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Situational Awareness: 6 Ways It Could Save Your Life

situation awareness 6 ways it could save your life

Anyone who travels on a regular basis, spends time alone in the mountains, or regularly maneuvers populated cities at night may know about the idea of “keeping your head on a swivel.”  Similar turns of phrase are used far and wide, from “keeping your wits about you,” remaining “eagle-eyed,” and more. While different terminology is used, they are all harkening the same notion: to remain aware of your surroundings, all while watching out for potential dangers, problems, and concerns—to ensure nothing goes overlooked. 

What this notion and all of these turns of phrases are getting at is having and maintaining situational awareness. 

If you’ve never heard of situational awareness, you may be wondering what it is, how it works, and how you can better implement it into your life. Let’s take a closer look to determine the ways it can work to save your life. 

What Is Situational Awareness? 

mother walking daughter parking lot

Situational awareness is the notion of remaining cognizant of one’s safety related to their surroundings. To the individual, it relates to the idea of “keeping your wits” in that, while moving about your day, you remain aware of your surroundings and how they relate to you. 

Is something unsafe happening around me? Is there anyone suspicious that is causing discomfort in me or the people around me? Where is the closest exit in this establishment if I seriously need it in an emergency? What would I do if an emergency broke out, and how would I protect myself based on the circumstances at hand? 

Situational awareness, at its core, is very similar to risk management: You want to understand how you physically relate to a social scenario and how you can protect yourself and those around you if such a situation arises. Depending on the scenario, you should have the training to effectively understand elements that might pose a risk—people, vehicles, events, locations. In more high-end situational awareness training, you’ll be able to garner the knowledge to anticipate threats and identify solutions very quickly. 

Training around situational awareness is intended to protect you and even save your life under certain circumstances. This training involves the identification of sights, sounds, and emotional responses to specific stimuli, so you learn how they might affect your safety and how you should respond to maintain your own personal safety. 

training situational awareness graphic

Four Ways of Remaining Aware 

1. Identifying Hazards

The first way to develop situational awareness is through the process of identification. While working through the identification stage, you’ll work toward gathering information about your environment—buildings, vehicles, cars, exits, and entrances, etc

All of these are tidbits of information that allow you to develop a mental landscape of your surroundings, along with identifying potential hazards that might be seen around you. This information should be taken in and processed to understand how you fit into your environment and how you can move through it safely without either bringing attention to yourself or becoming involved in a possibly dangerous situation. 

2. Reflecting On and Scoping Out Issues

So you have a picture of your surroundings and you’ve identified potential issues that might affect you—but how are you relative to your surroundings? Are you tired, sick, hungry, thirsty, anxious, depressed? Whatever it is, the way you mentally and physically feel impacts the way that you’ll end up interacting with your surroundings, and any potential personal distraction can cause you to look past potential hazards and issues. 

Knowing your own thresholds and coping mechanisms will make it easier for you to maintain situational awareness in any scenario, allowing you to make personal safety a priority among other potential distractions. 

walking in alley at night

3. Forecasting Outcomes 

You have a picture of your surroundings and you understand your ability to respond to it, along with determining possible threats that might affect you. How far does situational awareness go beyond this? 

In particular, situational awareness’s primary strength comes from the ability to forecast outcomes, relative to both you and the situation. Situationally, you should understand how your personal space collides with the space of those around you while assessing how—if things were to go awry—you could remain safe. 

Think of situational awareness as a form of mindfulness—whatever else is going on in life, your thoughts should be clear to properly assess the world around you.  

4. Remaining Attentive and Designing Solutions

Don’t let distractions weigh you down. While you’re out in public, you should take the necessary steps to keep your senses aware of your surroundings, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around you. By remaining attentive, you can allow a stimulus to catch your attention. 

dispute in restaurant

And, if it’s possible to do so, you should think of how you should be reacting to it. Is someone around the street corner screaming at the top of their lungs? Can you hear what sounds like a fight coming from the inside of a store? Whatever it is, you should be attentive enough to take in those signals and react to them effectively.

Not sure how to react in any particular instance? Take the time to think rather than act immediately. Design a solution for what you’ll do dependent on the situation you’re potentially going to be inserted into. And, rather than reacting reflexively based on past perceptions, you can take in the various happenings at this current moment to craft a strategy that is intended to handle the entire situation. 

6 Ways to Enhance Situational Awareness to Save Your Life 

1. Learning Specialized Self-Defense for Women

A sad truth is that women are the most common targets for assaults. While it’s an unfortunate fact, women can take action to protect themselves, improving their situational awareness to better understand the warning signs of aggressors. 

Classes that teach self-defense for women will often go through various ways to keep you safe, like taking necessary precautions prior to leaving for work or a night out with girlfriends, but it will also look into ways you can effectively keep yourself safe from a potential assault. 

Moves taught will involve defending yourself against grappling positions, such as holds on the wrists or shoulders, as well as using certain types of self-defense weapons to keep you safe, including tasers and MACE. 

pepper spray hero

The primary point of these classes is to provide women with the proper skills to remain safe, and these are all related to teaching the basics of situational awareness—remain aware of your environment and have the necessary preparation to protect yourself from a potentially life-threatening scenario. 

2. Carrying Personal Safety Devices 

Whether you’re traveling in a known dangerous area, visiting the city, or hiking into the forest alone, you should always consider carrying a self-defense weapon on you. Numerous personal safety devices can be employed to provide you with a level of situational awareness you wouldn’t have otherwise: In the event of a situation becoming dangerous, you can utilize such a device to effectively protect yourself versus being unarmed. 

Popular non-lethal weapons carried by people include pepper sprays and stun guns. Both deployable from a distance, you can protect yourself while leaving space between you and an assailant. 

For more serious levels of protection, people will consider carrying a knife, which can be enough to scare off a predator prior to having to actually use it for physical defense. Rather than being left unarmed, you can protect your life at all costs, thanks to a self-defense weapon. 

3. Minimizing Distractions

While you’re staring into your smartphone, aimlessly ambling to your next destination, an assailant might be following you, watching to see if they can pick your pockets or pull you into an alleyway to steal your backpack or purse from you. Basic distractions we get lost in every day can have detrimental effects on our overall safety and well-being, and it’s in our best interest to avoid them at every cost. 

looking at phone in busy station

If you’ll be traveling through a crowded public place, consider removing your headphones and putting away your phone; if you’re out for an evening run on a darkened path, turn off your music and keep your eyes out for possible strangers around you; if you’re feeling tired during your train ride home, do whatever you can to stay alert, holding your possessions close to you so they can’t be snatched out from under you. 

Whenever possible, remove distractions that might lower your situational awareness in any capacity. Your safety should always be number one, so any texting can wait. 

4. Avoiding Fatigue 

It’s easy to lose grip of reality when we’re tired—we’ll miss basic warning signs and give up on things that require even limited attention. To improve situational awareness, it’s important to avoid fatigue. 

Some fatigue-induced situations that can leave you open to potential danger include leaving the office a few hours late, spending too much time out on the town with friends, and attempting to drive home too late at night. Any scenario can cause us to cross certain lines of situational awareness we’d never do before, from letting our physical guard down to letting warning signs slip us by. 

Avoiding fatigue is a simple way to remain alert. If you’re feeling drowsy or fatigued, take some necessary steps to provide yourself with some necessary energy—have a quick meal, stop in a well-lit business and talk with someone to heighten your senses, or grab a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea.  

5. Practicing for Specific Scenarios

Preparation is key when it comes to establishing situational awareness. One of the easiest ways to prepare yourself for a situation is to run through drills of it in your own time. While you can run through dramatizations with a self-defense instructor, there are other drills you cannot necessarily prepare for. However, you can guarantee you’re prepared for specific situations by thinking them over on your own time. 

If you were to be mugged with no one else around, you could run through options you might use to protect yourself or attempt to draw attention to what is happening; if a shooting breaks out in a public place, you’ll want to have already identified nearby exits and put prior training—understanding where and how to hide and escape—into use; if a burglar broke into your home, how would react in that moment, not only to defend yourself but to get into contact with local law enforcement as well.

ways to enhance situational awareness

6. Researching and Remaining Active

One of the easiest ways to obtain strong situational awareness is to combat complacency. Even if we have a routine we complete every day, we can become complacent—we forget to check the one dark alley we pass by each evening, we stare at our phone while walking through the subway, and we allow ourselves to get distracted in stressful, crowded spaces. 

Rather than allowing yourself to become complacent, you need to work to maintain situational awareness. This is especially true if you’re traveling to new places. Take the time to research the areas you’ll be traveling through; stay updated on local news and crime happenings; regularly prepare yourself for any situation; ensure your personal safety devices are properly packed and on your person prior to leaving your home. 

The worst thing you can do is to become complacent, refusing to consider situational awareness when in a troublesome situation. Rather than taking your chances, it is best to remain aware at all times. Having situational awareness when it counts might just save your life. 

Remain Vigilant

To remain protected and aware, be sure to keep up to date on the local news and take the necessary steps to protect yourself, whether with self-defense training or by possessing a non-lethal weapon. Whatever approach you take, as long as it’s an active one, it is bound to protect you in the face of potential danger. 

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