4 Ways to Improve Your Situational Awareness

It happens all the time in movies. An unsuspecting victim is living blissfully unaware of his or her surroundings when a shady character sneaks up and attacks him or her from behind. Or there are those maddening movie scenes that depict a brain-dead homeowner who hears a noise in the basement and goes down to investigate without so much as a baseball bat for protection. These movies show an embarrassing lack of situational awareness and basic preservation skills.

Though real life is nothing like the movies, there are still some parallels that can be drawn between the two. In real life (just as in the movies), you’re more likely to become a victim if you aren’t aware of what’s going on around you. Simply paying attention to your surroundings can make you a much less desirable target for a criminal.  

Increasing your situational awareness can increase your likelihood of escaping dangerous situations. Here are five ways to improve your situational awareness so you don’t become an unsuspecting victim.

1. Be Aware of What a “Normal” Situation Looks Like

If you want to improve your situational awareness, you first have to establish a “normal” environmental baseline. Determine what sounds, sights and behaviors you should expect in your current situation so you can immediately pinpoint anything that falls outside of “normal.”

For example, if you’re hiking in the woods, you can expect to hear few noises except for insects, birds, and the occasional passing hiker. If the woods are abnormally quiet, you should be on alert for predators (of the human or animal variety), or for dangerous weather.

If you’re driving on a busy street, you should expect the normal sights and sounds of traffic. If something seems “off” from the usual, keep an eye out for potential danger.

2. Assess Your Surroundings for Potential Threats

Situational awareness is not synonymous with paranoia. You shouldn’t be overly stressed when you’re living your daily life. However, you should be consistently checking your surroundings for potential threats. You can do this in a casual, low-stress way. Here are a few habits that can increase your situational awareness:

  • Pay attention to what’s going on around you (including sounds, sights, smells and the overall feeling in the air).
  • Make note of anyone or anything that seems out of place or suspicious. Watch the person or thing in question to assess whether or not you’re in a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Consider whether a suspicious individual could be carrying a weapon or could have access to a nearby item that could be used as a weapon (such as a chain, baseball bat or shovel).
  • Look for suitcases, bags or other similar items that are left in a crowded area without an owner nearby. This is a common way criminals hide explosives.

If you have an uneasy feeling about a specific individual or your environment, move on to the next step.

3. Look for an Escape Route

If you’re generally a calm person but you can’t shake an uneasy feeling, pay attention to your instincts. Look for different escape routes you can use to get out of the situation or place you’re currently in. Once you have identified a good escape route, use it to get away from a potentially dangerous environment.

4. Plan How You Will Respond

If you feel a little suspicious but don’t have an opportunity to get away from the situation, imagine different scenarios in your head and imagine how you will respond. If someone attempts to attack you or people near you, what will you do? If someone draws a weapon such as a gun, are there places nearby that will provide you with shelter (such as desks, pillars, cars, etc.)? A good plan can help you avoid freezing up and becoming a stationary target.

These are all important components of situational awareness. Do you have any other situational awareness suggestions? Let us know in the comments section!