If you've spent any amount of time in the personal security, self-defense, tactical and combatives world you have most likely heard the phrase, "situational awareness" tossed around. Often accompanied with complementary phrases, "keep your head on a swivel" and "watch your six". Or my personal favorite, "be aware".
Often the accompanying explanation when pressed for further explanation is simply look for anything suspicious, or something that doesn't quite. Or, equally vague, "you'll know when you see it."
If tasked with looking at everything, quite honestly you end up looking at nothing. Humans beings, contrary to popular belief, are horrible at multitasking. What we are good at is switching between tasks quickly when we have familiarity and skill with that task.
So, being told to keep your head on a swivel is vague because it expects you to know what it is you're looking for; it assumes you know the type and manner of attack coming at that time. When in reality, we don't pick the time or place of the attack: the attacker does and he will do it when he thinks he has advantage. (This opens up another topic about proactive choices, tactics, and actions to create determent or disadvantage to the planning and selection of potential attackers).
So, what do you look for in a parking lot when walking from the exit to the vehicle? Your head is on a swivel looking around at everything and potentially nothing. For example, there is a man standing in the median between parking spots looking around. Is that suspicious? Maybe, maybe not. He could be waiting for a ride or forgot where he parked. What else would lead you to believe it to be suspicious? Let's add that he now notices and watches you walking through the lot. Suspicious? Maybe, maybe not. He could be watching to see if you are a potential threat to him? What else would lead you to believe it suspicious? Let's add that now he looks and watches you and then looks around to see if anyone else is nearby. Why would that be important? Maybe he yawns or stretches when he realizes you notice him; why would that change anything? What would lead you to make a proactive choice to a course of action in order to affect his decision making process?
The above scenario is simplistic, but poses some real world questions. You don't know what you don't know and can you see what you don't know you're looking for?
By nature, most of us will feel uneasy in such a scenario. The hair on the back of your neck may stand up. Physiologically, your body is far more in tune with subtle body language and threat pre-attack indicators than you are. Listening to that instinct is good. Building upon positive incidents increases your reliability on that instinct. Learning how to consciously look for and recognize pre-attack indicators is a proactive tactic that increases your skillset in personal security. Knowing what they are and how to articulate them is of utmost importance if the day ever comes that you have to use force.
Why would that be important? Being able to articulate what you perceived and why you chose a course of action is a skill that will serve you well.
Being confident and fluent in recognizing pre-attack indicators and using your environment to your advantage could potentially make you a hard enough of a target.
Which leads us to the title of this blog post: informed situational awareness. I prefer this term because it implies that the user of informed situational awareness has been informed on what to look out for. What environmental factors to consider and how they affect perception. What verbal and non-verbal cues can be pre-attack indicators. How combinations of pre-attack indicators can signal an imminent attack.
Knowing ahead of the incident gives you at least one advantage of potential many: time. Time allows you to act instead of merely reacting. Any chance you get to act instead of react is a chance you get to dictate the tempo, cadence, and course of the flow of the incident.
You recognize that the suspicious person in the parking lot has given you several pre-attack indicators. Since you now have the advantage of recognizing a potential threat BEFORE being attacked you can take proactive action to create distance, call attention, use a high lumen light, access a less-lethal option like OC spray, move to a position of advantage by placing a car in between, altering your direction forcing the person to change their course, creating tactical advantage for yourself before any possible conflict begins. And it may never come to fruition because you created enough of a natural deterrent.
The information and knowledge give you advantage. Knowing before hand the layout of the parking lot, where entrances to the business are, other businesses, the neighborhood you're in, just a little bit of knowledge can be of great value. Knowing what to look for to gain that advantage is where finding quality instruction on situational awareness is important.
That's the difference between Informed Situational Awareness and just merely keeping your head on a swivel.
There are places to learn these things. Seek them out. It's a jungle out there full of concrete and the human condition.