Situational Awareness

While GB and I were out shopping the other day, we walked from one store to the store right next door. The storefront we walked along had an overhead awning which provided us shade for the walk and shade for a truck parked along the sidewalk there. In summer in the Nevada desert, shade is an awesome thing. We walked and talked and had a great time together, until we passed the black truck parked in the shade next to the sidewalk. Then, a large dog surprised us when he stuck his head out of the halfway rolled down window of the truck and began barking at us. Because the truck was so close to our walkway, that dog could have taken a bite out of us if he had wanted to. 

If I had been out without GB, that dog wouldn’t have startled me. My situational awareness, or “the process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking steps to avoid it,” is through the roof when I’m on my own . As a female, I know that there are people out there who’d love to relieve me of my purse, attack me or kidnap me (Burton/Stewart). I’ve been taught since I was a little kid to be on the lookout for strange behavior in the people around me and to trust my gut about a place or a person. Usually, I watch for the signs accompanied by criminal activity, the acronym TEDD helps me do this: Time, Environment, Distance and Demeanor (Burton/Stewart).

In other words, if a person sees someone repeatedly over time, in different environments and over distance, or one who displays poor demeanor, then that person can assume he or she is under surveillance. If a person is the specific target of a planned attack, he or she might be exposed to the time, environment and distance elements of TEDD, but if the subway car the person is riding in or the building where the person works is the target, he or she might only have the element of demeanor to key on. This also is true in the case of criminals who behave like “ambush predators” and lurk in an area waiting for a victim. Because their attack cycle is extremely condensed, the most important element to watch for is demeanor (Burton/Stewart).

 I let my guard down when I was walking with GB, assuming he had my back. That day, neither of us had each other’s back. If we did, neither of us would have been startled by that dog. We had missed several cues.

  • There is a black truck with no visible occupants blocking the flow of traffic in the parking lot by parking at the sidewalk between two storefronts.
  • Close parking is available. An average shopper would have parked in a parking space instead of where this truck is located. 
  • The truck isn’t near any entrances, so dropping off/picking up or loading/unloading cannot explain the truck’s presence.
  • No occupants are visible in the vehicle although the vehicle’s windows are open (In this case, there weren’t any, but someone could have been ducked down and we wouldn’t have noticed).

In this case, our low situational awareness only had the consequence of a racing heartbeat due to a large dog suddenly barking at us. It could have been worse if a bad guy was waiting for a victim in that car, instead of a dog waiting for his master. Then, due to our own poor situational awareness, GB and I both would have unsuspectingly walked right up to him and submitted ourselves to whatever plan of mischief he had. A bad guy could have disarmed the one closest to him, in this case it was GB. (He was carrying using an open carry retention holster, but in practice, I have easily disarmed him from behind). Then, now armed, the bad guy could have subjected GB and I to any one of several bad guy activities: robbery, kidnapping, assault, etc. 

Being situationally aware is not about paranoia. Yes, it was just a dog this time. And next time, it might be some guy snoozing in his shaded front seat while his wife shops. I’m not advocating everyone walk around at their highest level of alert 24/7 just because I encountered a barking dog that in some hypothetical could have been a criminal. Indeed, such a high level of awareness might put a person in more danger than if he or she weren’t paying attention at all because a person’s body isn’t meant to be under such a constant stream of pressure. The appropriate level of situational awareness is a balanced one, “referred to as ‘relaxed awareness,’ a state of mind that can be maintained indefinitely without all the stress associated with being on constant alert. Relaxed awareness is not tiring, and allows people to enjoy life while paying attention to their surroundings (Burton/Stewart).”

The moral of my shopping story is this: situational awareness is an awesome tool we all should employ in our lives to head off any trouble coming our way. It is also a tool that can be used improperly, causing psychological consequences such as fear and paranoia and physical consequences such as fatigue. A state of “relaxed awareness” is a comfortable state, one which we can maintain indefinitely without any negative consequences, yet powerful enough to be able to reap the positive consequences of awareness.

GB and I should have been cruising along at relaxed awareness and should have elevated our awareness to a higher level as we approached the black truck. In this way, we would have had good chances of avoiding a possible attack, while still being able to focus on each other, on being together, on enjoying our time out of the house.

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