Preparation: The Best Complement to Situational Awareness

  Couple not using situational awareness, giving the bad guy an advantage. Photo: author  
Many people believe the first step to self-protection is purchasing a firearm. While it is important, buying a gun is a singular action and not the whole sum of personal protection. One of the most important steps you can take is to learn about situational awareness and how to properly apply it. Situational awareness (SA) is defined as “the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.” Now you know how SA is defined, but do you understand how to apply it and what you can add to your self-defense needs that enhances its use? Many think SA is the use of intuition, but that is merely one element. Let’s explore a simple way to apply SA and see what tools can assist us. When observing your environment and its associated elements, what are you actually looking for and are you taking the simple steps to be safe? Take a large, multi-level parking garage as an example. You have attended a function that started at 6pm and ended at 1am on a nice summer evening. You and your spouse arrived at the beginning of the event and remained 30 minutes after its conclusion. Before leaving home, you decided you wouldn’t indulge in adult beverages, so none of your senses are impaired. You and your spouse walk to the garage to retrieve your vehicle and head home. You are unaware that two criminals, with the intent of armed robbery, are hanging out in the garage on the level below where you are parked. The two of you walk into the garage laughing in celebration of the wonderful time you’ve just had. You are so distracted that you forget which level of the garage you parked on. You walk up the stairs of the garage until a level color sparks your memory. As you make your way through the garage, your noise alerts the criminals, who are standing by for a victim. They then begin to track you and use your failure to remember your vehicle’s location to their advantage. Because your focus is now on the vehicle, you decide to use the vehicle’s panic feature to alert you to its location. You hit the panic feature and the vehicle alarm begins to sound. Yes! The search is over, and you can make your way home. But you have also alerted the bad guys where your vehicle is, so they know which way you are headed. The next thing you know, they emerge and victimize you.


  Remember the location of your vehicle and make sure you can exit the area quickly. Photo: author  
How can we reduce the risks of this situation? How can we use situational awareness and other complementary skills to avoid such dangerous situations? Let’s start from the beginning, when we parked our vehicle. The first thing I do is park on the level that has the most visible traffic. I locate the best parking spot based on what is available and back into that spot. Backing in allows me a faster departure in case I need to get out of there in a hurry when I leave. You see how I prepare myself for my departure upon my arrival? This allows me to complement situational awareness later by utilizing it sooner. I then commit my vehicle’s location to memory and challenge my spouse to do the same. I also consciously commit my path from the garage to memory, so I can backtrack later and hopefully have the quickest way back to my vehicle. Once I have enjoyed the evening and made the decision to leave, I confirm with my partner the location of the vehicle and the pathway back to it. I have also already prepped my spouse to engage as little as possible when we get near the garage. Don’t talk and laugh with my spouse? Why not? Go back to the definition of SA: We have to understand the environment, what it means, and its future status. Parking garages are constructed in a way that allows for echoes. Also take into consideration that my departure will be in the early a.m. hours, which means it will be dark. Sounds travel further at night, so I want to make a minimal amount of noise that will echo and alert anyone to my presence. We quietly proceed to our vehicle and approach it from an advantageous angle. What I mean by that is that we approach the vehicle in a way that we can see around it and around the vehicles next to it. This gives us an advantage in seeing anyone using the vehicles for concealment. I don’t unlock the door until it’s time for us to enter the vehicle. Once inside the vehicle, which is facing forward, I put my seat belt on and immediately leave. No fumbling with the radio to find my favorite song—it’s time to go. Since my vehicle is facing forward, I can look around the area, and I’m not slowed down by reversing out. The same two criminals are now at a disadvantage. They didn’t hear us talking and laughing, and because we knew the vehicle’s location and had a straight path toward it, we minimized our exposure to risk. Some simple steps can enhance our situational awareness. A proactive approach is always recommended. We never want to wait until we have an immediate risk to begin preparing for it.


  Family enters vehicle while Father keeps an eye out. Photo: author  
Think about being out with your family for a fun day of adventure, shopping, and tons of sugary treats for the kids; and maybe you enjoy a Slurpee or two yourself. Make sure your spouse and children are moving safely. When you arrive at your destinations, did you prepare in advance? Did you park in the midst of all the other vehicles and heavy traffic? Did you park your 4-door sedan in between two full-size SUVs? I want you to take a moment and think about this. There are ways you can manipulate the environment to your advantage. Your vision is a valuable tool when scanning your environment, so why park in between vehicles that are taller than yours and limit your view? Why park in the most crowded portion of the parking lot? The time it will take you to get out of that parking spot is longer, thus leaving you exposed to a potential carjacker. What if you take what the environment gives you and utilize it to your advantage? Why not park several meters from the most congested area? You can increase your field of view and maximize your time when exiting the area. When you are approaching your vehicle, there are fewer spots for a criminal to hide and surprise you. Still approach your vehicle from an advantageous angle and then unlock the doors. Remind your spouse and kids to immediately put their seatbelts on as they enter. You should be the last person to get into the vehicle. Head over to the driver’s door and prepare to enter, but first, scan the area from a standing position. This allows you to see any advancing threats and even look for the fastest route out of the area. Once you’ve confirmed everyone else is ready, enter the vehicle, which should be facing forward, and immediately exit the area. Resist the kids telling you to put on KIDZ BOP until you have made it out of the parking lot. You can see how preparing yourself in the beginning gives you an advantage later.


  If you are in charge of your family’s security, don’t enter the vehicle until they are buckled in and ready to go. Photo: author  
The best complementary resource to SA is preparation. Preparation leads you to other tools that provide other benefits; however, being proactive is the catalyst for everything else. We can talk about flashlights, edged weapons, medical kits, holsters, guns, window breakers, seat-belt cutters, and many other tools. However, if you are prepared, it makes all these tools easier to deploy. Stop and think about where you are going and how you can analyze that environment before you arrive. Set things up to your advantage and make them a disadvantage to any potential threats. You can do these things without making your loved ones believe you’re a lunatic who thinks zombies are going to emerge from the shadows. I often say that intelligence is the proper application of knowledge. You might think you know what situational awareness is because you can recite the definition, but are you properly applying it to your life? Preparation and the proper application of SA will prove you to be intelligent when it comes to your self-defense. The most beautiful thing about this is that it costs you nothing to practice and perfect. Prepare like your opposition does, and they prepare daily to make you a victim.

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13 Responses to “Preparation: The Best Complement to Situational Awareness”

  1. Dennis K Boehme

    I work on situational awareness on a regular basis. So Important. If you are in your car and need to fire your weapon, be aware on how your weapon will react to being fired. Angle of hand, wrist sight picture and one more thing. The shock wave and noise of the weapon being fired in the confines of the car will be somewhat out of control. This would be hard to practice. Making a second shot difficult.

  2. John Gironda

    Regarding backing into a parking space to aid a quicker departure, I do not agree, especially if people are older or handicapped in some manner that their entering a car would be slower. IMO, the time it takes for someone to get into a "backed-in" car is two steps longer: two steps to get to the opening part of the door, then another step into the car once the door is opened. For a "heads-in" parked car, there is only one step to enter the car after the door is opened. No matter how you count it, a person will enter the car quicker for a "heads-in" parked car, and will have a measure of safety once they are in the car. Further, no matter how quickly someone steps in this situation, a car will travel more distance in that time period. Who cares what is behind you if you are fleeing a situation? Attackers? Run them over. A car used by the attackers? Ram their front fender/wheel with the rear of your car to disable or slow their driving ability. If you ram them with the front of your car, it is more likely you will disable your own car (radiator, suspension damage). Now, there are a whole lotta "what if's" people might say, for example, "what if" you are driving a rear engine car? Well, that wasn't a premise of the situation, nor is if someone next to you is trying to get into their car, etc. I'm responding only to the situation posed in the story. Consider another aspect: Recently, a person charged me right after I sat in my car, before I was 100% inside the car, and before I closed the door. I drew my gun and laid it on my lap, and the person made a 180 degree about face quick as a bunny. My car was parked heads-in, so he was able to see my gun. If my car had been "backed-in" I would have had to present my gun in a more aggressive manner so that the guy could see it (above lower window or top of door). In such situation, it would have been more difficult to defend myself against "brandishing" a gun because I surely would have had it pointed to him. In my situation, the gun was on my lap, not pointed towards him, so the threshold of "angry" or "aggressive" display (part of the definition of brandishing) would not have been met. I suppose I've helped prove that SA isn't enough. One must think of the law in their state and extent of the threat, too, and how fast they can walk, turn, step into their vehicle.

  3. Dave Ohlson

    Bravo Zulu

  4. Baron

    You've got a big problem if you have kids whose age requires use of a child safety seat. Getting them set up before you can leave negates any chance of a timely exit in your car. Does anyone have ideas about dealing with this situation in the safest manner? I can't think of anything beyond having one adult buckling the kids in while the other remains "on watch".

  5. Samuel Antonio

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and life saving situational scenario....God bless us all and stay safe everyone.

  6. Larry Childress

    Great knowledge on situation awareness. Thank you for giving all the instructions and to know what to look for.

  7. Dannofive0

    All very good and well said.

  8. StLPro2A

    Good thoughts. For in depth preparation on reading Life's Tea Leaves, read the book "Left of Bang" dealing with Marine Combat Hunter identifying threats......reading anomalies in the environment to identify threats and act BEFORE (left of) the bang. Best little investment in preparation you will it, then practice the skills.

  9. Gary Katz

    Good points, but I'd buckle up once the vehicle was in motion, to reduce the time I'm stationary and thus vulnerable.

  10. Carl Clark

    Really good advice and suggestions. Sharing the info with my wife that we need be practice this more