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Situational awareness. In the military training I received, this was the most important principle. Your brain is a super calculator capable of multiple scenarios, reactions, and hypotheticals, so why not use it to defend yourself, master your job and take the initiative against of life’s hurdles?
Sure, situational awareness does sound like an echo of military professionals to impose some sort of stringent regime, but it really isn’t that. It is something that is so easily adaptable no matter who you are or what your job is. It’s your own computer program to run in strategic situations. Whether you work in an office, outdoors or are a student studying at university, situational awareness is a skill you can learn and benefit from.
Remember that ultra ex-military government spy character called Jason Bourne? Where he’d manage to walk into a crowd with an earpiece while being traced and still the world’s biggest government couldn’t track him? That’s an example of someone being extremely situationally aware. Here’s an example from Bourne on extreme situational awareness, and it gives you a pretty fair idea of how to do it.
For me, situational awareness is the level of understanding, identification, and application of your surrounding environment. That is what I prefer to refer it to, however, some of you are probably thinking that basically means: know your surroundings. If you thought that then you are exactly right.
What you should to realize is situational awareness is suitable for any occupation. Here are a few roles that use it every single day:
These are only three occupations that I can think of off the top of my head, but if you look at it closely, you probably use some level of situational awareness every single day of your life. For most, this is just an automatic reaction to every day life. You are already using a level of situational awareness on autopilot.
For the survival aspect of this, we can use situational awareness in the context of being stranded on an island. Think about this scenario, you have been on a boat, it sinks and you wake up to being on a desolate and unpopulated island. What would you do?
You get the idea. The list of awareness in surroundings and situations is endless, and that’s all we can do just by standing on the beach with our feet planted in the sand.
Why would a skill like this be useful for preppers and survivalists? It is an element of self-analysis that you can train on now by regularly conducting your own self-assessments and being aware of your different situations. While a lot of preppers rely on their tools and supplies to get them through an emergency, there might be times when the only tools you have are your body and your mind. When you work on this situational awareness skillset and you do have the right supplies, you are unstopable.
In the 1970s a US Air Force Colonel called John Boyd developed the OODA loop. Since his first publishings on the idea, it has been copied and applied through the strategic world from law, boxing and MMA, chess, military studies, policing and medical studies.
The OODA loop is the way you need to start thinking about every problem in your situation and surroundings. It stands for:
To apply these to an understandable example, think about these terms in the boxing realm. We are up against a strong fighter who lines himself up for a high jab to the head. We have just made an observation that strong fighter is about to punch. In the orientation, we think: if the fighter hits me, I am out or if the fighter punches and I block, I am safe. So I commit to a favorable decision which is to block the punch, and I carry out the blocking action against the fighter. The loop comes into effect as the fighter has now exposed himself, so I run through the OODA loop sequence to this time decide whether to hit back.
You can see how relevant this becomes in small-scale and large-scale emergencies, disasters and conflicts. The OODA loop can run on everything from the evacuation plan you should have to address a flood, to strategies a government would use to respond to a terrorist attack.
When you walk into a room like what Jason Bourne did in that clip above, and you are analyzing exits, potential grabbable weapons, and possible threats, you are committing the OO of the OODA loop. When the sh-t hits the fan in that environment, you are potentially running through the possible sequences of DA loops until you enter a new territory to make new observations and orientations.
What else can the OODA loop apply to?
All of these situations can use the OODA loop and your situational awareness to become aware of your surroundings and the other person, what their intention is, how actions would work, what decision would fare the best and commit to an action.
This is something that would be common for anyone coming from a hostile environment, whether you have lived in a war zone or have been involved in a war. People who have been exposed to extremely hostile environments tend to observe more and find suitable places to do so.
Military personnel who have been in hostile war zones for some time are a common pick for doing this, but also for people who have been involved in urban terrorist incidents.
The first type of observation is your own positioning. Many of these people who have been experienced hostile areas will choosing to sit where they are able to clearly view the entrance of a room, say a restaurant or cafe, and be able to reach an alternative exit if need be. This would be preloading the OO in the OODA loop, so that should something such as an urban terrorist attack occur, you would only have to carry out the decision and the action of making a safe escape.
The other type of observation is observing other people and details. I covered this before briefly but essentially you should be looking out for details such as:
Keeping this in mind, watch the following video to test your situational awareness
Did you pick what happened in the background? Well done if you did. You are one of the few.
For this type of situational observation, I recently came across some people who had attended training camps in Israel teaching these methods to members of the public as a way to address public concerns about the surge in urban terrorist attacks. Training was also used to identify what times to avoid places such as shopping malls and making citizens aware of potential terrorist attack hotspots by teaching them to shop in smaller high-end stores and to practice routine disturbance and avoid daily patterns so that they were not leaving their homes at a predictable time. This may be extreme measures to you but this is the necessary awareness citizens must make of their situation when they are in an urban war zone.
Training was also used to identify what times public should avoid places such as shopping malls and encouraging citizens to become more aware of potential terrorist attack hotspots through teaching alternative shopping methods, practicing routine disturbance in avoiding daily patterns so that they were not leaving their homes at a predictable time. This may be extreme measures but necessary steps citizens must make of their situation when they are faced with an urban war zone.
To increase their skill in situational awareness and memory, children in scouts and even the US Marine Corps sniper school in Virginia play Kim’s Game. The name itself comes from an old novel called Kim, but the game is quite simple. A tray is covered with various items such as spoons, pencils, bullets and various other pieces of kit that either the snipers or the scouts would be familiar with. A towel is held over the items and people get one minute to view all of the items. The competitors then list the items that they saw, the winner is the one who can list the most.
I have undergone similar training in the military which went as follows:
There are a number of texts available on situational awareness. Author and ex-special forces soldier Jocko Willink works situational awareness strategies into corporate, leadership and self-development fields frequently through his podcasts and talks. His book, Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win, is a great place to start if you are new to this broken-down to basics, elemental, type of thinking. For books that are more closely related to how you can develop your own situational awareness skills check out The Gift of Fear and Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life
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