I’m not at all convinced it works. At least, not as advertised.
Risk and Reward
Criminals are human, even when under the influence of illicit substances. While their decisions might seem irrational to us, the way in which they make those decisions—the actual neurological functions—are the same as ours. The fact that they’re predators with a human’s abilities is what makes them dangerous.
It doesn’t take education or socioeconomic status to be a human animal, with all the innate abilities that implies. Get the notion out of your mind that your superior intelligence is sufficient to outsmart a streetwise thug. He’s an expert at this—you’re not!
When looking for a victim, a criminal—like anyone else entering into a dangerous activity—is going to evaluate his personal risk versus the reward he’ll receive (what he’ll get from his victim). It may not be a conscious evaluation and he may not be able to articulate that he’s doing so, but that’s what he’s doing. In his case, it involves considering how valuable the target is compared to how much trouble it will be to extract that value.
One doesn’t have to be dressed in the latest Paris fashions and dripping with jewelry to be a high-value target. One’s value as a target can increase simply because of availability (one of a very few people in a largely empty parking garage or a lone jogger on a wooded trail). It can also increase by virtue of timing: the strung-out meth addict needs a fix now, which raises the value of anyone who happens by at that moment.
On the other side of the equation, risk to the attacker increases when witnesses are present and able to view/hear the altercation, law enforcement is close by or easily summoned, or the victim appears to be vigilant about his/her surroundings. Of course it increases if the victim is suitably armed, though if the intended target is legally carrying a concealed weapon, the perp may not know that.
“AH-HA!” you’re probably thinking, “Situational awareness works!”
Don’t be too hasty! Yes, vigilance or awareness or whatever you want to call it might reduce your victim profile by raising the apparent risk to the attacker. But if that’s the case, and situational awareness does lower one’s victimization chances, why am I so pessimistic about the concept?
The Awareness Fallacy
It’s because awareness is too often touted as a talisman against attack, and it’s used to justify training that doesn’t reflect the realities of criminal attacks. Being situationally aware doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to see your attack coming farther out. In fact, the opposite is more likely.
This is the fallacy of situational awareness. You can “check your six” all you want, but if your attacker has determined you’re worth the increased risk, he’ll simply wait until your head starts to turn to the front again, and attack you from the rear. You’ll be ambushed because that’s the safest thing for him to do. He’s not going to stand 21 feet in front of you, knife in hand, and start running while your hands hover over the butt of your gun. He’ll wait until your attention is diverted and suddenly appear from your blind side.
Situational awareness doesn’t reduce your need to prepare for that ambush attack! An ambush, by its very nature, happens when you are least expecting it. Everyone, no matter how aware of their surroundings, has moments (lots of them) when their guard is down. Even if it’s only for a second or two, that’s all an attacker needs once he’s decided on his target. He’s not going to attack you while you’re looking at him—he’s going to wait until you’re not looking and then strike!
Don’t make the mistake of assuming the criminal is going to engage in a protracted surveillance of his target, giving you time to spot him. His assessment can happen in a matter of seconds, because an experienced perp uses the same kind of apperceptive pattern matching and recall that you do when you perform a task that you’re good at. That’s what makes him an expert at what he does, and it’s why he’s so dangerous.
What’s the Best Preparation?
This is the Catch-22: if you’re not aware of your surroundings, you’ll be more attractive to criminals and more likely to be caught off guard. Every attack will be an ambush to you. On the other hand, if you have a very high level of situational awareness, it’s more likely that the attack you do experience will be of the violent, ambush variety—because he’s going to wait until your attention is diverted just long enough to strike.
The most productive thing you can do is incorporate counter-ambush methodology into your training, whether it be armed or unarmed. Counter-ambush methodology looks at the realities of surprise attacks, then considers the body’s natural reactions to those attacks, and from that derives the techniques that will be of most use when you don’t know the attack is coming.
A training regimen that ignores how these attacks go down is of little use. If you don’t understand that criminals rarely signal their intent ahead of time, you’ll end up spending precious training resources in irrelevant drills of the “21-foot rule.” If you don’t understand that ambulatory conjoined twin criminals are non-existent, you’ll waste time and effort performing unrealistic, choreographed “multiple target engagement” drills.
Perhaps more importantly, a counter-ambush strategy understands that the body reacts very differently to a surprise threat than to one which is even slightly anticipated. This isn’t “shooting under stress.” It’s the realization that the body has very specific natural responses to a threat stimulus that go well beyond the simple anxiety of the firing line. It takes those natural reactions into account in both what is taught and how it’s taught.
Is There a Place For Awareness?
None of this means that situational awareness is useless. Properly understood, it can alter the criminal’s risk-reward assessment in your favor. It might reduce the number of potential attackers simply because not all of them will be sufficiently expert enough to work around your alertness. What it probably won’t do is give you advance notice, nor lessen the severity, of their attack. As we’ve explored, the opposite is probably true.
Change the risk/reward equation. Make yourself look like a hard target by cultivating an appearance of readiness, then back it up with learning good counter-ambush techniques for the time when awareness just isn’t enough.