We’ve all heard the old adage, “the best way to win a fight is to avoid a fight.” Likewise, the best way to not become a victim of crime is to avoid crime. How you might ask? Passive self-defense through situational awareness. Situational awareness (SA) is defined as the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time or some other variable such as a predetermined event. In short being aware of and responding to changes in your environment. Each day news reports abound with stories of victims who for whatever reason did not see or chose not to respond to changes in their personal environment. Confirmation that failure to heed these changes can have serious consequences. Maintaining a safe, secure environment hinges upon knowing your environment and responding appropriately to changes in it. For purposes of this story “environment” refers to a greater or lesser degree our sphere of involvement. That sphere emanates from your personal space (personal space is defined as the physical space immediately surrounding someone, into which any encroachment feels threatening to or uncomfortable for them) 360 degrees as far as you can see, hear, smell or in some way sense anything that could potentially be a threat. Our primary or home environment is where we generally feel safest (condition white or normal). Here we have some degree of control. However, letting our guard down and not recognizing changes even in this environment can at times result in catastrophe. Areas outside our residence whether it be our neighborhood or the local community at large represent our secondary environment. Having some degree of familiarity here we may be comfortable yet cautious (condition yellow). Condition yellow is a “relaxed alertness.” While no specific threat is evident your senses are taking in everything. The stray dog, the unfamiliar car on the corner, the stranger walking towards you, traffic, crowds etc. Here we are exposed to greater risk. Areas unfamiliar to us represent the third or tertiary environment. Here there are threats real and perceived. Here we’ve moved beyond our home, neighborhood, city, state or even country. Through education, thought and careful planning we can maintain a safe environment through situational awareness. Anything less and we are totally exposed with no support network or knowledge of what to expect.
My own sense of situational awareness was put to the test many years ago before the idea of situational awareness was known but to a few. My wife and I had purchased a home in the same neighborhood I’d grown up in. It provided a relatively safe, secure environment and as a child I’d had a great time growing up there. I wanted the same for our kids. Residential use of alarm systems was for the most part unheard of. Neighbors knew and looked out for one another. There were times we’d go to bed leaving doors and windows unlocked yet awoke safe and sound with nothing visibly disturbed. In time this peaceful facade would be shattered.
One day while working outside my home I heard the sound of screeching tires and wailing sirens. From the sound they were close i.e. within the parameters of what made up my personal environment. On this basis alone I took action. I secured the articles I’d been working with and instructed my daughter to go inside. I did all this while at the same time panning my environment for the source of the commotion. Not seeing anything I went inside and locked the door. Within moments a man appeared at the front door and began shaking the knob in a desperate attempt to enter. Not able to enter the man sprinted down the street towards an open field near a wooded area. In hot pursuit were a number of police officers who after a brief foot chase caught the man who was held at gunpoint until handcuffed. As they took the man away I stood in the doorway somewhat stunned at what had just happened. I’d always heard about such things happening in other places but this time it was unfolding right before me. In my world, my environment. This incident created in me the desire to be ever vigilant in recognizing and responding to changes in my environment. It taught me to gain awareness through my senses, to trust my instincts and to formulate a plan ahead of any potential threat.