Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Seven Keys To Situational Awareness

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

When you are out and about in today’s society you need to stay aware of your surroundings, but that is easier said than done. People often wonder exactly how to be aware, so this article addresses these seven keys components to keeping aware and staying safe.

Key No. 1: The Two Second Rule. The two second rule can be one of the biggest lifesavers out there. Most people blindly walk right into areas without looking first checking to see if it is safe and as a result they are easy prey for a criminal. The way this rule works is simple: anytime you approach a new area stop and spend two seconds looking at it first to make sure it is safe. In the morning before you walk out to your driveway stop and take to seconds; before approaching your car, before getting into your car, before pulling into a parking spot, before getting out of your car, before entering a room, before approaching your house when you come home at the end of the day, etc.

Any time you approach a new area stop before you enter it and take two seconds to look around and make sure it is safe first. As you look around you want to ask yourself three questions:

1.) What IS here?
2.) What shouldn't be here or doesn't NEED to be here, and
3.) Where are the exits?

Just ask yourself these questions and your mind will answer them for you. Especially asking yourself what doesn't need to be there often makes potential threats pop out. All in all you might add another 5 minutes to your day but it is definitely work it.

Key No. 2: Keep Your Head on a Swivel. This is a common saying in the security, law enforcement, and military communities. What it means is that wherever you are keep looking around to see what is around you. You don't have to make big dramatic movements or look like you're paranoid, but every couple of minutes look around you 360 degrees and see what is there. Ask yourself the same three questions:

1.) What IS here?
2.) What shouldn't be here or doesn't NEED to be here, and
3.) Where are the exits?

When you do this make sure to make use of reflective surfaces because sometimes they'll show you something you might not be able to see otherwise. In addition to letting you know who and what is around you this is also the best deterrent you can do to potential attackers and criminals who are scouting for their next victim. A lot people talk about making sure you appear confident because that deters attackers, and that is true to some extent, but what the criminal element really doesn't want is to deal with someone who is going out of his way to be aware of their surroundings. Chances are that person is too alert to sneak up on so it is too hard to take them by surprise and if someone is that alert they might have some kind of training or be armed where the criminal could get hurt. Getting injured is the what the criminal fears the most, much more than being caught and going to prison.

Key No. 3: The Five Foot Rule. The Five Foot Rule simply states that you want to do your best to keep at least five feet in between you and all potential threats. The reason is that someone who is closer than 5 feet can generally attack you faster than you can effectively react to stop them, while a person 5 feet away from you and further needs to make bigger movements so they are easier to see, you detect their attack quicker, and you have more time to respond than if they were closer. In addition, if you have someone confront you that is agitated or you believe may be a threat, giving him extra space will help to calm him down and keep him from feeling threatened.

Key No. 4: Hand Awareness. If a person is going to attack you most likely they will do so by using their hands so it is important to see where their hands are. Are their hands behind their back? Are they in their pockets? Is only one hand in their pocket while the other dangles freely? If so they may be hiding a weapon. As they approach you did one of their hands go into a pocket? If so they might be grabbing a weapon. As they approach you do their hands suddenly move in towards their body? If so they might be getting ready to attack you. Are their hands clenched in fists? If so they may be planning on striking you. Is one hand cupped and that arm held rigidly by their side? Or, is only one arm held rigidly by their side while the other swings freely? If so that is a good indication they are holding a weapon in that hand. Do they tap or caress a certain part of their body every few minutes almost like it’s a nervous tick? If so they most likely have a weapon hidden there and they checking to make sure it is still there, usually without them realizing that they're doing it.

If you do see someone that you believe has a weapon and for whatever reason you have to physically confront them or take them down, you should approach them from behind as to not be seen and then attack them from their right side. The reason for this, and the reason this is standard training for the Secret Service, is that people tend to be right handed therefore there is a good chance that if they go for their weapon they will do so with their right hand. By attacking from their right side you can immediately control their right arm and keep them from accessing their weapon or at least limit their ability to use it.

Key No. 5: Arm's Length Awareness. An attacker needs to be close enough to reach you in order for their attack to be successful. That being so, it is often when an approaching person reaches arm's distance from you (roughly 3.5 feet) that they launch their attack and throw that sucker punch. In addition to trying to keep 5 feet of distance, or more, between you and a potential threat, be aware of people as they break that invisible barrier or arm's length distance. If you see someone approaching you and something doesn't look right move away to put more distance between the two of you. In order for them to continue their attack they will have to follow you and give themselves away. If they keep on coming then just as they reach arm's length distance they will most likely attack. If you know they are going to attack it is usually best to attack them first, just as they are about to reach arm's length you should step towards them and attack.

Key No. 6: Peripheral Awareness. To get the most out of situational awareness you need to use both your focus vision (your direct line of sight) and peripheral vision (outside of your direct line of sight). Focus vision is used to identify objects but it is not very good at detecting movement, and peripheral vision is really good at detecting movement but not the best of identifying objects. When you are watching someone's hands or look at their behavior you should look directly at their hands and other parts of their body. However, in order to attack you they will have to move towards you and it is your peripheral vision that will do that for you.

Look directly at a person's center and your peripheral vision will pick up all the movements of their arms and legs. If you're walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant relax your eyes to let your peripheral vision work and scan the area, you'll find that everyone's movements jump out. Often criminals work in teams so it you are busy speaking with someone who is asking for directions or that you don't know make sure you keep 5 feet of space between you so you can see their entire body and have the increased reaction time, and turn to the side so you can scan see 360 degrees around you before you give him directions or look at your watch to give them the time. If you have to be engaged in a longer conversation look around every couple of minutes and use your peripheral vision to scan for movement.

If you entering a room it can be very easy to get tunnel vision and not see an attack from the side as you enter. Often the person looks through the doorway get focuses on an object they see inside the room and stays focused on that object to the extent they never see someone waiting to abuse them. The way to combat this as you look through the doorway see the floor line where the floor meets the far wall, and look a few inches above it. Then turn your focus away from your direct line of sight and to your peripheral vision. As you enter the room your eyes will automatically pick up movement on both sides of you to help you detect an ambush.

Key No. 7: Sucker Punch Awareness. Sucker Punch Awareness is essential knowing the warning signs of a sucker punch. There are four key times when a person will throw a sucker punch. The first time is when they approach you and they reach arm's length distance from you. As they pass that threshold they tend to want to start their attack.

The second time a person is likely to sucker punch you is when they get overly angry. If someone confronts you and gets in your face you should try to back away and keep the 5 feet of distance between the two of you. If that is not possible pay attention to these key areas that are signs that they are getting ready to start an attack:

-Their face gets red and they look like they are going to explode
-They suddenly widen their eyes
-They suddenly narrow their eyes
-They suddenly drop their chin
-They suddenly raise their shoulders
-They suddenly bring their elbows either away from their body or into their body
-They make fists
-They suddenly hold their breath

The third time when are likely to sucker punch you is when they are engaging you verbally and then suddenly disengage. Often they will stop talking and turn to the side like they are either thinking or talking to someone else, and then when they turn back they will throw a punch. They may also turn completely around showing you their back, or they might go from yelling at you to laughing and talking to one of their friends. The reason for this is to catch you off guard; if they threw the punch while they were in your face you might be ready for it, but if they disengage you might think that they were calming down and drop your guard.

The fourth time they are likely to sucker punch you is when they are trying to distract you. The way this often works is that if someone is in your face they will tell you to look at something else or bring your attention away from them and the hit you when you're not looking. Another common method is for a criminal to walk up to you and try to distract you with conversation while they get close enough to you to attack you. They will often walk up and ask you what time it is, and then when you look away to check your watch they attack; they might ask you for directions and when you turn to point them in the right direction they attack. They may also ask for a cigarette or for you to light their cigarette. They may also just ask you a complicated question to get you to look away in thought and then attack you then. Again it is imperative that when you are approached by someone you don’t' know to make sure you keep them at least at 5 feet away and then turn to the side while keeping an eye on them and then scan the area, 360 degreed, for an accomplice before dealing with them. Also pay attention to where their hands are and what they're doing when they approach you.

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