based on appearance as part of our daily interactions with other humans. Let’s refine the process. Firstly, we want to assess things like gender, size, build, hair colour, etc. Is this person someone who could overpower you easily? Do they have any distinguishing marks? Then we want to look at clothing. Are their clothes suitable for the environment, weather, etc.? Are they trying to hide something? Here are a couple of examples:
    a. Wearing a hoodie or an overcoat on a warm day may indicate someone trying to hide something in their clothes
    b. Are they wearing something that make them more difficult to identify, i.e. hat/cap/beanie pulled low together with sunnies, etc. 
    Keep  in mind that you are looking for things that may be suspicious. Nothing wrong with wearing sunnies and a hat on a sunny day, so we want to look at these in relation to the situation you are in, and combined with next two factors.
  2. How do they behave?
    How do they move, interact with others (and the environment), stand about, etc.? Some of this is obvious; Young males who had too much to drink tend to be loud and obnoxious, and are easy to spot from a distance (and yet people still get into fights...). There are other things to look for. Do they look like they are waiting for something? Are they scanning? Have you seen the same person walking past a few times and looking your way? Have you noticed someone looking at you, moving to another location in the area, then looking at you again? Are they angling their body in particular ways to keep a hand out of vision? Is the person giving you too much or not enough attention, i.e. starting at you and then averting their gaze every time you look, obviously avoiding eye contact, or simply stares? Are their movement erratic or twitchy? Have you seen that car a couple of times today already?
  3. Are they alone?
    Numbers are a great way of stacking odds in your favour, and many times they will work in groups. If you identify someone who looks and behaves in a way that raises your suspicion, and then spot another person who raises your suspicion, then you should be on high alert.

As mentioned before, if you notice these things and then notice them syncing their movements with yours (i.e. following you directly or moving in a seemingly random pattern but gradually getting closer, etc.) then you need to think about what you would do if someone happened.
I cannot stress the following point enough: You should think about what you would do in such situations well ahead of time. 

It's also important to recognise that the point here is not to make you paranoid; rather, but thinking of these things in advance and practising to recognise the signs of danger well in advance, you will be able to feel more confident and know that should something happen you will be able to respond correctly. 

Lastly, the environment you are in plays a key role in how something might happen and what you could do. It’s so important, that I’ll leave it to another time and discuss it on its own.

When we review the last few blogs together we can look at a few things that are crucial to improving our survival skills in terms of awareness:
1. Being aware is key to preventing potential attacks. It is something that attackers will look for, and it is also something that enables you to detect what is happening around you.
2. You gut, or intuition, knows more than you think. If your gut tells you that something is off, listen to it!
3. Being aware is only part of the equation; you need to also know what to look for. Hopefully you got some ideas of these here.
4. You need to learn how to improve your awareness, which I will discuss in the next piece.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Life is wonderful, and the world we live in has so much beauty. Put your phone away and start looking around you. Not only will you make yourself safer, but you will enrich your life by experiencing every day more fully.

Stay safe, stay tuned


Recommended readings:
Can I See Your Hands – Dr Gavriel Schneider
The Gift of Fear – Gavin DeBecker (I'm re-reading this at the moment. Amazing book!)
Dead or Alive – Geoff Thompson
Krav Maga Tactical Survival – Gershon Ben Keren (as well Gershon’s excellent Krav Maga Blog, and his Talks at Google lectures on YouTube)

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