What is Situational Awareness? Stay Alert and Stay Alive!

Knowing what situational awareness is can help you spot potential dangers

What is situational awareness in terms of your day-to-day life?

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to know what’s going to happen before it does?  Are they psychic?  No, most likely not.  While they aren’t psychic, they probably do have elevated Situational Awareness (SA) skills.

On the other hand, how often do you see people entirely focused on and only paying attention to their smartphones?  Are these people walking, driving, or doing something else with total disregard for the environment around them?  Are you guilty of this? In today’s modern world, most of us are.

It is the rare person in today’s society who doesn’t, at least occasionally, plug in and drop out of awareness of their surroundings.  Some are worse than others. Unfortunately for us, Murphy is an expert in causing problems at the most inconvenient times.  Because of our daily distractions, which keep us from paying attention, we as individuals are less prepared for the difficulties we might have avoided had we simply thought about “what is situational awareness” in this environment.

What Is Situational Awareness and How Do You Increase It?

The first step to successfully overcoming any problem is to recognize it as early as possible.  Once we identify an issue, it is only then that we can find a way to mitigate the impact on us, our family, friends, and others.  Without paying attention, we are less able to identify problems and, therefore, less able to avoid them. This is where situational awareness comes into play.

Business people use a SWOT analysis to help avoid pitfalls and capitalize on the opportunities.

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Threats
  • Opportunities

The military conducts ongoing intelligence gathering and pre-planning for a range of possibilities.  Public safety agencies analyze developing trends and experiences to prepare for the troubles they face.  What do a SWOT analysis, intelligence gathering, and trend analysis all have in common? They are all systematic methods of improving situational awareness.

No Formal Training Required

Situational awareness is not a domain isolated to corporations, the military, or public safety. Instead, it is an essential skill that can improve the safety of everybody.  It is the first skill and building block to mitigating the problems that all of us may face at one time or another.

While not always utilized, it is a skill that is nevertheless there for all to use.  As a skill, SA can improve through effort and training.  No, it doesn’t require formal training.  It just needs those of us who may not excel at seeing what is going on around us to pay attention.  We must make an effort to lift our heads, look around, and take notice.

Look Around and Notice

Observing is the act of looking, listening, and taking in your environment. When you watch your environment, take a look, and see what is going on.  Is everything normal and in its place, or does something not seem quite right.  If so, what is not normal? Is there a car driving erratically and headed your way?  What is that dark hole doing there?  Why is the kitchen light on when you usually shut it off?

After an accident or emergency, many times, people who are interviewed say, “I thought there was something strange when I saw X, but then I didn’t think any more of it.” Their instincts were kicking in and warning them, but they brushed it aside and continued toward a dangerous situation.

An excellent book for learning more about this is Left of Bang. This book talks about identifying the “baseline” of normal for the situation or location you find yourself in. By understanding that, you will be able to quickly identify when something is about to go wrong so that you can act immediately.

How Do You Engage Your Situational Awareness?

The scenarios can go on and on.  However, one point holds, the best way to notice potential problems is to engage our situational awareness.  While that may seem easy, we are too often distracted by our modern world.  It is these distractions that inhibit our ability to pay attention and identify oncoming problems.  It is these potential problems that are avoidable if we notice them.

If you asked your kids, “What is situational awareness?” would they know the answer to that question? An excellent way to enhance the skills of both your family and yourself is to make it enjoyable. A former counterintelligence agent, Graywolf, used a game to train those working for him and explains how to use it any time, any place to make you more aware.

Groups including everything from the Boy Scouts to sniper schools to government spy agencies and surveillance teams use a simple game to teach situational awareness and develop your memory. I’ve used it to train my guys. It’s called Kim’s Game and it’s great training. Contrary to what the instructors in sniper school said, it doesn’t stand for “Keep In Mind Sniper.”

This is a fantastic game that you can play with your kids or your team to get them to be much better at noticing and remembering details.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a book called ‘Kim’, published in 1901. It was also a movie from 1950, starring Dean Stockwell, the older guy from Quantum Leap (when he was 15) and Errol Flynn…

…The game’s simple enough and is fantastic to keep your kids busy on roadtrips or if you’re stuck in a bunker awaiting out some kind of disaster overhead. It’s also such a flexible game that you can pretty much play it anywhere, with anything.

Check out his article here to learn more about Kim’s Game.

The Bottom Line on What is Situational Awareness

So, the next time you are out and about, try to focus less on the phone in your hand.  Instead, pay more attention to the environment around you and genuinely observe.  When doing so, you may not only avoid a troubling situation. Alternatively, you might also see some of the vast worlds that exist beyond the phone in your hand.

Try it; you might like it!


Stay safe,


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Brian Duff

Brian's preparedness career began at sixteen and included professional roles as a lifeguard, firefighter, paramedic, Special Operations team leader with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, Diplomatic Protection Specialist, and international security director. He's managed medical clinics in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, provided high-threat diplomatic protection in Iraq and Pakistan, advised a rebel army in Africa, oversaw U.S. embassy security in Baghdad, and directed a premiere tactical medicine training facility. Brian is an expert in Security, Crisis Management, and Preparedness Mindset and hosts the Mind4Survival podcast. He holds a bachelor's degree in Security Management and an MBA in Information Technology Management.

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