Develop Situational Awareness
October 3, 2011 by David Morris
With time being limited and the economy being the way that it is, it’s important to identify as many preparedness and survival skills as possible that you can learn and practice quickly and inexpensively. One of the most important survival and preparedness skills that you can learn, fortunately, happens to be free to practice: situational awareness.
People tend to throw a lot of jargon around when they talk about situational awareness. One of the most common phrases is talking about always being in “condition yellow.” Oftentimes, people have heard the term so much that they simply nod their head in agreement without really understanding what it means or where the term came from.
Condition yellow comes from famed firearms instructor Jeff Cooper, who wrote the book Principles of Self Defense in 1989. More than two decades later, it’s still a great book.
You may know Cooper as the founder of the famous Gunsite Firearms Training Academy. Although the book is quoted often, few people have actually read it. It’s less than 30 pages, and it’s only $10. I’ll warn you now, if you judge the value of a book by its weight, skip this one. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and appreciate quality over quantity and fluff, it’s one you should buy and read soon.
Let me briefly tell you about Cooper’s color codes. He maintained that people walk around in one of four states, or conditions:
Condition White: This is the baseline in America. Unaware. “Tuned out” listening to music, texting, talking on a cellphone or just daydreaming. The belief in condition white is that everyone around you will look out for you and that nobody would have any reason to do you harm. People who walk into fixed objects like light poles, walls, etc. are generally in condition white. They don’t see danger coming and are surprised and confused when bad things happen.
Condition Yellow: This is the condition in which you are relaxed and aware of your surroundings. You observe people around you and look for exits, possible improvised weapons and environmental threats (like icicles hanging from a roof or a young child playing by a railing with 1-foot gaps in the slats). In this state, you’re also more likely to see opportunities, recognize friends and identify situations where you can help with information or by taking action. Being in condition yellow allows you to be proactive and avoid problems or create favorable outcomes that other people don’t see as possibilities.
Condition yellow is not necessarily being on edge, irritable, having a hair trigger and thinking that everyone is out to get you. In fact, simply “people watching” is a form of condition yellow. It’s simply about proactively observing what is going on around you. If you observe good things, that’s great. If you observe bad things, you’ll usually do it early on and have more time to plan and execute your escape or reaction.
More often than not, once you’ve trained your mind to observe your surroundings, you’ll start picking up things without even consciously looking for them. You will recognize bulges, know knife brands when you’re only able to see the clip from across the room and be able to identify someone who’s angry out of the corner of your eye by his clenched jaw, tense body and the way he walks.
These observations will pay off every day as you’re just going about your life. You will see dog mess sooner, recognize doors that open out toward the sidewalk, see people getting ready to open their car door in your path and recognize the potential for people to come flying around blind corners.
Condition Orange is the next stage. It happens when something has made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
It could be something that you consciously identified, or it could be something that your subconscious mind has picked up that your conscious mind hasn’t.
A radical example of this would be looking at a sociopath in the face who is showing a genuine smile, but who is also pulling his hand out of his pocket where there is the slight outline of a knife. Your conscious mind will want to focus on the genuine smile, and your unconscious mind will be screaming to focus on the knife.
In any case, when you’re in condition orange, it’s time to set concrete triggers for fighting, fleeing or capitulating. “If he comes toward me and asks for my money, I’m going to throw my money on the ground. If he tells me to lie down, I’ll eliminate the threat.”
A more ordinary example of condition orange would be spotting a concealed weapon holder whose firearm has become exposed. It’s probably nothing, but it’s worth watching.
An everyday example is when you’re around young children in a new environment where you haven’t had a chance to look for dangers. Or when you are introducing dogs when one or more are sometimes aggressive. Or when you are approaching an aggressive panhandler or see someone who looks like he just got released from 10 years in the penitentiary.
It’s important to set your triggers or have pre-determined triggers that you will use in condition orange. With introducing dogs, it could be: “If my dog growls, I’ll pull sharply on the leash. If the other dog growls, I’ll pick up my dog and walk away.”
With the robber, it could be: “When he leans down to pick up the money, I’m going to kick his head with my shin.”
In a holdup situation, it could be: “If he turns his back to me, I’ll draw my firearm, drop to one knee so I’ve got a safe backstop and order him to drop his weapon. If he points his firearm at me, I’ll shoot him to stop the threat.”
Most times, when you’re in condition orange, the stimulus will leave, you will downgrade your assessment or you will remove yourself from the situation.
If you find yourself in condition orange on a continual basis, it’s called “hypervigilance.” It’s not healthy, and it’s something you need to seriously address before your body literally eats itself up by releasing too many stress hormones and chemicals.
Condition Red: When something triggers condition orange and running or giving in are not options, sometimes you will move into condition red, which is the fight.
This is simply the execution of the trigger that you decided on in condition orange. It’s actually running away. It’s actually giving in. It’s actually eliminating the threat because things have escalated to the point where the benefits of acting outweigh the risks.
How do you get better at seeing things around you?
It’s a skill. You’ll want to start simple and build on the basics. I’m going to give you some tips you can start using immediately to help you be more aware of the people around you. Simply put, it’s comparing people around you to yourself or someone you know well. When someone comes in a door, ask the following questions. They’re a fairly common set of questions that police detectives ask witnesses after a crime to help them to recall details.
Is the person:
- Male or female and what is the person’s skin color?
- Older than, the same age or younger than I am?
- Smaller, the same size or larger than I am?
- Thin, fit, fat or obese?
- Taller, the same height or shorter than I am?
- Less aware, as aware or more aware than I am?
- Dressed casually, formally or for a purpose?
You can add dozens of additional questions and observations, but this is a great place to start. As you answer the questions, you will naturally start to see other things that help you start to form a picture of the person.
One easy thing to identify is clothes. People usually don’t wear clothes to show people what they don’t like; rather, they wear clothes that show their favorite teams, activities or causes.
Accessories such as watches, sunglasses and jewelry are also identifiers. Sometimes, they are just thrown on; but, often, they help tell the story of the wearer.
Tattoos are another storyteller. Are they a reminder? A tribute? A message to others? Some people want to look tough because they were victimized when they were kids. Some people want to look tough as a defense tool to prevent actual physical conflict from happening. Some people just want tough-looking tattoos so they can feel tough. Others want to look tough because they live a violent lifestyle, and they use the tattoos as a form of psychological warfare when they get into verbal and physical altercations.
Like I said, there are dozens of other questions you can ask and things you can observe. As you increase the number of things that you observe about others, remember to add on slowly. If you go immediately from being unobservant to trying to observe 20 different factors and profile people like a Secret Service agent, you’ll just get frustrated.
On the other hand, if you start by observing a few things until it becomes natural and then add on a few more, you will soon be able to make fairly accurate observations and judge whether someone is a threat quickly and almost subconsciously.
If you have other tips, tricks and shortcuts for being situationally aware, please share them by commenting below:
Until next week, God Bless and stay safe!