Recently several events came together in a synergistic way, causing me to re-think Situational
Awareness. One of these was interviewing Melody Lauer, Central Iowa Defensive Training, and
discussing her teaching technique focusing on Threat Assessment versus Situational
Awareness. Many instructors talk about Situational Awareness, but in a way that leaves the
student thinking they need to be looking everywhere at once and processing everything. Who
can deal with that much sensory input? Not me! I don’t try, either. Like Melody, when I’m
scanning, I am also assessing the people and situations I see to gauge the risk. In the following
paragraphs I will describe the model I developed to replace my Situational Awareness training
module. I still believe in Situational Awareness, I’m just taking it to a more approachable level.
Recognize - Prepare - Act
The first step in RPA is to Recognize a potential threat. Being aware of your surroundings,
taking time to scan with your eyes and with your gut, quickly ranking what you see so you can
focus on the most likely threat(s). This ranking can, and likely will, change as you move from a
place of relative security, such as a store, into a place of significant risk, such as a parking lot.
That’s ok, just look for the highest risk. Don’t spend time trying to memorize every detail or
identify the colors of all the cars. Instead, see who is within your Safety Circle (the 21’ diameter
around you), who is coming close, who is exiting. If you are in a parking lot, take note of any
oversized vehicle parked next to your vehicle that could hide someone or pose a threat to you.
Do you see anyone acting in a way that feels wrong? Does someone seem to be paying too
much attention to you? Is someone moving directly toward you with their hands in their pockets
while they are glancing side to side as if checking to see who else might be around? Do you
see a young Mom with several children, juggling packages on the way to their car? An elderly
couple shuffling toward you slowly and holding hands? A teenage boy in a hoodie with jeans
down around his hips? A man in a suit chattering into a Bluetooth device? Ok, putting it like
this, it is easy to say “Likely” or “Un-Likely” to be a threat. But that should tell you something.
You can assign a threat value, even if it is 0 or 1, with very little information, in less than a
second, WITHOUT overwhelming yourself. Does this mean you don’t need to remain aware?
NO. Circumstances change, and you need to recognize the change and reassess, but it does
help you focus on the more likely threat and gives you a chance to Prepare.
Prepare means that you are considering “what ifs”. What if the person who seemed harmless
suddenly turns and walks straight toward me, what will I do? What if I identify someone on an
interception path to me? What will I do about getting into my car with the large panel van
parked next to it? Do you need to prepare a response for the elderly couple walking toward
you? Probably not, except maybe a polite smile. This lets your brain think about what to do if
the potential threat becomes a real threat. It lets you Prepare to Act.
Act is taking whatever action you can to avoid (always a good first choice) or respond to (when
there isn’t another choice) a threat. It may mean turning around and going back into the store,
crossing the street, or hurrying to your car. It may mean bracing for a direct confrontation, and
doing what you need to, within your skill level, to survive.