Situational Awareness: “Practice what others Preach”

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As a instructor in many disciplines you often hear of keywords or buzzwords used by others to help sell their products or training along with of course themselves. Some may even go so far as to reference Col. Jeff Coopers teachings and then switch the focus more on the hardware and high round count to bring students in who don’t know what they don’t know.
One of the words I hear the most often is the term “Situational Awareness” hereafter referred to as SA.  What I never hear with this word is what it REALLY means other than the off the shelf explanation of being aware of your surroundings.  It’s one thing to just tell someone to be aware of your surroundings, but it’s an entirely different matter to explain what that really means and what they as students are supposed to be aware of.  Obviously most bad guys don’t go around blatantly advertising their intentions with a sign or some other sort of advertisement that they mean to cause you or others harm.
To date the best analogy that I have come up involving SA is the following statement;  your mileage with this explanation may vary and of course I am always looking to improve upon my training aids so any constructive criticism is welcome:
“The majority of you drove here in a vehicle or you may have carpooled with someone else and depending on your age, background and other variables odds are you have been driving successfully for years or even decades.  During this time I assume you are aware of environmental factors that cause flat tires or blowouts (asks students for examples).  As you have voiced several different circumstances that can cause flat tires I also assume that most or all of you not only have a spare tire and necessary equipment to change said flat tire but also the knowledge, or at the very least the ability to contact someone who does. (various student nods and answers).  I also am led to believe that you are aware of areas to avoid that may be prone to causing flat tires. (asks students for examples of areas that are more likely to cause aforementioned flat tires) 
Taking all of this into account that you know what causes flat tires, you have “Situational Awareness” of areas that are more prone to cause flat tires and you may or may not have the appropriate knowledge, equipment and skills to change a flat tire should you get one; but I ask you this “Do you still get flat tires……..?
The information below does not guarantee that you won’t be involved in a possible life threatening situation just because you read it, this information below is meant to be a guideline to help you better understand what “Situational Awareness” really means and how to be more proactive and better prepared should you find yourself in a life-threatening situation and how to get “Left of Bang.”
Please reference the following book for a more in-depth look into Situational Awareness and getting off the “X”
Establishing A Baseline of your environment: 
One of the first topics that comes to mind for all of the aforementioned subjects is Baseline.
As a prior FMF Corpsman in the military and an EMT one of the first lessons you are taught is Scene Size Up, which in layman’s terms means before you ever go run out to treat your patient you assess your environment as you roll on scene from inside your ambulance or other mode of transportation and determine if the scene is Safe for you, Your patient and or any Bystanders.  As you are doing this you are also assessing your patients environment to determine the MOI or Method of Injury which lets you know what you may encounter when you go to treat your patient.  An example of this would include if you rolled on scene to a vehicle crash and noticed the air bag deployed from front or sides you can expect some blunt impact injuries, possible deformities, cuts, abrasions, tenderness, possible spinal cord injuries and hemorrhaging. After observing the above situation based on your training and/or experience you are already formulating a plan for what you will assess and treat for first and prioritizing whether you load and go or stay and play (treating the patient on-scene instead of en-route to the hospital).  Now add into this scenario you see 2 vehicles and 1 of them is on fire, now what will you do?
I have found as an instructor I spend as much or more time being a student and refining my own classes and skills.  These days especially the challenge is getting students to focus more on Software instead of Hardware.  I would rather have a class of 5 students who leave at the end of training with confidence in their abilities and mindset who fired a lower round count downrange then a group of 20 students who are just their to send a large amount of rounds downrange and call that “training”……
Thus I offer this topic for discussion:
When teaching students about Situation Awareness I also reference Col. Jeff Cooper’s teaching in his book “Principles of Self Defense” and utilizing his color code chart to establish an easy to use foundation for the students to build upon.
After the students’ have a general understanding of this I then recommend that they learn to recognize and read the Baseline of the environment they are going into.  This “Baseline Assessment” consists of assessing several different key areas that gives the user an idea of what they are getting themselves into before they are fully immersed in said situation.
Below are some general guidelines to follow when establishing your environmental baseline and indicators to watch for during your daily travels.  More detail of these is referenced in the aforementioned book “Left of Bang” which I highly recommend.  For me it was nice to have some explanations on different indicators I have personally experienced over the years that have consistently helped me get “Left of Bang.”
When establishing a Baseline the student should assess the following areas:
1. Kinesics: Signals that humans give off using their posture, gestures and expressions.  These are non-verbal communicators and it is usually taught that a body will feel something and show it through these areas before it is verbally communicated.  An example of such is what we are usually taught by our parents of not crossing our arms when someone is talking with you as this is construed as rude and that you do not have any interest in the subject discussed or person discussing it.
2. Biometrics:  Uncontrollable or automatic biological responses of the human body to stress.  These are emotions experienced when something is happening or about to happen.  An example would be when speaking with someone whether in a professional or personal capacity and you notice their face starts to turn very red, and they start clenching and unclenching their fists.  If you don’t know what these cues are a sign of already then I highly recommend you study now.
3. Proxemics:  Helps you understand people’s or groups of people relationships and/or intentions based on their proximity (ie: distance) from one another and in the space they occupy.  An example would be of here in the US we often here people referencing someone being in their “bubble” as meaning someone they were speaking to was to close to them and making them uncomfortable based on their proximity.  The reason being that person was in their intimate space (less than 18″ inches) which is usually reserved for someone we are intimate with as either a family member, spouse or individual or group well known to us that does not represent a threat.  If we don’t know someone well then we like to keep them at least an arm’s length away as this gives us a response time should they become a threat.  Although most don’t truly understand consciously why they keep new people at this distance.  (Think of how a dog behaves around a new person in their space) 
4. Geographic’s:  Helps us to read the relationship an individual or group has with their environment and whether they are familiar or unfamiliar with it.  An example would be of someone who is visiting a new country or even a new town they are not familiar with vs. someone who is a local and knows the quickest routes, even if they are not on a map to get from one location to another.  Think about your own local town or city, you can usually tell who is or is not from there even if they don’t have a map in their hand as they are usually driving slowly, stepping on brakes constantly to read a sign or look for a road and constantly looking around with a lost or confused look on their face.  These are just a few examples of indicators you may have seen or much less performed yourself in strange areas.
5.  Iconography: This allows us to understand symbols that other individuals or groups (good or bad) use to communicate their beliefs and affiliations.  An example would be if going into a new area and trying to find a church to attend of your same denomination you will look for certain key words, symbols, phrases, or clothing to indicate whether or not you are going in the right direction and whether or not you are at the right place.
A personal example I learned when performing prisoner extraditions was that our GPS was not always correct and nor did it always work so we adapted quickly, and learned to look for Bail Bonds offices which would usually indicate our jail we were looking for was nearby.
6.  Atmospherics:  Focuses on the collective attitudes, moods or behaviors in a given situation or place which allow you to pick up on the social or emotional atmosphere of your environment.  An example would be imagine going to a funeral for a loved one and during the service which is normally a very solemn and respectful occasion you suddenly overhear someone talking loudly and vulgarly.  How does the atmosphere change of the group and/or individuals present change?
The best reference of a movie I can think of refers to the movie “Red Dawn” when the kids that survived the initial attack decide they need to go to town and get more information.  Before they ever enter the town they get a good over watch (observation) position and use binoculars to observe the town from a distance and notice that the vehicles do not fit the baseline for their town or US military.  Once they have gathered this information/intelligence they then stash all of their weapons and equipment that would make them stick out and then go into town to gather better Human Intelligence (HUMINT) as they have been off the grid for a while.  As they walk through town they observe how everyone is behaving, what they are wearing, people or places they are avoiding or going to, people’s postures and how they react to them being in town.
This aforementioned information is just the tip of the iceberg and is much more in depth, their are plenty of resources out there regarding this matter; however, first and foremost I would recommend the book “LEFT OF BANG” by Patrick Van Horne & Jason A. Riley
Look forward to seeing more posts from others and I will follow up in the near future with another post regarding topics mentioned above.
” A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”
Pierce Kibbey
Founder/Chief Instructor
Lakeland, FL 33811

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