“Experience Is A Brutal Teacher; It Gives The Test First And The Lesson Afterwards.”
We’ve been asked hundreds of times what was the most important thing we learned over our years of military and government service. That question is by far the easiest to answer. It’s good situational awareness.
When people think of situational awareness they think it’s “checking their six” or “keeping one’s back to the wall.” Those descriptions are just the beginning of being truly situationally aware. While it may sound as easy as being aware of our current surroundings, it requires planning, preparation, and practice. In a dangerous situation, being aware of a threat a few moments before everyone else can keep you and your loved ones safe. Situational awareness is the ability to identify and process information that alerts you to a potential threat. Simply put, it’s paying attention and knowing what’s going on around you on a level that allows you to act preemptively or respond appropriately in real time.
Exit Stage Left
In the operating arena of espionage, covert action, law enforcement or combat, being able to know the environment and read the atmospherics is what keeps you alive. Knowing the environment is being aware of what, when, why and how something of consequence occurred. Reading atmospherics is correctly interpreting what is happening in the here and now. It’s what we call “left of bang.” The U.S. Marine Corps adopted situational awareness techniques used by covert operators called “Exit Stage Left”. Their modification was called “left of bang.” If you were to picture a timeline, “Bang” is zero hour and is located dead center of the timeline. “Bang” is whatever threat or event you are trying to avoid. It can be anything from a terrorist attack to preventing a minor car accident.
If you’re “right of bang”, you’re wrong! The event has already occurred and you’re on the “X” trying to fight your way off. You’re in reaction mode to the event which means the terrorist, criminal, animal or natural occurring event has the initiative because you missed the warning signs. If you are “left of bang”, you were able to identify some of the pre-event indicators that existed before the activity occurred. By identifying the threat prior to occurrence, you were able to be proactive and never found yourself on the “X”. Being “left of bang” was knowing the environment and interpreting the atmospherics correctly which allowed you to detect, avoid or evade a hazardous situation.
That’s situational awareness.
It is important to note that situational awareness comes from developing what is often called “street-smarts.” This is being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations. It’s flipping that mental switch inside your head and pivoting toward a predator mindset. Situational awareness is a way of thinking, it’s not a hard skill set like surveillance detection or hand to hand combat.
Most people believe that good situational awareness can be only practiced by highly trained special operators, government special agents or ninja-like security teams. But, because it’s a mindset, a way of thinking, moms and dads, business people, college students and kids can acquire the skills and hone them into a fine-edged weapon. It can be utilized by anyone with the will and the discipline to learn it. But you must know how to “flip that switch” and get that street-smart radar up and running. Once you learn how to turn that radar on, you can assess the environment you are in, who is in it, and what options you have if a threat arises. You learn to trust that inner feeling or that “Spidey Sense” about people and places. This skill, once you develop it, is of great value to you everywhere in your life, regardless of where you use it. Situational awareness is looking at the past, present and future of your movement through life. Departing a safe area for a transitional area, then moving to a location of potential threat that has designated areas of danger, then moving back to a transitional area prior to arriving at another safe area. It’s the who, what, where, when, why and how of safe travel.
Lastly, we are often asked In your experience, what is the biggest stumbling block in developing good situational awareness? This is a very simple, but truthful answer. People have the “I’m careful” attitude, or “It won’t happen to me” mentality. You need but look at the news headlines to see how wrong that argument is. Anybody can be scammed, abused, stalked, identity stolen, burglarized, hacked, robbed or murdered. We can list dozens of famous celebrities with tons of experience of being targeted for any number of criminal activity, and yet they become victims.
The opposite answer to the above question is the person who is so paranoid that everyone they see is seen as a threat. Those people constantly see enemies and feel they are being watched or followed. They see what we in the intelligence game call “ghosts, or false surveillance.” They interpret people instead of activity and buy into every movie or TV show they have ever seen. As we said, people are not suspicious, but their activity can be. The way to alleviate fear and reduce the victim mentality is to think about predators logically and with reality. In one of our future blogs we will discuss using the “Predator Mindset“ as a safety tool.