Use these 13 situational awareness tips to increase your personal safety
A new year is often a time of taking stock: re-evaluating one’s accomplishments, goals, and personal habits – both the good, and the bad. While many choose to reaffirm their commitment to a healthy lifestyle, many overlook the flip side of the same coin: personal safety. Regardless of the time of year, making a commitment to one’s personal safety is always an excellent idea.
One of the most effective ways to do this, short of enrolling in formal classes or self-defense training, is by practicing everyday situational awareness. Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process, and understand what is happening around you, while thinking ahead to prevent or mitigate potential safety incidents. It requires you to stay alert and draw upon your unique set of experiences and skills to evaluate your environment. Successful situational awareness requires a proactive and flexible mindset, which can be achieved through regular practice.
The following topics are some simple ways to increase your situational awareness. Try these personal safety drills at work or in public to form good habits and determine your best response to potential threats. Frequent practice is vital, as no two situations are the same, and every environment provides unique conditions that will challenge your adaptability. View each new setting as an opportunity to practice – when these tips become second-nature, you greatly increase your ability to keep yourself safe.
Electronic Distractions: Whether it’s staring down at your phone or listening to music, using electronic devices can seriously impair your ability to be aware of what is going on around you. Only use your devices after you’ve determined you are in an area or situation where it is safe to do so. Look up occasionally to re-scan your surroundings and make note of any changes. If you’re using headphones, consider using only one, or keeping the volume as low as possible in order to still be able to hear what is going on around you.
Peripheral Vision: Attempt to focus on something while also observing what’s happening at the edges of your vision. This widens your monitoring range for detecting anything out of the ordinary.
Scan: Most people automatically scan new situations or environments, but don’t always focus on the most useful information. Practice looking for exits, barriers, suspicious objects and people, and any other unique elements that could be of importance to your personal safety. Additionally, be sure not to get complacent in familiar environments, such as your workplace or a regularly frequented lunch spot. Just because it is safe one day does not mean it will be safe every day.
Exits: Always be aware of your exits, and have an exit strategy. Practice devising alternate methods of escape if your primary exit becomes compromised. This does not just apply to buildings, but can be practiced in cars, public transportation, elevators, and even in outdoor environments. This principle can also be applied to travel routes, and being conscious of obstacles, choke points, alternate routes, and so on.
Protect your Back: Utilize walls and other barriers to protect your back and sides and maximize your field of vision, taking care not to back yourself into a corner. Practice this in public places, such as seating in restaurants, waiting rooms, or shopping centers.
Reflective Surfaces: One of your biggest advantages in a dangerous situation is being able to see the danger coming with enough time to react appropriately. When your range of vision is limited, get creative about ways to expand it and give yourself an advantage – practice utilizing store windows, car windshields, or even other people’s sunglasses to detect threats you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
Stop and Pretend: If you feel like you are being followed, either on foot or in a vehicle, stop and turn around, pretending as if you went the wrong way. The reaction of the person following you will help you determine if they are indeed a threat: If they stop or reroute to mirror your actions, then you can confirm that they are following you intentionally.
Become a Hard Target: Those with malicious intent generally single out individuals that seem meek, vulnerable, or unaware of their surroundings. Body language plays an extremely important role in how you are perceived by others. Exuding an aura of confidence, awareness, and capability, regardless of how you actually feel, can help broadcast to any threats that you are an undesirable target, and increase your personal safety.
Personal Space: If someone is crowding you, seems suspicious, or is displaying threatening body language, scan them for subtle signs of violent intent or a hidden weapon. Increase the distance between yourself and this person – the amount of distance depends on the situation, but five or six feet can allow you some reaction time if they become an active threat.
Visualize: Play out scenarios in your head beforehand. If you spot a situation in your immediate vicinity that could pose a threat, such as a blind corner on a sidewalk, ask yourself, “If there was a threat behind that corner, how would I react? Where could I escape?” Premeditating such responses can help them to become second-nature in the event of an actual emergency, making your response more effective.
Intuition: Trust your gut. If you get the sense that something is wrong or doesn’t add up, do not ignore it. Your instincts exist to protect you – it is always better to be overcautious than to ignore warning signs that turned out to be legitimate.
Senses: Practice engaging all your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) to their fullest extent to increase your personal safety. Regularly exercising your senses can make them keener, which can help you avoid unsafe situations, determine threats faster, and pick up on critical information more quickly during emergencies.
Speak Up: Report all the following situations immediately to your supervisor (while at work) or to the person in charge (when out in public): accidents, injuries, close calls, near misses, safety hazards or concerns, and any suspicious persons, activity, or behavior. Even if there is not currently a dangerous situation or nobody has been injured, if there are elements that could lead to either of these things, the person in charge should be made aware so that they can take the appropriate action.
Personal safety begins with an individual’s awareness to their environment – no one can defend against danger they couldn’t see coming. Taking your safety seriously doesn’t just help you, but can benefit others as well. Even practicing one of these skills on a regular basis can exponentially increase your situational awareness. We hope these tips can be of value to you as 2019 begins, and we wish you a happy (and safe!) new year!