SURVIVING ANY DISASTER: Part 6 – Situational Awareness (SA)

SA posterA lot has been written in the academic world about Situational Awareness (SA) and most of it would make your eyes glaze over. The exception would be when the academics fight over what SA actually is, that can be kinda fun to watch. I am not going to get into the academics of SA because it is mind numbing to say the least. What I will share with you is practical and how you use it in prepping. In the next month or so I will write a series of posts that will go into much more detail concerning SA. Till then…

SA is the ability to recognize and understand what is happening around you, how it will affect you, and how you use it for a positive outcome. At least to me, that is my definition of “Situational Awareness” (SA). There is a lot of material, some of it quite good, scattered about the Internet so there is no lack of sources for learning. But what I want to do is give you that down-to-earth practical understanding and application of SA relating to emergency preparedness.

In any “high-speed, low-drag” situation (high-speed = complex, high stress) there is always a large amount of activity taking place around you. The key is to acquire information, assess applicability, understand the impact, accurately predict the result and then act on it. That is the SA process. The successful “outcome” to the SA process is sufficiently manipulating your actions for a positive result for you and your family or team.

The history of SA goes back 100+ years when aviation was first becoming a tool of war. Thinking in a three-dimensional world wasn’t really used much prior to WWI because man really didn’t get off the ground very often. But with the advent of powered flight in a wartime setting it became a necessity for man to think three-dimensionally if he wanted to stay alive. Those early pilots had to keep aware of where their fellow pilots and planes were during normal flight operations. And when they engaged the enemy in aerial combat they had to keep track of multiple enemy aircraft as well. And not only keep track of them but anticipate what they might do next, where they would be and then act to counter the enemy pilot’s maneuver. SA poster2

In an emergency or disaster situation, and especially in “grid-down”, SA is absolutely imperative. Good SA will help keep you alive, poor SA will assure failure and potentially lead to injury or death. What I am saying is SA in normal everyday life can relax a little bit so you are not “on edge” all the time. However, when something goes wrong in your world (i.e. emergency, disaster, grid-down, threat acquisition) then your SA must be turned up full blast. You must maintain that “edge” all the time in times such as grid-down.

To qualify as having good SA you must first be able to “see” what is happening around you. You must use all your senses to take in all that is happening. And most importantly you must be able to see these indicators in the context of reality NOT your interpretation of their reality.

Example: Many times during WWII as Jews were being rounded-up they were told it was for their own good/safety and they would be fed when the train stopped. Unfortunately, the reality was imprisonment and death.

One “sense” I am going to strongly suggest that you always listen to is your “gut”, your instinct, your feelings; whatever you want to call it. Often your subconscious can discern indicators of danger that escape your normal senses, especially your consciousness. At times your conscious mind can not properly process certain subtle danger indicators or articulate it so you have the opportunity to think about it. Also, for “believers”, listen to that still small voice that will come to you at times. That voice will steer you in the direction God feels is appropriate for you at that time.

A good example of that “gut feeling” occurs when you feel something isn’t right and you turn around and someone is staring at you. Women especially have that instinct finely tuned, normally when judging males referring to “creep factor.”

So you have all these information inputs coming in, now you must decide which are the most important. I would suggest you read my post on LIPS (SURVIVING ANY DISASTER: Part 2 – L.I.P.S. Priority Setting) to understand how to determine “priorities” in a preparedness situation.

Example: Your family is being stalked by a gang of bad guys who want to take your food and daughter. Your informational inputs are: it is cloudy, it might rain, your feet hurt, you have a small hole in your pants leg, your wife has slung her AR15, the bad guys are gaining on you, your youngest son says he’s hungry, its been 3 days since you had a full nights sleep, your water is running low, and your tooth hurts. All of these things contribute to SA. But what are the highest priority information inputs? Ok…then forget all the other inputs that aren’t related to the immediate situation for now, they don’t impact mitigating the immediate threat.

To properly absorb SA inputs you have to establish a “baseline” and that baseline will change and continue to change often.

Example: You are hiking through a wooded area that you think is abandoned. So you the smell of the area, which might be damp leaves. And you have the sound of the area, which is birds chirping with an occasional squirrel barking and scampering away. And the area is basically green in color with evergreens being predominant. Then you notice the birds take wing, a faint waft of smoke smell and a brownish/grayish patch in the trees 100 yards in front of you. DANGER!! Your SA just acquired the indicators of a camp where people are now moving around. What you now do with that change in SA is the key; and the subject of additional posts.

Team SA (TSA) can be exponentially more effective that individual SA. However, it can also be exponentially worse as well. Keeping track of everything going on is virtually impossible for one person, especially in a high-speed situation. Let me explain…

For TSA to be effective a few things need to be in-place and clearly understood by each team member:

  1. Leader’s Intent
  2. Know the responsibilities of each member
  3. Great communication, specific & assertive
  4. Good individual SA
Soldiers with 360 degree SA

Soldiers with 360 degree SA

Basically each team member is using their own individual SA to guide their own actions and assist the other team members in carrying out their respective responsibilities. Team members must not wait to speak up when they see a problem, or potential problem. They must deliver that information to the team in short, clear, assertive terms. That must be done BEFORE the problem affects the team’s successful mission accomplishment. Probably the best aspect of TSA is the saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While the origination of that phrase is debatable, it is no less applicable to a key aspect of Team Situational Awareness.

There are barriers to effective SA, they are:

  1. Normalcy Bias
  2. Competency Bias
  3. Too much motivation
  4. Information/mental overload
  5. Physical/mental fatigue
  6. Distorted reality
  7. Poor communications
  8. False information intake

The ability to have great SA is a learned skill. You learn it through training and experience. With great SA you are far more likely to succeed. With poor or non-existent SA you are almost certainly doomed to failure…and not even know why you failed.

Next we will get into making decisions effectively and quickly in SURVIVING ANY DISASTER: Part 7– Making Decisions


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6 thoughts on “SURVIVING ANY DISASTER: Part 6 – Situational Awareness (SA)

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