L3R – 6.3 Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness

Presence of mind may be described as the ability to correctly understand and assess events as they occur in complex, rapidly changing environments that can include an element or elements of danger. People have recognized the importance of this quality throughout history, particularly on the battlefield, but also in numerous other high stress circumstances wherever extreme pressure exists.

Situations can occur in an array of different locations, including, but not limited to:

  • football fields,
  • parking lots,
  • music festivals, or
  • on the street.

The ability to accomplish and exhibit presence of mind is an incalculable asset. This first requires perception and understanding, followed by the development of this skill. Some individuals adapt more quickly and readily than others to this new way of thinking. Once mastered, presence of mind gives an individual the ability to pay attention to rapidly changing details while maintaining composure.

A subset of presence of mind is situational awareness. This is the ability to comprehensively understand the circumstances someone finds themselves in. Situational awareness represents the part of presence of mind that deals with understanding the intentions and capabilities of adversaries, as well as other circumstances pertaining to an event.

You must observe the people that you encounter and be aware of the behaviors they are exhibiting. Be watchful for suspicious activity and other behaviors that may indicate an individual is in possession of a weapon or other item that could cause harm.

Pay attention and watch for things that are out of the ordinary. Some places that you might frequently pass through can include:

  • hallways,
  • restrooms,
  • stairwells, and
  • parking lots.

Because you will spend a large amount of time looking at these same areas, you might be tempted to get through them as quickly as possible. Do not get complacent and begin to zone out while working. If you are just going through the motions of checking off a checklist to comply with the client and/or facility rules, you may find yourself in a difficult or compromising situation and become overcome by an event.

If a person is in a difficult situation and has trouble thinking clearly, then that they must call upon previous mental training and regain his/her presence of mind. Usually, if a person is overcome by events and cannot recover immediately, failure is likely. This failure could be detrimental to you or others.

Remember your job is to observe, report, detect, and deter. It is imperative to remain focused and attuned to details at all times.

I    Awareness Levels

Jeff Cooper developed a system that describes the different possible levels of awareness based on color. Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness are divided into 5 possible categories:

  • White – Officer is relaxed and unaware of what is going on around him/her and is unprepared for response.
  • Yellow – Officer is relaxed but aware of who and what is around him/her; this is where an officer should primarily be.
  • Orange – Officer has identified something of interest that may or may not prove to be a threat and is prepared to act.
  • Red – What the officer has identified as a possible threat is proving to be a threat; make sure to maintain awareness of secondary dangers that may appear.
  • Black – Panic mode; the officer doesn’t react to a real threat or over-reacts to the threat.

II Observational Skills

a. Conditions and Circumstances

Officers should constantly evaluate their surroundings with attention to the following:

  • nearest cover/concealment/escape routes
    • how close, what must be traversed to obtain
  • weather conditions
    • snow, sleet, ice, rain, dust
  • lighting
    • poor visibility, extreme glare
    • terrain
    • water, mud, loose dirt or rocks, sloping conditions, high walls/fences/natural barriers
  • distance
    • proximity to threats

Note: Realistically, the farther a person is away from an attacker, the safer they are, so distance often equals assurance.

  • hazards
    • animals, pitfalls, barriers, high voltage, chemicals, gases, water (current strength, drop- off’s, etc.), hostile crowds

b. Patrol Area Recognition

Should you have a specific patrol area, it will be important to learn the area well. Changes that you notice as you move about the area will help you be aware of incidents sooner and could help keep yourself and others to be safe should an emergency occur. A security officer conducting a patrol should:

  • try to see everything there is to see, taking it in quickly and accurately,
  • look for disturbances, disruptions, movement, or other clues that may be signs of danger, and
  • catalog what is seen for future reference such as points of cover, concealment, entry and exit.

Effective observation can contribute significantly to crime prevention and criminal prosecution. Effective observation may also protect the officer or others from harm.