Situational Awareness Exercises

Situational Awareness Exercises

This is a discussion on Situational Awareness Exercises within the Defensive Carry & Tactical Training forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; For those of you who have had no formal training (LEO or Military) what sort of situational awareness tests or exercises have you done to ...

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    Member Array Gimpee's Avatar
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    Situational Awareness Exercises

    For those of you who have had no formal training (LEO or Military) what sort of situational awareness tests or exercises have you done to improve your SA?


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    Member Array gruntingfrog's Avatar
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    I like to occasionally play what amounts to a one person game. Everyone you see, pick out something that sets them apart from the others. It may be little like some guy who carries his cell phone on his left hip, or it may be bigger like a lady whose t-shirt is inside out, or it may be huge like a guy wringing his hands talking to himself angrily. I do this while grocery shopping, walking down the street, or whatever. It has really trained me to be observant of others, and I've noticed that even when not actively playing the game I am more aware of others and subconsciously pick up on odd behavior or things that are out of place.

    I'm sure it saved my wife and me from being mugged when we were in Amsterdam. We were in a cafe at night (The kind that sells coffee. What you're thinking of is a coffee shop. ) and I accidentally flashed a hundred Euro bill when paying. I glanced around and it didn't look like anybody noticed so I thought everything was OK.

    However, as we were walking out these two guys at a table by the door put out their freshly lit cigarettes -wasting almost the whole thing- and got up to walk out behind us. I wasn't actively watching them, but it caught my attention as odd. Who puts out a cigarette they just lit? We walked out and one guy stayed behind us while the other crossed the street and walked along side.

    We stepped inside the first shop we came to and I looked out the window. The guys had converged and were looking right at me talking -probably about whether they had been made. We waited until they left, then headed the opposite direction from where they went.

    I'm certain that I picked up on those cigarettes because I often play, "spot the differences" or whatever you want to call it.
    Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.
    - Mike Tyson

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    Member Array carryon's Avatar
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    Like others, my SA bells are ringing very loudly everytime I have to make a trip to Wally World. When I'm pulling in the parking lot and looking for a parking space, I try to locate the vehicle (think mid-90's mini-van that is beat to crap) that is just sitting in the parking lot with more than one occupant inside the vehicle. Invariably, this is the vehicle full of people who are "on a cross-country trip to attend the funeral of our cousin Larry but we don't have gas money to get there." You've probably heard a similiar spiel. Then you'll notice the group's "money man/woman" who is standing just outside the Wal-Mart entrance looking for a patron to follow back to their car and ask for money to contribute to their "funeral trip" (aka, drug habit, beer money, etc..). I like to recognize these type of folks immediately so I'll be prepared when they approach me. When they do approach me, they always seem to want to get closer than is needed to make their pitch. The key to dealing with these people, IMO, is very easy. First, stop them in their tracks. When they approach and it's obvious they will be soliciting me, I simply get their attention by talking very loudly and letting them very clearly know they need not approach me any closer. They don't like attention being made to their ploy, so the loud voice usely gets them away from me. If that doesn't , I refuse to listen to their "story." I simply tell them that if they need money or food, their are plenty of churches and homeless shelters/food pantries in the area that are willing to help. This is where they leave me alone because they know I won't contribute to their lifestyle/addiction. I have also effectively ruined their scheme to anyone within shouting distance because others can now see what this individual is up to. I am extremely stern in these situations whenever I'm holding my young child on my weak side. If one of these whackos comes within 15 feet of me after it's been made clear they should not, they will find a 9mm pistol aimed at their head and they will be reported immediately to the police.

    So I guess that is the exercise I'm always playing with myself: Where is the potential BG and what will I do if a confrontation ensues. It really takes the anxiety out of these awkward situtions when I already know how I'll handle various situations. Also, I simply refuse to answer my cell phone while entering or exiting a public place. I usually wait to return the call when I'm back in my car, or if necessary, I'll find a highly visible area inside the store to return the call.
    Carry on my friend~~
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    Member Array Josephus's Avatar
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    Go to a biker bar.
    Everyone ought to worship God according to his own inclinations, and not to be constrained by force.
    Flavius Josephus

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    VIP Member Array shockwave's Avatar
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    This is not an easy question. SA has no firm definition. For example, some people think it means to be extra vigilant and attuned to one's surroundings. Others might say it means to not be hyperfocused on some aspect of the environment, but to be more broadly watchful to spot something out of the ordinary.

    The first type of SA above is something you can consciously do, but the second type requires more use of your subconscious mind. Over and over, we hear of a victim saying, "something felt wrong, but I went ahead anyway..." And that "something," whatever it was, was something out of place, or a lack of something that should have been there.

    It is equally difficult to walk around with a magnifying glass in front of your eyes as it is to walk around looking through a telescope. Rather, you have to constantly zoom in and zoom out. I think good SA is kind of like that. You both focus hard when something triggers your attention, and you relax and try to be aware of everything going on around you, using all of your senses.

    An exercise I practice occasionally in martial arts is to visualize what is going on behind me. This is a skill you can develop and it helps to build a 360-degree zone of awareness about your person.
    "It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first."

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    Member Array carguy2244's Avatar
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    Growing up in Brooklyn NY, you start learning SA about the same time you start 1st grade. Those that don't learn it usually become crime statistics.

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    Member Array VTLO910's Avatar
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    All great examples... I do my best to live in the Yellow ALWAYS. I'm always looking for printing, eye contact, Behaviors, etc... I feel the most awkward when I have to put my son back into his car seat in a parking lot.

    I try to park away from the crowd of vehicles, so no one has any real business getting near my vehicle. I scan and assess my surroundings prior to loading, stop during and scan, then again afterwards...

    I try to prep everything I can before I go in, so coming out is more smooth...

    A few times I've gotten that not-so-good feeling... I made clear eye contact and showed I was watching all surroundings... Maybe it was something, maybe nothing...

    It has been said if you look them in the eyes, it can discourage any further action... The BG's don't want you to be able to pick them out of a line-up... They look for easy prey... and being aware make you less desirable...
    ::: NRA Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, Military Veteran, Public Safety Professional :::

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    Before I park and leave my vehicle, I do a scan of the parking lot to find a slot under a light, but away from the crowd. Looking around just after getting out of the car and locking and verifing it is locked, I walk to the store. When I come out I am alert to anyone following me and others that may be scanning the parking lot. It is not hard to see who is scanning whom, and I have been doing it for years so I can spot it right off of the bat. I have made dodges into the parking lot when I was being intercepted and they got the message as I was not doing what they thought I was doing. Change in plans can always interrupt someone elses OODA loop and you know it if you are attuned to your's.
    Praise the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle --- Psalm 144
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    Quote Originally Posted by carryon View Post
    Like others, my SA bells are ringing very loudly everytime I have to make a trip to Wally World. When I'm pulling in the parking lot and looking for a parking space, I try to locate the vehicle (think mid-90's mini-van that is beat to crap) that is just sitting in the parking lot with more than one occupant inside the vehicle. Invariably, this is the vehicle full of people who are "on a cross-country trip to attend the funeral of our cousin Larry but we don't have gas money to get there."
    .
    With all due respect, if this happened more than once, why on earth would you keep going back to the same store???
    Smitty
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    Senior Member Array druryj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Thunder View Post
    Before I park and leave my vehicle, I do a scan of the parking lot to find a slot under a light, but away from the crowd. Looking around just after getting out of the car and locking and verifing it is locked, I walk to the store. When I come out I am alert to anyone following me and others that may be scanning the parking lot. It is not hard to see who is scanning whom, and I have been doing it for years so I can spot it right off of the bat. I have made dodges into the parking lot when I was being intercepted and they got the message as I was not doing what they thought I was doing. Change in plans can always interrupt someone elses OODA loop and you know it if you are attuned to your's.
    I wonder how many picked up on the reference to the OODA loop? I did. - Col. John Boyd; if I recall corrrectly?

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    Distinguished Member Array Jason Storm's Avatar
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    I have done some "what if" exercises in my head in what is called "mental crisis rehearsal" exercises as I learned from "Weapons and Tactics" newsletter, which I used to subscribe to. To enhance my safety/awareness, I also adopt a lot of habits, such as having my keys/OC in my hand before I leave the door, sitting at a table/facing the entrance/exit/cashier, keeping my windows rolled up (even in the summer), parking my car not directly in front of the entrance, keeping my real wallet in my front pocket (dummy wallet in the back pocket), etc. What I learn over the years, I have to apply it in my daily life. Without that, knowledge is of no use.

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    Member Array Bandolero's Avatar
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    The one thing about too many mental exercises is that far too many people suddenly start seeing zombies behind every tree and in every alley. They start imagining scenarios that are unfolding in front of them as being something more than they really are. Then they pat themselves on the back on what a fine job they did avoiding this and that, when the reality is they didn't avoid anything and all they did do was succumb to their wild imaginations.

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    Member Array Rail Driver's Avatar
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    zombies behind every tree
    That's not necessarily a bad thing. Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me.

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    VIP Member Array Guantes's Avatar
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    Here is something I put together on awareness. It is rather long, but hopefully will be of use to some.


    Whenever the subject of self defense comes up, awareness is not far behind. Everything from Colonel Boyd's OODA loop to Cooper's Color Code, preassault ques and other items. These things, while worthy of consideration and ingestion, deal with various levels of awareness, states of readiness, action ques and the like. I would like to address something that I rarely see, the regular guy's quandry of maintaining a sufficient level of awareness to allow use of these other tools, when necessary, and how to maintatin it longer and make it do more for less.

    One of the problems with maintaining awareness is the amount of distractions that can cause its loss. Any and everything from conversation to activities like loading the groceries and completing purchases.

    To maintain awareness over periods of more than a few minutes, during normal activities, it is best thought of as running in the background while you are actively doing other things. Like a project on your computer running in the background while you are actively working on something else. How is this accomplished? Like sonar, it is accomplished by "pings". Rather than trying to watch, hear or sense everyone and everything all the time, they merely pass through your sensory input until something pings. Then the other awareness and preaction tools come into play. While you may miss a few things that are perceived by someone "turned on", in the long run you will be better off as you will be able to maintain your awareness far beyond that of the average "turned on" individual who will quickly fatigue or be distracted.

    What is a ping? A ping is any input, visual or otherwise, instinctive or programmed that causes curiosity or concern as to its purpose or intent or an instincitive alert (the hair on the back of your neck standing up or a discomfort in your gut). I catagorize pings into two main catagories, programmed and unprogrammed. Programmed are specific things that you have determined are reason for additional scrutiny or action. Unprogrammed are caused by things that you are consciously unaware of but that cause alert or alarm within you (the hair and gut thing). Listen to your intstincts even if you cannot determine what alerted them, because there are times when the subcounscious mind will ping on something befor the conscious mind does.

    I catagorize programmed pings into three catagories of descending significance. Personal, other people's and general. A group of "utes" of questionable moral character approaching me would be personal. The same group of utes approaching or confronting someone other than myself, would fall under other people's. General are those who, at the time perceived, are not directly related to me or others. The same group of "utes" some distance away moving through a parking lot would be an example. How do you determine what should cause a programmed ping? I cannot answer that question for you, only you can answer it. Your answer will be based on your experience, training, and the environments in which you live and move. The key is curiosity. Cultivate curiosity for anything that varies from your recognized norm.

    When looked at objectively, there are not that many programmed pings. Some examples would be, rapid movement, loud, boisterous or strange behavior, anyone on a path or changing path to directly intersect you. Individuals or groups positioned so that you must approach or pass through them to reach your destination. Individuals or groups who seem to have an unwarranted interest in you and your activities, etc. Once you begin specifically looking for these things, they will become ingrained and they will cause automatic recognition. When you reach that point, less and less attention will be required for their recognition, enabling longer periods of operation. As an example, you are walking through the mall with your wife, talking and window shopping. You see your friend Joe approaching from the opposite direction. Your mind pings on Joe and says, "Hey that's Joe". You were not walking through the mall actively looking for anyone that you knew. You were actively engaged in other activities, yet the mind pinged the recognition of Joe. This will work for pings other than personal recognition, once cultivated. There are some caveats. If you are a person who is always looking at the ground or someone so self absorbed that you never see anything until you bump into it this method will not work for you, as I doubt, will any other. If on the other hand you are fairly normal, in that you look where you are going and are at least somewhat cognizant of your surroundings, it should serve you reasonably well. It will enable you to maintain a reasonable level of awareness for an extended period of time with out the fatigue or lapses normally associated with maintaining constant awareness. In addition it will make your awareness less discernable by others and less disruptive for those like spouses who desire social interaction with you.

    One point that deserves separate mention and attention is points of ingress and/or egress wherever you go. There will probably be some that are unknown to you, but to the extent possible be aware of as many as you can. One of the biggest benefits of awareness, is allowing one to avoid a situation befor it comes to fruition, or to escape from it as it unfolds. Without the knowledge of routes to avoid or escape, they quickly become an exercise in futility or worse. It is a definite cost/benefit winner as the knowledge is useful for anything from individual low level miscreants to fires, natural disasters and active shooters, to name a few.

    This is not the only method of maintaining awareness, but it is a serviceable one. With effort it can improve one's level of awareness with minimal disruption to their daily activities or social interactions.
    jackrock likes this.

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    VIP Member Array shockwave's Avatar
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    Very nice post, Guantes. I agree with you on all counts.

    The key is curiosity. Cultivate curiosity for anything that varies from your recognized norm.
    Yes. Also, practice thinking like a predator. If you were a Bad Actor, what would you do? Where would you be? What would you wear? How would you position yourself? How would you take yourself down?

    Question: What is a "ute"? I can see by context that it means "bad guy" but what's the abbreviation? "Unidentified threat"?
    "It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first."

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