The Art of Situational Awareness

Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest – by Don S

A civilian approach to “Chance favors the prepared mind”

Depending on where you live, no doubt on any or every given morning you can wake to the doldrums of newscast reporting on the crimes against everyday people that have taken place in the last few hours. They run the gamut with 5-10 second blurbs about a deadly assault, robbery, rape and murder at such a pace that not only are we (purposely) constantly desensitized to the plight of others and the state of affairs around us, we are also somewhat unknowingly reduced to a quick reaction to match the quick reporting. Leaving most of us with a response something like “Those poor people”, or “Isn’t that sad”.

But how we react and view these types of stories can and should be used as a training tool for our minds and our families as well. I am blessed with a large family, married and 4 children of various ages. I never, ever, want to see any of them victimized, and I never want to be a victim myself, for many obvious reasons, but the one reason that many of us do not consider is at the top of my list. If I am a victim, it either limits, or ends my capacity to serve and protect my family.

Before going any further I want to be clear that everything from this point on does not mean that I am insensitive to the plight of others, it simply means that I have chosen to go beyond the human emotion of a news story and look for ways to apply it to the lives of my circle of influence for the greater good.

So let’s get into it……….

Are you aware?

You’re on the way home from work and need to pick up something from the store. You whip into the place of business, run into the store at break neck speed,  find your item, proceed to the cashier to wait in line while staring at your cell phone screen checking texts or updating your fakebook status, pay for your item, rush to the car and back into traffic. This is normal everyday life for millions of people, and it takes place all day every day over most of the civilized world. But in that 5-10 minute stop, how many people did you pass or even come close enough to brush shoulders with? How many different actions did you go through while being completely oblivious to what was going on around you?

Or what about this one? Your on your way to wherever, you need fuel and a pit stop, whip into the “convenience” store, swipe a card on the reader, stare at the gas pump screen, (many of which are now going to pumps with music and TV screens to further distract us), start your fueling, run into the store for a restroom break and a drink, run back to the car, hang up the pump, jump in and drive away.

In both of these instances, any so many more like them involving everyday life, you are a potential victim! Let me say that a different way, YOU ARE A POTENTIAL VICTIM!!! The reason is glaringly simple. Being constantly unaware of your surroundings and the people in them make you just the type of target that attackers look for, and let me be ultra-clear at this point. I know we use resources like this site with preparing for future survival in mind, BUT, changing your way of thinking now, and preparing your mind a little each day, can and will make the difference between having a supply cache at home, and actually being there to use it!

What about the poor lady on the news who was beaten at the gas pump then her purse and car stolen? It’s in the news every day, some of the time the person even has pepper spray in their purse. So how did it happen? Most of the time it simply comes down to an attacker who is waiting for a person completely unaware of their surroundings and they can be on top of the person giving them no chance to react and fight back. Men are certainly not excluded from this fact either, and probably the least aware group of all, is our teens and young adults, who like many of their adult counterparts are so absorbed with the digital world (or completely self-absorbed like much of the population) that they go through life without ever seeing the flowers, much less stopping to smell them.

I must interject a point here that many Americans take offense to; many live in middle class to affluent areas, and live with the belief that we work hard to live in safe neighborhoods and shop in safe areas. I work extra hard to provide our family with the same, however  we must begin to shift our thinking because crime is now beginning to target those very areas, they are usually soft targets for criminals, and there is usually more to gain from their point of view. But you cannot lock yourself in and never go out as a way of staying safe, remember, if your life is driven by fear rather than wisdom, you are already a victim.

By this point you should be considering where the holes are in your armor, and thinking about how you can apply simple changes to your everyday routines to take yourself out of the victim pool. Two things should be made very clear,  1. You will not become Jason Bourne overnight, or ever!!  2. You cannot now or ever control every parameter and scenario in life, belief that you can will lead to things we don’t want to discuss here. This article and the personal training with it are meant to raise your alertness and give you the ability to avoid potential danger, or provide the precious milliseconds of reaction time that make the difference if you are in danger.

How do you start?

Exercise 1 – if you are gifted with good memory then great, if not put a post it note on your steering wheel and start here…the next time you pull in for gas at the pump, before you put the car in park and go diving out hurriedly….

  1. Put the car in park, before opening the door, check your rear and both side view mirrors. Is anyone approaching? If so, then check them out for a second, let them pass by if they are close, if they keep lingering and looking in your direction, then there could be cause for concern.
  2. Once you have exited the vehicle, again, look around, check your surroundings, and check the people around you at the other pumps, check for potential threats or suspicious activity. Once you start pumping fuel into your vehicle, rather than being glued to a cell phone screen waiting on the fuel to finish, just look around you every few seconds and be alert.
  3. When you’re finished fueling and reenter your car, stay alert, enter the car, close the door and lock them while you get situated to drive, keep a check on your mirrors until you are safely moving down the road.
  4. If you enter the store, be alert going and coming, when you step inside, check the surroundings, who is in there, is there any cause for fear or suspicion, if so should I exit the building and wait or proceed?

I hope by now you are getting the picture, more could be said here about preparing yourself for possible scenarios inside such as robbers entering the building but that’s a lot more instruction for another time. And this same exercise applies to the mall, grocery store, bank, everywhere!

This is not living in fear, not only are you training your mind and subsequently your body to be prepared and react if needed, but  you might actually get to enjoy some scenery for a change. And I meet a lot of great American people almost every day by just making eye contact (a lost art in our society) and saying hello.

The key is to practice and make this a way of everyday life without being obvious. If you are ducking behind your shopping cart to check your six every time you enter a new aisle at Walmart, not only are you going to draw unwanted attention, you will likely end up on YouTube under the heading “funny surveillance video”. Practicing this way of thinking may be foreign to some at first, but in short order will become second nature and only take milliseconds to perform while you are in public, and one day those milliseconds may add years to your life.

Prizes For This Round Include: (Ends July 29, 2016)

First Prize:

Second Prize: 

Third Prize:

Please read the rules that are listed below BEFORE emailing me your entry… my email address can be found here – please include “writing contest entry” in the subject line.

The more original and helpful your article is, the deeply and less basic it is, the better the chance, that I will publish it, and you will win. Only non-fiction how-to-do-it type articles, please.


  1. A trick I used to help with my own situational awareness was to play a game. It’s pretty simple. When you’re out and about, you give yourself a point for every person you know that you see who don’t see you first. You deduct a point for every person who sees you first.

    This encourages you to keep your eyes open and aware of your surroundings. Since I’ve had people recognize me at a gas station at three in the morning, it’s forced me to be aware at all times unless I want to lose a point.

    You can even incentivize it with “I won’t get that new pistol until I hit 100 points on my SA game.”

    Of course, that shouldn’t be the only thing you do, but I’ve found it helps me out.

    • Robert Duncan says:

      Tom has a good method. When I backpacked a lot as a child, ‘Nam combat Grunt and later, I’d ofter turn and face in the opposite direction just to see what the terrain looked like in the event of what we jokingly called a retrograde maneuver. Turning around, making a mental note of where your car can also be helpful. In fact, knowing how to get out of the parking lot as quick and safely as possible is something to think about.

  2. Since I began carrying a concealed weapon… I have become much more aware. Where I sit in a restaurant, looking for strange or suspicious persons at banks, malls and schools…

    Even choosing to spend less time downtown is a form of situational awareness.

  3. If someone is reading this article, you’re preaching to the choir.

    Those that need to read it, won’t.

    There are none so blind as those that refuse to see. Denial is not just a river in Africa!

    • Encourager says:

      Dirt Road Cowboy, there are many very new to prepping that come to this site just to read articles and never post. This is good, basic info for them, and for those of us who have gotten in a rut. It helped me, and I did learn a few new points. And I am a long, long time prepper and member of the Wolf Pack.

      We are here to help one another, not tear a contributor of an article down. Be nice. Thank you for the timely article, Don S!!!

  4. Don S, thank you for this. I’m fortunate to live in one of those places where I don’t even lock my house or my car, so I sometimes need reminders that I should be more mindful of my surroundings. I do sometimes travel to metropolitan areas, which are not as “friendly” as where I live.

    Tom, thanks for your idea, too!

  5. It can be a pain but get in the habit of ALWAYS locking the car even if you are just pumping gas and staying at the car. Most new cars have electronic locks and by double clicking the fob or key you can unlock all the doors – if you are alone only unlock the driver’s door. If you have to put something on the back seat you’ll most likely have to unlock all the doors. You should, however, be able to relock all the other doors as soon as you open the door you really want to use.

    • Encourager says:

      Sezy q, we have one of those new Jeeps that you don’t need a key to drive – just the fob in your pocket or purse. One of the dumbest ideas ever! If my purse is hidden in the car, I have to remove the fob from my purse and put it in a pocket in order to LOCK the doors! If I forget, the car beeps three times and unlocks all the doors as I am walking away. I guess that is one way not to lock the keys in the car, but if I am with my dh and his fob is in his pocket and mine in my hidden purse, the car unlocks! Annoying!

  6. Northernwolf says:

    Great advice I see people all the time so focused on their phone that they run into others or things and all they do is barely look up a quick sorry then back to the phone.i leave my phone in my truck .
    I learned this awareness as a kid living in a gang warfar area, had to pay attention all the time when walking home from school.and now when I go to the big city I apply the same idea and even when there with my son as a teenager coming back from an event late I have not had any trouble.
    It’s an idea that needs to be spread by word of mouth as well as of the people I work for rides their young horse with nothing but a pad talking on their phone that’s an accident waiting to happen.but if I say something they will just blow it off.

  7. This is a great start. The author, Don S, listed steps for Exercise 1, but there are no further exercises. I suggest each of us developing our own awareness exercises in our workplace(s), our yard or property, when visiting a friend or neighbor’s place, etc. Also, we need to be aware when we have ppl over to our homes or property or yard -are they noticing any of our preps? How will we explain when they notice & comment on something unusual, without giving away our other preps? I’ve learned to be careful what I leave laying around our living room, kitchen & computer areas, where guests may see prepping things, & keep the doors shut to areas with our prepping things.

  8. One of the things I became aware of while living in Houston metro mess.
    While there are areas more dangerous then the rest, there was no one part of the city that was really safe. Bad people wanting to do bad things have cars.

    • My cell phone is for MY convenience, I leave it off unless I need it. This upsets some people but that is their problem. I don’t check it often for messages, I won’t be bugged and I won’t be playing games on it. I just like being in the moment. I enjoy saying “Hi” to people when I’m going about my day. Being aware of your surroundings is fun and it gives you a chance to be friendly and help folks that need it. One thing to keep in mind is that people remember you more often than you would ever think. Be careful what you say or do.

  9. There is a great game in the book “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling it started as a game in the home. A table would be set with a group of items covered by a cloth. the cloth was moved to reveal the items on the table for a brief time. The object of the game was to identify the objects in s much detail as possible, after the cloth hid the items again. After Kim had mastered that game it was taken outside, trying to identify the environment.

  10. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest backwoods. Absolutely required to know what is around you in the woods, including under your feet and over your head. Moved to the city at 17 but always see everyone. Back in the mountains and I stay very alert.
    I just realized why so many people speak to me when I am town. I see them. Not stare, no fear or hostility, but I see them. Most people see nobody and nothing, they are in their heads. People like to exist, to be seen. Men, women, children.

  11. J from Mt says:

    Shiny or reflective things are great for your use of looking behind you, then you can annomously be very aware of what’s behind you. I liked the entering a store comment but he did leave out the important step of looking for a second exit. When your headed home or whatever always watch for tails unless your being followed by pros you’ll know if your being followed. On a side note shoe laces should be swapped with 550 cord because it’ll cut threw a lot of things especially Zip Ties. I do have to admit I love these days where people are to busy and consumed to be aware. job security.

  12. Moira M says:

    Great article! Many of us already practice these good habits, but it is good to get a reminder and have an article to send our family and friends!
    Another trick is to pretend to be absorbed in a cell phone while watching people. Remember not to get so absorbed into watching one oddball that you don’t check for his friends.

    • Encourager says:

      Good point, Moira M. Many perverts work together. We just sadly learned that a 13 yo boy who was kidnapped in Detroit was found dead in a field. There were at least 4 people involved, they caught 3 but 1, the oldest and probably the ringleader, is missing. He was kidnapped in front of a store by gunpoint, and a ransom demanded from his family, which they paid; he was found dead the next day. I wonder how glued to his cell phone that kid was. He was with a cousin who saw what happened and called for help.

  13. I have to drive one of my friends around on her errands, and I am always surprised at how often her face is in her phone, oblivious to who or what is near her. I can be talking to her and I am fairly certain she doesn’t hear a word I say because of what is on that phone being so darn important.
    It also frustrates me, because I have gotten her into the habit of thinking of being prepared for things, for the most part, but her preparing has stopped at learning knots, and looking into gear. She is the person this article was written for, along with countless others about being truly prepared. Thank you for the chance to point her in the direction of this article.

  14. For some of us, situational awareness involves double-checking what spouses are doing. We stopped for gas the other day & I went into the convenience store while husband pumped the gas. I met him on my way out – he had left the car unlocked, the keys on the dash, & my purse in the back seat.
    Believe me, that won’t be happening again. Not because he’ll remember (he’s of the ‘what could go wrong’ school), but because I’ll be making sure I have the keys & the car is locked.
    Chance also favors the prepared criminal mind.

  15. Another point to make: When going to a theater or a concert, I try as much as possible to have a close run to the exit, just in case of a real, or a false, cry “FIRE”. Similar thing when sitting in a restaurant … and not just for a fire alarm.

  16. Sorry, I meant to say “… a clear run to the exit …”

    • All great comments. It’s good to train yourself to be aware of everything going on around you. Practice makes perfect….meaning I have been out of the military for 33 years and I still use my oOPSEC training from the cold war.

  17. Encourager says:

    We try to look around when getting seated in a restaurant and ask for another table if there is one with better escape/security. I get lax when eating out with my ds, as his eyes are everywhere and he chooses the seat facing out in the room with his back to the wall as best he can. I have noticed my dh now doing the same thing when it is just the two of us!

    • Curley Bull says:

      I thought “Back-to-Wall” was SOP! Been doing it me whole life I think. Learned it from watching Westerns as a kid and on active duty it was just SOP. Even got my 13 YO granddaughter doing it.

  18. I was at a gas station a while back, in a reasonably good neighborhood. I noticed two women talking in the next row of pumps and mentally classified them as low-threat chatterers. One of them approached me while I was inspecting my vehicle while it was filling, and requested money while gesturing distractingly. Until I hadn’t realized how much years of listening to my kids’ karate teacher had ingrained his lessons in my mind. I automatically stepped away from the car to give myself room to move, checked my 6, put one hand out to distract while the other went to the mace in my back pocket but did not draw it. She recognized that I was not going to be a easy touch, stopped approaching, and stammered out an apology while she backed off.

    I probably looked like I over-reacted to others, but I am pleased to know that I could react that way.

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