After 24 years as a combat soldier in the Australian Defence Force, and years in the private security and the self-defence industries I have been “blessed” with just about every story, sermon and lecture imaginable about “Situational Awareness”. Most often it is treated as a throw away line. Attempting to delve any deeper about WHAT it is and HOW you do it usually results in a blank look and a quick change of subject, however it appears that Situational Awareness is making a resurgence with a number of “experts” blogging and instructing about the subject. This resurgence is understandable given the increase in violence across the globe.
In my humble opinion the common conception of Situational Awareness is flawed, particularly in the context of teaching civilians to be safe against violence. Maybe it’s time we broadened our views about HOW to implement Situational Awareness so that it has utility in the civilian context.

At it’s most basic level Situational Awareness can be defined as “knowing what is happening around you”. To be useful, though, in a personal safety context Situational Awareness must also involve deriving meaning from what is happening around you. Traditionally it is focused on the environmental factors.

There is a propensity, particularly in the self-defence industry, to instruct people to be hyper-vigilant, to scan. And in “scanning” they are told to seek out the potential threat. This seems to make perfect sense because we all want that crucial early warning before an attack, right? Of course we do! However, what exactly are we teaching them to scan for?

In the military context we can safely list “things” we are looking for (the presence of particular weapons or tactics in the battlespace, signs of movement, sizes of formations, the presence of particular vehicles, etc) and because we generally know our enemy, we generally know his mission and we know our mission. From the “things” we observe we can derive meaning and formulate a plan to respond.

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